Wilhelm Franz, born in Bremen in 1913, founded his first firm, ‘Elektromesstechnik Wilhelm Franz K.G.’ in Berlin, in 1938. Two years later Wilhelm’s brother, Walter, joined the company. The Allied bombing air raids over Berlin intensified in 1943 and Franz moved to Schuttertal, then, after 1945, to Lahr, in the Schwarzwald region of south-western Germany. The logo of an 'arrowhead' was chosen as a symbol of the passage of an electric signal in an electronic circuitry.
After the war Franz, in co-operation with the ‘Rundfunktechnisches Institut’, (‘Broadcasting Technique Institute’) directed by Dr. Ing. Walter Kuhl, designed the ‘927 Large Studio turntable'. Introduced in 1951, the 927 is an impressive machine, outstanding in size (67 cm wide, 52 cm deep and 21.5 cm high) and performance. Its enormous main platter (44 cm) was necessary to play 16” acetate records and it was driven by a very large electric motor through a sturdy idler-wheel system. Additionally it could play the 33 1⁄3 rpm 12” Long-Playing records and 7” 45 rpm (RCA-standard) discs. The Danish firm Ortofon provided the tonearm for the 927 (‘RF-297’) and the first magnetic pickup officially installed by EMT on their turntables. A stroboscope engraved around the acrylic outer platter allowed the fine tuning of the 927’s speed and its quick-start arrangement allowed a remarkably short starting time of less than 500 milliseconds at 33rpm, an astounding feat at the time. The 927 was built in different versions, the ‘927A’, with an optical indicator of the position of the stylus on the grooves, the ‘927D’, a special reference version built with special care and very close tolerances for laboratory use, while the ‘927F’ could accommodate a second tonearm behind the platter, and ‘927st’ stereo version.
The 12” disc gradually became the standard source of pre-recorded music and the 16” record disappeared. When the 44 cm platter of the 927 was no more a conditio sine qua non for professional use EMT decided that it was possible to create a smaller but equally excellent brother to the ‘927’: the ‘930 Studio turntable', introduced in 1956.
The ‘930’ is a large machine as well (49×39×17.5 centimeters), that maintains all the functional characteristics of the larger brother in a more compact package. Its very sturdy cast-metal frame, ‘Kunststoff’ (Bakelite) main board and idler-wheel drive to the internal rim of its heavy platter gives it peerless sonic qualities. The drive system, start/stop system, brake and speed control are exactly as on the 927. Its bearing, though of a slightly reduced diameter than the 927’s, is on par for quality, and it is a ‘wet’ bearing too: it contains 25 cc of special EMT oil, that must be changed every time the turntable is serviced. The preamplifier of the monophonic 930 was the tube ‘139’. The quality and reliability of the EMT machines became rapidly legendary and the 'arrowhead' logo became a symbol of German engineering at its best in professional studio audio equipment, the only possible choice for top radio stations and the phonographic industry.
With its more reasonable size, the ‘930’ was somewhat more economical to build than the ‘927’, making it a very interesting turntable even for smaller studios, but EMT was not building only exceptionally good (and extremely expensive) machines. In 1957 it began the production of another machine that would become a real ‘best-seller’, the ‘140’ Reverberation Unit. Developed, like the ‘R80’ turntable, in co-operation with the ‘Rundfunktechnisches Institut’, the ‘140’ was one of EMT’s best products and remained in production for 25 years.
In 1958, the sound-reproduction world was shaken by the introduction of stereo, and 927s and 930s were quickly adapted to the new system with stereo cartridges, appropriate rewiring of the tonearm and the new stereo preamplifier ‘139st’; it was phased out of production when the more modern solid-state ‘155st’ arrived, in 1960. In that same year, Studer and EMT began to cooperate officially in the professional sound sector, the German firm becoming a distributor for many world markets of the excellent Swiss equipment. The success of this company, directed by Eugene Sporri since 1962, is driven by the Studer C37 and Revox B36/D36 tube recorders. In the same period, the German firm printed the first issue of its fabled ‘bulletin’, named ‘EMT-Kurier’ in the German edition, ‘EMT-Courier’ in the English one. 46 issues were printed; they are amongst the more treasured printed items for the EMT collector and student.
Wilhelm Franz, having judiciously expanded his factory (in 1963, the fabled ‘EMT-Gerätewerk’ in Lahr-Kuhbach, directed by Franz’s brother Walter, employed more than 200 workers), was also following his other firms: ‘Elektromesstechnik Wilhelm Franz KG-Lahr’ sold ‘Loopmatic’, ‘Vid-E-dit’ and Studer products in Germany and the rest of the world, ‘EMT-Wilhelm Franz GmbH Wettingen’ distributed EMT products only in Switzerland, ‘Studer-Franz AG Wettingen’ sold Studer products out of their home country, ‘Thorens-Franz AG’ was the distributor for Thorens for the whole world. In the following years, while Studer/Revox developed their own distribution network (one part of whom originated from ‘EMT-Wettingen’), Franz slowly tightened its relations with Thorens until, in 1966, he bought a majority stake in the firm. The production of their excellent turntable was then relocated from Wettingen to Lahr’s Gerätewerk (Germany’s labor cost was far lower than Switzerland’s, though quality was on par). It was also this close co-operation that carried, in 1969, to the birth of the first EMT tonearm, the fabulous ‘929’ (introduced in 1971 on the new ‘928’ and, since July of the same year, on the ‘930st’), loosely based on Thorens' 9” ‘TP-14’/BTP-12S’ arms. The 10” long 929 replaced the Ortofon ‘RF229/RMA229’, while the ‘long’ version of the 929, the 12” ‘997’ for the ‘927’, arrived in 1974 and replaced the ‘RF297/RMA297’ Ortofon.
In 1968, to try to fight the mounting tide of Japanese turntables, it was decided to try to ‘diversify’ the range of professional turntables, and the result of this attempt was the ‘EMT 928’. It was based on the excellent Thorens ‘TD125’, using its bearing, stroboscope, platter/subplatter arrangement and two-part sturdy chassis: both were designed and developed in the laboratories of the Gerätewerk. EMT modified the electronics, fitted their own RIAA-curve compensating circuitry and preamplifier, stiffened the suspension of the main chassis.
The 928, that used the new 929 tonearm, was the last EMT turntable to appear under the management of Wilhelm Franz, who died in date April 10, 1971, at the age of 58 years. Franz had been a towering figure in the audio field for three decades and the main responsible of the development of some of the best equipment in the professional field of its time: the loss of this great personality had a devastating effect on EMT. The Audio Engineering Society awarded him a posthumous Honorary Membership in 1983, recognizing his impact in the professional sound field not only for his magnificent turntables but also for other excellent products like the reverberation units ‘140’, ‘240’ and ‘250’: The EMT 250 mobile reverberation unit in particular, designed in 1974 by freelance Dipl. Industrial Designer Peter Bermes for EMT in close cooperation with EMT Technical Director Karl Otto Bäder and MIT Professor Barry Blesser, who had developed and patented the units digital algorithm - an incredible effort achieved in an entirely analogue Era – quickly gained solid reputation primarily among west coast's recording studios in the US, due to its unrivalled sound quality and being nicknamed 'R2D2' because of its iconografic lever controlled interface, or 'Spaceheater' due to its vertical heat sink body made of black anodised aluminium panels and separate U-shaped 'Chimney', housing all heat-emitting ic's and therefor being painted red. Because of its unique sound and design qualities, regarded even 40 years later as being unmatched, the EMT 250 was selected as a permanent entry to the collection of the 'TEC Hall of Fame' in 2007). Then the company moved its headquarters in a completely new, 35,000-square-meter factory with a tidy two-storey building in Kippenheim, Wilhelm-Franz-Strasse 1. Following this expansive trend, EMT enlarged the new premises in 1976 and 1984. In 1978, the name of the firm was changed again, this time becoming ‘EMT-FRANZ GmbH’.
Direct-drive turntables were changing the habits of radio professionals; a rigid coupling between the motor and the platter was desirable for quick starts and stops, though, so, as the idler-wheel concept was beginning to look old-fashioned, EMT followed the example of National’s splendid SP-10 and proceeded to build a direct-drive turntable, possibly the best one ever: the ‘950 Schallplatten-Wiedergabe-Maschine’.
Introduced in 1976, the EMT 950 Schallplatten-Wiedergabe-Maschine is a formidable machine indeed. Built without any compromise in matters of cost, weight, size and aesthetics, it was introduced in two types, ‘Standard’, (‘950’, 693 millimeters wide) with controls on the left side of the disc, and a ‘Narrowline Model’ (‘950 E’ or ‘Schmale Ausführung’, 519 mm wide, 573 mm deep, introduced at the end of 1977) conceived for less spacious studios; the ‘narrowline’ 950 had the same controls, but its pushbuttons were all lined up in the front panel. Starting time at 33 rpm was 200 milliseconds, and, just pushing a button, the record would rotate backwards to find the beginning of a track: the user could monitor the cueing with the inbuilt speaker. Both machines could be mounted on their own ‘legs’ or in a console; the shock absorber frame was built-in. In stock form, whichever the cabinet, the ‘950’ had three speeds (33, 45 and 78 rpm) with automatic selection of 33 or 45 at the raising of the central adapter for the smaller records, a ‘929’ arm in stock aluminium finish with brass or black counterweight and a ‘TSD15’ Tondose with ‘4 150 056’ transformers on the equalizer board ‘7 950 038’ or ‘7 950 088’ board (‘9 950 110’ or ‘narrow’ ‘9 950 210’). It was possible to order a tailor-made 950 to suit any professional need, provided that the customer could pay the extremely high prices of this machine. In 1976, 15.000 Deutsche Marks was the basic list price of a 950.
To meet the needs of less affluent stations, EMT introduced in 1979 a new model, based on the same principles as the ‘950’: the ‘948 Broadcast turntable'. It had direct drive, sophisticated electronics and a ‘929’ tonearm, but in a much more compact envelope. Its Perspex dust cover featured a ‘groove’ where the DJ could put the cover as a handy reminder of the record that was being played. Basically, its design owed much to the superb construction of the ‘950’, and its sturdy metallic chassis was filled, under the deck, by a neat stack of boards carrying the electronic circuitry allowing an easy, quick access for service or repair. Though somewhat simplified if compared to the mighty ‘950’, the ‘948’ had the same illuminated pushbuttons, a wise choice of speeds and the reverse rotation of the record for cueing. After a first series, a green synchro light was fitted at the lower right edge of the platter to indicate the reaching of the nominal rotational speed. The external illumination ‘pod’ was available as an option, and was mounted on the left near side of the deck.
The ‘948’ cost around DM 12.000 and was therefore still too expensive for many professional users. (For many customers in faraway countries, it was also too complicated, so EMT continued the production of the ‘930’ until 1982.) An even smaller and cheaper unit was designed and introduced in March, 1982: the ‘938’ ‘Broadcast Disk Reproducer’ (Rundfunk-Plattenspieler) featured a simplified direct-drive and electronics, it was slimmer and cheaper than its two brothers and some of its parts, like the plinth and lid, were taken from commercial ‘hi-fi’ products. The 938 had been designed in co-operation with Thorens, and a modified version of the 938 was marketed by this firm as the ‘TD 524’, a discothèque-oriented deck that could be equipped with a Thorens ‘TP 16L’ or even the EMT ‘929’ tonearm. The '938' cost around DM 6.000 without the upgradeable, pluggable moving coil cartridge preamplifier circuit board.
In 1985, the TSD 15 cartridge was improved, fitting an elliptical ‘super fineline stylus’ in place of the original conical one. Unfortunately, the writing was on the wall for the vinyl LPs and for the turntables built for them; the arrival of the 5” Compact Disc, in 1982, made an irreversible impact on the pro world. EMT began to produce CD-players as well (the first, in 1987, was the EMT 980, followed by the ‘981’ and then the wonderful ‘982’), but in 1988 sales of CDs overcame the sale of LPs for the first time in history, and the CD/LP ratio had been declining since then with the definitive disappearance of the LP from the mass market. This left little choice: at the end of the Eighties the last EMT 950 rolled off the factory in Kippenheim, and this closed, irreversibly, an era.
EMT was bought by the renowned Belgian firm Barco and became ‘Barco-EMT’ since January 1, 1989. The professional audio products were gradually dismissed and not replaced; it has been bought by a renowned builder of high-end audio products.
Classic EMT turntables are sought-after by audiophiles. The early, larger idler-wheel machines (927, 930) are still considered amongst the best turntables ever built.
Current products including the "Tondose".