Sunday, October 22, 2017

Vibroplex Vibrokeyer

Get it right the first time

The electronic keyer, for sending Morse code, came into into use in the late 1950's and early 1960's.  Vibroplex introduced their first paddle key, the Vibrokeyer, in 1960. 

1960 Vibroplex Vibrokeyer

The Vibrokeyer key looks like a stunted Vibroplex Bug.   Vibroplex took the frame, pivot and lever mechanism straight from the Bug and simply did away with the sprung pendulum.  After all, why wouldn't they?  The Vibroplex Bug had been one of the best selling keys for sending Code for decades, and its design had barely changed since 1947.  Vibroplex had a winner with the Bug.  

But did that same design translate well to a key for use with an electronic keyer?

Vibrokeyer next to a Bug

The roots of the design

Vibroplex carried over the roots of their design principles, and two things stand out that make them different from other modern day keys designed for use with an electronic keyer...  The finger-pieces and the non-symmetrical, left-right movement.

The ergonomic finger-piece

The tip of our thumb obviously does not reach as far as our index finger without contorting your hand, so why do most key manufacturers make finger-pieces that assumes your thumb reach is equal to your other fingers?   

The Vibroplex finger-piece takes the shorter thumb into account by allowing the thumb to contact nearer the hand than the index finger.  It just makes sense, right?

Non-symmetrical lever operation

The split, and unequal length design of the lever requires different forces from the DIT and the DAH side.  Again, this is a carry over from the Bug, but it makes ergonomic sense.  We employ more force from our thumb than our index finger when moving the paddle lever.  It's simply the natural mechanics in the hand when it's in that position.  So, the Vibrokeyer not only provides different spring pressure adjustments, but also makes the mechanics of the DIT side different from the DAH.  

I don't know whether this was intentional or just making use of their existing Bug design, but in my opinion, the result makes the Vibrokeyer a better paddle with regard to the dynamics of our hand movements than keys with a symmetrical design.  Our thumb and forefinger do not move symmetrically.  The force and stroke length of the unequal lengths of the Vibrokeyer lever compliment our non-symmetric design.  Maybe it's my imagination, because other keys allow for independent tension and distance adjustment but the Vibrokeyer just feels different.  It feels more natural.

Non-symmetric split lever design

What's not to like?

The Vibrokeyer seems to check all the boxes, and patents have long since expired. So, why don't other modern keys copy this design?  For one thing it's a single lever paddle... In the 1970s IAMBIC keyer circuitry became popular, sparking the surge of dual-lever paddles that took advantage of squeeze keying.  Single lever paddles seemed to fall from grace for all but the QRQ crowd.

I own a work of art, dual-paddle key, from N3ZN that I enjoy using.  But I admit that even with the N3ZN key on my desk, right next to my Bug, I would frequently choose the Bug.  Part of it was the challenge and the anachronistic nature of the Bug, but now with the Vibrokeyer I find that the finger-piece and split bar design just seems to feel more natural and comfortable for my hand than a traditional dual paddle, symmetric design.

When Vibroplex created their first paddle-key, I think they got it right the first time

Vibroplex Vibrokeyer video

That's all for now

So lower your power and raise your expectations...

Richard, AA4OO

1 comment:

  1. What a great article. I had very little information as to the whys and wherefores of “paddledom”, but now I know why my 1964 Vibrokeyer sounds so sweet and feels like an old friend. I bought it from another Ham about 5 years ago, knowing almost zero about it. Vibroplex was nice enough to look up the serial number for me and date it.

    I sent it to Vibroplex then, and they did a nice refurbishment on it. There is something about the “clickity clack” sounds that are reassuring,. That kind of ads to the warm glow of the shack on a winters day.

    I have no idea about thumb versus finger force, and I come from a pure straight key background, but this mechanical marvel will always have a place on the desk. N6XJP, Dave