History of the Binson Amplifier HiFi Company
by Phil Taylor
The Early Years
The Binson Amplifier Hi-Fi company has a long history dating back to the mid-1940s when engineer and entrepreneur, Dr Bonfiglio Bini established the first work premises in Via Padova, 39, Milan, Italy. The company initially began manufacturing tube radios under the brand name Roberson and later extended it’s product range to include television sets under the brand name Mirason. Towards the late 1940s Dr Bini began to build small guitar amplifiers, and in 1952 introduced his first big seller, a beautiful guitar amp, called the Binson 3° (meaning Binson third; in Italian the small “o” or “a” is the equivalent of English “nd” or “rd” after a number. So Echorec 2° means Echorec 2nd). Over the course of a half a century Binson created a wide range of technically innovative audio products for musicians including tube delay and reverb effect units, guitar amplifiers, mixers, P.A. speakers, keyboards (the ‘Binsonett’) and even wireless microphones, which were considerably ahead of their time. Binson are most famous for their Echorec delay-echo unit designed and developed by Dr Bini.
The Binson Echorec – the World’s Finest Delay
The Echorec was introduced to the market in the mid 1950s and became established as ‘The hallmark’ of technical perfection worldwide defining the sound of many players, including rock guitarists, David Gilmour (Pink Floyd) and Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) and electronic musicians such as Delia Derbyshire (BBC Radiophonic Workshop) and ‘The Chemical Brothers’. The key to the success of the Binson Echorec was a “memory disc” a piece of precision engineering which was more durable and stable then the magnetic tape used in other delay units from this period. The first batch of Ecorec machines (spelt without an ‘h’) were manufactured around 1953/54 and it’s thought that no more than thirty units were built. The word ‘Ecorec’ is made up from the Italian word ‘eco’, meaning echo, and the first syllable of the word ‘record’. It is believed that the first Echorec (spelt with an ‘h’) in his definitive form was built around 1955 and this model was manufactured up until 1962/63. The Baby Binson was introduced around 1958 (though the scheme is dated March 1960) and was primarily aimed at guitar players. This model had a smaller disc, was less bulky and came with a less hefty price tag – of just £140 in 1962 – than it’s big brother (for comparison a Vox AC30 cost £119 and a Fender Stratocaster £160). Although the Baby Binson was a budget unit it performed almost as well as the larger Echorec units. The Baby was manufactured up until 65/66, when Bini made the decision to build only one standard drum and chassis to lower production costs instead of two. Manufacture of the smaller baby drum and chassis parts was dropped and from this point onwards the Baby was replaced by the B2 (then ‘Export’) which was a Baby with disc and chassis dimensions of its big brother.
The very first Export models, the B1S featured just one channel, which means the old-style, cream ‘car radio’ channel selector buttons are conspicuously absent from the front panel. The Baby and the Export (Sound City Echomaster 1) were the only “classic” models with four knobs, all the other models were six knob designs with twelve separate echo selections from one head alone to complex multitap effects with all four playback heads. Record level, playback and regeneration (feedback) was also adjustable. This was the standard layout for the B1, B2, T5 and T5E models. The most significant Echorec, the Echorec 2°, was introduced in 1960. The first version was fitted with a golden front panel, and then about a year later this was altered to become a black panel as seen on the majority of Echorec units. This model was the very first to offer reverb and not just delay. The Echorec was so successful that Binson also manufactured the machine for Sound City, Guild and the Italian company, EKO Guitars.
Dr Bini was insistent that there was no noise gate circuitry in the Echorec as this would it cut off the tails of the last, low level delay repeats – he wanted the reverb to “breathe”. Additionally there was no variable speed motor because it would have adversely affected the equalisation. The next generation of machines started with the T7E, which made it possible to obtain lush sweeping echoes and preset reverbs. This facility was available on the Echomaster 2, most of the Guild series, and the larger 19″ sized studio machines, notably the PE603 TU, which was available with tube or transistor ciruitry. These units also had the capability to playback on one selected head and feed back on another. This, coupled with the breathtaking reverbs, gave an unparalleled effect palette to the musician or engineer. A smaller Guild unit was available at this time and a full size transistor 603. Stereo units – a very rare to find with no more than 50 ever made – were also manufactured, with one motor, two jockey wheels, and two drums, with four or six heads per drum and many of their mixers had a built-in Echorec. The rack units were introduced around 1967/68 to complete their beautiful P.A. rack system. The first machines with 6 playback heads (7 heads total) were introduced in 69/70 and with the EC series, introduced in 1975, they had machines with 4, 6, 8 and even 10 playback heads! Solid-state models were introduced around 1971, but Binson manufactured the tube Echorec 2° until 1979. The EC line was introduced in 1975 and the E4T in 1979.
The Binson Factory
As their product portfolio became larger and international sales increased it became necessary for Binson to find larger premises to meet the demand for orders. Manufacturing was relocated from Via Padova in 1963, leaving head office there and a new factory was built in Via Guinizelli, Milan. Just a few years later another small factory was opened in Via Predabissi, Milan in which they built Binsonett organ. Finally they closed both Milanese factories and relocated all deparments to a single larger premises in Settimo Milanese – a small town on the outskirts of Milan, Italy – around 1971. At this time Binson employed around 250 staff, including design, mechanical and production engineers, acoustic specialists, carpenters, assemblers, purchasing, admin and sales staff. Dr Bini was to change the company name several more times during it’s long history, next to “Bini Valenti Amelia” (two surnames followed by a female name, Amelia). This later became “Construzioni Radio Eletttroniche Bini (C.R.E.B.)”, then “Binson S.p.A. (Società per Azioni – Italian corporate company)”, ““Construzioni Apparecchiature Elettriche (C.A.E.) [Electrical Devices Manufacturing in English]” and finally “Binson S.R.L. (Società a Responsabilità Limitata – Italian limited liability company)”.
After operating for almost four decades Binson eventually went into liquidation in the early 1980s and discontinued manufacturing operations in 1986. Perhaps, the development of cheap and compact BBD and digital delay technology played a part in Binson’s demise. Also, tube gear was falling out of fashion – even the guitar amplifier industry was shifting towards solid-state gear at this time.
However, that wasn’t quite the end – The story goes that Dr. Bini still kept the factory store open from time to time so that enthusiasts, musicians and collectors could bring their own old Echorecs for qualified servicing, repair and technical support. Dr Bini and Mr Scarano (his chief technician) would sometimes give historic tours around the closed factory facilities in their free-time in the evenings. N.O.S. (new old stock – still boxed and sealed in their original factory packaging!) Echorecs, amplifiers and mixers could still be purchased from the reservoir stock that remained from the Binsons’ heyday. Given the Italians easy-going demeanor (and healthy disrespect for rules or regulations) I can’t help but imagine a few bottles of Barolo being enjoyed during these late evening get-togethers.
Even though the main Binson factory had ceased production, technical support for servicing, repairing and modifying Echorecs was still available through Binson’s UK representive Eric Snowball, an ex Vox engineer. His small workshop was based at ESE music in Maidstone, Kent where he and a couple of technicians had the capability to refurbish, restore and repair Echorecs to a very high level – completely refurbished units looked (and had the aromatic tang of new paint!) just as if they had rolled off the Binson factory production line back in the 60s. They had the expertise to rebuild and restore the Echorec memory system, cleaning and replating old and corroded parts, refacing the heads and drum so it was as new. They could even construct new Tolex covered wooden carry cases that housed the Echorec.
The pool of expertise on vintage Echorec units could be thought of as an ever dwindling resource that is slowly ebbing away, and this would certainly be true, except for enthusiasts such as Mr Snowball who are still using, adoring and keeping these archaic, yet magnificient machines alive. And there’s another little side-story to tell here, this time about an Italian engineer with a passion for vintage equipment named Marcello Patruno who happened to live nearby the Binson factory. He also visited the factory in 1982 to purchase a lot of several different Echorec models and a supply of new old stock parts with the intention of one day restoring his Binson Echorec units. He kept the parts for many years until the day he had the time to restore his Binson units. His first rebuilds were rebuilds to the original specification, however he then went on to re-engineer and improve certain aspects of the design. Enhancements included aluminium idler wheel for better stability, variable speed DC motor, longer delay time, wider frequency response, DC heaters in the tubes for lower noise – all housed in a sleeker, lower profile enclosure. A much improved specification over the original Echorec design.
Dr Bini closed his store doors for the last time in 1996 and I understand that Eric Snowball recently retired in 2011. The Binson factory still stands and the building looks like it’s in pretty good shape, although it is empty and derelict inside and there’s an estate agents board outside. The factory is located at the intersection of Via Fermi and Via Albert Einstein (the roads on this industrial estate are named after famous scientists) in Settimo Milanese, Milan, Italy – hallowed ground for Echorec enthusiasts. Sadly, Dr. Bini passed away two or three years ago at the time of writing this article (2013). Although Binson products are no longer manufactured, his daughter still owns the rights to the original “Binson” trademark.
One final note. For Dr Bini super-quality was an absolute MUST. The Binson company manufactured every single component in house apart from tubes, heads and bolts. When asked if it would not have been cheaper to have chassis and wooden cases and moulded parts made by third party manufacturers, Dr Bini replied, “Sure it would have been cheaper, but then it would not be Binson stuff anymore!”.
Author’s note: Special thanks to David Bozzoni for kindly supplying a great deal of additional material to improve and expand this article. Very little information exists about Binson and I welcome any additional information, pictures or literature anyone can offer to supplement or improve this article.