Numerous sound companies had invested heavily in the W3 and W4, adopting it as a standard.
As a result, MASS systems were available in most locations, making it very easy for touring groups to borrow or rent cables and fan-outs for an emergency replacement or to extend a system for a particular show.
With the Cannon door firmly closed, Whirlwind ventured to set up its own large-format connector production facility, a significant financial risk for a relatively small company.
With the original tooling completely destroyed, the company’s engineering team had to start from scratch, not only creating the means to produce quality MASS connectors, but ones that would be compatible with the thousands already in use.
After several months of design, prototyping, testing, and more, the first all-Whirlwind W4 quietly rolled into the company’s custom shop and then into Whirlwind systems.
On the left, the previous MASS design, with updated version on the right. The arrow indicates extra metal added to the ring to support the rubber locator, tightening the receptacle area.
The switchover produced almost no news in the audio world which was good news for Whirlwind. And it wasn’t long before the W4 design was modified to produce the 122 contact W3.
Crimp In The Plan
Up to that time, all MASS connectors were solder type, making them difficult (if not impossible) for the average installer to assemble in the field. For this reason, designers were hesitant to specify MASS connectors into installations.
Also, if a pin happened to become bent or broken, the entire connector would have to be cut off and a new one soldered on. (There are stories of a few hardy souls that have replaced a solder type pin by prying the face of the connector insert away and disassembling it. Then they reassemble the whole thing pin-by-pin and socket-by-socket all 176 contacts. Do not try this at home!)
This led Whirlwind to the development of a replaceable contact version, necessary if the MASS connector was to be accepted for installs like stadiums, theaters, theme parks and the like.
The right way to prep a MASS connector, keeping things organized and secure.
It was a challenging process the solder connector was a known quantity. But a replaceable contact version would have to be compatible with the “mass of MASS” connectors already in use.
The project presented a physical challenge. The density of the contacts made it impossible to use a front release design and the required locking clip tolerances would never have been accepted if this connector didn’t have to mate with existing solder type MASS connectors.
Whirlwind engineers decided that the insert would be made of a three-piece assembly. The front piece was made of rubber and provided the face to the connector. The rear would be a solid wafer containing metal clips to hold the pins and sockets.
Since the metal clips would hold the contacts, the front rubber face would not expand as it was loaded. A center wafer was sandwiched between the front connector face and the rear wafer to keep the contacts aligned.
Working in tight quarters balanced by a clean, methodical approach.
Contacts would be inserted and extracted through the rear wafer. All three pieces were housed in a machined aluminum shell and held in place with a “C” clip.
Special pins and sockets were designed with a small cup on the rear into which the wire was placed and crimped with a standard hand-crimping tool.
The contacts could then be pushed into the insert from the rear until they clicked into position. If it became necessary to remove a pin or socket, a small tube like extraction tool was designed to be inserted around the contact and up into the connector shell where it pushed back the metal fingers on the retaining clip, allowing the contact to be pulled back out.