Are you a vinyl enthusiast looking for an affordable yet high-quality turntable? Look no further than the Realistic Lab 400.
While many people may dismiss this brand as cheap and lacking in quality, the truth is that Realistic, a division of Tandy, contracted out the construction of their turntables to reputable companies such as Hitachi and CEC.
The Lab 400, made in 1978, is a fully automatic direct drive turntable with a dynamically balanced aluminum platter, individual speed controls, and a statically balanced S-shaped tonearm. It even came with a Realistic-by-Shure cartridge, which was valued at $39.95 at the time.
In this article, we’ll dive deeper into the history of the Realistic Lab 400 and the companies that helped make it a great option for vinyl lovers on a budget.
Who Made The Realistic Lab 400 Turntable
As mentioned earlier, Realistic contracted out the construction of their turntables to other companies. The Lab 400 was made by CEC, an OEM company in Japan that also made models for various other brands.
CEC was known for their expertise in turntable manufacturing, and it shows in the Lab 400’s design and functionality. The turntable features a 16 pole brushless DC servomotor with ratings of 0.03% wow and flutter and better than 63dB rumble. The tonearm also has its own DC motor, making it completely independent of the platter drive.
The Lab 400’s base is an attractive walnut veneer, and it measures just 5 5/8 x 17 11/16 x 13 31/32 inches. It’s a fully automatic direct drive turntable, meaning you never have to touch the tonearm. Just pick the correct record size and push the start switch.
The History Of Realistic And Tandy Corporation
Realistic was a brand created by RadioShack, a division of Tandy Corporation, to market audio and video products for home use. The company was started in Boston by two brothers in 1921 with the goal of supporting the growing number of people who were operating ham radios and radio officers on ships. The initial plan was to sell their equipment under the “Realist” brand, but legal issues forced them to change it to “Realistic.”
Realistic had some very successful products in the CB category and a few 8-track tape recorders from their TR series that made money for RadioShack and Tandy. Tandy Corporation, which started as a leather goods manufacturer, acquired RadioShack and consolidated the catalog from 20,000 items to 2,500 items – focusing on the 20% that actually sold.
Around 500 RadioShack locations still exist (all independently owned) but the company that most of us grew up with is long gone. The Realistic brand was phased out in the mid-1990s and discontinued in 2000, then returned briefly in 2016. The Realistic brand was changed to Optimus, which is going to be the subject of a future article about budget vintage loudspeakers.
Tandy Corporation, along with Apple and Commodore, revolutionized the personal home computer market which made their retail locations a major destination. The Realistic brand benefitted from this level of exposure to hobbyists, computer nerds, and consumers who made RadioShack one of the leading retailers of consumer electronics.
The Creation Of The Realistic Lab 400 Turntable
The Realistic Lab 400 turntable was created through a partnership between Realistic and CEC, an OEM company in Japan known for their expertise in turntable manufacturing. Realistic contracted out the construction of their turntables to CEC and other companies, allowing them to focus on design and marketing.
CEC’s expertise is evident in the Lab 400’s design and functionality. The turntable features a powerful 16 pole brushless DC servomotor with ratings of 0.03% wow and flutter and better than 63dB rumble. The tonearm also has its own DC motor, making it completely independent of the platter drive. This design ensures near-perfect sound reproduction and precise speed adjustment.
The Lab 400’s base is made of an attractive walnut veneer, giving it a sleek and modern look. It measures just 5 5/8 x 17 11/16 x 13 31/32 inches, making it compact yet functional. It’s a fully automatic direct drive turntable, meaning you never have to touch the tonearm. Just pick the correct record size and push the start switch.
Hitachi’s Involvement In The Realistic Lab 400
Interestingly, Hitachi also played a role in the construction of the Realistic Lab 400 turntable. Hitachi provided the powerful brushless DC servo motor that gives the Lab 400 its smooth and distortion-free sound. This motor is a key component in the turntable’s ability to provide excellent tracking at less than 1.5g.
Hitachi’s involvement in the Lab 400’s construction is not surprising, as they were known for their expertise in motor manufacturing. Their contribution to the turntable’s design and functionality undoubtedly played a significant role in its success and popularity among audiophiles.
CEC’s Contribution To The Realistic Lab 400
CEC’s contribution to the Realistic Lab 400 was significant. The company’s expertise in turntable manufacturing is evident in the Lab 400’s design and performance. CEC utilized high-quality metal and wood to construct the turntable, resulting in a simple yet well-made product.
The Lab 400 features a 2-speed automatic direct drive with repeat function and record size selection. The platter, made of aluminum alloy diecast, measures 310mm and weighs 1.4kg. The turntable also has pitch control of +-4%, a signal to noise ratio of better than 53dB, and a static balance type, tubular tonearm with an effective length of 220mm.
CEC’s attention to detail is especially evident in the Lab 400’s motor system. The turntable’s 16 pole brushless DC servomotor has ratings of 0.03% wow and flutter and better than 63dB rumble. Additionally, the tonearm has its own DC motor, which is completely independent of the platter drive.
Features And Specifications Of The Realistic Lab 400
The Realistic Lab 400 turntable is a precision direct drive turntable that meets the high standards of performance that audiophiles expect for superior sound reproduction of their disc recordings. Here are some of its features and specifications:
– Platter: 310mm, 1.4kg, aluminium alloy diecast
– Motor: 16 pole brushless DC servo
– Speeds: 33 and 45rpm
– Pitch control: +-4%
– Signal to noise ratio: better than 53dB
– Wow and flutter: less than 0.03% WRMS
– Tonearm: static balance type, tubular
– Overall length: 302mm
– Effective length: 220mm
– Stylus force range: 0 to 4g
– Cartridge weight: 4 to 10g
– Cartridge: Realistic/Shure model R-100E
– Accessories: headshell with cartridge, counterweight and 45rpm adaptor
The turntable employs a powerful brushless DC servo motor for unwavering, near perfect sound. The stroboscope with bright neon lamp makes speed adjustment precise and easy. The S-shaped tonearm keeps the stylus of the cartridge perpendicular to the radius of the groove over the full surface of the record, which means low distortion and excellent tracking at less than 1.5g.
The Lab 400 comes complete with a moving magnet type cartridge with a 0.7mil diamond stylus that reproduces frequencies between 20-20,000Hz while maintaining superior channel separation. It also has a repeat function and record size selection.
The Realistic-by-Shure Cartridge
The Realistic Lab 400 turntable was fitted with a Realistic-by-Shure phono cartridge and a Realistic R3X needle stylus. This cartridge was specifically designed to work with the Lab 400 turntable and provided excellent sound quality and performance.
It’s important to note that the color of the stylus varied, so it’s best to verify which stylus replacement is needed before making a purchase. If the stylus above differs from what you have, it may mean that the cartridge has been changed over the years. In this case, it’s important to know the brand and model number of the cartridge in order to find a suitable replacement.
For those looking for an upgraded stylus replacement, there are options available that can provide even better sound quality and performance. However, it’s important to make sure that any replacement cartridge or stylus is compatible with the Realistic Lab 400 turntable before making a purchase.