Special Audio Gadget: Stirlitz Voice Recorder, Its Real Prototype and Bold Historical Modeling

    Any series of articles devoted to the audio gadgets of special services and written in Russia would not be complete without a story about the so-called voice recorder Stirlitz. This device has been familiar to almost all citizens of the USSR since 1973 in frames from “Seventeen Moments of Spring” and was strongly associated with a spy gadget.

    Interestingly, Electron-52D, which starred in the series as the legendary Stirlitz device, was an actual copy of the Tinico pocket recorder. For the 60s, when this gadget was created, its dimensions were considered extremely miniature. We can say that Electron-52D was the first domestic serial compact-sized tape recorder to be mass-produced and sold freely.

    In this article, the history of the creation of Electron-52D, its appearance in the most famous Soviet spy series, as well as a few words about the bold experiment of one enthusiastic collector and amateur radio operator on evidence-based historical modeling.

    Enhanced Japanese Toy Replica

    Prior to Electron-52D, the Soviet Union did not have sufficiently compact reel tape recorders. Moreover, the tape recorders themselves were rare and cost a lot of money, in the view of the Soviet man.

    A prerequisite for the creation of a new device was the hypothetical need for a similar apparatus among journalists and middle managers who could use the latter as a voice notebook.

    Since the late 1940s, the special services of the country of the Soviets successfully used trophy wire assemblies, which in serial quantities were removed from the territory of the defeated Reich, and later by the bourgeois Uher Report and Nagra SN. Similar devices or a lower class went to important journalists of large Soviet publications, but all the others got out without voice recorders.

    “Uher Report” is the “workhorse” of KGB officers and international journalists.

    And here, domestic officials from the electronics industry noticed a small miracle of Japanese technology and decided that it would suit our people. The Tinico toy, developed in the mid-60s, would have been difficult to use as spy equipment, but it could have been made a dictaphone for ordinary Soviet citizens, which was so lacking in the USSR.

    Having received the order from above and prototypes from the Land of the Rising Sun, the engineers of the Poltava EMZ began to create a domestic analogue in 1966. Prototypes of the device appeared in 1967, and presumably from 1968 went into series. After 2 years, in 1970, the technically successful device began to produce the Kazan factory of radio components.

    '' Electron-52D ”is a good example of how to copy devices. Soviet engineers managed not only to plagiarize a toy for little Japanese, but also to make it better. This is a relatively rare case - for, as a rule, the opposite happened, the characteristics of Soviet copies were worse than the originals.

    In the process of adaptation and copying, Japanese samples underwent several technical improvements. So, by increasing the voltage (from one and a half to three volts), the tape rewind speed was increased and a circuit without transformers based on germanium transistors GT109A (2 pcs) and GT108A was implemented.

    What is good for Japanese children does not need a Soviet manager

    The resulting voice recorder, like its Japanese ancestor (which, I recall, was positioned as a toy in the homeland), could successfully produce two-track recording on magnetic tape. The speed of the tape during recording was variable from 3 to 9.5 cm / sec and directly depended on the tape winding on the reel.

    This feature simplifies the design of the device, but completely deprives the user of the ability to reliably record and play music. In other words, the recorder was only suitable for speech.

    The tape recorder was powered by a pair of nickel-cadmium batteries TsNK-0.45 and a Krone battery. '' Electron-52D ”was not equipped with a speaker and required a headphone or amplifier with speakers to play.

    In general, the characteristics of the device did not differ from the prototype:

    Operating frequency range 300 ... 3500 Hz, with increasing speed 200 ... 7000 Hz;
    Recording time when using magnetic tape type 10 from 10 to 30 minutes;
    The rated output power of the amplifier is 20 mW;
    THD 15%;
    knock coefficient - 10%;
    The relative level of interference is -30 dB;
    The dimensions of the recorder are 165x70x50 mm, its weight is 0.5 kg.

    It is clear that keeping a hidden record with such characteristics is extremely difficult. Moreover, the noisy operation of the engine and mechanics clearly betrays the recorder. These features practically deprived the recorder of the future as a device for special services.

    In the passport, the device is positioned as a voice notebook. However, judging by what I know, 81 rubles in 1968 is quite a lot for a Soviet middle manager or engineer who could use such a gadget. Those who could afford it usually had secretaries with typewriters.

    How much this almost useless device lay on the shelves of Soviet stores is not known, but the fact is that its production was turned off quite quickly. Special services and the most classically irreconcilable journalists on the planet continued to use the Swiss “Nagras” and piece goods from the Central Scientific Research Institute of Security of the USSR KGB. Other people in need did not stop asking visiting friends to bring from abroad something more decent than an improved copy of a Japanese toy.

    Do not think about seconds down

    Due to the fact that the gadget did not become famous and popular, and its series was relatively limited, when shooting the legendary series about Stirlitz, they decided to pass him off as a German product from WW2. The gadget was transformed into the image of special equipment for GESTAPO and SD by gluing the SIEMENS logo onto the device case.

    For many today, this vintage voice recorder, first shown in new quality in 1973, personifies the technical power of the Third Reich. The Shtirlitsa voice recorder was able to do much more than a Japanese toy in the Soviet version. In the film, the device is capable of recording long conversations, reproducing sound without additional devices and working so quietly that even Agent Klaus easily secretly uses it in provocation with Pastor Schlag.

    Many people who were superficially familiar with the history of audio technology doubted the possibility of creating such a miniature voice recorder in those years. The main arguments of the doubters are based on the belief that such a miniature recorder can not be assembled on lamps, the Germans did not have enough small batteries in the 40s, and also could not assemble a miniature electric motor.

    At the same time, it’s known that after some 6 years Minifon tube wire voice recorders appeared on the open market , comparable in size to Electron-52D.

    The point on the theoretical possibility of creating a dictaphone of this size in the 1940s was put by the collector and author of the vintage-technics.ru project. He described in the article all the technologies that are necessary to create such a device, gave a bunch of proofs (links to patents and the use of developments in practice) that such technologies existed.

    Later, as evidence, he created an adapted version of Electron-52D using superminiature lamps CK502AX, CK505AX and other technologies that existed in the 1940s.

    scheme of the device

    appearance of the historical model

    More information about this, without exaggeration, titanic exploration work can be obtained by reference .

    There is also a corresponding video.

    I was skeptical about the possibility of creating such a compact recorder in the 40s, but after reading the article and the proofs provided, I had no doubt about this possibility.


    "Electron-52D" has become one example of successful copying of Western devices. According to reviews of all who held the prototype and the domestic device in their hands, the Soviet seems to be more perfect. Moreover, it is this experience that shows that even successfully copied devices could be completely useless in Soviet realities (like a toy - fabulously expensive, like a notebook - irrationally). Probably, if it weren’t for “17 Moments of Spring” - we did not remember about this device, but thanks to the film it became one of the most recognizable portable gadgets created in the USSR. Photo

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    Special thanks to vintage-technics.rufor a lot of useful information and for the whole project.

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