BIC 940 Automatic Belt Drive Turntable And Shure M91ED Hi-Track Pickup

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Jul 18, 2005 (Updated Jul 19, 2005)


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The Bottom Line The BIC 940 turntable shows how a basic well designed classic analog piece of equipment can still rival the best digital sources of today.

A Little History Lesson:

I've talked many times of the great Dual/Shure combo and how both manufacturers benefitted greatly from the memorable marriage in the early 70's. I also told you that there was yet another line of turntables that the Shure Hi-Tracks mated well with. That manufacturer was the American based BIC...British Industries Corporation. Although said company enjoyed some early success by importing turntables by Garrard...their best days were upon them when they marketed their BIC Venturi loudspeakers and 900 series belt-driven turntables with the outstanding model 1000 as the flagship for said line as far back as 1973.

The once ailling company then flourished with great success as the audio buying public...especially here in the USA...could now take them seriously as a dedicated audiophile manufacturer of stereo equipment! But this just did not happen overnight.

It is most interesting to note that other turntable and phono cartridge manufacturers took notice of the great Dual/Shure success and by the end of 1976...Ortofon...a Danish moving coil phono cartridge and record cutting head manufacturer must have eyeballed this marriage with envy as the company purchased Dual at this point. The PE turntables were dropped from the line and the famous Dual/Shure marriage ended rather abruptly!

This also spelled doom for the once famed German Perpetuum Ebner co. that Dual had just purchased four years earlier and Ortofon who had just started manufacturing moving magnet cartridges...was now able to offer Dual turntables with their own ULM phono cartridges. Did this new marriage work? Well...yes...it did...but that is quite another story.

At this point...BIC...remember them?...well that is who this article is about anyway...had tried offering Shure M91ED cartridges with their Garrard models but with mixed success as these tables could not make the Hi-Tracks by Shure sing the way the Dual models had. Besides...even the top rated Garrard Zero 100 had its flaws with a less than ambitious rumble spec and although the tonearm had an interesting design that was supposed to eliminate tracking error and inner groove distortion...it simply fell flat on its tangential headshell when it came to tonearm bearing friction! With Garrard also out of the picture at this point...BIC had embarked yet upon another brave endeavor soon after their popularly priced Venturi speakers took both the USA and the rest of the audio world by storm!

That was...to offer a line of belt-driven turntables with real wooden bases and flawless low mass tonearms that featured low bearing friction in both lateral and vertical planes not unlike the latter day Dual 1200 belt-driven models. But BIC did it first!! Not only that...they called upon Shure to supply them with M91ED Hi-Track magnetic cartridges. The two companies obviously put their heads together and the joint venture bore fruit in the form of perfect tonearms for the highly compliant Shures!

Not only that...but the turntables were silent and now audiophiles on a budget could once again enjoy the benefits of the high trackability Shures that might have otherwise been lost after the Dual/Ortofon merger. The complete 900 series {920, 940, 960, 980} including the top-of-the-line 1000 model enjoyed tremendous success and was priced from $100 to $250 at the popular stereo discounters.

From 1968 to 1972...Shure's number two cartridge was the M91E that was mounted in a metal clip and sported a black stylus assembly with the Hi-Track logo stamped on it. But after Shure updated its top V-15 Type II with the V-15 Type II Improved version that featured a better lower massed nude .002 x .007 elliptical tip...this technology was passed on to the M91E cartridge with a bright new yellow stylus and the fact that the cartridge mounting holes became one with the main body itself. This eliminated the separate so-called "easy mount" clip.

Trackability was improved slightly in the highs. Now...Shure's number two cartridge was even better and older M91E owners could simply upgrade by purchasing the new "ED" stylus. It became the most famous Era II cartridge of all time! The Shure M91E and M91ED carts typically sold for around $16 to $22 at the discounters! Stylus replacement was easy and economical as one could purchase these styli for under $15 annually or whenever need be! They were widely available.

Although by 1977...these Era II M91ED's were featured in all of BIC's tables...Era III had already begun a full four years earlier with the introduction of the V-15 Type III Super-Track-Plus model along with a new number two...the Shure M95ED with its bright yellow yet lower-massed nude .002 x .007 elliptical tip. The Type III was the new "king" and the M95ED was the new "prince" of phono cartridges...as Shure put it.

Yet...the M95ED although nicely priced from $29 to $36...could not quite equal the popularity of the lower priced M91ED and BIC was able to offer the consumer great bargain basement analog masterpieces. All this is leading up to the turntable and cartridge for review here...the BIC 940 Automatic Turntable with Shure M91ED Hi-Track Phono Cartridge.

BIC 940:

I want to start off by telling you that I never owned this turntable but had seriously considered buying one during the late 70's. The BIC sported a first-rate geometrically correct straight low friction tonearm that started platter rotation when moved toward the record, a pre-installed Shure M91ED Hi-Track Moving Magnet Phono Cartridge, two speeds...33 1/3 rpm and 45 rpm, a very silent servo synchronous motor, a rubber belt drive system, a decent sized platter with well lit strobe markings, a pitch control, an automatic lift and return at the end of record play, a nice smooth cuing device and a beautifully crafted wood base. The three colored lettering of BIC was stamped on the well-crafted unit in proud fashion. Owning this turntable was like having Dual's great 1200 series tonearm and Technics' great belt drive system all in one! My encounter with this model although brief was memorable nonetheless!

While at my brother-in-law...Vincent's home one afternoon in 1983...I noticed that he owned a top Pioneer stereo receiver with equally impressive BIC Venturi floorstanding speakers, a top-rated Pioneer cassette deck and a BIC 940 turntable with that bright yellow Shure M91ED Hi-Track moving magnet phono cartridge. As I sat admiring and listening to the beautifully crafted sound system...his neighbor and friend...Bill and I engaged in a conversation about the oldies of the 60's that we were both very fond of.

I mentioned to both Billy and Vincent that although I admired the Ronnettes...I had no copy of their greatest hits from the Phil Spector "Wall Of Sound" era. Billy told me that this was no problem as he owned a pristine copy of an album that featured everything of importance they ever recorded! He simply told me that the next time my wife and I were at Vin's...he would hand me the tape.

Okay...great! Sure enough...a short time later we were back at Vincent's and Billy handed me the tape. I thanked him endlessly but did not expect much as the brand of tape was the cheapy supermarket "Laser" brand not the TDK or Maxell that I was accustomed to using and feared that this normal-biased cassette would be only marginal sounding at best in my humble Akai deck. I was in for a real shocking but rather pleasant surprise!

Not only did the tape sound great but it was in full frequency stereo. The sound also had a distinct familiar ring to it...it was very reminiscent of the Dual/Shure M91E combo I had experienced while in military service a full ten years earlier! I then realized that this British stereo imported copy that Bill owned was taped using Vincent's stereo system that included the BIC 940 turntable with Shure M91ED cartridge.

Ah-Haa! Ah-Haa!!...That explained the crisp clear detailed imaging but what about the highs? Were they too good to be true because maybe Bill engaged the "Dolby B" button or used the CRO2 position on the bias while recording on the Pioneer cassette deck? There was no appreciable amount of tape hiss when playing it on my deck. I was told that no Dolby Noise Reduction was used and Normal bias was set for the Laser tape. It was simply the great BIC/Shure combo performing at its peak! Now...I fully understood why the album sounded so good through my Harman Kardon stereo receiver and Bose 901 Series V speakers!

The mids were impressive as were the highs but the lows were awesome...especially on the thunderous "Walking In The Rain"! The stereo separation and depth were equally impressive as so were sibilants. This is even more impressive because of the fact that no two different manufacturers' tape decks are aligned precisely the same...at least so I thought! The air and space surrounding the vocalists and orchestra were breathtaking to say the least! My Akai unit never sounded better. Even more impressive was the fact that my brother-in-law had not replaced the stylus in about three or four years!

Okay...so maybe not everyone listens to their stereo as often as I do...but man...what a memorable performance! Here was that exact same sound that I had experienced with the Dual/Shure combo so many times before...but was so-ooo-oooo good to hear again after all those years.

There is just no substitute for proper tonearm/cartridge matching and this BIC 940 with its outstanding low friction low-mass tonearm suspension mated with the Shure M91ED proves it beyond a shadow of a doubt.

I understand that Vin's is still working although I'm sure he has probably replaced the bright orange belt by now...which incidentally is still available from places like Transtronic Lab locally. The 940 also sports a nice "pitch control" among its other features. Rumble is also very good...with the turntable offering no extraneous sounds other than what's in the grooves themselves. The gentle action of the cuing lever is also noteworthy.

Anyone seeking first-rate performance would be remiss to pass up a good turntable like this classic one from an auction site or garage sale! The problem with that is...nobody seems to want to give theirs up!! The BIC 940 turntable shows how a basic well designed classic analog piece of equipment can still rival the best digital sources of today...P2


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