history of recorded sound

The History of Recorded Sound


I am a fanatic about the history of recorded sound! I think that it’s fascinating, fun and gives huge insights into our industry. You know the adage… “ya gotta know where we came from in order to know where we’re going”. Decades ago, I started on this “picture” book… but before wikipedia, I didn’t have the resources, time or interest to find the pictures and get clearances for each and every one. Wiki took care of that for me, so I’m finally putting it out for free on the web, to you… the industry at large. It will continue to be a work in progress.

If you like it , I only ask two things …

With thanks,

David Miles Huber
©2013 David Miles Huber – all rights reserved … enjoy!


In 1977, while studying at the University of Surrey in England, I attended an Association of Professional Recording Studio’s convention in London. To my surprise, the theme of the show was the fact that that year marked the 100th anniversary of recorded sound. Given that there were all sorts of gramophones, older mics, tape machines… you name it, I was really excited. To this day, when I get around folks who are interested in the history of the tools and toys of audio and music recording (not to mention the toys themselves), my innards turn to mush and I get way too excited to be of much use to anybody…

Twenty five years later, in the year 2002, while at a NAMM convention in Anaheim, California… I was talking with a buddy about a bunch of stuff… and something triggered my sore spot. I relayed to him that it was the 125th anniversary of recorded sound… and although we were in a room full of about 12,000 industry professionals – there might be 25 folks who were aware of this fact. I also told him of my age-old interest in writing a book on the history of recorded sound, the following words shocked me… Well, why don’t you do it? … and the rest is (ahem) history!

Truth is, there are a number of unsung heroes in the recording and music biz who have been working tirelessly and selflessly to pass the technical, interpersonal and just plain fun knowledge of past years in recording on to present and future generations. These folks have asserted themselves by creating websites, joining organizations (such as the AES’ Historical Committee) and by building museums, often where the past can actually come alive by putting the equipment into action in hands-on sessions.

In short, this book is for and dedicated to the species within the recording, music and communications industries who live, eat, breath and have fun with what I call “toys”. It book tells the chronological story of toys and the big boys and girls who helped make out production lives possible… They tested, toiled … and breathed the life of music, speech and communication through acoustic tubes, electron streams and the atmosphere.

Oh, yes… The purpose of this book is not to be a definitive and scholarly text. If I made a mistake, I’m sorry! I’ve done my best to cross-check with the powers that be and have checked more sources that I care to mention (actually, by the absence of a bibliography, I won’t mention them). Beyond the concept of fueling the flames of the intellect, what I want most is for you… is to have fun!

The Acoustic Era

► 1877: Before Edison

► Before The Phonograph

Before that magical day in 1877, when Edison recited “Mary had a little lamb” into the first phonograph, there was absolutely no way to capture sound. However, this doesn’t mean that attempts weren’t made. The idea that a contraption could talk dates back centuries earlier, although attempts to build such a machine almost always became impossibly complex. Inventors tried devices that could be placed into dolls and statues to crudely imitate speech, but they never came up with a system that could successfully record and reproduce it.

In actuality, the phonograph could’ve been invented earlier. All of the parts of Edison’s first working model (the rotating drum, screw-thread, vibrating diaphragm, and stylus) existed long before 1877. Quite simply, the combination that would open the genie’s bottle simply didn’t occur to anyone. As a result, formal speech was left to the media of the day and the thirst for music was quenched in the music halls, opera houses, on the streets and especially in the piano parlor.

► Early Digital… or is it MIDI?

At the Paris Exhibition of 1801, a French silk-weaver named Joseph Marie Jacquard was awarded a medal for improving the automatic loom. Soon after, he used punch cards to “record” automated moves that would control the device to create various complex pattern designs. In 1851, at the London Exhibition, a similar punch card system was adapted by Charles Dawson who exhibited his “jacquard organ”… using cardboard strips to control the air bellows.

► Scholarly attempts

As early as 1806, an English physician and naturalist named Thomas Young, used a tuning fork to record its vibrations onto a rotating, wax-covered drum. Alas, his experiments had little to do with the recording of sound. Instead, using an established frequency, he attempted to use the device to measure exceedingly small units of time.

The Acoustic Era

► 1877: Before Edison

► Before The Phonograph

Before that magical day in 1877, when Edison recited “Mary had a little lamb” into the first phonograph, there was absolutely no way to capture sound. However, this doesn’t mean that attempts weren’t made. The idea that a contraption could talk dates back centuries earlier, although attempts to build such a machine almost always became impossibly complex. Inventors tried devices that could be placed into dolls and statues to crudely imitate speech, but they never came up with a system that could successfully record and reproduce it.

In actuality, the phonograph could’ve been invented earlier. All of the parts of Edison’s first working model (the rotating drum, screw-thread, vibrating diaphragm, and stylus) existed long before 1877. Quite simply, the combination that would open the genie’s bottle simply didn’t occur to anyone. As a result, formal speech was left to the media of the day and the thirst for music was quenched in the music halls, opera houses, on the streets and especially in the piano parlor.

► Early Digital… or is it MIDI?

At the Paris Exhibition of 1801, a French silk-weaver named Joseph Marie Jacquard was awarded a medal for improving the automatic loom. Soon after, he used punch cards to “record” automated moves that would control the device to create various complex pattern designs. In 1851, at the London Exhibition, a similar punch card system was adapted by Charles Dawson who exhibited his “jacquard organ”… using cardboard strips to control the air bellows.

► Scholarly attempts

As early as 1806, an English physician and naturalist named Thomas Young, used a tuning fork to record its vibrations onto a rotating, wax-covered drum. Alas, his experiments had little to do with the recording of sound. Instead, using an established frequency, he attempted to use the device to measure exceedingly small units of time.

► The Phonautograph

Of course, serious attempts to mechanically record sound were made before Edison. One such machine was created in 1857 by a French librarian and typesetter named Leon Scott (Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville). Scott’s invention (known as the phonautograph) included a small horn/stylus combination that would inscribe sonic vibrations onto a cylinder which was covered with a lampblack powder.

Amazingly, the device recorded sound by etching the traces of a hog’s bristle into the powder… unfortunately, Scott never made the conceptual leap that would’ve allowed the etching to be played back. Unverified historical accounts, stated that Scott had visited the White House during Abraham Lincoln’s term and actually made a Phonautograph recording of his voice. If that lampblack-covered paper had survived, it could have been used to recreate Lincoln’s voice.

Although the device became little more than a novelty, it sold in limited quantities for 500 francs. One of the models was bought by Joseph Henry in 1866 for the Smithsonian Institute, and is still on display.

► Cross’ Paleophone

Some 20 years later, another Frenchman named Charles Cros came much closer than anyone to creating a record/playback machine. In his brief life of 46 years, Cros practiced medicine, taught chemistry, invented a process of color photography and wrote poems that earned Verlain’s praise. Since he loved to tinker with ideas, he took a look at Scott’s device and theorized that a person’s voice could be engraved onto a transparent, smoke-blackened surface. Once recorded, the etched spirals could be engraved into a hard surface (such as steel) using a well-known photographic process, which could be played back to yield the original sound.

Cros was convinced that his idea (which he called the Paleophone) would work. Since he had no money to apply for a patent or to build a working model, he filed a document in April 1877 detailing his idea with the French Academy of Sciences. Sadly, Cros didn’t make a single, working model, and died in 1888 trying to prove that his ideas predated Edison’s.

► Sound Writer

Neither Cross nor Edison were the original author of the word “phonograph” (which literally translates as sound writer). That honor goes to F. B. Fenby, an inventor in Worchester, MA, who was granted a patent in 1863 for an unsuccessful device called the “Electro-Magnetic Phonograph”. His concept detailed a system that would record a sequence of keyboard strokes onto paper tape. Although no model or workable device was ever made, it is often seen as a link to the concept of punched paper for player piano rolls (1880s), as well as Herman Hollerith’s punch card tabulator (used in the 1890 census), a distant precursor to the modern computer.

► An important side-issue

Born in Hanover, Germany, it’s important to note that a budding scientist named Emile Berliner came to Washington in 1870 at the age of 19. He soon began studying part-time physics at the Cooper Institute (now Cooper Union) while assisting in a chemical laboratory.

After learning from a telegraph operator that more current passed through the circuit whenever the key was pressed harder, Berliner theorized that variations in contact pressure between terminals connected to a diaphragm and a carbon element could be used to generate an electrical current. This insight led to the development of the carbon microphone. The then 25 year-old Berliner sold his microphone patent for $50,000 to the fledgling Bell Telephone Company, which made the telephone a practical device and paved the way for Bell to become one of the world’s largest corporations.

1877: Birthplace of Recorded Sound

► “Mary had a Little Lamb”

A device that could successfully record and reproduce sound was finally invented in 1877 by someone who wasn’t looking for it at all. In August of that year, Thomas Alva Edison drew sketches of a cylindrical recording device and had a model built in his Menlo Park Laboratory.

Soon thereafter, he commissioned a man named John Kruesi to study his drawing and built the first working model, for a fee of $18. Edison tested it out by reciting “Mary had a little lamb” into the device and was astounded that it worked. “I was never so taken aback. I was always afraid of things that worked the first time.” The first phonograph wasn’t beautiful but it proved that reproducing sound waves was finally possible.

The invention caused an immediate stir. To the public, the idea seemed to be magic and was deemed impossible. Everyone wanted to see the phonograph in person, and demonstrations were in high demand. It was said that people from the Four Corners of the globe would walk up the hill on Christie Street to watch Edison hold court over his new baby.

On one account, a bishop came to Menlo Park to see if the phonograph was a fraud. Upon his arrival, Edison told the bishop …”I think it would more satisfactory if you talked to the machine yourself”. The Bishop stepped up to the recording tube and began to shout the longest list of proper names from the Bible that he could remember…. “Mahalaleel”…. Hazarmaveth…… Arphaxad…. Mathuselah…. Chedorlaomer,” and a list that Edison said would “Stop a clock.” The little machine didn’t even hesitate as it shot the Biblical “begats” back at the Bishop with such speed and accuracy that it astonished even him.

At one demonstration, a crowd reporters showed up at the Menlo Park laboratories to hear this remarkable gadget. Edison happily obliged them by recording the cornet playing of a Mr. Jules Levy. According to the newspaper account…

Mr. Edison showed the effect of turning the cylinder at different degrees of speed, and then the phonograph proceeded utterly to rout Mr. Levy by playing his tunes in pitches and octaves of astonishing variety. It was interesting to observe the total indifference of the phonograph to the pitch of the note it began upon with regard to the pitch of the note with which it was to end. Gravely singing the tune correctly for half a dozen notes, it would suddenly soar into regions too painfully high for the cornet even by any chance to follow it. Then it delivered the variations on “Yankee Doodle” with a celerity no human fingering of the cornet could rival. . . . The phonograph was equal to any attempts to take unfair advantage of it, and it repeated its songs, and whistles, and speeches, with the cornet music heard so clearly over all, that its victory was unanimously conceded, and amid hilarious crowing from the triumphant cylinder the cornet was ignominiously shut up in its box.

► The Tin Foil Miracle!

The phonograph itself was a crude mechanism that consisted of a metal cylinder that was attached to a hand-cranked screw. The recording mechanism consisted of a small horn that was attached to a diaphragm with a sharp metal stylus. Playback was accomplished was similar, except the playback stylus had a rounded tip for a smoother sound. A sheet of tin foil was then wrapped around the cylinder (Edison experimented with silver foil, which was a little more expensive but had a smoother sound that recorded better). By turning the crack, sounds collected at the horn caused the diaphragm to drive the stylus into the foil, causing grooves that consisted of thousands of tiny dents. Likewise, the vibrating playback stylus would cause the diaphragm to vibrate into its playback horn in the same manner.

The Wizard of Menlo Park

The fact that sounds could now be recorded and played back affected the public consciousness of the time with an impact that was similar to the news of astronauts having landed on the moon! Edison was only 30 years old, and was quickly hailed as “The Wizard of Menlo Park”!

Despite the centuries of anticipation, and the numerous attempts to build such a machine… now that it was here, nobody really knew what to do with it. Despite its initial success and grand plans for talking dolls, clocks, and paid exhibitions, the phonograph soon lost the spotlight. Truth is, it produced a harsh and grating sound. Sibilants were completely missing and it was nearly impossible to re-align the foil, once it was removed.

Edison knew that a lot more work would have to go into the phonograph before it would be more that a “mere toy”, however, what was supposed to be a restful summer trip out West in 1878 to view a solar eclipse soon turned Edison’s interest to the electric light. The phonograph, and all its grand schemes, were soon laid aside and were generally neglected by other business interests as well.

An Edison Mini-Biography

1881: Bell & Tainter “and the War is on!”

► Revival of the fittest

No one knows why interest in the phonograph slowly revived over the next few years? Perhaps, it was the fact that Edison had made improvements to Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone which embarrassed Bell… as without Edison’s improvements, the telephone was totally impractical. To settle the score, he used a prize for his invention of the phone to independently finance research to find better ways to record and reproduce sound.

Soon after creating the Volta Laboratories in Washington, D.C., Bell hired Chichester Bell (an English relative) and Charles Sumner Tainter to improve upon the phonogragh. Over several years, their research resulted in five patents. One of these replaced Edison’s tin foil cylinder with a wax-coated cardboard tube that could be slipped on and off with relative ease. Another improved upon the hill-and-dale cutting system, producing a gentler motion that resulted in a more pleasing sound. The main drawback to these improvements resulted in a dramatically lower volume, resulting in the addition of “ear tubes” for amplification. This led to the creation of the “graphophone”, a word that was concocted by switching the words “phono” and “graph”. All of this stirred Edison’s fancy once again, and he countered by improving the cylinder’s design to make a batter machine that included a solid-wax cylinder that could be shaved and used repeatedly.

Soon after their patent was approved on May 4, 1886, Bell and Tainter sold their patents to a group of Washington businessmen, who then formed the American Graphophone Corporation. This organization began to manufacture machines that were driven by foot treadles, however, Edison stole the show by equipping his phonographs with battery-driven, electric motors… In fact, the rivals helped themselves to each other’s ideas that, before long, both machines worked on the same principles. The technology had been copied so much that Bell and Tainter cylinders could be played on an Edison machine and vice versa. Obviously, the companies became bitter rivals.

1887: Emile Berliner is granted a patent on a flat-disc gramophone, making the production of multiple copies practical

► Berliner… and now, Something Completely Different!

While the fledgling companies competed for cylinders that would be the latest parlor hit, Emile Berliner (see earlier entry) began to take interest in the future of sound recording and reproduction. He examined both the phonograph and the graphophone in order to learn the advantages and disadvantages of each, and came to the conclusion that although the wax cylinder was a major improvement over the tinfoil cylinder, it was too soft and fragile to make a recording that would last during repeated plays. In addition, the vertical cut (hill-and-dale) grooves often weren’t deep enough to keep the stylus from skidding across the cylinder… requiring the stylus to be attached to a feed screw. Finally, a wax cylinder couldn’t be mass-produced, so if recordings were ever to be widely distributed, a method for mass-producing exact copies would be required.

All of this added up to the need for a whole new type of recording/reproduction system. Bell and Tainter knew about these shortcomings, but it was Emile Berliner who opened the door to a completely new form of record – the disc.

Using the money from his microphone patent sales, Berliner went about the task of creating his own recording device. One of his major sources of inspiration was Leon Scott’s phonautograph, which he had seen at the Smithsonian Institute. Berliner felt that the smoke-blackened surface offered a uniform resistance to the stylus, thereby providing a greater chance for a faithful recording.

He went about constructing a very simple copy of the phonautograph that would laterally etch a trace onto a rotating drum. He completed the reproduction puzzle by coating the trace with shellac and then getting a photo-engraver to translate it into an etched groove on a thin metal plate that could be wrapped around the cylinder. Of course, it worked!

Berliner now set out to “etch the human voice” using a process that eliminated the photographic process. He finally succeeded by applying a beeswax solution onto a polished zinc plate. The recording stylus laterally cut into the rotating disc, exposing the metal beneath. By applying a solution of chromic acid, Berliner was able to etch a groove into the plate that could be successfully played back… with this, the gramophone was born.

► Early Gramophones

By the early 1890s, the world’s first laterally-cut disc records were available not in the United States, but in Germany. After having obtained a patent in both England and Germany, he went to the later to demonstrate his new invention. While visiting his native Hanover, he was approached by a toy manufacturer, who offered make small hand-turned machines for the toy market. Berliner agreed, and as a result, five-inch “Berliner Gramophone” records could be found in elite toy stashes throughout Europe. The whole operation was carried out on a very small scale and today these celluloid discs (later ones were pressed in hard rubber) are extremely rare.

After returning to America, Berliner entered into an agreement with several New York backers and formed the little-known American Gramophone Company, which promptly failed. In 1893, he formed the Washington, DC-based United States Gramophone Company, which began small-scale production of electric and hand-driven models that used 7″ diameter, single-sided, hard rubber discs. Although these machines were very loud, the quality wasn’t as good as the cylinder. Worse, the mechanical model’s drive was extremely awkward, as the turntable was (hopefully) driven at 70 RPM by a small crank which was connected to a belt. The trick was to hold the machine stable, while cranking and lowering the needle on to the record… not to mention that the crank had to be turned throughout the disc’s entire duration. Some people actually compared the machine to using an eggbeater!

The one market edge that the gramophone had going was price. Since it had no spring motor or battery, it was cheap. At a time when the average worker was earning only $6 a week, Edison phonographs were selling their machines about $150. Since businesses and the wealthy were the only ones that could afford an Edison, Berliner marketed the gramophone to the public, for about $10! However, people definitely got what they paid for.

1888: The Record Biz is Born

► The North American Phonograph Company <p >Interestingly enough, the war between the companies was tempered in 1888 by the fact that a millionaire tycoon named Jesse Lippincott succeeded in acquiring distribution rights to both the phonograph and the graphophone. Following Bell’s example, Lippincott decided to rent machines to businesses as dictation machines through 33 franchised companies under the parent name of the North American Phonograph Company. Each of the franchises usually took on names that reflected their local geographical areas. For example, the D.C. franchise appropriately called itself the Columbia Phonograph Company… thus leading to the formation of the longest continually-used trademark in the industry.<p >Almost from the beginning, however, Lippincott’s small empire began to unravel. The devices performed erratically and were unreliable. His greatest obstacle was office stenographers (who were almost always men) were afraid of being replaced by these new-fangled machines. Lippincott was so distraught that it probably contributed to his death due to a stroke. In order to take back full rights to his invention, Edison took on liabilities and lawsuits that prohibited him from phonographs in the US for about three years.

Things kept getting worse, until Louis Glass, one of the industries unsung heroes came onto the scene. Glass, who managed the Pacific Phonograph Company in San Francisco, came up with the idea that people might pay good money to hear this novelty play. He installed a battery-powered Edison in the Palais Royal Saloon. It was specially-equipped with multiple listening-tubes. Depositing a nickel would start the machine and open one set of listening-tubes… all the other tubes could be opened by depositing additional nickels in to the slot… thereby earning from 5 to 20 cents per play! Once word got out, folks were standing in line to hear the new contraption and soon Glass introduced other “entertainment machines” into arcades around the area.

► The Phonograph Parlor

With their steady appetite for new titles, revenue from these machines slowly began to challenge the sale of sheet music, which fed the appetites of parlor-playing beauties in both Europe and the Americas.

Since each phonograph could also record, talented artists easily could make records at home. This created some of the first censorship problems which cropped up when enterprising showmen began to experiment with cylinders that were a bit risqué.

► Magnetic Recording – Oberlin Smith

One of the earliest published works dealing with magnetic recording was written by Oberlin Smith in 1888. In an article that appeared in the British magazine – Electrical World, he suggested (probably for the first time) the use of permanent magnetic impressions for the recording of sound. Smith had fabricated a cotton or silk thread, into which steel dust or short clippings of fine wire would be suspended. These particles were to be magnetized in accordance with the alternating current from a microphone source. Smith also discussed the possibility of using a hard steel wire, but thought it scarcely possible. A working unit was never built.

1895: Times, they are a Changin’

► The Columbia Graphophone Company

When the North American Phonograph Company went out of business in 1894, Bell and Tainter formed a partnership with Edward Easton of the Columbia Phonograph Company, which then became the Columbia Graphophone Company.

Under Easton’s direction, Columbia set out to reinforce the idea of the cylinder model as a popular entertainment device. In a bold move, the company began to manufacture the first inexpensive spring wound cylinders machine, which, until then were battery-driven, cumbersome and prohibitively expensive.

Columbia used local Washington talent to make cylinders for the steady demand. As sales grew because of the lower priced playback machine, it soon became obvious that a method of mass-producing cylinders would be needed.

Although, these were Columbia’s glory days, Edison soon introduced his new phonograph in 1897 at the low price of $10.00. Serious competition was in the wind.

► Marconi achieves wireless radio transmission

In 1895, Guglielmo Marchese Marconi carried out some of the first successful wireless experiments. Using a directional antenna, Marconi transmitted a signal over a distance of up to one and a half kilometers from the “Shepherdess Stone” (a popular lookout point near Salvan, Switzerland).

Marconi used a transmitter to send a radio signal (known at the time as ‘Hertzian Waves’) to an assistant, who was holding the receiver. Whenever the signal was received, a bell would sound and the assistant would hold up a red flag, when it didn’t he’d hold up a white flag. These experiments lasted for a few weeks, after which, he returned to London to file a patent.

After this time, experiments and demonstrations continued. It was said that Queen Victoria received bulletins by radio about the health of the Prince of Wales, who was convalescing off-shore on the Royal Yacht. In 1897, Marconi obtained a patent and established the world’s first radio factory (Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company Limited) in Chelmsford, England, which still bears his name. In 1901, signals were received across the Atlantic… all thanks to “Father of Radio”.

1897: Berliner & Eldridge Reeves Johnson

► The Gramophone Becomes a Serious Contender

Berliner organized several companies (including the Berliner Gramophone Company), but generally spent more money than he took in. He soon realized that for his gramophone to be successful it would have to be powered. With the stiff competition coming from both Edison and the new Columbia Company, he also knew that it would have to be cheap and reliable. The only way that the gramophone could compete would be price, especially since his device already had a reputation for being affordable.

He searched out inventors and machinists to make him spring motors prototypes, but they were either too weak or too expensive for the job. Finally, Berliner and his assistant Fred Gaisberg visited Eldridge R. Johnson, a young mechanic who was making clockwork machinery in hoping to use it for sewing machines. This machinery wasn’t successful in sewing machines, but was ideal for the gramophones. With this introduction, the gramophone’s luck began to change. Johnson was barely able to make ends meet in his Camden, NJ machine shop, when Levi Montross, a metal-shingle inventor approached him to build a motor that he designed. It worked fine but was far too expensive for the newly proposed model. Upon hearing this, Johnson set out to design his own motor. Berliner was so delighted with the powerful and cheap motor, that he made an initial order for a few hundred.

With the new addition, the gramophone was well on its way to becoming a hit. With the improved playback mechanism and its low $25 price tag, the Gramophone soon became the new industry standard. Its popularity would eventually propel the record industry into the disc record age.

► 1898: Valdemar Poulsen patents his “Telegraphone“, recording magnetically on steel wire. A year later, he unveils his invention to the public at the ParisExposition, where Austria’s Emperor Franz Josef records his congratulations

► Magnetic Recording – The Early Years

In 1898, when Berliner was producing his first shellac records, a young Danish engineer by the name of Valdemar Poulsen began working on experiments for recording sound onto steel wire. Only a few facts have emerged from a study of this pioneering telephone engineer who’s come to be known as “The Danish Edison”.

Early in his career, Poulsen was hired as a mechanical workshop apprentice, where he became interested in electricity and the work of the Danish scientist H.C. 0rsted (the discoverer of electro-magnetism). In 1893, at the age of twenty-four, Poulsen was employed by the Copenhagen Telegraph Company as an assistant to the country’s only telephone engineer. In those days, this was an honor, as any boy who was interested in electricity thought of telephone work as the highest aim in life.

In 1894, while working on a very simple experiment, he discovered the basic principles of magnetic recording. However, it wasn’t until he met P. O. Pedersen that any practical result came from any of his ideas. Of these, the most famous are the Telegraphone, the first magnetic recorder; and the arc-generator, which until about 1920, was widely used for generating continuous electro-magnetic waves – the forerunner of wireless radio transmissions.

Poulsen’s Telegraphone, was exhibited at the Paris Science Exposition in 1900, where it had won the Grand Prix and was as much a sensation as Bell’s Telephone had been at the Philadelphia Centennial twenty-four years earlier. People flocked to see it and could hardly pick up a journal of the day without finding reference to it. The only regrettable feature of the original device was its necessity of using earphones, but everyone assumed that this difficulty would soon be overcome. Unfortunately, since the electronic amplifier wouldn’t be invented until 25 years later, magnetic recording soon dropped out of sight.

When amplifiers came into general use in the mid 1920′s, magnetic recording was ripe for rediscovery. Seeing its potential, a German entrepreneur named Kurt Stille came onto the scene with the distinct mission of selling magnetic recording to the public. His powers of persuasion were remarkable and he succeeded in obtaining financial backing from a group of substantial German financiers, thus organizing the Telegraphie Patent Syndikat. This company was the first ever to be set up for the sole purpose of selling licenses for the manufacture magnetic recording equipment.

David Miles Huber
Reprinted by permission of Mix Magazine – www.mixonline.com

1899: The End of Berliner: The Zon-o-phone

► Illegal Competition and the End of the Berliner Company

By the end of the 1890’s the Berliner Gramophone Company was producing product that made earlier machines and records look primitive by comparison. A marketing and sales alliance was formed with a man named Frank Seaman through the drawing up of a fifteen-year contract that specified that Seaman’s National Gramophone Company would be the sole distributor and exclusively handle the advertising campaign.

This worked well for both parties; however, once the profits actually began to rise, Seaman felt that he wasn’t getting his fare share. Being bound by the contract, he soon became bitter and started looking for a way to change his fortunes. Another side-effect of the gramophone’s success was an upsurge in competitors who tried to illegally manufacture gramophones and recorded discs.

One of the first detractors was the Wonder machine, which was manufactured by the Standard Talking Machine Company. According to the Library of Congress catalogs, a Wonder record was an exact copy of a Berliner disc with the number “1″ being added to the disc’s catalog number. Obviously, this infringement was easy to prove and the company was soon put out of business.

A year later, advertisements began to appear for the Vitaphone machine and discs, which were made by a company under rights from the American Graphophone Company. Berliner’s lawyers made the proper defense that graphophone patents covered vertical cuts while the Vitaphone’s lateral cuts were a direct infringement of Berliner’s patent. The Vitaphone was likewise taken off the market, but not after selling a considerable number of gramophones and original recordings.

At the time, competition between Berliner and Columbia Phonograph was fierce, and Columbia’s Edward Easton decided that the time was right to attack. He put Phillip Mauro, their best and most imaginative lawyer on the case. Mauro’s only defense would be Bell/Tainter’s simplified description of the 1886 patent… which specified that a “needle moved by a groove” played the record. Even though the graphophone’s needle movement was hill & dale and rested in a cylinder, and not a rotating record, the prosecutor felt that the patent’s wording was vague enough to hold up in court.

Although Frank Seaman felt that the gramophone didn’t infringe on the graphophone’s patent, he saw this as an excellent opportunity to get a larger share of the burgeoning business. Quietly, he began a startup business called the Zon-o-phone Company. Once production was underway, Seaman tried to persuade Berliner to buy machines from him rather than Johnson. Not surprisingly, Berliner refused as the Zon-o-phone wasn’t a particularly high-quality product, he already had a good working relationship with Johnson… and most importantly, he didn’t trust Seaman.

Since Berliner wouldn’t buy Zon-o-phones, Seaman began marketing them himself. His dastardly methods went so far as to sell exact copies of Berliner discs with the titles erased and exchanging labels on Berliner machines with that of the Zon-o-phone’s.

When Berliner began legal proceedings to stop the sales, Seaman countered with a suit that referred to their original and still active contract, which stated that Seaman had exclusive purchasing rights to the gramophone. Following a public admission by Seaman that Berliner had infringed on the graphophone patent, the Columbia Phonograph Company sued Berliner and conveniently left Seaman’s Zon-o-phone Company alone. By 1900, the Berliner Gramophone Company was dead.

Since Berliner had made a personal fortune from his ventures, he was willing to retire and allow the company doors to close. In fact, because he knew that his work didn’t infringe on the Bell and Tainter patent, he felt that history would vindicate him… and with that, he bowed out of the business.

► The Friendly Skies…

It should also be said that Berliner became fascinated with flying machines in 1906 or 1907. This led to his involvement in the development of the helicopter, which led to the design and patent of what was likely the first radial aircraft engine. By 1909 he constructed a working model that could lift the weight of two adult men.

On the humanitarian side, he formed a public health organization that helped safeguard the U.S. milk supply. In 1911 he established a fellowship in his mother’s name (Esther Berliner) to give qualified women the opportunity to continue scientific research.

1901: The Victor Talking Machine Company is founded by Eldridge Johnson

► Eldridge Reeves Johnson: To the Victor …

In June of 1900, with no way to operate in light of the court injunction, Berliner passed his patent rights to the maker of the machines, Eldridge R. Johnson. Frank Seaman helped himself to the spoils by continuing to press Berliner records with the Zon-o-phone name on them, however the company was under funded and would soon be absorbed by the Columbia Company.

With the Berliner Gramophone Company gone, Johnson was forced into a difficult position. Berliner’s success had made him rich, but all of his assets were directly tied up in his factories. With the usual labor wage problems and new factory mortgages, he quickly found himself in financial straights. During his work with Berliner, Johnson had redesigned the sound box and had made improvements to the record’s quality. Since he already owned a production factory and had a vastly improved product, he had only one option. Almost immediately, formed a partnership with his attorney Leon Douglas and went into business by forming the Consolidated Talking Machine Company, which was soon formally changed to Manufactured by Eldridge R. Johnson”.

Faced with the need to quickly establish the new company, Eldridge began by spending $2,500 on a clever ad campaign. It asked owners of Berliner machines to send in their name, address and the machines serial number – in exchange, they’d get a free record that would “sound better than any you had ever heard”. Of course the ad worked, and the fact that a stronger than ever buying public wanted more was a step towards success.

As soon as sales started looking up, Frank Seaman came back on the scene. He charged that Johnson was beholding to the original Berliner contract, which stated that Seaman held exclusive sales rights. Johnson fought back in court, and won. Following this coup, Elderidge started to place the words “Victor Record” on labels, and on October 3, 1901 the company changed its name to the Victor Talking Machine Company.

► Nipper’s Saga

Perhaps the best-known advertising trademark in the world is the image of little Nipper looking intently into a gramophone as he listens to a recording of “His Master’s Voice.”

Nipper (who was part bull terrier and a trace of fox terrier) lived in England in 1884 with his master. Upon his master’s death, he became a pet of the Barraud brothers, Mark and Francis. Turns out that Nipper loved listening to an old cylinder phonograph that was located in Francis Barraud’s photo studio. The image of the dog inspired him paint a staged oil painting in 1895 of Nipper as he patiently waited to hear “his master’s voice”.

Francis wasn’t satisfied with the painting, as he thought it was too dark. He then decided to borrow a brass brass horn from the Gramophone Co., Ltd in London, in order to brighten the picture up. As he was already at the company, he asked William Barry Owen of the company might be interested in the painting. They were definitely interested, but asked Barraud to replace the Edison cylinder phonograph with an image of the company’s new disc gramophone.

Upon visiting the Gramophone Co. in 1900, Emile Berliner admired the painting so much that he began using it in the US under the title “Nipper and the Gramophone.” He soon registered it in both the US and Canada and began to use it as the trademark for his new company (which later, under Eldridge, became known as the Victor Talking Machine Company).

Amazingly enough Barraud also made a copy of his original, reproducing it in exactly the same way as the original (meaning that he first placed the cylinder machine into the painting and then went over that with the gramophone). This replica is currently on display at the Capitol Records Building in Hollywood, California.


Over the years, Nipper has shown up in homes in the form of promotional salt & pepper shakers, on glassware, cigarette lighters and neckties. Replicas ranging from 3’ to 8’ nippers can be seen in various museums and stores (I once saw one in a meat market) around the world.

A Star Named Nipper

After General Electric bought RCA in the 1980’s, the home entertainment was sold to Thomson Consumer Electronics of France. Wanting to create a new image of RCA to the public, Nipper was re-introduced to the public with a new, puppy companion (presumably his offspring)… Chipper.

The current Nipper actually travels first class in a limousine to his photo shoot destinations and dines on filet mignon… a big change in his life, as his agency company actually saved him from death row in an animal research lab. To their credit, Nipper’s salary is used to save other animals from becoming experiment subjects. Unlike Nipper, Chipper has to be replaced on a regular basis, because puppies have this nasty habit of growing.

1902: The Music Biz comes into its own

► Early recording sessions

Although the world was entering the era of electricity, a suitable electronic method for recording sound was to prove elusive until the 1920′s. Early phonograph recordings were accomplished literally by brute force – all acoustically: The performers would stand before a funnel-shaped horn attached to a phonograph and belt out their tunes. High volumes of sound were required to force the recording diaphragm (made variously of glass, mica, or copper) to vibrate sufficiently to force the cutting stylus to make a good carving on the blank wax cylinder.

Due to the inflexibility of the recording diaphragm, some instruments did not record well. Instruments producing complex sounds, such as the violin, recorded weakly. Not surprisingly, horned instruments recorded best. Consequently, marching band numbers were prominent in many early recordings. To produce a distinct recording, the number of instruments would also be kept to a minimum – 15 or so for a band, 4 or so for a chorus. Therefore, many early recordings present a simpler music by necessity.

With no method for mass-producing copies of a single recording, early inventories of recordings were created by huddling multiple phonographs near the performers. Each phonograph would be operated simultaneously, each making a recording of the performance. The recorded cylinders would then be replaced with fresh blanks, and the process repeated. This way, for example, a band could make from 10 to 15 recordings per take. Often, the band would then repeat the same tune, take after take. At, say, around ten-minutes per take, up to 90 records could be produced per hour . . . all being well. Pity the singing performers: Only about 4 phonographs could acceptably be used simultaneously – netting maybe 24 records per hour . . . another reason band music was popular in the early days.

Soon, primitive duplicating methods were devised by connecting one phonograph to another. An early approach used a hollow rubber tube running between the master and duplicating phonographs. Later, direct linkage connected the reproducing stylus of the master to the cutting stylus of the recording phonograph thus duplicating pantographically. Only a limited number of copies – which typically had an inferior, brasher sound – could be made using these techniques due to the wearing down of the wax master.

► The 78

In 1902, Edison introduced the “Gold Molded” cylinder, which sold for 50¢ and had an improved hard wax surface that could be mass-produced by a molding process. In Europe, “Red Seal” 10-inch discs that played for 4 minutes and featured famous artists like Caruso and baritone Mattia Battistini, were selling for $1.00. Soon after, Victor introduced these artists to the American market and the 10-inch disc quickly overtook the 7-inch disc that could only play for 2-3 minutes.

At first, Berliner’s 7-inch gramophones were wound by hand at somewhere between 60 and 100 rpm and lasted only a minute or so. Columbia made all its discs to run at 80, while the newly popular HMV produced its pioneer recordings at between 68 and 92 rpm with the key of the piece marked on the label. For those who cared, the gramophone’s governor could be tuned using the parlor’s piano. Over time, these speeds gradually settled at the 78 standard.

► Fred Gaisberg: the 1st producer

Early in life, Fred Gaisberg showed remarkable musical abilities. He was a quick and easy pianist who could accompany any singer and switch styles to match each performer. During his student years in Washington, DC, he would accompany singers on the piano during recording sessions and billed himself as “Professor” Gaisberg to hide the fact that he was underage.

It didn’t take long for Fred to realize that he wanted to be in the recording business, so he quit school and went to work for Bell and Tainter for $10 a week (not a bad wage for the day) recording graphophone cylinders for a coin-in-the-slot venture at the Chicago World’s Fair. This job came with a lot of responsibilities: he recruited new singers from local clubs and theatres, set up the studio, ran the machines, played piano, and had to deliver the finished cylinders to arcade operators.

Over time, Gaisberg became well-known in the DC area, hanging out with entertainers of every type. Billy Golden (a popular singer of the time) introduced him to Emil Berliner in 1894, who took him on as a piano accompanist and talent scout. Fred helped establish the working credo of every record producer since: “Do whatever you have to do to get the music recorded”. In those days, getting the job done meant picking the right style of music or comedy, keeping it short and making it loud.

Since the record industry was little more than a novelty, serious artists shied away from this novelty medium, so Gaisbergs lineup consisted of local singers and comedians who lived in the vicinity. When the coin-slot players began to make household names out of singers like Billy Murray, Ada Jones and George Gaskin, Fred was perfectly positioned at the forefront of this fledgling recording industry.

In 1902, Gaisberg went on a scouting trip to Europe. After attending a performance by Enrico Caruso at La Scala in Milan, Gaisberg paid the young tenor $400 to record ten songs the very next day. These songs made millions for the company, and sealed Fred’s reputation as the first great record producer and one of most important producers of classical music for the next half-century.

► Poulsen invents the Arc Radio Transmitter

Valdemar Poulsen (the Danish inventer of magnetic recording), invented an arc converter which was used to continuously generate wave radio signals. Later, Poulsen used the arc to experiment with radio transmission to various receiving sites in Denmark and Great Britain. The Poulsen-arc transmitter was used internationally until it was superseded by the vacuum-tube transmitter.

1906: Lee DeForest invents the triode vacuum tube, the first electronic signal amplifier.

► DeForest invents the “Audion”

Lee DeForest was born in Council Bluffs, Iowa… the son of a Congregational minister who had high hopes that he would follow in his footsteps. After having moved to a prep school in Massachusetts, young DeForest obviously evaded his “calling” by entering a mechanical engineering program at Yale University. Here he wrote a dissertation entitled “Reflection of Hertzian Waves From the Ends of Parallel Wires”, which was one of the first treatises on radio waves and the possibilities of wireless communication. After receiving a PhD from Yale in 1896, he developed an improved wireless telegraph receiver, which led to the founding of the De Forest Wireless Telegraph Company in 1902.

While working on improvements to wireless telegraph equipment, he invented the three-element electron tube, which he called the audion. Unlike the “diode” tube, which was developed by the British engineer John Ambrose Fleming, DeForest’s “triode” tube could be used to amplify signals and generate oscillations. The Audion placed a zigzag wire of platinum, which acted as a third electrode, grid or gate in between the filament (cathode) and the plate (anode). The resulting triode or three-electrode vacuum tube could be used as an amplifier for audio signals.

Unfortunately, DeForest’s deign used connections that were similar to the Fleming valve and results were only slightly better. Without truly realizing what he had accomplished, deForest sold the audion patent to AT&T, who successfully continued development. The resulting triode or three-electrode vacuum tube could be used to proportionately amplify a small signal into a much larger one that could be used to amplify sound, weak telegraph and even radio signals!

In 1912, DeForest developed a feedback circuit that could increase the output of a radio transmitter and produce alternating current. He didn’t see the worth of his discovery, and by the time he applied for a patent in 1915, it had already been patented by E. Howard Armstrong. De Forest countered with a law suit that went on till 1934. He eventually won, but Armstrong was always credited with the invention

Alas, throughout his tumultuous life DeForest was often involved in patent lawsuits, failed businesses, patent applications and had survived four marriages. He wrote an autobiography entitled “Father of Radio”, but didn’t get the recognition that he so desperately wanted.

1910: Enrico Caruso is heard in the first live broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera, NYC.

► First wireless broadcast to the general public <p >On January 13, 1910, Lee DeForest arranged the first public broadcast featuring Caruso and others directly from Metropolitan Opera to a small group of listeners in New York. The broadcast debut, which made use of two microphones and a 500 Watt transmitter, consisted of a double billing of Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci.

1912: Major Edwin H. Armstrong is issued a patent for a regenerative circuit, making radio reception practical. Four years later, a patent for the super heterodyne circuit is issued to Armstrong.

► Empire of the Air

Called “The Major” by his friends and “Howard” by his relatives, Edwin Howard Armstrong’s inventions paved the way for much of wireless communications, as we know it today. In 1912, Armstrong invented the regenerative circuit (a key component in AM radio). Before this date, DeForest’s important addition of a wire grid between the filament and plate to Fleming’s tube, would do little more that detect weak signals, when placed in a receiver circuit (often making it extremely difficult to receive a particular radio station. By designing a circuit that would feed part of the current at the tube’s plate back to the grid, the incoming signals were strengthened to the point that distant stations would come in so loudly that they could be heard without earphones. By increasing the feedback, Armstrong also found that the tube would rapidly oscillate and begin to transmit strong electromagnetic waves. This invention is a key to continuous-wave transmission that is still at the heart of all radio operations.

1913: New possibilities

► The talkies

The first “talking Picture” is demonstrated in 1913 by Edison using his Kinetophone process. In this system, an on-stage acoustic phonograph with oversize long-playing cylinders was connected by a drive shaft to the projectors or “Kinetophones” at the rear of the room. The films were short since the cylinders were limited to a running time of 6 minutes.

Edison’s “Talking Pictures” was most likely the source of the popular use of the term “talkies” to refer to the synchronization of sound and film.

► The vacuum tube amplifier is developed

Seeing the potential for Lee DeForest’s audion tube as a way to amplify telephone signals, Harold D. Arnold designed a practical vacuum tube amplifier. Using a German pump, he found that creating a vacuum within the Audion tube greatly increased the flow of electrons across the tube’s grid. The improved amplifier was soon installed in telephone systems by what would soon become Bell Labs, which allowed for improvements in long line transmissions.

The Electrical Era

Technology Takes a Foothold

► Patent for the superheterodyne circuit is issued to Armstrong<p >While serving in the US Signal Corps during World War 1, Edwin Howard Armstrong was assigned to design a system that would detect weak enemy communication signals in Europe. Adapting a technique called heterodyning, he created an 8-tube receiver that amplified weak signals from the top of the Eiffel Tower to levels that were previously unknown. Dubbed the superheterodyne circuit, this selective system for receiving, converting, and amplifying very weak, high-frequency electromagnetic waves is the basis for most of the radio and television receivers used today.

Following this, Armstrong began work on what was one of radio’s final problems – static. He decided that the only solution was to design an entirely new system. This new process would transmit a signal whereby the amplitude would be held constant, but the carrier-wave frequency would be modulated in frequency. The result was that in 1933, he invented FM radio, a wide-band frequency modulation system that could be clearly received in the most violent of storms and offered a much higher fidelity.

In 1920, he sold rights to his two major circuits to Westinghouse for $335,000.00 and later sold a lesser invention (the superregenerative circuit), to the newly formed Radio Corporation of America (RCA) for a large number of stock options.

d between 1922 and 1934, Armstrong was challenged on several of his patents by Lee DeForest. Backed by both Westinghouse and RCA, he won the first round, lost a second, was stalemated in a third, and finally lost to the Supreme Court through a judicial misunderstanding of the technical facts. He became so obsessed with proving that he was right about FM that not only did he loose his marrage and much of his fortune to legal battles… he committed suicide in early 1954.

Although DeForest won the court challenges, in the end, the scientific community refused to acknowledge the courts ruling and later awarded Armstrong the Franklin Medal and the Medal of Honor.

► The Society of Motion Picture Engineers (SMPE) is formed <p >In July 1916, the Society for Motion Picture Engineers (SMPE) was formed created a professional forum and to publish technical findings for its members that were “deemed worthy of permanent record”. The society’s impact soon grew beyond its initial charter and began to set standards for the working professionals in the field. For example, its first undertaking was the ratification of the 35mm format – the standard upon which the motion picture and telefilm industries were built. Later, a mere smattering of the organization’s codifications includes standards for two-color cinematography (November 1918), three-color technicolor (1935), optical sound recording technologies (1930 & 1938), SMPTE time code media stamping for system-wide synchronization (1962)… With the onset of TV, the group formally changed its name in 1950 to SMPTE (Society for Motion Picture and Television Engineers, and continues to be an active industry force to this day.

► The condenser microphone is invented

In 1914, Edward Christopher Wente began working on the design and calibration of a uniformly sensitive transmitter (or microphone) for the Western Electric Engineering Department. The carbon mics of the day had an uneven frequency response and background noise was too high for research tests. Sensing that a new type of device would be needed, Wente began testing a little-known pickup called the electrostatic transmitter. Over the next two years, he crafted this device into the first flat frequency, calibration microphone (which he called the condenser transmitter). A patent was filed December 20, 1916 and granted March 16, 1920

In 1922, Wente improved upon his original design, where he created a pickup that was a hundred times more sensitive than previous “transmitters” and had an extremely high internal impedance that required its direct connection to a vacuum tube preamp (just as modern-day condensers need a pre-amp to reduce its capsule output impedance).

In a paper from The Physical Review, Wente wrote: “A sectional drawing of the transmitter is shown in Fig. 1. The transmitter differs from the instrument previously described in several essential respects. The diaphragm, A, is made of 0.002 inch (0.0051 cm.) steel and is stretched so that its natural frequency in free air is 7,000 cycles per second. Annular grooves are cut into the face of the back plate, B, to give the diaphragm the desired natural frequency and damping. The length of the air-gap is 0.001 inch (0.0025 cm.). To keep out moisture, the space surrounding the back-plate is sealed off completely from the outside air. A thin rubber diaphragm, C, is provided to keep the pressure on the two sides of the steel diaphragm substantially equal under all conditions of temperature and atmospheric pressure.” In 1923, more design improvements were made: “By a change in the dimensions of the film of air and by the substitution of a duralumin for a steel diaphragm in 1923 a condenser microphone was produced which had a sensitivity 100 times as great as that of previous models. This microphone was sufficiently sensitive to permit the pickup of ordinary sounds at a distance without interference from noise voltages generated in the amplifier, whereas the use of the older models under such circumstances would have been impractical.”…. In 1926, this design had a flat frequency response upwards to 15,000 Hz and became the Western Electric 394-W microphone, a new workhorse for sound motion picture sound production.

► The Scully disk recording lathe is introduced

1919: The Radio Corporation of America (RCA) is founded – It is owned in part by United Fruit. You might want to check out the relationship between United Fruit and Castro.

► RCA is formed

During World War 1, in an effort to consolidate the patents of major companies that were involved with radio, the US federal government took over the wireless industry. This was done to sort out the spread of patent infringements that were wreaking havoc with the industry and to focus on improving the technology of the day. As a result, the assets of the Italian-owned American Marconi company were seized and a new publicly-held partnership between General Electric, United Fruit and Westinghouse Electric was formed under the name of the Radio Corporation of America. Shortly after, AT&T joined in the fray and in a complicated set of manufacturing, legal and assets agreements allowed GE and Westinghouse to manufacture radio-related products.

From its outset in 1919, David Sarnoff was appointed as General Manager to the empire, a position that he held until his retirement in 1970. Sarnoff swore to make radio “a ‘household utility’ in the same sense as the piano or phonograph.”

1920: First commercial AM radio broadcast

► The first commercial AM radio broadcast is made by KDKA, Pittsburgh PA.

“Will anyone hearing this broadcast please communicate with us, as we are anxious to know how far the broadcast is reaching and how it is being received.”

In 1920, Westinghouse felt that its best way to sell radios was to offer programming. Radio’s first DJ was Dr. Frank Conrad, a Pittsburgh area ham operator who loved to records over the airwaves for his friends. Westinghouse thought that he would be perfect and asked him to help with regular transmissions. Using a shed, which was atop the K Building of the Westinghouse East Pittsburgh works, KDKA became the nation’s first commercial broadcast (a term Conrad coined himself). The station went on-the-air November 2, 1920, so that listeners could hear the election results of the Harding-Cox presidential race before they read about it in the newspaper.

1921: First PA system ► First major demonstration of an electric public address system

An amplifier, microphone and loudspeaker were innovatively combined to create the first PA system on Armistice Day for the national broadcast of the burial of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery. Heard over 80 loudspeakers that were linked by telephone lines to New York, San Francisco, and Arlington, VA – the “AT&T electric public address system” demonstration was a great success.

On March 4, 1921, 125,000 people were able to hear President Harding’s inauguration address as he spoke into an amplified system at the Capitol in Washington D. C. which made use of a newly-developed condenser microphone.

1923: Advances in film sound

► Method for optically encoding sound onto film developed

Edward Christopher Wente filed for “translating device” that could optically encode sound as a modulated film track. His invention worked by passing an alternating current through two stretched elements which were bathed in a strong magnetic field. The soundtrack’s alternating fields caused the elements to form a corresponding slit of varying widths that could be photographically recorded onto a film track. Using a simple light and photo-sensitive pickup, the sound could be modulated in complete sync which eliminated the need for complicated mechanical links to a playback system.

1925: First steps into a new era

► Bell Labs develops the Orthophonic system for electrical recording on disk.

A landmark merger of AT&T with Western Electric in 1925 allowed the pooling of technical recourses that led to developments of the first fully-electronic, Hi-Fi recording system. Due, in part, to a matched-impedance recording system that improved a record’s frequency range from a narrow 250-2,500 cycles (Hz) to a much wider range of 50-6,000 cycles. Developed by Henry C. Harrison at Bell Labs, this new electro-actoustic system made use of a condenser mic, tube amp, balanced-armature speaker, and a rubber-line acoustic recorder with a long tapered horn. This new method, which was licensed by AT&T to major record companies was dubbed “Orthophonic”.

► First electrically recorded 78 rpm disks appear

In 1925, Victor’s released its last phonograph record that was made by the original acoustic process. Using the Orthophonic system, the major labels of the day began releasing their first electrically recorded discs. Although who was released using the new system is often in dispute, it’s generally accepted that some of the first 1925 releases were:<p >• Victor – recordings by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski

► Victor introduces the all-acoustic Orthophonic Victrola, “Credenza” player

On “Victor Day” Nov 2, 1925, the Orthophonic phonograph was introduced, which was capable of playing back acoustically- and electrically-produced records. Like its ancestors, the basic model was completely mechanical, being powered by a hand crank, however, the design was modified to play back both acoustic and electrically-recorded records. This new machine was able to failthfully reproduce the full dynamic range of the new records through such improvements as:

Replacing the standard mica diaphragm with a pleated, aluminum one

Victor also created a phonograph/radio combination that was called the “Orthophonic Radio Phonograph”.

► RCA begins work on the development of ribbon microphones

During the late 20′s and early 30′s, Dr. Harry F. Olsen of RCA began working on the development of the velocity microphone (known today as the ribbon mic). This pickup, which works on the principle of electro-magnetic induction, makes use of a thin, corrugated aluminum ribbon, which is clamped under a light tension and mounted between the poles of a very strong magnet. According to the principle, whenever the metal cuts across a magnetic field, current is induced into the metal… thus generating a corresponding AC signal. The ribbon’s extremely low impedance(tyically on the order of 0.2 ohm), requires that a sep-up transformer be used to match low impedance mic lines (typically 50, 250, or 600 ohms).

The granddaddy of the ribbon microphone is the model 44A, which was introduced by RCA in 1931. This mic soon became one of the most popular microphones for vocal recording, as its high sensitivity and bidirectional (figure 8 pickup pattern made it ideal for “crooners” like Bing Crosby). Unfortunately, its large size and excessive weight (over 8 lbs) made it suitable only for fixed locations such as recording studios or a movie sound stage.

1926: Dynamic Times

► Victor introduced the Electrola model with an electric amplifier and loudspeaker

► The moving coil speaker is developed<p >Amazingly enough, Ernst W. Siemens in 1874 was the first to describe the “dynamic” or moving-coil transducer, which bathed a circular coil of wire in a magnetic field and supported so that it could move axially. Since this design preceded the amplifier and any practical electrical audio device, it wasn’t intended for audio applications.

In a 1926 patent called “Acoustic Device”, Edward Christopher Wente (working with Albert L. Thuras) unveiled the development of the Western Electric No. 555 horn driver – the first moving coil speaker.

Using the electro-magnetic principle, this device could transmit sound with high and uniform efficiency over a 100-5000 Hz frequency range by bathing the moving coil (which is attached to the speaker’s diaphragm) in a strong magnetic field (fig 1). The “555” was designed for moving picture playback and proved itself to be far superior to earlier, balanced armature designs (fig 2). In a promotional flurry, the first production 555 models were rushed to a star-studded premier in August of that year for the debut of Don Juan.

1928: Marching into the future!

► Moving Coil or “dynamic,” microphone invented

Following the development of the moving coil speaker, it was only logical that the Bell Labs boys (Edward Christopher Wente and Albert L. Thuras) would follow suit by developing the moving-coil, or “dynamic” microphone. In a similar (but inverse) fashion, this new microphone type used the electro-magnetic principle to induce current into a coil (which is attached to the speaker’s diaphragm) that is bathed in a strong magnetic field. The first dynamic model to be produced was the cardioid Western Electric 618A, which was soon followed by the omnidirectional 630A (which displayed an impressive frequency response of 30-15,000 Hz).

► Patent granted in Germany for application of magnetic powders to strip of paper or film

In all likeliness, the man who can credited with bringing analog audio recording into practical existence was Fritz B. Pfleumer, a German engineer who specialised in paper and synthetics engineering.

According to accounts, while on a business trip in 1927 for a company that made cigarette machines, Pfleumer sat relaxing in a Paris cafe and started to ponder about coating paper tape with iron oxide, using the same process that was used to coat cigarette paper with bronze powder lacquer. On Jan 1, 1928, the German patent for “sounding paper” was granted.

Soon after this date, Pfleumer built a basic working his tape recorder. At a demonstration for the tape and for its reuse, his machine had the unfortunate habit of tearing up the paper tape. Despite this, Hermann Bucher (chairman of the board of a leading German manufacturer – AEG) became interested in the idea and signed him to develop the world’s first tape recorder.

Over the next three years, Pfleumer, Theo Volk of AEG and Friedrich Matthias – a chemist from BASF work tirelessly to create a magnetic tape media and recorder (the Magnetophone K1) that would become an standard for the next 30 years.

Note: In 1936 the German National Court declared that Pfleumer’s patent was null and void because his idea of coating paper tape with iron dust was covered in Poulsen’s original patents of 1898 and 1899.

► Léon Theremin patented the Theremin in 1928.

The theremin originally known as the ætherphone/etherphone, thereminophone or termenvox/thereminvox is an early electronic musical instrument controlled without physical contact by the thereminist (performer). It is named after the westernized name of its Russian inventor, Léon Theremin, who patented the device in 1928.

The instrument’s controlling section usually consists of two metal antennas which sense the relative position of the thereminist’s hands and control oscillators for frequency with one hand, and amplitude (volume) with the other. The electric signals from the theremin are amplified and sent to a loudspeaker.

The theremin was used in movie soundtracks such as Miklós Rózsa’s for Spellbound and The Lost Weekend and Bernard Herrmann’s for The Day the Earth Stood Still and as the theme tune for the ITV drama Midsomer Murders. This has led to its association with a very eerie sound. Theremins are also used in concert music (especially avant-garde and 20th- and 21st-century new music) and in popular music genres such as rock. Psychedelic rock bands in particular, such as Hawkwind, have often used the theremin in their work.

► Patent applied for the principle of negative feedback

Early in his career, an electrical engineer named Harold S. Black was assigned with the task of reducing amplifier distortion so that a large number of multichannel amplifiers could be interconnected within a long distance telephone system. In 1927, while riding a ferry toward his Western Electric office in New York City office, he conceived of a system whereby distortion could be greatly reduced by back part of its output signal back to the input signal in a controlled fashion. With this, the “negative feedback amplifier” was born… allowing distortions that are introduced by the amplifier to be pre-corrected and largely eliminated. Today, analog-related amplifiers and the entire field of modern electronics depends on negative feedback for their operation.

► Dr. Georg Neumann begin manufacture condenser microphones

Early in his career, Georg Neumann began his career by working for Eugen Reisz, who had designed a carbon microphone that was commonly known as the ‘Reisz Mic’. Set in a block of marble, this transverse current carbon microphone was used to modulate a 12V DC voltage. Despite it’s classy look, its diaphragm was basically identical to those used in the telephones of the time. They were noisy, of very poor quality and had a large resonant peak at 1kHz. The microphone was indeed a breakthrough, yet despite their achievement he and Reisz soon parted ways.

In a quest to built a higher-quality pickup, Neumann established his own company in Berlin in 1928 with the intention of mass producing condenser microphones. Since “capacitive transducers” had only been made under laboratory conditions, this wasn’t considered to be the wisest of business propositions.

His first manufactured mic was the CMV3 nicknamed the ‘Neumann Bottle’ and was the first ever mass produced condenser micro­phone. It was far superior to the Reisz Mic and quickly became established as the standard by the German radio and recording industry in the 1930′s, and was used to broadcast the speeches of Nazi leaders and the Olympic games from Berlin in 1936.

Soon after the company was established, Neumann began to diversify into other aspects of studio engineering, such as the making of records. It was this interest in record technology that originally led to his split with Reisz. Now, Neumann was able to further branch out by manufacturing disc cutting machines. The earliest models were belt driven, however, by 1930 the Neumann lathe had already made the transition to direct drive with the motor acting as a direct extension of the turntable’s spindle. Throughout the 30s and early 40s the company continued to diversify by manufacturing devices that included electro-acoustic measurement devices, cinema gongs, mixing consoles and standard linear microphones.

In 1947, Neumann made what is generally viewed as his most important contribution to modern electrical engineering, the development of a nickel-cadmium (NiCad) battery. He developed a process that allowed a gas-tight battery to be made without oxygen excessive formation. These rechargeable power sources are often directly linked to a wide range of electronic gadgets and have become a critical element for space travel.

In addition to the NiCad battery, ’47 marked the year that Neumann introduced a mic that had (and continues to have) a huge influence over the development of modern studio microphone technology – the U47. The influence of this double-diaphragm, switchable pattern condenser microphone (the first of its type) had a huge impact on European recording… and even eclipsed the dominance of the RCA ribbon microphone as a studio standard in the United States.

During the 1950′s Neumann microphones were also sold and marketed by Telefunken and carried the Telefunken logo… giving them their “Telly” nickname. It was reported that Ol’ blue eyes – Frank Sinatra, actually wouldn’t record without his U 47 “Telly”. To this day, Neumann GMBH continues as an iconic symbol for quality within the pro audio community.

1929: Building bridges to the future

► RCA becomes the Victor <p >In 1929, RCA purchased the Victor Talking Machine Company, then the world’s largest manufacturer of phonographs and phonograph records to become RCA-Victor. RCA acquired use of “Nipper” listening to “His Master’s Voice”, although HMV (Victor’s independent British partner) was able to retain rights to the logo.

► Edison goes out of business

Edison tried his hand at electrical recording in 1928 but his phonograph company went out of business in 1929 and most of these laterally cut records were never released to the public.

► Harry Nyquist publishes the mathematical foundation for the sampling theorem basic to all digital audio processing, the “Nyquist Theorem.”

During his 37 years of service with AT&T in the Department of Development and Research Transmission, the Swedish-born Harry Nyquist received 138 US patents. Although his work let to developments in the first quantitative explanation of thermal noise, important studies in television broadcast transmission, as well as a quantitative system for determining the stability of feedback systems… the audio community is most familiar with his work known as “The Nyquist Theorem”.

This important development, which provided the groundwork for the sampling of a continuous audio signal into the digital domain, states: in order to digitally encode the desired frequency bandwidth, the sample rate must be at least twice as high as the highest frequency to be recorded (sample rate [equal to or greater than sign] 2 X highest frequency). For example, since human hearing ranges from 20Hz to 20KHz the signal must be sampled at a rate of at least 40KHz. Increasing the sample rate slightly beyond this point can help make up for imprecision in filters and other components of the conversion process – i.e. the standard CD sample rate is 44.1 kHz.

Before his death in 1976 Nyquist received many honors for his outstanding work in communications, including the National Academy of Engineer’s Founder’s Medal and the IRE Medal of Honor.

► The “Blattnerphone” is developed for use as a magnetic recorder using steel tape.

In 1929, a substantial German financiers known as the Telegraphie Patent Syndikat sold a rights for the use and manufacture of a steel wire recording device to Louis Blattner (a German settled in England since the turn of the century). With this, Blatner (a promoter of motion pictures) developed the “Blattnerphone” as a device for recording sound for talking pictures.<p >The Blattnerphone made use of a steel tape that was 6 mm wide and traveled vertically through the heads at 5 feet per second, a spool contained a bit more than a mile of tape and weighed nearly 21 pounds! The device, which had a total playing time of 20 minutes, was cumbersome and was often plagued by uneven tape speeds. The machine was initially found to be unsuitable for music recording, however due to the advantage of immediate playback, was often useful for rehearsal purposes.

Over it’s short life, the Blattnerphone was actually used to produce several synchronized movie sound tracks and radio broadcasts, including a restored BBC broadcast of the events of King George V’s 1935 Silver Jubilee and an interview with Amelia Earhart.

Following Blatner’s bankruptcy in 1931, the Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Co. Ltd. Purchased the rights to Kurt Stille’s patents and developed the Marconi-Stille wire recorder. This new machine used a reduced 3mm tape width, with a thickness to only 0.08 of a millimetre. In order to secure the reproduction of the higher audio frequencies it was found necessary to run the tape at a rate of 5ft/sec (1.5m/sec) past the recording and reproducing heads. This meant that the length of a full 32 minute tape was nearly 3 kilometers!

Due to the fact that these recorders could capture a half hour program onto a single tape (vs. a phonograph disc’s 4½ minute length), these steel tape machines were often used by the BBC for the recording of national and sporting events for later transmission during evening hours.

1931: Let there be ((((( Stereo )))))

► Alan Dower Blumlein, working for Electrical and Musical Industries (EMI) in London, in effect patents stereo.

On June 7th, 1942, British electronics suffered a cruel blow. During WW II, a small party of engineers perished in a light airplane crash, but those men enshrined some of the finest engineering talent in the world. They were doing in-flight testing of airborne radar, when their aircraft crashed on landing – there were no survivors. Amongst those killed were: G. S. Hensby, Sqdn. Ldr. R. J. Swanson, Pilot Officer C. E. Vincent, C. O. Brown, F. Blythen and one of the top inventors of his time: Alan Dower Blumlein.

Of course, the crash was kept quiet. British radar techniques, far more advanced than that of the axis powers, had been one of the biggest factors in saving Britain during the dark days of 1940. Therefore, any suggestion of a setback was squelched, so as not to reach enemy intelligence… only the bare fact of Blumlein’s death was announced with no detail at all.

The fact that few are actually familiar with this man is partly due to the fact that he seldom published trade journals and partly because of his preference for staying out of the public eye, often refusing his photograph to be taken. However, he had a profound effect upon many of the early developments in telephone transmission, audio, television and radar. Here are just a few of his many patents:

• 350954, March 1930- Cutting head for gramophone recording and mechanical arrangement for its moving parts

• 362477, July 1930 – Constant impedance variable attenuation network

• 369063, May 1931 – Moving-coil microphone, with electro-magnetic damping of main resonance

• 394325, Dec. 1931 – Stereophonic recording and reproduction system

• 425553, Sept. 1933 – Negative-feedback power amplifier

• 429054, Feb. 1934 – Stereophonic sound (two channels obtained from sum and difference outputs of a pressure and velocity microphone)

• 446661, Aug. 1934 – Important patent for the Emitron television camera

• 449533, Oct. 1934 – Deflection coil yoke for a cathode-ray tube

• 456444, Feb. 1935 – Microphone array with its outputs mixed to give various polar patterns

• 579154, March 1940 – Radar with continuous transmission being switched between two frequencies (the return echo of frequency A is heterodyned with frequency B at the receiver over a period which depends on the echo’s delay)

In 1929, Isaac Schoenberg (general manager of the Columbia Gramophone Co., soon become part of EMI) was looking for an engineer to circumvent a Western Electric disc-cutting patent that levied heavy royalties upon every record that was sold. Upon accepting the post, he met with a number of engineers and scientists who helped develop a new and successful disc recording system, which employed mechanical damping to eliminate the main resonance in the cutting head, reduced others by employing electromagnetic damping and then compensated for what remained by using electrical filters.

During this time, Blumlein became interested in stereophonic sound (he called it binaural) and went on to create the first complete theory of two channel sound reproduction using loudspeakers. He believed that a major factor in the localization of a stereo sound source was in the time of arrival at the two ears for low frequencies and in amplitude differences for higher frequencies (the basis of modern stereo). Extending this phase/amplitude combination further, he developed a complex lateral and vertical method for cutting two channels of sound onto a single record groove using a 45º cutting plane. This formed the basis of the universally adopted 45/45 stereo groove system.

In 1931, Blumlein filed the historic patent that detailed two-channel stereo for disc recording and motion pictures. However, his contributions weren’t only limited to improvements in disc recording; they also included improvements in stereo miking techniques (both in X/Y and M-S modes). Decca London used his crossed figure-of-eight stereo arrangement in the 50′s that produced outstanding recordings, even by today’s standards. He was also instrumental in the practical development of the moving coil microphone, as well as studies that led to the various microphone polar patterns.

When the Audio Engineering Society, devoted an issue of its journal to stereophony in 1958, it published his main patent on the 45/45 stereo modulated groove in full, stating in an editorial note that “Blumlein described almost everything about stereophony long before the time was ripe”.

David Miles Huber
Reprinted by permission of Mix Magazine www.mixonline.com

► Abbey Road opens

It will probably always be known as “The Beatles’ studio.” Nearly every recording session in the group’s storied career took place in the large, 19th-century building on Abbey Road in the St. John’s Wood section of Northwest London — from “Love Me Do” to “The Long and Winding Road,” and everything in between: The sitar session for “Norwegian Wood,” the famous string crescendo for “A Day in the Life,” the worldwide broadcast of “All You Need Is Love”; literally, thousands of hours spent creating the most famous music catalog in music history. Beatles fans would hang around the outside of the studio hoping to catch a glimpse of their heroes coming or going, and a certain wall of the exterior became an ongoing message board for graffiti about and directed to the band. And then there’s the matter of The Beatles’ 1969 album cover for Abbey Road: There were The Beatles walking across the street in front of what had long been known as EMI Studios, but which would forever after be known — first colloquially, then formally — as Abbey Road Studios.

The building at 6 Abbey Road was originally constructed as a large, private home in 1830. Nearly a century later, in 1927, a gentleman named Osmund “Ozzy” Williams came up with the notion of turning the building into studios for the burgeoning British recording industry. Unfortunately, Williams died before he could see his dream realized, but in November 1931, EMI (Electrical and Musical Industries Ltd.) opened the doors of its grand new studio with composer Sir Edward Elgar conducting the London Symphony Orchestra to record his inspirational ode to England, “Land of Hope and Glory.”<p >For the first decades of the studio’s existence, it was devoted mostly to the recording of classical music; indeed, it was designed with that in mind. (It also proved to be a popular studio for Big Band recording, attracting many of the top acts of the day. Glenn Miller’s final sessions were cut there, right before he disappeared on a pre-tour flight to Paris in 1944.) The legendary Studio One could accommodate an orchestra of more than 100 players and a full choir — its dimensions are 92×52 feet with a 40-foot ceiling — and it has remained essentially unchanged throughout the years (though the control room has been completely modernized and enlarged, and today boasts a Neve VRP Legend console). Studio Two, where The Beatles did the bulk of their recording, is roughly half the size of Studio One, but it is still large — it fits more than 50 players comfortably. These days, its control room is also outfitted with a Neve VRP Legend. Studio Three is smaller still, but can hold up to 15 players. Its control room is equipped with a 96-channel SSL 9000 J.

Excerpted from Abbey Road at 70By Blair JacksonMix, Jul 1, 2002Reprinted by permission of Mix Magazine – www.mixonline.com


► The first cardioid ribbon microphone is patented

Dr.Harry F.Olson of RCA designed the first cardioid ribbon microphone – the 77A. This mic, which used a field coil instead of a permanent magnet featured two vertical in-line ribbons and included an acoustic labyrinth for its directionality.

When it came to producing ribbon microphones, RCA was definitely the top dog of its day. They had a huge sales force in place, with a pipeline into the broadcast market. They also had the advertising budget, with a research and development team that surpassed their closest competitor, Western Electric.

► First experiments with a vertical-lateral stereo disk cutter

In April of 1931, after hearing about a new disc cutting process, Leopold Stokowski invited Bell Labs to conduct a series of recording experiments with his Philadelphia Orchestra. Arthur C. Keller went about setting up a new vertical-cut disc lathe that was equipped with a moving coil pickup and sapphire stylus that extended the frequency range upwards to 10KHz. Disk surface noise was reduced by coating the wax master with gold film and creating a metal stamper using electroplated copper and pressing the final discs onto cellulose acetate (a plastic-like vinyl) rather than the much brittler shellac.

Initially, recordings of Scriabin’s “Poem of Fire” were made using two separate grooves for each channel, however this system was scrapped for Keller’s own design for a 45/45 disc cutting system that would record stereo in one groove. Amazingly, he didn’t file for a patent… if he had he would’ve been shocked to find that A.D. Blumlein had already developed the concept only one year earlier in England.


► Ring-shaped magnetic head is developed

An important development towards designing a high-quality magnetic tape recorder was the ring-shaped magnetic head. Before Eduard Schuller’s invention in 1933, magnetic heads were shaped like phonograph needles or chisels and damaged the soft tape. Schuller’s ring focused a strong magnetic field onto a small area of tape that increased the device’s frequency response and output, while greatly reducing wear.

1934: A new empire of the Air

► Major Armstrong, the inventor of FM radio, makes the first experimental FM broadcast <p >On June 9, 1934, Major Edwin Howard Armstrong completed his first FM transmission field test atop the Empire State Building. Armstrong simultaneously transmitted an organ recital over both AM and FM, using a transmitter loaned him by RCA at a frequency of 42.1 MHz. According to accounts, the AM version had “hundreds of thousands times more static.” Upon making other tests at longer distances during the “summer static” season, not only did those experiments work, he proved that the signal didn’t fade at the Earth’s perimeter as AMs did.

► Way ahead of his time…

In January of ’34, at Abbey Road Studio, Blumlein recorded Thomas Beecham conducting Mozart’s “Jupiter Symphony” in stereo. This was done using a disc cutter/stylus that moved in 2 directions (using a vertical-lateral technique that recorded one channel laterally and the other vertically in the same groove. <p >1935: The Magnetophon – Quality at last!

► AEG (Germany) exhibits its “Magnetophon” Model K-1 at the Berlin Radio Exposition

In 1927, Fritz Pfleumer had conducted numerous experiments with magnetic recording media that consisted of paper and plastic tape which was coated with a powder that could be magnetized. The material’s grain size was rather large resulting in a tape that somewhat resembled sandpaper and although the performance of the first production models was somewhat mediocre, it was still somewhat of a hit. The Nazi government took particular interest in both wire and tape recorders, as they were basically immune to vehicular motion… a practical wartime device for use in air, land or water.

Since the government needed all the recording equipment they could get, in 1930 the German Allgemeine Elektrizitatsgesellschaft [AEG] decided to develop a high-quality magnetic tape recorder that was based on Fritz Pfleumer’s general design concepts. 2 years later, AEG agreed to collaborate with BASF, a German chemical company who had the necessary knowledge to develop magnetic tape – with this, the magnetophon tape recorder began to take shape.

Throughout World War II, the Germans continued to work on the development of magnetic recording, despite serious shortcomings of manpower and material. The performance was made noticeably better with Eduard Schuller’s development of the “ring-head”, which vastly improved the tape-to-head transfer… however it still wasn’t as good as the shellac records of the day. This was true until 1939, when Walter Weber of the German Broadcast Service (while experimenting with ideas on how to reduce the offensive background noise inherent in tape) accidentally fed a very high frequency into the record head during a recording and noticed an enormous improvement in reproduction fidelity. All the machines in the broadcast service were immediately converted to incorporate this new “high frequency bias” and almost overnight the Magnetophon became the world’s finest recording device. In August, 1935, the Magnetophon was presented to the German public at the Grand German Radio Exhibition.

► BASF creates the first plastic-based magnetic tapes

BASF didn’t exactly invent magnetic tape, that honor goes to a number of inventors that stretches back to 1878, However, under the direction of Friedrich Matthias, they were the first to create a product that was stable enough for mass production. Initially, BASF designed a cellulose acetate-based tape that used a carbonyl iron coating. In 1936, they were able to significantly increase the dynamic range by substituting iron oxide as magnetic material… and with an initial shipment of 50,000 meters of magnetic tape, the technology for modern music recording was born.


► BASF makes the first tape recording of a symphony concert

As a way to show off the new Magnetophon and recording tape, BASF arranged the world’s first concert recording on November 19,1936, during a visit by the touring London Philharmonic Orchestra. In this recording, Sir Thomas Beecham conducted works by Mozart, Rimsky-Korsakov, Dvorak and others in the BASF concert hall in Ludwigshaven, Germany. These recordings are still playable today – a fitting testimony to the durability of these early tapes.

► Von Braunmühl and Weber apply for a patent on the cardioid condenser microphone

By utilizing time delay network on sounds arriving at a dual-diaphragm capsule (whereby the front diaphragm is active and the rear acts as an acoustically-passive element) Von Braunmühl and Weber were able to achieve controlled cancellation and produce a cardioid pattern.

► Reeves invents PCM

You might be surprised to learn that the origins of digital audio can be traced as far back as 1937, when Alec H. Reeves, a scientist at the International Telephone and Telegraph Co. in France, invented pulse-code modulation. He was granted a French patent in 1938, a British patent in 1939, and U.S. patent No. 2,272,070 in 1942, according to Steve Schoenherr, a history professor at the University of San Diego.

1938: The Shure Unidyne 55

► Benjamin B. Bauer engineers a single microphone pickup to produce a cardioid pattern <p >In an effort to create a much simpler and more reliable directional mic, Benjamin B. Bauer of Shure Bros designed the first single microphone pickup to produce a cardioid pattern. <p >In a similar fashion to early dual-diaphragm condenser cardioids, Bauer used an acoustic time delay network to vary the arrival times of sounds that originate from the rear of the mic (Shure called the system “uniphase”). With this system, he was able to control the cancellation and produce a cardioid pattern. As a result, Shure introduced the Unidyne Model 55A (the Elvis mic) in 1939… the same capsule later became the basis for the well known SM57 and SM58.

With its classic, instantly recognizable appearance, the Model 55 is still available (as the Shure 55SH Series II) for performers who want the look and feel of the ‘50s and ‘60s.


► Independently, engineers in Germany, Japan and the USA discover and develop AC biasing for magnetic recording <p >At this point, magnetic recording history becomes clouded with the political situation in Germany and the rest of the world at this time. Studying American texts reveals that most advances were made in America, whereas German history tends to show a different picture. Regardless of which is correct, one of the most colorful accounts from this time is the invention of AC bias; in Germany in 1941 a fault in a tape recorder amplifier causes the output stage to oscillate, and the resulting recording then shows a surprising clarity, hitherto unheard of. Thus the high-frequency AC bias is born (superimposing a high-frequency signal, in the order of several tens of kHz, onto the recording signal).

A more significant event of the late Forties was the introduction of the Ampex magnetic tape recorder, based in turn on captured German Magnetophon AC-bias machines. What was a little odd was that the German AC-bias technology was known in America and the UK before the war, but ignored by the English-speaking audio industry in favor of lo-fi wire recorders using DC bias (dictation machines). In the immediate postwar period, the problems with manufacturing iron-oxide coated magnetic tape were mastered by 3M, and the new Ampex tape recorders quickly surpassed the German originals. The introduction and rapid improvement of magnetic tape recording was the prerequisite for the broad advances of the 1950s.

► Western Electric designs the first motion feedback, vertical-cut disk recording head

1940: A Fantasy of Sound

► Walt Disney’s “Fantasia” is released, with nine-track stereophonic sound

On November 13, 1940, Walt Disney’s Fantasia premiered at New York’s Broadway Theater. Although, it wasn’t the first film to be recorded using the “Multiple Channel Recording” process (that distinction went to the Deanna Durbin film “One Hundred Men and a Girl”, which was released by Universal in mono), it was the first, discrete 4-channel film soundtrack.

Using a process that was developed by Bell Labs and RCA, Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra recorded the scores of Stravinsky, Dukas, Mussorgsky and others were recorded onto nine separate channels (with each channel being optically printed onto a separate, synchronous strip of 35mm film). The final mix was printed onto four master optical tracks for playback using a special RCA system that was called “Fantasound”. This multi-speaker setup placed three horns behind the screen and 65 smaller speakers around the walls of the theater. Due to its outlandish setup costs (estimated at about $85,000 for each theater), RCA stopped making this fantastic system after setting another one up at the Carthay Circle Theater in Los Angeles.

1941: FM and FFRR

► Commercial FM broadcasting begins in the U.S. <p >The FM first station to be licensed for commercial operation was W47NV in Nashville, Tennessee. On March 1, 1941, the station had an effective radiated power of 65,000 watts at an assigned frequency of 44.7 MHz. Under the general direction of Chief Engineer “Jack” DeWitt (who, at a later time, manned the audio controls at the first Opry broadcast), W47NV had cast a healthy signal into Kentucky and Alabama. <p >In 1947, the call letters were reassigned by the government to WSM-FM and the station still operates today as “Nashville 95 FM – “The New Country” (www.wsmonline.com) on the FM band at 95.5 MHz.

► The first motion feedback, lateral-cut disc lathe is developed for Decca’s “ffrr” high-fidelity recordings

With the acquisition of its new Crystalate Record label in 1937, Decca Records acquired two engineers named Arthur Haddy and Kenneth E. Wilkinson “Wilkie”. From the outset, Decca encouraged them to experiment with new ideas, which led to several new developments that would have an effect upon the recording technology of the day… as well as the present.<p >One result of their endeavors was the use of a new 78rpm motion feedback, lateral-cut disc lathe that was used in conjunction with a high-quality audio chain whose frequency range extended from 10 to 14 KHz. The final results were so good that Decca dubbed records that were made with the new direct-to-disc system as being high-fidelity “ffrr” recordings (standing for full frequency range recordings).

The first “ffrr” recording wasn’t released until December, 1944; however, most listeners weren’t able to enjoy the full frequency range until a new lightweight pickup was developed the following year.

In 1946, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw Orchestra had begun sessions with its new label – Decca, when engineer Arthur Haddy and producer Victor Olof decided to move the Orchestra from the traditional stage area to the Concertgebouw’s hall floor. The results were so striking that many of the recordings are still made in this way. It’s a fitting tribute to the production and technological excellence of these early recordings, that many of them have been subsequently re-issued on LP and CD.

► Arguably, the first computer is created

Konrad Zuse (German: [ˈkɔnʁat ˈtsuːzə]; 1910–1995) was a German civil engineer, inventor and computer pioneer. His greatest achievement was the world’s first functional program-controlled Turing-complete computer, the Z3, which became operational in May 1941.

Zuse was also noted for the S2 computing machine, considered the first process-controlled computer. He founded one of the earliest computer businesses in 1941, producing the Z4, which became the world’s first commercial computer. From 1943[1] to 1945[2] he designed the first high-level programming language, Plankalkül.[3] In 1969, Zuse suggested the concept of a computation-based universe in his book Rechnender Raum (Calculating Space).

Much of his early work was financed by his family and commerce, but after 1939 he was given resources by the Nazi German government.[4] Due to World War II, Zuse’s work went largely unnoticed in the United Kingdom and the United States. Possibly his first documented influence on a US company was IBM’s option on his patents in 1946.

There is a replica of the Z3, as well as the original Z4, in the Deutsches Museum in Munich. The Deutsches Technikmuseum in Berlin has an exhibition devoted to Zuse, displaying twelve of his machines, including a replica of the Z1 and several of Zuse’s paintings.


► Olson patents a single-ribbon cardioid mic, as well as a “phased-array” directional mic

Dr. Harry F. Olson continued his work in microphone design when, in 1942, he patented a single-ribbon cardioid microphone (later developed as the RCA 77D and 77DX), and a “phased-array” directional microphone. Although the RCA 77A, 77D and DX all had an acoustic labyrinth in the body of the microphone, the latter two models were poly-directional mics that used a single ribbon. This multi-pattern design used a tube that was directly connected the slotted labyrinth (which was located directly behind the ribbon). The tube was fitted with an adjustable shutter that could be continuously varied by a flathead screwdriver from an open position (omni directional) to closed (bi-directional) and various cardioid patterns in between.

Two basic versions of 77DX (which differed from the 77D in that it had a slightly increased output, due to an improved magnet and transformer) were available: a satin chrome version (for radio broadcast), and a non-reflective umber grey version (for TV and film).

► The first stereo tape recordings are made by Helmut Kruger at German Radio in Berlin. <p >In 1993 and 94, Helmut Kruger, a German radio technician, used a modified AEG Magnetophon to make stereo recordings of various orchestra concerts in Berlin. Excerpts from the few tapes that had survived WWII (it was reported that hundreds were made) were transferred to CD by Harmonia Mundi Acoustica in a limited edition and were given out to Audio Engineering Society members at the 94th convention in Berlin.

► Altec develops their Model 604 coaxial loudspeaker.

In 1944, James B. Lansing worked with a team to develop the world-renown ALTEC “604″ loudspeaker. This coaxial speaker was the successful combination of a 15” (381mm) woofer with a hole bored through its pole piece which connected to a 1” (25mm) high frequency compression driver that was coupled to a small multicellular horn (later the series used a constant-directivity Mantaray® horn). This concentric design led to the famous Duplex® series of loudspeakers.

Over the years, this successful speaker design was placed within a number of enclosures and became a mainstay as the “Voice of the Theater” for use in movie houses, PA and recording studio applications. Later, this famous design was echoed by other manufacturers such as UREI (United Recording Electronics Inc.), Tannoy and others.

Record Manufacturing “Command Performance” 1942 at RCA

The Magnetic Tape Era

1944: The A.M.P. Era

► Alexander M. Poniatoff forms Ampex Corporation to make electric motors for the military

Often, for those who have lived through the recording industry’s formative years of the 40′s and 50′s, what is felt, in retrospect, is a spirit which pervaded almost every facet of the industry. Many times this spirit took the form of a deep sense of team effort or commitment to an important cause.

One such man, whose primary goal in life was to instill such a spirit in his fellow man, was Alexander Mathew Poniatoff. Poniatoff’s personal motto was “excellence” and believed that ones work should benefit mankind; thus, when the time came to create his own company, at the age of fifty two, he merged his own initials with the prefix of his motto, creating the Ampex Company of San Carlos, California.

The story of A.M.P.’S life is not so much that of an industry father figure, as one of a man with high ideals who was lucky enough to live in an era of tremendous changing forces worldwide, both politically and technologically and smart enough to take full advantage of them.

Poniatoff was born on March 25, 1892 in the village of Aisha, some 400 miles east of Moscow in the Russian province of Kazan. His father was a prosperous lumberman, whose community status afforded young Alex a comfortable childhood and special education opportunities. Alex recalled being so impressed at the sight of his first locomotive and learning that engineers were responsible for such a machine that he decided on the spot that he, too, would someday become an engineer. Poniatoff thus planned to become a mechanical engineer and upon completion of his general education he applied to the Moscow Imperial Technical College.

As 1910 was a year of political upheaval in Russia, the school was forced to close, leaving Alex with no other alternative but to study abroad. Upon application, Alex was soon accepted for study at the Technical College in Karlsruhe, Germany.

Poniatoff arrived in Germany in the autumn of 1910 and proceeded to pass an equivalence exam, which exempted him from two of the five required years of course work. All that remained was a year’s apprenticeship in the field. He therefore spent this year in a factory designing turbine locomotives. It was his plan to open a turbine factory in Russia, while importing the necessary parts from Germany. His plans were cut abruptly short by the onset of World War I. In Germany, He suddenly found himself trapped; an alien in enemy territory, his only recourse was escape by train across the Belgian border. Once on board the train, Poniatoff met two American women who realized his predicament and motioned that they would aid in his escape.

Asked the nature of their travels by the checkpoint border guard, the two women indicated that they were tourists by naming of the cities they had visited: “Paris, Rome, Vienna, Berlin…” When it came time for Poniatoff to pass through, carrying the women’s heavier bags and pretending not to understand German, he turned to one of the women who promptly said “Paris, Rome, Vienna, Berlin…” and the guard waved Poniatoff on by.

The Poniatoff Soft Rubber Breast Story

Upon moving to the new brick factory in Redwood City, Poniatoff found the rear half of the factory still filled with its former resident’s product – rubber breasts for women that have had breast cancer surgery. He promptly packed them up in his pickup truck and headed for the city dump. While driving down the main street of town, one of the boxes fell onto the roadway spilling breasts everywhere. The passers by had a great laugh at watching this man in overalls picking up breasts and packing them away.

1945: Wartime Discoveries

► Two Magnetophon recorders are sent back to the U.S. in mailbags by Army Signal Corps Major John T.(Jack) Mullin

Born in San Francisco in 1913, Jack Mullin graduated from Santa Clara University in what is now Silicon Valley with a major in electrical engineering. In 1941, Mullin entered the U.S. Army as a private, emerging at the end of the war as a major in the Signal Corps.

Stationed in England from 1943 to ‘44, then-Lt. Mullin was assigned to help improve the performance of Allied radar and other electronics. Spending nights alone in his lab at the Royal Air Force facility in Farnborough, England, he liked to listen to good music. The BBC went off the air at midnight, and he tuned to the only classical music he could find, which was broadcast by the Germans from powerful AM transmitters inside the Reich. The performances of the Berlin Philharmonic and other groups sounded “live,” with none of the telltale ticks and pops of transcription discs-16-inch diameter 33 11/43 and 78 rpm records-that were the norm in American broadcasting. Mullin reasoned that even Hitler could not compel musicians to perform continuously 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Germans, he reasoned, had to have some kind of outstanding recorder that no one knew about.

After the liberation of Paris in the summer of 1944, Mullin went to the French capital to set up an electronics lab for examining captured German electronic equipment, submitting reports to the Signal Corps and to Allied Intelligence. GIs brought in all kinds of gear, including DC-bias AEG Tonschreiber and Magnetophon tape recorders, which used 6.5mm (slightly more than 11/44th-inch wide) acetate and PVC tape moving at 77 cm/s (30.3 ips), with high distortion and a frequency response barely better than a telephone.

By the summer of 1945 the war was over. Soon after, Mullin set out with some fellow officers on a fact-finding tour of Germany, which included an unforgettable visit to the subterranean radio and closed-circuit television studios in Hitler’s bunker at his Bavarian mountaintop retreat at Berchtesgaden.

Mullin also investigated the remains of a radio transmitter on Feldberg Mountain near Frankfurt. He found little there except a bare antenna tower and a large generator, but at the site Mullin met a British officer who shared his love of good music. The officer told him about the high-fidelity version of the German AEG Magnetophon audio tape recorder, a machine with unbelievable reproduction quality: It had low distortion and a frequency response almost matching human hearing. He told Mullin he could find some Magnetophons at Radio Frankfurt’s satellite studio in Bad Nauheim, a small resort town north of Frankfurt.

At the studios, Mullin and his assistant were astonished by the fidelity of the studio Magnetophons. A look at the schematic drawings showed Mullin why the machines performed so well: AC bias in the record circuit. Mullin realized that those poor-sounding Magnetophons back in his lab in Paris could be modified simply by adding AC bias, using the same tape, transports, heads, power supplies, and most of the same record and reproduce electronics.

Mullin obtained permission from the Army to send home, for his own use, two AEG Magnetophon K-4 decks, some spare heads-the one component he knew he could never duplicate in his garage-and 50 reels of blank BASF and AGFA PVC Luvitherm Type-L tape. He only sent home the transports, as he could design and build his own electronics, using plentiful American parts.

Excerpted from John T. Mullin: The Man Who Put Bing Crosby On Tape
By Peter Hammar
Mix, Oct 1, 1999
Reprinted by permission of Mix Magazine – www.mixonline.com

1945: Hi-Fi Tape in America

► Jack Mullin demonstrates “hi-fi” tape recording with his reconstructed Magnetophon in San Francisco

Returning to civilian life in San Francisco in January 1946, the electrical engineer entered into a business partnership with filmmaker/16mm film sound pioneer W.A. (Bill) Palmer, who provided financial and mechanical engineering assistance. Mullin built two sets of record and reproduce electronics with a passive switching bridge between them, similar to the studio setups he’d seen at Bad Nauheim. The 11/44th-inch tape reels-identical to today’s IEC European-spec flangeless pancakes-held 22 minutes of music at their 77cm/s tape speed. For a half-hour show, he knew he’d have to be able to switch the input and output signals between the two decks.

Mullin’s redesign of the Magnetophon electronics resulted in a sonically superior tape recorder, and he and Palmer demonstrated their prototype hi-fi tape machines in May 1946, at the NBC Studios in San Francisco (now KBHK-TV) to members of the Institute of Radio Engineers (now the IEEE). The technology stunned the engineers and technicians, some of whom said they literally could not believe they were hearing a recording and not a live performance.

The audience included several people who would go on to make magnetic recording history, including Harold Lindsay, Walter Selsted, Frank Lennert and Charlie Ginsburg, all later of Ampex. Ginsburg would eventually lead the team that built the world’s first commercially successful videotape recorder. The others worked on the groundbreaking Ampex Model 200, America’s first professional audiotape deck.

Working with Palmer Films, Mullin designed methods for producing high-quality audio for the pre-production of 16mm films. The engineers built a third tape deck using one of the spare head stacks Mullin brought from Paris, along with their own transport and electronics. The homemade tape deck allowed them to do a final mixdown on 11/44th-inch tape, synched to the film for layback to an optical track-a first in the country. Meanwhile, the two modified Magnetophons were used to produce the first U.S. commercial entertainment disc professionally mastered on tape, Songs by Merv Griffin, in 1946.

Excerpted from John T. Mullin: The Man Who Put Bing Crosby On Tape
By Peter Hammar
Mix, Oct 1, 1999
Reprinted by permission of Mix Magazine – www.mixonline.com


► Bill Putnam Sr. opens Universal Recording

A pioneer in recording studio acoustics and equipment design, M.T. “Bill” Putnam is acknowledged to be the first person to use artificial reverberation for commercial recordings. He also developed the first multi-band equalizers, and with his company Universal Audio, was responsible for the development of classic equipment like the 1176LN and UREI® Time Align monitors.

Born in 1920 in Danville, Illinois, he was influenced by his father, a businessman who also put on radio programs, including a number one country music show. Young Putnam’s interests surfaced early; in Boy Scouts he earned a merit badge in wireless, building a crystal set and a one-tube radio. By 15 he was taking the ham radio operator’s exam and constructing his own equipment. In high school both his artistic and technical sides emerged full on.

In 1946 Putnam started his own recording studio, Universal Recording Corp., in Evanston Illinois. His goals at the time, besides having a successful business, were the development of new recording techniques and specialized equipment for recording studios.

To that end the manufacturing company Universal Audio, which later became UREI®, was formed. Most of the equipment, including the console, for Universal Recording was built by Universal Audio. It wasn’t long before the company relocated to Chicago, and it was there, in 1947, that Putnam recorded what is generally accepted to be the first “pop” record to use artificial reverberation. The founder of the group The Harmonicats, Jerry Murad, wanted to record using an echo chamber like he’d heard on effects in spooky radio mysteries. Putnam not only financed the record for a piece of the profits, he came up with the idea of using the tiled men’s room at Universal Recording to create that echo. The Harmonicats song “Peg-O-My-Heart,” became the first million seller smash with more than 1,400,000 copies sold, and the rest was, well, history.

Putnam’s engineering credits grew quickly; at that time he worked with artists such as Patti Page, Vic Damone and Dinah Washington, and had a million selling record on his own Universal Records label with “Jealous Heart” by Al Morgan. A number of firsts occurred at Universal: the first use of tape repeat, the first vocal booth, the first multiple voice recording, the first 8-track recording trials and experiments with half speed disc mastering.

Universal was becoming famous, doing recordings for the Chicago based labels VeeJay, Mercury and Chess. It was a hub for rhythm and blues recordings including cuts for Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Bo Diddley, Little Walter, and Chuck Berry. Jazz artists recorded by Putnam included Stan Kenton, Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Nat King Cole, and the master, Duke Ellington. Putnam was also producing records for Decca, as well as writing songs and lyrics.

With his Chicago studio so successful, Putnam’s clients began urging him to open a facility on the West Coast, and finally he was convinced. In 1957 he sold his interest in Universal Recording, started a new company called United Recording Corp. and moved to Hollywood, taking over a building at 6050 Sunset and starting construction on new studios. Stereo was taking off, and Putnam was determined to incorporate as many technological innovations into the complex as possible.

In 1958, Studio B was completed along with two reverb chambers. The facility soon grew to three studios, a mixdown room, three mastering rooms including one with stereo, and a small manufacturing plant, all in 15,000 square feet. The studios were busy around the clock, with projects from Ricky Nelson to voiceovers for Hanna Barbera cartoons like the Flintstones.

In the early 60s Western Recorders, one block away at 6000 Sunset, was acquired and remodeled. The studio was renamed United Western, and business continued to grow. The talent behind and in front of the glass in those days reads like a who’s who of classic recording: Bones Howe, Wally Heider and Lee Hirschberg were on staff. During the 60s and 70s the studios were jumping 24 hours a day, seven days a week with artists like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Nat King Cole, Johnny Mercer and Ray Charles. Charles classic “I Can’t Stop Loving You” was recorded there, as well as Sinatra’s “It Was A Very Good Year,” and The Mamas and The Papas’ “California Dreamin’”. The United Western studios, still in existence today as both Cello Studios and Allen Sides’ Ocean Way Recording, are still considered to be some of the best sounding rooms ever built.

Meanwhile, upstairs in the 6050 Sunset building Universal Audio was thriving, and changing names. Now called UREI®, the company had acquired the patent rights to the LA-2A leveling amplifier, and also to National Intertel, which became the Teletronix division of UREI®. It was a unique situation; Putnam was always searching for better ways to do things and the combination of studios and manufacturing led readily to new product ideas. Out of this synergy came the 1176LN leveling amplifier, the 1108 FET preamp and, in conjunction with Ed Long, the 813 family of speakers.

Murray Allen said it best: “There’s a whole school of what I’d call Bill Putnam engineers out there”. “People like Allen Sides and Bruce Swedien who worked with him and who really understood what recording sound should be about. They’ve carried on his tradition, and I think we all agree that it’s very important for people to know what he contributed.”

Excerpted from Bill Putnam Sr.: A Profile
Reprinted by permission of Universal Audio – www.uaudio.com

1945: Hollywood and Bing Crosby

► Bing Crosby and his technical director, Murdo McKenzie, agree to audition tape recorders brought in by Jack Mullin and Richard Ranger. Mullin’s is preferred, and he’s brought back to record Crosby’s Philco radio show.<p >In October 1946, Mullin and Palmer took their decks to Hollywood, where a demonstration at MGM Studios grabbed the town’s attention with a stunningly clear recording of performances by harmonica virtuoso Larry Adler and pianist Jose Iturbi playing with the MGM Symphony Orchestra. Bing Crosby’s technical producer, Murdo MacKenzie, heard about the Mullin-Palmer machines and arranged a demo for the singer, his manager and brother Everett Crosby, and the rest of the organization.

Crosby was desperate to find a high-quality audio recording method to produce his show for delayed broadcast. Though live radio was king, he hated live performances and loved the relaxed atmosphere of studio recording. The singer had been broadcasting his weekly NBC half-hour show live from Los Angeles during the 1944-45 season, doing each program twice, once for the East Coast feed and again three hours later for the West Coast. Live radio was an ordeal he wanted to end. When NBC refused to allow Crosby to record his shows on 16-inch “electrical transcription” discs (ETs)-the only option besides the equally dismal-sounding optical-film audio recording-he quit radio for a year.

The arrival of Mullin and Palmer’s two modified AEG Magnetophons came at a perfect moment in history. Crosby and his producers decided they would produce Philco Radio Time on the Mullin-Palmer machines, transferring the final mix to a first-generation ET for on-air play. No one trusted tape enough to put it directly on the air, and in any event, there wasn’t enough German blank tape to do that. Mullin’s tapings would be backed up by ETs in the NBC recording department. Meanwhile, Ampex Corporation had begun building an American version of the Magnetophon, and a number of manufacturers, including 3M and Audio Devices, planned to make blank tape.

Crosby, whose contract with ABC specified that the network provide him with the finest-available recording facilities to time-delay his show, insisted on an agreement with Palmer Films, which would be the sales agent for the Ampex tape recorders. ABC agreed, although with the stipulation that Bing Crosby Enterprises, not Palmer Films, become the exclusive sales agent for Ampex recorders. Crosby invested $50,000 in Ampex, and the deal was made.

Starting in the 1947-48 season, Mullin became Crosby’s chief engineer, recording Philco Radio Time on tape, both the dress rehearsal and the “live-to-tape” show. The final mix, transferred to 16-inch ETs for airing, was often an edit of both performances. Mullin’s skillful edits created the kind of program pacing that most live radio shows could not achieve. The now-hit Crosby show remained tape-delayed, setting a precedent in broadcast production that remains the norm to this day. Other network radio and recording artists quickly adopted tape to produce their shows and discs, including Burl Ives and Les Paul (who later went on to develop the first multitrack tape recorder). Live broadcasting soon became limited mostly to local disc jockeys spinning the new long-play 33 11/43 and 45 rpm music discs.

Excerpted from John T. Mullin: The Man Who Put Bing Crosby On Tape
By Peter Hammar
Mix, Oct 1, 1999
Reprinted by permission of Mix Magazine – www.mixonline.com


► Ampex produces its first tape recorder, the Model 200

Mullin’s two prototype machines proved the feasibility of the new tape technology to Ampex Corporation, a tiny, six-employee company that built small motors and generators for U.S. Navy contracts. Mullin and Palmer assumed that the Army Signal Corps reports from Germany on the Magnetophon would motivate the big U.S. electronics firms to introduce their own professional tape recorders. Strangely, that never happened. Only Col. Richard Ranger of Rangertone in New Jersey tried to build a working prototype of the German technology. Although Ranger later distinguished himself with audiotape decks for motion picture production, his first effort was a failure, opening the door for Ampex. In 1946 in Alabama, J. Herbert Orr-a former major in the Signal Corps-began manufacturing an Fe2O3 (ferric oxide) acetate tape according to a recipe given him by a BASF scientist, but 3M eclipsed his initial products. Orr’s Orradio later became Ampex’s magnetic tape division, today called Quantegy.

Ampex went on to design and build America’s first professional high-fidelity audiotape recorder, the Model 200, which went into service in Hollywood, Chicago and New York on all of the radio networks in the spring of 1948. Mullin and the Crosby show were presented with serial numbers 1 and 2 of the Ampex machine in gratitude for their research and development support. Model 200s were biased for the newly developed 3M Scotch No. 111 tape, which replaced Mullin’s dwindling supply of German tape. That same year, other American manufacturers including Magnecord, began building commercial audiotape machines for consumer and pro use. Mullin’s pioneering work in America became the basis for many recording industry standards, including the famous NAB equalization curve still in use for analog studio recording.

Ironically, many of Mullin’s innovations and modifications made their way back to postwar Europe. When the Germans entered the international tape recorder market in 1950, joined by the Swiss, international marketing pressures led them to adopt most of the technical parameters established by Mullin and put into practice by Ampex, Magnecord and many others, including the 30 ips tape speed (later reduced to 15, 7 11/42 and 3 31/44 ips) and the 11/44th-inch (6.35mm) tape width.

Excerpted from John T. Mullin: The Man Who Put Bing Crosby On Tape
By Peter Hammar
Mix, Oct 1, 1999
Reprinted by permission of Mix Magazine – www.mixonline.com

► 3M introduces Scotch No.100, a black oxide paper tape

The Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (3M) Company introduces a line of sound recording tapes, including the paper-based type #100 and the plastic-based type #110. Soon after, type #111, a plastic based tape with an improved oxide, becomes the industry standard.

With the new fleet of Ampex 200 machines in broadcast studios around the country, a lot of tape would be needed. Initially, these recorders ran at speeds of 30ips (inches per second). By 1949, a decent quality could be obtained at 15 and 7½ ips.

► Major improvements are made in disk-cutting technology: the Presto 1D, Fairchild 542, and Cook feedback cutters. <p >Needs information?<p >The pride of the NBC recording room were thirteen Scully recording lathes. Magnificent machines, beautifully hand tooled, equipped with sapphire styli for cutting the perfect acetate. When cutting one minute spots, operating four machines at a time, we looked like ballet dancers performing choreographed dance.

► Mary Bell – First woman engineer

As was common with most boys of the day, Mary Caroline Bell’s love affair with radio began when very young. Playing with the knobs of a huge walnut radio, stuffed with wires and tubes with tall stick her dad called an antenna. Later in life, with her love affair with technology in tact, she entered the University of Michigan where she studied radio broadcasting (with the hope of becoming an actress). Here is Mary’s own account:

The need for men to serve their country in World War II opened up opportunities for women to enter the technical field of radio and broadcasting. I took the plunge and learned recording by on the job training methods at a small independent recording studio in NYC. We did a lot of disc recording for the Armed Services, for OSS as well as for South America. We “dubbed” together total symphonies from 78 RPM commercial recordings to 16 inch glass based acetate discs at 33 1/3 RPM which made it possible for radio stations to play a whole movement of a symphony without the hassle of matching up the 12 inch 78 RPM commercial discs which naturally held less music time.

Wire recording was introduced but we found it unsatisfactory: difficult to handle in the field, fragile and required a lighted cigarette to edit or mend a broken wire. Terrible for the engineer who had just quit smoking. After a year wherein I learned a heck of a lot about disc recording, dubbing, playback to live radio, the company went bankrupt. I was hired by NBC as a recording engineer where I stayed for the next eight years.

Of course I was discriminated against at NBC but I fought back in my own way. The new RCA tape machines were introduced to our recording room. Male chauvinism reared it’s ugly head and I was denied the privilege of learning how to use them so I taught myself.

During break time or lunch, I would sneak into the back room and practice how to start, stop, change speeds and thread the 1/4 inch tape onto 12 inch reels. I taught myself to edit tape and splice it without a hint of change in sound. One day an emergency came up and there was no MAN to do the job so I volunteered. I was almost laughed out of the recording room but I stood my ground. Desperation set it and I was sent to NBC Studio 2C. The job was completed, copied, and aired without mishap and my new profession was born. I became an expert 1/4 inch tape editor and was in demand by some of the producers.

Winter 1950, I went to Michigan to help dedicate a new radio station at the University. When I returned to NBC, a new man was on the staff. His name was Bill Schwartau. Six weeks later we were married. Marriage between engineers was a dirty word so one of us had to leave the recording room. A typical corporate behind closed doors decision was made and I was chosen to be relegated to the fourth floor News Room to be the sole editor/broadcast engineer for the nightly news. My new husband stayed on the seventh floor where he soon became the darling of the industry as we knew it at that time.

At this time, the archives were full of glass based, fragile recordings. One program was John Barrymore doing Shakespeare. There were four plays on records, each an hour in length. A brilliant producer decided to re-air them. The sound was terrible and the records were scratched and nicked so that some of the words were inaudible because they were covered with “tics”. In addition to the terrible quality of the records, we had to cut the programs to 30 minutes. Imagine a 4 hour play being condensed to one hour then some nut wanting to cut it to 1/2 hour. I was the editor and was miserable that my name would be on such horrendous quality. I decided to experiment and cut the tics out of the tapes which had been transferred from records to 15 IPS magnetic tape. I cut tiny pieces out of the “Hamlet” tape and pasted them on the wall. I had 276 1/16 or 1/8 inch pieces of tape on the wall but now we could actually understand the words. Next my husband decided to help so we ran the program through an equalizer and ended up with a quite palatable presentation. The four programs were well accepted.

To put my radio/broadcasting career to bed permanently, I became pregnant. I have the distinction of being the first radio/recording engineer to leave the industry because of pregnancy. The result was one of the finest recording engineers in the country, Winn Schwartau.

Five years later, a divorce forced me to go back into business for financial reasons. I opened my own “at home” audio visual business where I made cartridge tapes for audio visual programs. That is where Winn first learned how to edit and splice tape at the age of six.

Excerpted from Mary Caroline Bell, This is Your Life
By Mary Bell Schwartau

LPs & 45s


► The Germanium transistor is developed at Bell Laboratories

At the end of World War II, Bell Labs decided to begin the search for an alternative to the vacuum tube. A device was needed that would be smaller, faster, more powerful and more reliable that what was offered by the technology of the day. Working closely together, three Bell System scientists, Walter H. Brattain John Bardeen, and William Shockley, pooled their own creative resources and recruited chemists, metallurgists, as well as physicists to work on a device that would have a far-reaching impact on science, technology and society. The result would be the a pure, single-crystal semiconductor, whose electrical characteristics could be varied by adding specific impurities to it in a controlled manner.<p >The first demonstration of the germanium transistor (then technically known as an n-p-n grown-junction germanium triode) was secretly held at Bell Labs in December of 1947. Initially, problems in production had kept it from being a practical device and it was kept secret for 7 months. Finally, in 1948, patents were filed and the transistor was announced to the public on June 30, 1948.

At first, the transistor was used as a small, reliable, and inexpensive substitute to the tube within the Bell network’s telephone exchange system. Following this, the first company to mass produce transistors was Raytheon, who designed them into the first commercial product – the hearing aid. From there, the transistor spawned a revolution in the semiconductor electronics industry that has touched almost every facet of modern day life.

► The microgroove 33-1/3 rpm long-play vinyl record (LP) is introduced by Columbia Records

The vinyl microgroove 33 1/3 RPM ‘LP’ record was developed and first marketed by Peter Goldmark and his engineers of Columbia records in 1948. Prior to the retail release of the first 33 1/3 ‘LP’ record, Peter Goldmark invited David Sarnoff, the head of RCA, and his engineers to tour the Columbia record labs and view the new 33 1/3 RPM disc and record playing system. David Sarnoff accepted the invitation, and he and his cheif engineers were ushered through the Columbia labs by Peter Goldmark, shown the entire new microgroove record cutting lathe and record pressing system, and treated to a sound quality demonstration of the new ‘LP’ disc. The new vinyl disc was a light years leap ahead in sound quality compared to the only other disc recording medium of the day, the 78 RPM shellac record. The new 33 1/3 RPM ‘LP’ records provided greatly extended frequency response of 50 to 12,000 cps (cycles per second), compared to the average 8,000 cps top frequency limit for current production 78 RPM discs – plus, the new microgroove records made of vinyl provided very low surface noise, and for the first time quiet music passages were not drowned out by the hiss and scratch surface noise inherent in shellac 78 discs. In addition, the new vinyl records were not breakable, unlike brittle shellac 78 discs – and, a 12 inch vinyl disc weighed a fraction of the weight of a comparable old fashioned 78 disc — saving the record producer, record shipper and retail record store the hassle and monetary loss from broken 78 discs and a great savings in lowered shipping costs.

David Sarnoff and his engineers politely expressed their approval and admiration for the ‘new’ recording medium developed by Columbia, but following the tour and demonstration, David Sarnoff ordered his engineers in marketing and research to bring into productiion the previously developed RCA Victor 45 RPM system (which had been kept a carefully guarded industrial secret for nearly 10 years).

Excerpted from an “Article about the RCA Victor 45 RPM Phonograph”
By Steve Kelsay

Reprinted by permission of Downstairs Records, Lindenhurst, NY – www.downstairsrecords.com

1949: 78rpm – 33rpm = 45rpm

► RCA introduces the microgroove 45 rpm, large-hole, 7-inch record and record changer/adaptor.

► Ampex introduces its Model 300 professional studio recorder

1950: Tinkering with tape

Guitarist Les Paul modifies his Ampex 300 with an extra preview head for “Sound-on-Sound” overdubs

When most people think of the electric guitar, the first name that comes to mind is Les Paul. Born Lester William Polfus in 1916 in Waukesha, Wisconsin, he has rightly become known as an important performer, inventor and recording artist. In short, Les Paul has been an innovator from almost the start, when he picked up his first guitar at age nine (about the same time that he built his first crystal radio. By age 13 he was performing as a country-music guitarist under the name of “Red Hot Red” (because of his bright red hair), and in 1941, at 25, he built the first solid-body electric guitar.

In 1947, when one of her background singers failed to show up at a recording session, singer Patti Page decided to experiment with the idea of recording additional vocal parts onto her version of Confess (She also used this technique on “With My Eyes Open” and “I’m Dreaming” to create four part harmony). Instead of using tape to create this effect, the engineer had to use two acetate disc cutters. Being a successful, technically-minded artist for Capital Records, Les also had two disc cutting machines to “double” his tracks. Basically, he’d have to record an initial track onto disc and then play along with the recording onto a second disc, then use that composite to add other tracks back onto the first… and so on!

In 1949, Les had heard about tape recorders, but never used one. One day, Bing Crosby came over to his house and said that he had a present for him. He thought that it was a box of cheese, cause the sponsor for their radio show was Kraft. Instead, Crosby gave him one of the first Ampex 300 series tape machines.

It didn’t take long for Les’ tinkering skills to come into play. Soon, he thought of modifying the machine with an extra preview head. He called Ampex and said he burned out the recording head and could they send another. After having it installed by a machinist named Mr. Goodspeed, it worked on first try, thus inventing the sound-on-sound process that lets you add multiple parts to a musical piece… using one tape machine, with a huge increase in quality. A new way of producing music was in the wind.

The first recording that fully exploited sound-on-sound was “How High The Moon”. It quickly worked its way to #1 on the charts and stayed there for 9 weeks in 1951.

► Ampex introduces the first professional-quality video tape recorder

In 1949, as television exploded onto the American entertainment scene, engineers and producers recognized the need for high-quality video recording for delayed broadcast and program editing. At the time, video was captured on poor-quality kinescope recorders, a relatively low-tech, 16mm and 35mm film-based TV recording method. A kine (pronounced “kinnie”) was essentially a film camera with a “3-2 pull-down” shutter aimed at the screen of a 30-frames-per-second video monitor, all in a closed box.

John T. (Jack) Mullin told Crosby that he could do for the singer’s budding TV career what he had done in radio, and he could earn a lot of money for Bing Crosby Enterprises in the process. Mullin proposed a magnetic-tape video recorder, which some engineers at the time felt was a theoretical impossibility given video’s wide, 6MHz bandwidth. He led the Bing Crosby Enterprises team, assisted by Wayne Johnson, that introduced the world’s first working prototype VTR in 1950. Simply called “Crosby Video,” the machine used 1-inch tape running past 12-track fixed heads at 100 ips (250 cm/s) with an 8,000-foot-long reel recording 16 minutes of monochrome video. The engineer based the VTR transport on the robust Ampex Model 200. By 1955, Crosby Video recorders had color capability and longer record/playback times using 11/42-inch tape with 3-track heads, but always with fixed heads and high tape speeds.

Mullin’s Crosby Video prototypes established engineering principles that became the basis for many professional and consumer audio and data recorders, including the closed-loop capstan that later appeared with great success on 3M’s Mincom line of data and professional audio machines, on Ampex data recorders and in many consumer decks. Mullin’s Crosby Video machine also spurred Ampex, RCA and the BBC to begin their video development work. Ampex won that race in April 1956 with the world’s first practical VTR, the Ampex VR-1000 (the secret was the use of spinning heads past slow-moving 2-inch-wide tape), as well as vestigial-sideband FM recording.

Excerpted from John T. Mullin: The Man Who Put Bing Crosby On Tape
By Peter Hammar
Mix, Oct 1, 1999
Reprinted by permission of Mix Magazine – www.mixonline.com

1951: A new wave in electronics

► An “Ultra-Linear” tube amplifier circuit is proposed by Hafler and Keroes

Devised in 1951 by David Hafler and Herbert Keroes, the ultra-linear mode was created to cure the ills of both triode and pentode amplifiers. Each amplifier type had its adherents. The triode tube amplifier boasted a smooth, low distortion sound and a low output impedance, but yielded only limited watts. The pentode amplifier produced many more watts and a more aggressive, exciting sound, but at the cost of greater distortion and much higher output impedance. A middle ground was sought by Hafler and Keroes. Their solution was to feed a low impedance transformer tap back into the screen grids of the tubes, causing the screens to be driven with part of the output signal. This cicuit reduces the amplifier’s output impedance, increases its output and reduces distortion down to acceptable levels.

► Pultec introduces the first active program equalizer, the EQP-1

1952: Acoustic Suspension

 first Acoustic Suspension Speaker-The AR-1

While a student at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Henry Kloss worked with several friends to designed the first acoustic-suspension speaker. Up to that time, all speaker enclosures were based upon the open- and tuned-port design, which were often large and heavy. Using a sealed-enclosure design, Kloss was able to greatly increase a speaker’s bass efficiency, thereby allowing it to be much smaller in size. The result was an audio breakthrough that popularized high fidelity sound and (over time) ushered in the concept of near-field monitoring.

Following this success, Kloss soon dropped out of school to start his own manufacturing company, Acoustic Research and began making the first Acoustic Suspension Speaker-The AR-1. In 1957, working with partners, he later formed a second business, KLH… makers of the Model 11 the world’s first compact and portable stereo system.

While president of KLH Research and Development in 1968, Kloss urged Ray Dolby to introduce a B-Type consumer noise reduction system for consumer use. To get his “if I could do it, somebody could bootleg something like it” point across, Kloss instructed one of his engineers make his own noise reduction unit. With that, Dolby developed its own consumer version, which was first designed into a KLH reel-to-reel deck, then into a cassette deck that was made by Advent.


► Ampex engineers a 4-track, 35 mm magnetic film system for 20th-Century Fox’s Christmas release of “The Robe” in CinemaScope with surround sound.

In 1953, the first CinemaScope film “The Robe” was released in “4-track stereo sound”. It was full of directional sound, including footsteps of Roman Legions that marched from right to left, as well as thunder, wind and rain that surrounded the viewer during the crucifixion scene. For the first time, off-screen voices were actually heard off-screen. During this time, only Fox and Todd-AO would record dialogue with directional sound. All the other studios would record music in stereo, but recorded the voices and effects in mono.

Thirty-three films were released in stereo that year, however, it didn’t really catch on. Most of these soundtracks were re-released in mono and didn’t reappear until 1975 with Dolby optical stereo sound.

► Elvis Presley makes his first recording

Elvis the pelvis made his first recording at Sam Phillips’ Sun studio in Memphis. His second session at Sun “That’s All Right” used two Ampex 350 recorders to create a “slapback” delay that became a Sun records trademark. In 1955, Sam Phillips sold his recording contract with Elvis to RCA and Colonel Tom Parker for $35,000.


► Sony produces the first pocket transistor radios

Well, not really! That honor went to I.D.E.A., an American company in Indianapolis, Indiana… when, on October 18, 1954 they announced the production of the Regency TR-1 – “the world’s first shirt-pocket portable radio-with transistors”. Although the Regency was first, it failed to earn a profit and disappeared after a few years.

Although Sony wasn’t the first, they soon manufactured these miniature wonders, using a creative marketing that was extremely successful. Using cheap labor and technological innovation, the TR-63 became so popular in 1957, that it paved the way for an American acceptance of Japanese products which dominated the world consumer electronic market well into the 1980′s.

► Decca Tree – A classic three-omni mic system

Attributed originally to Decca engineers Roy Wallace and Arthur Haddy, the Decca Tree is a three-omni or cardioid mic arrangement that is still favored by many in orchestral situations as the main pickup pair. Most commonly placed up above and behind the conductor, the “Tree” consists of left and right mics that are placed three feet apart, with the third being placed 1.5 feet out towards the front and panned in the center of the stereo field.<p >The Decca Tree grew out of Decca’s research and development into stereo in 1954 as a compromise between a minimal pair and the use of a multi-miking technique, in order to get the best clarity and depth during opera and orchestral recordings.

The actual “tree” and its original stereo mixer was designed by Roy Wallace. His setup included a triangle of mics that were roughly placed ten to twelve feet above the stage, just behind the conductor. Often, two L/R microphones were placed at the stage’s outer flank (placed at the edge of the orchestra – to a third the way in). According to lore, when Haddy first saw the array, he remarked: “It looks like a bloody Christmas Tree!… The name stuck.

Stereo test sessions were conducted in 1953, using three Neumann M49 cardiod mics on a single frame. The first serious recording was made in May, 1954 when Ernest Ansermet conducted Rimsky-Korsakov’s Symphony No. 2 in the Victoria Hall, Geneva. This hallmark technique of classical recording is still in use today throughout the world.

► RCA sold the first pre-recorded, open reel stereo tapes for $12.95

► Rock-n-Roll recording takes root

On April 12, 1954 at the Pythian Temple studio in NYC. Bill Haley And His Comets recorded the B-side, #1 hit, one-take wonder – “Rock Around The Clock”. After working all day in the studio, and with 10 minutes to spare, Haley suggested that they lay down a quick version of the song in one quick take… At their request for a rougher, dirtier sound from Haley, the session went down at levels that were peaking well into the red… with that Rock-n-Roll’s new sound was born. <p >► Westrex introduces their Model 2B motional feedback lateral-cut disk recording head.


► Ampex develops “Sel-Sync” (Selective Synchronous Recording), making overdubs practical

In the early 1950s, Les Paul made several hit records with his wife, Colleen Summers (known to the public as Mary Ford). These recordings were known for their extensive use of Sound-on-Sound, which allowed the musicians to record onto one track, then play it back while recording along with it onto another track.

In 1954, Paul continued to build on this idea by conceiving of a recorder that could record and blend eight separate tracks together. After consulting with Ampex, they agreed to build and sell him a prototype machine. This revolutionary recorder incorporated Paul’s invention (which would later be called “Sel-Sync”), that allowed any track to be played back from the unit’s record head, while simultaneously allowing another track combination (using the same multitrack head) to be in the record mode.

The Ampex Model 300 8-track recorder was delivered in 1955, allowing the dynamic duo to go on to making a string of songs that often made it to the top 10 of the charts. Unfortunately, others in the industry were largely unaware of this machine and multitrack would be used by only a few for another decade… until the flood gates opened with Sergeant Pepper.

Dave Sarser, a violinist in Arturo Tuscannini’s NBC Symphony Orchestra in the ‘50′s, is also an audio engineer and electronics designer. Around that time there was a studio called Audio/Video on 57th Street and 5th Avenue in New York, owned and run by Dave Sarser’s friends, Ollie Summerland and Gene Shank. They were the East Coast distributors of Ampex, the major U.S. manufacturer of broadcast quality reel to reel tape transports and electronics. They also happened to be the designers of the internationally used Pultec Equalizer series, now a coveted “vintage” audio electronics treasure. Dave Sarser was the original east coast Ampex rep. He sold the first 3 track Ampex to RCA for Yasha Heifitz for his work at Republic Studios.

Dave Sarser’s close relationship with Les Paul made him a great part of the legend of recording. Les Paul, known in part for his involvement in the development of the solid body electric guitar, was an extraordinary guitarist and electronics gadget innovator. Les’s home studio was in Teaneck, N J. Dave helped Les Paul with the design and acquisition of the first 8 track recording deck in history. It was an Ampex deck, custom made for Les, about ten years before anyone even thought of stereo, let alone multi-track recording.

► The first electronic music synthesizer

In 1955, Harry Olson and Herbert Belar, both working for RCA, unveiled the first electronic music synthesizer. Named the Electronic Music Synthesizer Mark I (also known as the Olson-Belar Sound Synthesizer), used preprogrammed punched tape to generate sawtooth waves using 12, equal temperment tuning-fork-based oscillators that were filtered for other types of timbres.

Rumored to have been built for the artificial creation of human speech, the RCA synthesizer took up seven, tall 19″ racks and reportedly incorporated digitally controlled filters, control over attack and decay envelopes, digitally controlled pitch and waveshapes, random noise generators and amplitude/frequency modulation.<p >1955 – Sam Phillips on Nov. 10 sold his recording contract with Elvis to RCA and Colonel Tom Parker for $35,000.

The Multitrack Era – The Early Years


► Les Paul makes the first 8-track recordings using the “Sel-Sync” method

► IBM develops first commercial magnetic drum memory

Dubbed the RAMAC (Random Access Method of Accounting and Control), the world’s first hard disk was made by IBM in 1956. For the first time, it was possible to randomly access 5 megabytes of data over 50 two-foot-diameter disks using a single read/write head that moved between disks by a system of cables, pulleys and stepping motors. The RAMAC was about the size of a refrigerator and cost about $10,000 per megabyte!

► The Capitol Tower Recording Studios opens

In February of 1956, Capitol Records finally realized a long planned goal when it’s West Coast operations were consolidated into a newly constructed Hollywood office building and recording complex. LA’s Capitol Recording Studios was, and still is, unique in a number of ways. At the time of it’s completion, it had already become a California landmark, as it was the only office building to be constructed in the form of a round tower that looks like a stack of records… an audacious monument to a budding industry.

Widely known as the “Capitol Tower”, the building was designed by noted architect Welton Becket as a modern, earthquake-resistant, concrete structure. It was built thirteen stories high and 150 feet tall and had the maximum building height that was permitted in LA at the time, with an interior decor that was designed in keeping with the building’s outward appearance The ground floor (the only rectangular part of the building) is actually a separate structure which surrounds the tower and was joined to it after it’s completion. The ground floor originally housed the recording department offices, disc cutting facilities and the three recording studios which were designed to be as modern and striking as the building itself.

The physical plant consisted of three studios, two large (A & B) and one small (C). The original control “booths” were placed in the corner of each studio, allowing for maximum visibility, while taking up a minimum of floor space. Wood paneling (a material that wasn’t often used at the time) was used extensively because of its visual appeal, as well as for its lack of pronounced resonant frequencies. Fluorescent lighting in flush-mounted fixtures were used for high level, uniform lighting. Ballast hum (a potential noise problem that’s often associated with this type of lighting) was solved by mounting the ballasts remotely in an area outside the studios. The Hollywood and Vine location also required that extensive measures be taken to isolate the studios from air- and ground-borne noises. In order to achieve this, the outer studio walls were constructed of 10″ thick concrete, into which another isolated room was built, with a 1″ air gap that separated the outer and inner studio walls (making these one of the first floating designs).

The tower represented a milestone in the transition from the monophonic to the multitrack studio era in the US. An important part of this process was the design of several “acoustic” echo chambers. Built under the existing parking lot surface, these chambers (one of the first ever built) were constructed using four identical, trapezoid enclosures (each with sloping ceilings), without the existence of any parallel surfaces. Constructed of reinforced concrete, the chamber’s inner walls were finished off using two, 3/4″ thick layers of metal lathe and plaster, giving them highly reflective surfaces.

Late in 1959, Studio A was modified for the production of stereophonic recording. The mixing console accommodated up to fourteen microphone inputs and made it possible for mono, stereo and three-track formats to be simultaneously recorded. In the transition to stereo, the chambers were also converted to produce stereophonic reverb. This was done by installing a dividing wall inside each chamber, which allowed separate channels to be fed to loudspeakers that were located on each side (with the reverb being picked up by a pair of microphones, originally RCA 77′s). The best results were obtained by dividing each chamber with a barrier that allowed natural leakage to travel between two sides through a 12”gap.

Today, these chambers are still considered to be some of the finest natural chambers ever built and are not only in demand by Capitol Studios, but are rented out to other studios via equalized telephone lines.

Excerpted from the Capitol Tower Recording StudiosBy David Miles HuberReprinted by permission of Mix Magazine – www.mixonline.com

► The first all-electronically scored film (Forbidden Planet) is released

In 1956, MGM released a monumental project that was destined to set a new standard for science fiction and fantasy films. The script to Forbidden Planet (it was originally named Fatal Planet) was loosely inspired by Shakespeare’s – The Tempest. It combined the goofy-gaudy look and feel of a 1950s pulp magazine with a surprisingly intelligent, even cerebral story that’s an absolute must for any sci-fi enthusiast. Lavishly expending a great deal of time, money and effort, the filmmakers boldly set out to create a super-production using beautiful sets, intricate miniatures, startling effects and a stellar cast.

The music in Forbidden Planet was equally as innovative, being the first all-electronic score ever created for a motion picture. In fact, the score wasn’t credited as being music at all, but as “electronic tonalities”. The larger-than-life music of Louis and BeBe Barron (for which they received credit for “sonic artistry”) is definitely out of the ordinary. Originally, the soundtrack was supposed to be accompanied by a more traditional orchestral score, however the harmonically modulated sine-wave clusters fit so well with the film that it was extended into the whole picture. The Barrons conceived, designed and built a series of cybernetic circuits for this project that concocted a series of ethereal electronic beeps and whistles that have an almost living quality that most either love or hate.

Finally, the critics and public recognized its true musical qualities, when it was honored with an Academy Award nomination. Today, Forbidden Planet remains as surprisingly fresh and inventive as when it first burst upon the screen, still carrying us through the wonder, charm and otherworldly terrors of Altair 4.


► Westrex demonstrates the first commercial “45/45″ stereo cutter head

Westrex privately demonstrated their new 45-45 disc recording system for cutting stereo records in September , 1957 and gave a public showing at the Audio Engineering Society in New York later that year. The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) adopted this system and the “full stereo record” (which wasn’t compatible with the lateral, mono home record pickup of previous years) became the industry standard.

► RCA’s Studio B constructed in Nashville

RCA’s Studio B in Nashville where Bill Porter recorded Elvis Presley in the 1950′s, today has the unique distinction of being one of the only studios anywhere operating as a full-time museum. When the historic facility closed its doors in 1977, it was acquired by the Country Music Foundation Hall of Fame and Museum, which now conducts guided tours of the studio for aficionados of country music. In 1981, more than 80,000 visitors toured Studio B, which can justly claim to be one of the birthplaces of the modern country sound.

Studio B was constructed in 1957, and was one of the very first studios opened by a major label in Nashville. As such, it was one of the important factors in the growth of Music Row and for twenty years it spawned the seminal hits of country and rockabilly music.

Under the management of Chet Atkins (a country music great in his own right), Studio B hosted not only RCA’s artists but those recording for numerous other labels as well. Their combined output during the 50′s and 60′s reads like a discography of the “Nashville Sound.” Cut within the walls of Studio B were Elvis Presley’s “It’s Now or Never,” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”; Don Gibson’s “Oh Lonesome Me” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You”; Jim Reeves’ “Four Walls”; Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely”; the Everly Brothers’ “Cathy’s Clown”; Chet Atkins’ “Yakety Yak”; Charlie Pride’s “Kiss an Angel Good Morning”; Waylon Jenning’s “Good Hearted Woman” and Dolly Parton’s “Love Like a Butterfly”—to mention a tiny fraction of Studio B’s staggering credits.

Today’s tourists can view the studio exactly as it was when most of its big hits were recorded. Although the original 3-channel RCA custom console was removed in 1971, and is now on display in the Hall of Fame Museum, the 24 x 16 board (also RCA, designed in New York) remains in the control room, and is used now to play back some of the historic tapes. Engineers will appreciate the fact that every meter on the console is labeled, to designate the instrument customarily assigned by Bill Porter and the other engineers to each of the channels.

Also on view and in use is the Ampex MM-1000 16-track recorder (Serial #194) on which so many of B’s hits were cut, as well as two Ampex 440′s. If you’re looking for outboard gear, however, you won’t find much of it; this studio dates back to when engineers got their sound by judicial placement of microphones and the careful riding of faders!

There’s one other interesting thing about Studio B that will no doubt raise the eyebrows—or perhaps bring tears to the eyes of today’s cost-conscious studio owner: the studio was built in 1957 at a total cost of $39,000! Eat your hearts out fellas…

Excerpted from RCA’s Studio B
August, 1982
Reprinted by permission of Mix Magazine – www.mixonline.com

► The EMT 140 reverb plate goes into production


► The first commercial stereo disk recordings appear


► EMI fails to renew the Blumlein stereo patent. Hello – anybody home? … Hello?

► Helical scan VCR introduced

In September of ’59, Toshiba demonstrated their prototype of the first helical scan video tape recorder – the VTR-1. Built with the hopes of using it at the Rome and Tokyo Olympics, the recorder used 2-inch tape running at 15 ips over just one head.

At a 1960 SMPTE convention in LA, a Toshiba engineer presented a paper on the concept, which created quite a stir about the relative merits of the new format. At the following NAB convention in Chicago, Ampex hastily built and shipped a prototype of their competing 2-inch helical recorder (the VR-8000) in heavily constructed, locked boxes. Flying different planes, the project heads at Ampex had the only keys to the locks… Their instructions were to show the VR-8000 only if a competing broadcast helical recorder was shown. None were shown in the US and the crates were returned to Redwood City unopened.

It wouldn’t be until 1976, with the introduction of Ampex and Sony 1-inch recorders, that the helical scan video format would gain full acceptance by the broadcast community.


► The Birth of the 3M M56 16 track Audio Recorder

The 1960s saw a tremendous amount of tape recorder development. In addition to new Ampex products, which included the AG350, MR70, AG440, and MM1000, there were new companies that entered the market. Scully, 3M, MCI, Stephens and AutoTec were among the new entries.

► FM stereo broadcasting begins<p >Probably, the biggest spark that made FM come alive was stereo. In 1959, the National Stereophonic Radio Committee was established to test the feasibility of transmitting FM stereo and to submit a final recommendation to the FCC. Systems that were proposed by General Electric and Zenith were finally adopted and FM stereo broadcasting was authorized to begin on June 1, 1961 over WEFM Chicago (owned by Zenith) and WGFM Schenectady, NY (owned by General Electric).

► The Wrecking Crew: The Wrecking Crew was a nickname coined by drummer Hal Blaine for a group of studio and session musicians that played anonymously on many records in Los Angeles, California during the 1960s. The crew backed dozens of popular singers, and were one of the most successful groups of studio musicians in music history.

► 8-track cartridge tapes come on the scene

William Powell Lear, the man behind LearJet, also invented a device that revolutionized the concept of personalized music in the comfort of your own car – the 8-track tape cartridge system. This system used a continuous-loop cartridge that contained 8 pre-recorded tracks (4 stereo programs) over its length. Although Lear’s system wasn’t the first of its type, (the earlier 4-track tape player was able to play back 2 stereo programs) it soon found it’s way into the coups and convertibles that frequented the streets and drive-ins throughout the ‘60s and early 70’s.<p >Although the 8-track cartridge had a fairly long playing time, it had a distinct problem that most who are familiar with the format will remember. Since the player relied upon a stereo head mechanism to vertically move from one set of tracks to the next to switch between programs, it was almost inevitable that the critical head alignment would be jarred out of adjustment by over zealous kids or jolts from bumpy roads. This resulted in intr-track crosstalk that could border on hilarious jibberish.

Amazingly, 8-tracks were the dominant portable and car audio format for over a decade, even Madonna’s early album’s and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” were released in the ?” x ?” self-contained boxes. With the introduction of the Compact Cassette Tape in ’63, the 8-track slowly faded into obscurity as a symbol of kitsch and the era of Frankie Avalon, sock-hops and hoop skirts.


► SMPTE sets the standard for the time code format <p >A basic form of SMPTE (sim-tee) time code was originally developed by the U.S. military to synchronize missile test firings in the early 1950s. The frame-based code was transmitted in the form of a modulated tone (which sounded like a modern-day modem) to devices that could interpret the incoming data and trigger simultaneous launches.

In 1962, SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers) adopted a system for encoding a frame-based time code in the form of a digital word that contains 80 bits of data for storing and recalling information such as media location (using an hours, minutes, seconds, frames HH:MM:SS:FF format), reel number, and session dates.

Previous to this time code standard, synchronization within the visual media relied upon sprockets (a row of evenly-spaced holes) in the film and on special sprocketed recording “mag” film to interlock the timing elements between transports. With the advent of video tape, the lack of sprockets became a big problem and an electronic equivalent was needed to take the place of mechanical sync. With the adoption of SMPTE time code (in all its frame-rate incarnations), a wide range of media related devices can be used to synchronize various film, television, and audio elements within a production system.


► Philips introduces the Compact Cassette tape format, and offers licenses worldwide

 In 1963, Philips demonstrated its first compact audio cassette using a high-quality BASF polyester 1/8” (3.175 mm) tape that ran at a speed of 1 7/8 ips (47.625 mm/s). Their cassette was a quarter the size of the Fidelipac broadcast or Lear 8-track cartridge, making it possible for small, battery-powered players to be built that could be carried anywhere (Walkman anyone?).

The following year, Norelco unveiled the Carry-Corder 150. This “revolutionary tape recorder features reusable snap-in cartridges, one button control to start, stop, wind/rewind tape. Separate volume controls for record and playback. It weighs only 3 lbs with 5 flashlight batteries. 1-7/8 ips constant speed capstan drive and has dynamic microphone with detachable remote switch. The superior sound quality offers a frequency response of 100 to 7000 cps.”

Offered as a dictation machine, Philips had no idea that there would be a huge demand for blank tape for recording music. However, it wasn’t until Wisse Dekker, manager of the Philips Electronics Far East Division and L.F. Ottens, a technical expert met with Norio Ohga, section manager of Sony’s Tape Recorder Division – that the cassette began to pick up steam.

After contract agreements where Philips suggested that it receive 25 yen for each unit sold, Sony offered to go with another competitor unless they waived the royalties altogether. Finally, Philips agreed to waive royalties, but didn’t give Sony exclusive rights to the technology. In 1965, based on a patent that guaranteed compatibility, Philips made the technology available free of charge to manufacturers all over the world.

Thereafter, the newly standardized compact cassette format became hugely popular. Before long, pre-recorded albums were being offered, with Mercury being one of the first record companies to offer a selection of 26 albums on cassette at a price of $5.95 each.

The “Compact Cassette’s” tape length was usually measured by its total playing time, with the C60 (30 minutes per side) and C90 being the most popular. C120s were also common, but the thinner tape often led to tape jams and unhappy incidents… especially in cars).

Blank cassette sales far outstripped the pre-recorded market, for obvious reasons. The practice of copying music to cassette heralded the music industry’s first cries of “home taping is killing music”. Many defended at least their right to copy their own records onto tape and took the age-old stance that home taping was ideal for spreading new music and most likely increased sales.

► Studer tape machines make their mark

In 1963, the first fully-transistorized professional tape recorder, the Studer A62 was introduced and in 1964 the prototype version of the 4-channel studio tape recorder J37 based on the C37 transport was presented (two Studer J37s were used to “Sgt. Pepper”). This tube-equipped machine was the most complex machine ever and paved the way for the acceptance of Studer products by recording studios all over the world.


► Ray Dolby, the guy that helped put the cassette on the map

Dolby Laboratories Inc. was founded by Ray Dolby, who started his career in high school, when he went to work part-time for Ampex Corporation in Redwood City, CA, working with the team that developed the world’s first practical video tape recorder in 1956.

Upon graduation from Stanford in 1957, Dolby was awarded a Marshall Fellowship to Cambridge University in England. After earning a Ph.D. in physics and working in India for two years as a United Nations Adviser to the Central Scientific Instruments Organization, Dolby returned to England in 1965 to found his own company (which was chartered as a US-based company.

In 1966, Dolby devised a sophisticated new form of audio compression and expansion that dramatically reduced the background hiss inherent in professional tape recording without discernible side effects on the material being recorded – Dolby A-type noise reduction. This multiband compander (compressor/expander) divided the spectrum into multiple bands to prevent the pumping (noise modulation) inherent with conventional wideband and by-and-large only treated low-level signals, while leaving the loud signals that naturally mask noise unprocessed.

When the multitrack era exploded in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Dolby A-type NR became an indispensable part of the recording chain as, without it, the hiss that resulted from combining together multiple tracks was often intolerable. As a result, the Dolby M-Series 16-channel rack was created.

At the urging of Henry Kloss, an American audio pioneer who at the time was president of KLH Research and Development Corp., Dolby started to develop consumer version of his noise reduction system. The result was the introduction of Dolby B-type noise reduction that, like A-type, processed only the low-level signals. But instead of dividing the signal into fixed multiple bands, B-type NR used a single, less-costly sliding compansion band.

In 1968, a KLH open-reel tape deck was the first recorder to use Dolby-B, However, Dolby soon saw the need for noise reduction in the Philips new stereo 4-track format for the Compact Cassette and began a licensing program that soon became a model of corporate success.

After being adopted by Nakamichi, Advent, Fisher, and Harman-Kardon, the cassette was soon seen as a straightforward alternative to the reel-to-reel deck and the rest is history. Today, the San Francisco-based company has its own licensing liaison offices all over the world serve its many international licensees.

► AG-350, Ampex’s first all-transistorized audio recorder is developed

► Robert Moog begins to develop his early music “synthesizers”

Quick! Think of a name that’s inseparably linked to the world of synthesizers… Chances are the name you came up with is Bob Moog.

Robert A. Moog (by the way “Moog” is pronounced with a long “o” sound like phone or Vogue, not like the Moo a cow makes) began his career in music by making Theremins to make ends meet while earning his doctorate in physics at Cornell University.

In The summer of 1963, “Bob” set up a shop in a small town in central New York State hoping to sell Theremins, amplifiers and electronics kits. By chance, Moog met Herb Deutsch, a music teacher and composer who introduced him to “tone color music”. This inspired him to tinker together several voltage controlled circuits to show to Herb. This prompted the like minds to collaborate on building a new, simpler synth. By August of ’64, Moog had his very first prototype.

Before long, Moog synthesizers were beginning to make their way into the public consciousness… their sounds were beginning to make their way onto albums like Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “Tarcus” and the Average White Band’s “AWB”. By the summer of ‘65 Moog had ten people working for him, and he was still working on his degree thesis!

In ‘68, Bob’s personal history took another interesting turn when he met with Wendy Carlos at a Chinese restaurant. Wendy, (then Walter Carlos, an engineer who was working for Gotham Recording, one of New York’s hip studios) was immediately enthralled with the textures, timbres and control of this new technology. With the success of “Switched On Bach”, a whole new genre of electronic music was born, which brought about orders for bigger, more sophisticated synth racks… At that time, Moog’s factory grew to the point where he had approximately 40 employees.

In 1971, a slump in the economy and increased competition from the growing synthesizer market caused the Moog factory to close. However, in 1978, the company reopened shop in the North Carolina mountains under its present moniker – Moog Music. Riding on the wave of Bob’s popularity as an innovator and icon, the company continues to design and build a wide and unique range of theremins, analog effects modules and analog synthesizers.

Multitrack Grows up


► The Beatles begin recording work on “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”

Although it was definitely more than 20 year ago today… over the years, Sergeant Pepper has proven itself to be a landmark project in the history of recorded sound.

By the time 1960 rolled around, vinyl had finally reached its golden age. The format wars were over… affordable turntables, amps, speakers and even stereo was working its way into the marketplace and a budding youth market who tapped their feet to Elvis and Buddy Holly were becoming bored with the likes of Pat Boone and Ricky Nelson. The time was ripe for a “revolution”.

Most people have heard the stories of how Decca records rejected the group with the advice that guitar bands were “finished”. Fortunately EMI records saw promise and signed the “Fabulous Four”. With the group’s pairing to George Martin, one of Britain’s top producers of classical, jazz and comedy music (including comic genius Spike Milligan,Britain’s legendary Goon Show comedy troop), the industry was poised for the next giant leap in the history of vinyl.

After five years of non-stop touring, recording and unprecedented media attention, the group decided to stop touring and become a studio band, in November of ’66. With that, they took up residence at Abbey Road’s Studio 2 over the next 129 days (700 hours, at a total recording cost of $75,000), set about making the most creative album in rock history, selling more than 15 million copies, and stayed on the Billboard chart for 113 weeks.

The sounds, styles and visual art of Sergeant Pepper’s ushered in the psychedelic era, with the debut of songs like “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and the transcendental “A Day in the Life”… which everyone comparing notes (and passing around other things), searching for hidden meanings.

The combined musical craftsmanship of the Fab Four and George Martin was also painstakingly translated to vinyl. Over the three previous years, the Beatles totally dominated the 45 singles market… by putting the Devil in the details, they also carefully crafted together songs in a way that gave birth to a new market for albums amongst a younger audience. In ’67, Sergeant Pepper raised the bar on public expectations for concept albums that helped pave the way for future projects like “Dark Side of the Moon” and “The Alan Parsons Project”.

On June 1st, 1987, 20 years to the day after it originally came out, the remastered CD version of “Sergeant Pepper’s” was released. It contained two bonus tracks – a two-second burst of laughter and gibberish that was only included on the album’s European version, as well as a final high frequency note that could only be heard by dogs.

Perhaps one of the more monumental influences of this event was its effect on the role of the musician in the studio. No longer content to stay on “the other side of the glass”, they no longer feared the white-coated “engineer” and began to experiment with how the studio’s technology and techniques can effect the outcome of a recording. In effect, the process of recording had become a musical instrument.

Bouncing tracks back and forth between two Studer J37s that were equipped with newly developed Dolby Noise Reduction® units, the Beatles and George Martin’s set the tone for an era in music and production that, even today, resonates in our public consciousness as one of the most influential popular music albums of all time.

► Mirasound Studios: First Studio to Use 16-Channel Recording

In 1967, Mirasound recently moved to its new enlarged quarters on 57th Street. Five studios, four for audio, one for video, made up the complex. Always considered a leader at innovation, it was the first studio to put in 16-channel recording with the new Ampex two-inch multichannel recorders. Since receiving the recorder, it operated 10 to 12 hours each day. According to Robert Goldman, President of Mirasound, “When recording today’s modern sounds, the Ampex 16-track recorder produces higher quality recordings. We find the new Ampex machine provides the maximum recording versatility and economy.” In 1968 Mirasound will increase its multichannel capability even further with the delivery of two new MM-1000 multichannel recorders, one a 16 channel version, the other a 24 channel. “The new Ampex Master-Maker will offer us even more opportunity for creativity,” Goldman said. The AG-1000 is a custom version of the new MM-1000 series, built especially for Mirasound. Both use Ampex videotape transports for two-inch tape, combined with electronics from Ampex’s top-of-the-line AG-440 recorder.

“With our 16-track recorder,” Goldman said, “individual instrument sounds can be recorded on separate tracks, separately equalized, deleted or combined with other sounds on the tape at a later mix-down session.” Having many tracks available means that a sound of doubtful quality can be temporarily saved and evaluated later. For example, a drum take can be compared with later takes with only the best one being saved for master recording. “With 8-track recording, tracks sometimes had to be cleared for this type of sound saving,” Goldman continued. “Tracks one and two might have had to be combined and recorded on track three so that the second drum take could be recorded on track one. In doing this, track three became second generation, possibly of lesser quality than the original tracks. Tracks often had to be dubbed any number of times with the resultant music diminished in quality from the original.” The final master tapes at Mirasound are mixed to two-track stereo for album release and single channel mono for singles on AG-350 recorders.

Some of the groups that recorded regularly at Mirasound are The Lovin’ Spoonful, The Happenings, Vanilla Fudge, The Doors, The Charrells (the first group to use 16-channel recording), Frankie Valli, The Bob Crewe Generation, and folk singer Janice lan. The Bob Crewe Generation did the “Girl Watchers Theme” at Mirasound, originally as a Pepsi Cola commercial. It was later released as a successful popular record. At a recent session, the rhythm section of the Lovin’ Spoonful group was being recorded on the 16-channel Ampex recorder. This included a bass guitar, a piano and an autoharp on tracks two, three and four. Channel eight recorded a composite of the three other channels. Later in the evening the lead guitar and drums were added on tracks one and five. Just before the session broke up at midnight a second drum was added on track nine for more rhythm. On the following day a vocalist (and possibly a back up vocalist) were to come in to record the vocal part. Then Joe Wissert, the producer on these sessions for Kama Sutra, and the band got together to decide whether any other musicians should be added. Possibly a second lead guitar, another piano, or some brass, for a total of as many as seventeen or eighteen instruments might make up the final recording. This session was for one of a group of songs which eventually will come out in an album. The recording was done at 15 in/sec. In total, some 40 to 50 hours will be spent to record the dozen or so selections for the album.

Flexibility with 16-track recording means that the best of the session can be mixed later to achieve the desired end product. Frequently, these groups haven’t decided exactly the sound they are looking for on a particular song. Multitrack recording has benefitted them greatly because with a good sound mixer and control board the song can be re-assembled without interference between channels after the recording is done. Mirasound’s board has four output busses and inputs for about a dozen microphones. The microphones include Electrovoice and Neumann condenser types used extremely close to the instrument for maximum isolation between channels. Each member of the recording group wears earphones to hear a composite signal of all instruments so they can get the total effect.

Excerpted from an Ampex case history

► “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”

In the fall of 1967, as psychedelic music began to bear financial fruit for record companies, the young Southern California rock group Iron Butterfly was unwittingly preparing to soar higher on the Billboard charts that any of their contemporaries…. While on the road, they unveiled a new song, entitled “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”.” Ironically, the song’s origins are far removed from the heavy metal beast it became. Written by Ingle, the son of a church organist, it was much shorter and quieter when conceived, and it was called “In the Garden of Eden.” Lee Dorman says of the song’s beginnings, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’ was like a country ballad when we first heard it, but by the time the band got done with it… well, you can see what happened.”

Ron Bushy actually lays claim to the name: “I was supporting the band by making pizza,” he says. “I came home at three in the morning from working one night and Doug played me a song he was writing. He had polished off a whole gallon of Red Mountain Wine as the evening wore on. He played this song on the keyboard for me and sang it. He was so drunk that it came out ‘in-a-gadda-da-vida.’ I thought is was real catchy so I just wrote it down phonetically. The next morning we woke up and looked at the writing, ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,’ and decided to keep the title.”

“I believe it was a commitment album that they had to have done for Atlantic by a certain date,” engineer Bill Stahl remembers. “They asked where the Vanilla Fudge had done their album and they told them Ultra-Sonic [in Hempstead, Long Island]. I believe that’s how it came about. I think it was done if three days.”

Stahl, the owner of Ultra-Sonic, had opened his facility in 1962, and owned one of the first 2-track machines. “I had a sel-sync so that I could do recording on one track and then adding on the second; that was not common in a studio at that time,” he says. “Les Paul was the only other one who had it.”

The studio had gone through quite a few changes in the ensuing six years, but according to Stahl, it was still quite a pioneering facility: “We went to 8-track probably in 1965. We bought the first 8-track machine off the floor of the AES convention in New York, which was a Scully. The previous 8-tracks were Ampex 300s converted to 8-track, which I think CBS had. But this was the first 8-track machine designed as an 8-track machine. That machine was the first one that showed up the problems in the slitting process of the tape. In the curing process at the time, the 1-inch tape that they were making would curl, so it was very difficult to get spec on the outside tracks. We wound up having all the tape manufacturers sending us tape, coming out and recording things, trying to get the tape to work. So the machine was kind ahead of the tape, but they obviously solved that problem pretty quickly.”

Excerpted from Classic Tracks – Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”
By Russell H. Tice
Reprinted by permission of Mix Magazine – www.mixonline.com

► Ampex AG-440 series audio recorders are developed

► Revox A77 audio recorders are manufactured article

► First operational amplifiers are used in pro audio equipment<p >Although the basic design for the operational amplifier (op amp) most likely came from a young Columbia University engineer named Loebe Julie, the first commercial operational amplifier was introduced to the market by George A. Philbrick Researches in 1952. This integrated, tube amp had a gain of about 20,000, a bandwidth of about 1 MHz, dissipated about 4.5 Watts and cost $24. Throughout its early history, applications included a compact device for locating machine-gun and mortar targets, as well as a mechanical and optical system for simulating target accuracy during bomb raids.

By 1966, the op amp was a huge success. With the development of the transistor, new designs were developed and competitive business practices took over. The op-amp business looked good to a large conglomerate, Teledyne Inc., which acquired Philbrick and Nexus Research Labs (now owned by TelCom Semiconductor).

Note: The first operational amplifiers are used in professional audio equipment, notably as summing devices for multichannel consoles.


► CBS releases “Switched-On Bach,” Wendy Carlos’s polyphonic Moog masterpiece

In 1968, Wendy Carlos’ Grammy-winning Switched-On Bach (CBS Records) introduced a whole new generation to the pleasures of the classics using the relatively new medium of electronic music. This album (which was the first classical album ever to go Platinum) single-handedly propelled the Moog synthesizer into the public consciousness.

Born Walter Carlos in 1939 in Rhode Island, she began playing piano at age 6 and won a Westinghouse Science Fair scholarship at an early age for making a home-built computer! She studied music and physics at Brown University and earned her M.A. in music composition at Columbia University (which had the first electronic music center in the United States) and studied with such pioneers as Otto Luening and Vladimir Ussachevsky. Soon thereafter, Carlos became a recording engineer at Gotham Recording in Manhattan, where she met Robert Moog and not only became one of his first clients, but was important in establishing the Moog as a landmark synthesizer.

A consummate master of art and technology, Carlos put her stamp on modern electronic music by working on such film soundtracks as Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1980), where she introduced vocoders to the public by placing them into the horror masterpiece’s score in order to synthesize singing. Shortly after writing horror music for Kubrick’s The Shining, she was one of the first to blend symphonic orchestra, digital synth and analog synthesizers together to create the soundtrack to Disney’s Tron (the 1982 sci-fi movie about video arcade games come to life).

Bob Moog gives his personal accounts of SOB’s release:

I found myself giving a paper at the 1968 AES convention in NYC, on different ways of organizing electronic music studios. By that time we knew about sequencers, we knew about computer control, multi-track tape recording, etc. At the end of the talk I said to this fairly big audience, “As an example of multi-track electronic music studio composition technique, I would like to play an excerpt of a record that’s about to be released of some mu- sic by Bach.” It was the last movement of Wendy’s Brandenburg No. 3. I walked off the stage and went to the back of the auditorium while people were listening, and I could feel it in the air. They were jumping out of their skins. These technical people were involved in so much flim-flam, so much shoddy, opportunistic stuff, and here was something that was just impeccably done and had obvious musical content and was totally innovative. The tape got a standing ovation.

“CBS had no idea what they had in Switched-On Bach. When it came out, they lumped it in at a studio press party for Terry Riley’s In C and an abysmal record called Rock and Other Four Letter Words. Carlos was so pissed off, she refused to come. So CBS, frantic to have some representa- tion, asked me to demonstrate the synthesizer. I remember there was a nice big bowl of joints on top of the mixing console, and Terry Riley was there in his white Jesus suit, up on a pedestal, playing live on a Farfisa organ against a backup of tape delays. Rock and Other Four Letter Words went on to sell a few thousand records. In C sold a few tens of thousands. Switched-On Bach sold over a million, and just keeps going on and on.

Written by Bob Moog with Connor Freff Cochran
Excerpted from Mark Vail’s book – Vintage Synthesizers
Reprinted by permission of Backbeat Books. – www.backbeatbooks.com

► Record Plant opens its doors

In 1968, Chris Stone was national sales manager for Revlon. Armed with his trusty MBA from UCLA, he had become quite a marketing sharpshooter for folks like Mattel and General Electric. When his wife, Gloria, was pregnant with their first child, Stone was introduced to another expectant father, Gary Kellgren, a recording engineer who had become a favorite of musicians such as Hendrix and Zappa. The idea was that the nervous parents to be could chat about the challenge of having babies.

In the course of their prenatal meetings, Chris and Gary became friends and talked shop. Kellgren wasn’t too interested in cosmetics, but Stone became fascinated with the music biz. He visited Gary at New York’s Mayfair Studios and entered a new world peopled with strange characters who were making music and millions of dollars. Poor Gary: the engineering artist at the console and under the console soldering inventive connections that we make with the flick of a switch today was pulling down $200 dollars a week.

Chris thought that this was a little odd. He asked Gary if he could take a look at the books. The studio was billing five grand a week. Chris suggested a little meeting with the boss, and the next thing you know Gary is making a grand a week. They became better friends.

Stone, getting bored with life at Revlon, though that there was a good future in recording. Kellgren, displeased with the austere, industrial atmosphere common to recording studios of the day, had a dream a studio that felt like a home. They became partners and borrowed $100,000 dollars to launch the New York Record Plant in March 1968.

The only studio in New York with 12-track recording, the Plant set the pace for the competition and was immediately booked for three months in advance. The first session was with Jimi Hendrix for his historic Electric Ladyland LP. The first big mix session was Woodstock, and their fist remote job was The Concert for Bangladesh.

Business was booming with clients like Buddy Miles, Velvet Underground, Traffic and Vanilla Fudge. The partners decided it was time to open another studio on the West Coast. To raise the necessary capital, they merged with a new cable company, Television Communications Corporation.

Invitations, in the form of personalized bricks that created a few headaches for the post office, were sent out to announce the opening of the new facility. Stone discovered an enterprising young designer, Tom Hidley, who was invited to handle the acoustics in the new facility. Hidley would go on to design more than 400 studios worldwide, but would always supervise new Record Plant rooms and facilities. On December 4, 1969, the new LA studio on Third Street opened its doors, and a bricklayer built an autographed lobby wall that would stand for 15 years. The tracks increased from 12 to 16, and next, the studio boasted the first 24-track in the world.

During the Record business’ heyday in the ‘70s, Record Plant fueled its expansions with revenues supplied by such artists as the Bee Gees, Harry Nilsson, Jimmy Webb, Sly Stone, Quincy Jones, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Diana Ross, the Blues Brothers and the solo Beatles… Stevie Wonder booked Studio B for a few years and cut Talking Book, Innervisions, Songs in the Key of Life and Fulfillingness’ First Finale… just about every major star made a point of spending time at the Record Plant.

In short, the Record Plant became legendary for its non-stop hit recording and wild home life, as well as for technical leaps including the first digital 32-track, the late 3M M81 Digital Mastering System.

Excerpted from The Record Plant at 20
by David Goggin
Reprinted by permission of Mix Magazine – www.mixonline.com


► Dr. Thomas Stockham begins to experiment with digital tape recording

It’s a basic fact that the recording and music industries would have been very different without Thomas Greenway Stockham, Jr. It’s also a fact that if you’re not an audio history buff or classical record collector… you’re probably unaware that he was almost assuredly the man who introduced digital recording and tapeless editing to the world

Born Thomas Greenway Stockham, Jr. in 1933, he earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from M.I.T. After a stint in the Air Force, he returned to MIT, as an Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering. In 1962, Tom started to hang around labs that were using a computer called the TX-2, and they had connected a tape drive to the machine and a microphone and speaker to an A/D and D/A converter. This new device could translate sound into binary data using 6 to 11 bits, with a sampling rate around 10,000 samples per second. After you finished recording, the tape would rewound and played back. Due to the extreme expense of these devices, he moved onto other endeavors (such as helping Amar Bose design the corner 2201 loudspeaker).

After leaving MIT for the University of Utah, he met up with Malcolm Low (the L in KLH). One day in 1974, Low blurted out “you know it’s time to start a digital audio company.” One thing led to another, and Soundstream, the first commercial digital recording company in the United States was founded a year later.

Stockham developed the first homomorphic compander to digitally filter noise from recorded sound, in a manner that’s analogous to the noise reduction devices of DBX and Dolby. Upon leaving Soundstream after its merger with the Digital Recording Corporation, Stockham was named chairman of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Utah. He was named a Fellow of the IEEE and received various awards, including the SMPTE Poniatoff Gold Medal, a Gold Medal from the AES… as well as an Emmy and Grammy for his “visionary role in pioneering and advancing the era of digital recording” Although the title is sometimes overused, Thomas Stockham is widely accepted as being the father of digital audio recording.


► Hendrix’ Electric Lady opens its doors

In 1968 at the peak of his career, Jimi Hendrix was in the market for property. His eye was caught by the Generation Club on West 8th Street in the heart of Greenwich Village. Originally the site of the Village Barn, a big band dance venue that had once been owned by Rudy Valee. After shelling out the $50,000 asking price, Hendrix fully intended to turn it into another nightclub. However, when Jimi learned that his habit of block-booking recording studios for impromptu jam sessions was costing him upwards of $300,000 a year, an abrupt change of plan was made, and work began to transform it into a recording facility.

Construction started in early 1970, beginning with studios A and B. The second floor was offices and the third floor was an apartment that Jimi used regularly, even though he had his own place around the corner. Jimi spent a considerable amount of time in the studio before it officially opened, recording countless hours of material that has never been commercially released.

Electric Lady today

Upon the completion of Electric Lady Studios, Hendrix became the first major artist to own and operate his own recording studio. Its opening on August 27, 1970 was a pivotal event during an era of record-company owned studios, which were often incapable of meeting rock musicians’ demands, and the independents, with their inadequate equipment and lack of facilities. Electric Lady placed an emphasis on comfort, fostering a creative environment for a new generation of musicians. Sadly, Jimi died within a month after the studio opened.

In June ’97, the original curved-brick entrance to Electric Lady Studios was demolished. The New York Landmark Society unsuccessfully attempted to halt the renovation of the building, which would have been eligible for landmark status in just three years. Despite the protests of Hendrix fans and studio management, the building’s landlord opted for a more modern, glass front.

Excerpted from A rich rock ‘n roll heritage
Reprinted by permission of Electric Lady Studios – www.electricladystudios.com

► Quadraphonic sound hits the market

Quadraphonic sound or “Quad” was the first wave for bringing surround sound to the consumer. Since there was no center channel, this 4-channel system (L, R, LS, RS) required that the listener sit in the center of the surround field or “sweet spot.” Although it failed due to a complete lack of standardization amongst competing encode/decode systems its technology had a lasting effect, in that it paved the way for surround nearly 2 decades later and extended the bandwidth of vinyl to 50 kHz (thereby improving disc cutting and pressing technology, as well as allowing for better pickups with wider bandwidth and reduced tracking distortion.

Common Quad Abbreviations:

• CD4 – Discrete/Matrix Vinyl Format
• SQ – Matrix Format
• QS – Matrix Format
• Q8 – Quad 8-Track
• QR – Quad Reel to Reel
• D** – Dolby Quad Reel or Dolby Quad 8-Track

► The first mass-produced synthesizers begin to appear on the market

With the dawning of a new decade, came innovations in LSI (Large Scale Integrated Circuit) design that allowed for complicated electronic circuitry to be miniaturized and mass-produced at an affordable price. If there ever was a dawning of the electronic and digital revolution… this was it. From this new technology came music instruments and recording devices that were not only more powerful and flexable… even more importantly, they were affordable!

One result of this revolution on music technology was the introduction of such commercially-affordable synthesizers for personal and studio use as: Moog, Sequential Circuits and E-mu.

► The Birth of E-mu Systems

► Console Automation – The Early Years

During the period of the early 70′s, in a transition from a standard format of eight to sixteen or more tracks, consoles began to expand in size and flexibility to accomodate the newfound technology of multi-track sound.

With each tape track having it’s own volume, panning, equalization, echo/effects sends, and returns, it became obvious to the console designers of the time that the potential existed for the mixdown process to be more than one engineer could efficiently handle. This is especially true when these functions are multiplied by sixteen, twenty-four, or more tracks. As a result, complicated mixes needed to be rehearsed repeatedly, so that the engineer could learn which controls must be operated, how much they should be varied, and at what point any of these changes should come. Under these conditions, it is not uncommon for a complicated mixing session to last six or more hours before an acceptable mix can be obtained.

The solution to this delema was to devise a system that would remember and recreate any console setting changes made by the engineer, while allowing him later to improve upon these settings one by one, until the desired final mix has been achieved.

Thus, consoles which were equipped for “automation” hit the marketplace.

This system works by sampling a dc voltage, which is provided at the output of each volume fader and is a function of it’s attenuation level. This “control voltage” determines the gain of each track through the use of voltage controlled amplifiers or VCA’s. A central processor is employed to sample each dc fader setting, in rapid succession, and to encode these settings into a digitally or semi-digitally encoded form. These automation tracks may then be recorded onto the master tape along with the musical program or onto another synch­ronized storage medium. The “memory mix” is then restored when the processor reads the automated signal and recreated the original stored dc levels back to the associated track VCA.

Simple automation diagram<p >One such early system of automation was the Compumix from Quad/Eight Electronics. The Compumix was designed for use with existing non-automated consoles of the day, and consisted of a separate controller and processor unit (fig 2). The controller, whose function COMPUMIX automated only volume levels and specific events, varied the dc voltages supplied to the VCA’s, and very much resembled a “mini-board” in itself, often being placed on top of the existing console. The heart of the system, the processor, was connected into the audio chain between the audio line line outputs of the multi-track tape machine and the line inputs of the existing console. The faders on the main console had to have their faders set for unity gain, in order for the compumix to provide accurate mixing levels. This was to be a short lived system, due to it’s duplication of controls and cumbersome layout; clearly it was an interrum solution.

Soon console manufacturers began to develope their own methods of automation and to produce consoles which were “automation ready”. This allowed studios to purchase consoles which were either equipped with automation or were pre-wired for the future installation of this feature. One such early system, created in a joint effort by Allison Research and automated Processes, was the Model 256 Programmer. This system was designed for use in Automated Processes (API) consoles but could easily be fitted into many of the existing production consoles of the day.


► The first digital delay line, the Lexicon Delta-T 101, is introduced

In the late ‘60s, MIT Professor Dr Francis and engineer Chuck Bagnashi founded American Data Sciences which developed and manufactured a digital delay device for monitoring patients with heart problems. When it looked like digital audio would have a future in the language instruction field, the small company (which had offices over the Lexington Savings Bank in Lexington, MA) changed its name to Lexicon in 1971.<p >When it was suggested that audio might be passed through the delay device, they were presented with the first digital delay line that could introduce delays up to 100 milliseconds. With that, the first digital effects device was born.

The device caught the attention of Steven Temmer at Gotham Audio in New York, who commissioned 50 units as pre-daeyals for EMT plates and other reverb units, as well as for overcoming propagation delays in live sound installations. Having a bandwidth of 10 kHz and an S/N ratio of 60 dB, the Lexicon Delta T-101 went on the market in ’71 with the Gotham Audio nameplate on the front and Lexicon’s on the back.

In 1972, the company pushed the noise down to –90 dB when they released the Delta T-102 under their own name. That same year, they realized their initial goal by introducing the “Varispeech” – the first digital time-compression system, however market research showed that the company needed to keep their foot in the pro audio door to survive.

Over the next few years the company refined and developed both their product and marketing strategies, which culminated in the release of the Lexicon 224 – one of the first commercially viable digital reverb systems. Due to its extreme popularity, Lexicon’s prestige grew by leaps and bounds that continues into the 21st century as a maker of quality, high-end digital signal processors for sound and recording studio installations.

► IBM introduces the “memory disk”

With an initial single-side capacity of 100 Kb, the 8-inch IBM “memory disk” was developed by Al Shugart to store program code for the IBM 3330 Merlin disk pack. The flexible, protective jacket was quickly adopted as a convenient way to transfer programs and data… and paved the way for future “floppy disk” designs.

► The studio takes a more active role in music production

The arrival of the 16 track, closely followed by the 24 track, brought about a change in the music production process in the early seventies. Before then, the studio took the more passive role of simply capturing the performance in a live setting. With the introduction of the multitrack, advanced and expanding console designs, outboard effects and the glitz that went with the search for fame and glory in rock music… the studio became a playground for “creating” a production from scratch.

► The “Sound Sucker” era!

Now that instruments could be isolated on its own track, the actual acoustics of the studio became a problem. Since rock instruments were louder, a dilemma was always on the engineer’s and producer’s minds: what could be done about the acoustic “bleed” between microphones? All of the sudden, the natural acoustic space between the instruments was now considered detrimental to this new recording procedure. Simply stated, the studio’s acoustic properties began to change in favor of an acoustically absorptive or “dead” environment that would suck up the sound. This greatly reduce reflections… which in turn, reduced leakage.


On April 3, 1973 — Motorola employee Marty Cooper made the first mobile phone call.

Marty used a Motorola DynaTAC to call Bell Labs (then a division of AT&T), reportedly saying “I’m ringing you just to see if my call sounds good at your end.”

The device that Marty used to place the call was a prototype which would later become the Motorola DynaTAC 8000x. It was the first commercially available mobile phone, and despite its meager specs for today’s standards — it weighed 2.5 pounds and only had a one-line, text-only LED display — it cost a whopping $3,995.


► EMT produces the first digital reverberation unit as its Model 250

If the EMT 250 looks to be a little on the large side, keep in mind that it was the most micro of processing methods for reverberation upon its introduction in 1976. Before that, dropping artificial reverb onto a recording was a decidedly awkward science that called for everything from locating large chambers to hauling around huge steel plates. <p >In 1975, the US engineering contract firm Dynatron completed the R&D for the 250, an entirely electronic unit that re-revolutionized reverberation. Karl O. Baeder and Dr. Barry Blesser determined the algorithms, and Ralph Zaorski (most recently a co-developer of the Dynatron 255) created the hardware for the EMT 250, which continues to set the standard for that effect with its classic sound 25 years after its introduction. A mere 250 of the 250’s were produced, and the surviving systems have the distinction of being one of the most sought-after “vintage” digital effects units.

Reprinted by permission of G Prime & the Dynatron Corporation- www.gprime.com


► Dr. Stockham of Soundstream makes the first 16-bit digital recordings

Thomas Stockham and Malcolm Low (the L in KLH) developed a few 16 bit A/D-D/A systems and put together a machine that could record and playback audio. It was based on an instrumentation tape recorder with a large box of electronics that was used for technical experiments.

Although Denon had been experimenting with digital recording since 1971, Soundstream actually made the first digital recording that was ever commercially released (a 1978 Telarc recording of Frederick Fennell and the Cleveland Symphonic Winds). By 1980, Soundstream sold about 16 of its fully-computerized recording/editing systems at a going price of $160,000 apiece. They were based on a Honeywell transport that encoded data over 16 tracks (plus two side channels for SMPTE) at a sample rate of 50kHz.

With at least 500 digital masters in their master vaults, special digital restoration of Enrico Caruso recordings and a special commission to to recover the 18-minute tape gap made by Rosemary Woods on President Richard Nixon’s White House tape… people started to take notice in the possibilities that digital audio had to offer. In short, Telarc and Soundstream brought digital audio to the world.

► Steve Wozniak demonstrates the Apple I personal computer

Few took it seriously when Steve Wozniak demonstrated his first contribution to the personal computer field (the Apple I) at the Hombrew Computer Club in Palo Alto, California. Designed over a period of years, the prototype was only built in printed circuit-board form, but it was enough to convince Steve Jobs that the personal computer could be sold. Based on the MOStek 6502 chip (most other “kit” computers of the time used the Intel 8080), required that you build your own case and buy a separate tape memory interface, At an initial cost of $666.66, only a few were sold.

The following year, Steve Jobs formally launched the company into the marketplace with the Apple II – which sported a plastic case, built-in speaker, color display and latter added a floppy drive.


► Sony’s PCM-1 VCR-based digital audio recorder is introduced

Two years after joining Sony as chief of the Audio Technology Center, Heitaro Nakajima together with Jun Takayama and Hiroyuki Suzukawa began work on the development of digital audio. Always mindful of the motto, “Continuity is strength”, the team decided to work with PCM (Pulse Code Modulation), which was based a mathematical concept introduced in 1939 and was also used for computers, long-distance telephone transmission and broadcasts to Earth from Apollo space-crafts.

Since the amount of tape space that is used to encode digital audio is about one hundred times that of an analog audio recording (about the same amount of space used by a broadcast-use VTR) a conventional approach to tape storage couldn’t be used.

In 1974, Sony’s first PCM digital audio recorder (the X-12DTC) was announced to the world. Based on a 2” tape transport with a 56-channel fixed data head, the bulky machine was roughly the size of a refrigerator and weighed about 550Lbs (250 kilograms)! Although it wasn’t marketed, the fixed-head X-12DTC represented a revolution in digital recording technology.

With the introduction of the Betamax videotape format, Sony’s thoughts again turned to the development of a PCM device that could record and playback digital sound rather than video images. In September of 1977, the PCM processor/VCR system was marketed as the PCM-1, the world’s first product to be commercially available for the digital recording and playback of sound.


► Digital tape recording begins to take hold in professional audio studios

First shown in 1978, 3M’s $115,000 32-track digital multitrack recorded 16-bit, 50kHz audio on 45 ips 1-inch tape and was used on releases such as the self-titled Flim & The BBs and Donald Fagen’s The Nightfly. At AES 1980, Mitsubishi previewed its X-800, which stored 32 tracks of digital audio on 30 ips 1-inch tape. The format eventually became the PD (ProDigi) standard also used by Otari. In 1981, Sony countered with its $150,000 PCM-3324 digital 24-track, and a year later, Sony, Matsushita, MCI and Studer announced the DASH (Digital Audio Stationary Head) standard, which called for 2/4/8/16/24/48-track formats. By 1988, Sony made good on its promise to deliver a 48-track machine with the PCM-3348. It was $240,000, but sales took off like a rocket.

Excerpted from Technology Innovations: Products that Forged an Industry
By George Peterson
Reprinted by permission of Mix Magazine – www.mixonline.com

► Patent is issued to David Blackmer for an adaptive filter (the basis of dbx Types I and II noise reduction)

► New England Digital releases Synclavier 9600 sample and tape-based recording system


► Tascam kicks off the home/project studio revolution by unveiling the PortaStudio

The Tascam Creative Series unveiled the TEAC 144 PortaStudio, the world’s first 4 track, cassette tape recorder. The 144 brought unprecedented quality, economy and portability within the reach of every serious musician at a price of $1,100 suggested retail. The 144 PortaStudio was a revolutionary creative tool. It allowed musicians the ability to record any number of instrumental and vocal parts on different tracks of the built-in 4 track recorder and later blend all the parts together while transferring them to another standard 2-channel stereo tape deck (remix and mixdown) to form a stereo recording. TEAC-UK product planner Andy Brezza and Dr. Abe had a unique understanding for the way musicians thought, performed and orchestrated their music. Members of Dr. Abe’s core engineering team in Japan were often referred to as “The Black Gang”. It was often said that Dr. Abe had a unique knack for motivating not only his core team, but also all those who worked with him in Japan and America. Another individual who made a valuable contribution to the development of the PortaStudio was an outside consultant by the name of Dick Rossmini.

At this time, TEAC was the only company in the world capable of making a record/erase head small enough to record and play back on 4 individual tracks of a standard audio cassette.When the PortaStudio was first introduced in New York at the Waldorf Astoria, it was hailed by Billboard magazine and Pro Sound News as being the most revolutionary audio product to hit the marketplace. In the ensuing decade, the PortaStudio would provide unparalleled career opportunities for the serious musician and greatly influence the course of popular recorded music in the world. (The title track from the Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band album, was used for comparison at TASCAM’s 4 track PortaStudio demonstration. The original Beatles album was recorded on 2 AMPEX 4 track recorders.) Spectators were amazed that the PortaStudio, in its seemingly small and unassuming package, could faithfully reproduce each of the 4 tracks, separately or together.

PortaStudio became a trademark of the TEAC Corporation. The term PortaStudio has become a household name among musicians. Despite a growing number of competing multitrack formats, 1998 was a record-breaking year for PORTASTUDIO sales, almost 20 years after introduction of the original 144. Over 1 million units have been sold since 1979!

Reprinted by permission of the Tascam Corporation- www.tascam.com

Digital Gets its Wings


► 3M, Mitsubishi, Sony and Studer each introduce a multitrack digital recorder

First shown in 1978, 3M’s $115,000 32-track digital multitrack recorded 16-bit, 50kHz audio on 45 ips 1-inch tape and was used on releases such as “The BBs” and Donald Fagen’s “The Nightfly”. At AES 1980, Mitsubishi previewed its X-800, which stored 32 tracks of digital audio on 30 ips 1-inch tape. The format eventually became the PD (ProDigi) standard also used by Otari. In 1981, Sony countered with its $150,000 PCM-3324 digital 24-track, and a year later, Sony, Matsushita, MCI and Studer announced the DASH (Digital Audio Stationary Head) standard, which called for 2/4/8/16/24/48-track formats. By 1988, Sony made good on its promise to deliver a 48-track machine with the 1989 PCM-3348. It was $240,000, but sales took off like a rocket.

Excerpted from Technology Innovations: Products that Forged an Industry
By George Peterson
Reprinted by permission of Mix Magazine – www.mixonline.com

► EMT introduces its Model 450 hard-disk digital recorder

► The birth of Microsoft

In 1980, IBM had been seeing the need for a personal computer market for some time. In July, they met with a young wiz kid named Bill Gates about writing an operating system for IBM’s new hush-hush “personal” computer. A deal was struck and twelve engineers, led by William C. Lowe, began to work on the new computer system – code named “Acorn”. On August 12, 1981, IBM released their new “PC”.

► Sony introduces a palm-sized stereo cassette tape player called a “Walkman”

The first model, ‘TPS-L2′, was introduced on July 1st, 1979. For the past 20 years, the Walkman has created a new global culture of “enjoying music any where and any time”. According to Sony’s latest figures, cumulative worldwide shipments of the cassette tape Walkman are 186 million units, 46 million units for the CD Walkman, and 4.6 million units for the MD Walkman (as of the end of the fiscal year 1998).

Market watchers, and even Sony employees, were skeptical about the profitability of this new product during its development. However the development team believed in the potential of the new market, and they launched the first model known as ‘TPS-L2′. Two months after the launch of this product, the skepticism was completely wiped out, and the Walkman became extremely popular. In addition to promoting the concept of ‘enjoying music any where and any time’, Walkman was widely advertised by celebrities appeared in magazines with the product. The Walkman became a new culture icon – a social phenomenon – with enormous support from young users.

Although the name ‘Walkman’ is now highly recognized throughout the world, there were some fundamental challenges in naming this new product. At the time of the initial introduction of the Walkman overseas, Sony sales companies abroad strongly opposed the Japanese-made English word ‘Walkman’. The Walkman was initially launched as ‘Soundabout’ in the U.S., ‘Stowaway’ in England, and ‘Freestyle’ in Australia. However, the name ‘Walkman’ was eventually accepted overseas, as Walkman portable stereos became very popular in Japan and tourists visiting Japan from abroad started buying them as a souvenir. At this point, Mr. Morita decided to standardize the name of the product and officially announced that the name ‘Walkman’ would be used worldwide. In 1986, the word ‘Walkman’ appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary and officially became a new English word.

Headphones are essential to the Walkman concept. While the development of a Walkman personal stereo was proceeding, another research team was coincidentally developing lightweight headphones. Compared to conventional headphones that weighed 300 to 400g, the new headphones weighed less than 50g. As a result, the first Walkman model ‘TPS-L2′ was launched with the headphones model ‘MDR-3L2′, weighing only 45g. Since then, the development of headphones have continued to evolve, including an inner-ear type model known as “N*U*D*E” in 1982, egg-shaped headphones “eggo” in 1992, a behind-the-neck Street Style headphones in 1997. To date, 472 million units of headphones have been shipped (as of the end of the fiscal year 1998, including those bundled with the Walkman personal stereos).

The Walkman was originally introduced as a compact cassette tape player, but with the emergence of new music media, the Walkman has expanded its product lineup. It includes the Sony Discman* portable CD player ‘D-50′ in 1984, DAT Walkman ‘TCD-D3′ in 1990, and MiniDisc Walkman” ‘MZ-1′, ‘MZ-2P’ in 1992. Currently the development of “Memory Stick” Walkman compatible with the new chewing gum-sized IC recording media is in process (now part of the flash memory player explosion – ed).

Excerpted from Sony Celebrates Walkman® 20th Anniversary Press Release, July 1, 1999

► Sony introduced the 3.5-inch floppy disk, called a “diskette” because its rigid plastic case was no longer flexible.


► Philips develops the Compact Disc (CD)

The development of the Compact Disc (CD) began in 1969 when Dutch physicists Klaas Compaan and Piet Kramer began searching for a way to optically record video images onto a disc. The initial prototype used a laser to encode pits into a polycarbon medium using a coded FM video signal, however this was soon substituted for a digital PCM code.

After another prototype was built, Sony agreed to work with Philips to help develop standards. Philips argued for a 11.5 cm disc because this was the same length as the diagonal length of an audiocassette. Also, this size satisfied the DIN standard and thus would be the right size for a car audio system in the European market. But it was Sony Corp. chairman Norio Ohga, a trained musician, who decisively presented Sony’s argument for a 12 cm, seventy-five minute disc. He argued that, Just as a curtain is never lowered halfway through an opera, a disc should be large enough to hold all of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Ohga believed that the disc needed to be of a practical size for music aficionados and that 95% of all classical music pieces would fit onto a seventy-five minute disc. Therefore, a 12 cm disc was necessary to guarantee seventy-five minutes of playing time.

hga’s argument, researchers at Philips said, A 12 cm disc won’t fit into a suit jacket pocket. Well, let’s see if it does or not, replied the Sony researchers. They measured the top pockets of a Japanese, an American and European suit jackets. The results showed that There’s no suit jacket with a top pocket size less than 14 cm wide. A 12 cm disc will be fine. It was decided that the maximum playing time would be seventy-five minutes (seventy-four minutes and forty-two seconds to be exact) and the diameter of the disc would be 12 cm. Philips also agreed to Sony’s proposals for a 44.1kHz sampling frequency and 16 bits.

► The first compact-disc players hit Japanese retail store shelves in the early ‘80s, but the scientific work leading up to its introduction occurred decades before.

• 1937: Pulse code modulation (PCM) invented, a technology later used in CDs.

• 1950: Information about error detection/correction codes published; it would be impossible for CDs to work without it.

• 1958: Laser invented.

• 1967: NHK demonstrates a 12-bit PCM digital audio recorder with a 30 kHz sampling rate.

• 1969: Dutch physicist Klass Compaan comes up with the idea for the CD.

• 1970: At Philips, Compaan and Pete Kramer complete a glass master prototype and determine that a laser would be needed to read the information.

• 1977; Mitsubishi, Hitachi and Sony show digital audio disc prototypes at the Tokyo Audio Fair.

• 1978: Digital Audio Disc Convention held in Tokyo with 35 manufacturers. Philips propose worldwide standard to be set. In May, Philips announces a 110mm disc with a one-hour play time. PolyGram (a division of Philips) determines polycarbonate would be the best material for the CD. Decision made for data to

• start on the inside of the disc and spiral towards the outer edge.

• 1979: Prototype CD system demonstrated in Europe and Japan. Sony agrees to collaborate. Philips and Sony settle on standard sampling rate of 44.1 kHz and 16-bit audio. Disc diameter decided at 120mm to allow for 74 minutes of music.

• 1980: Philips/Sony propose CD standard.

• 1981; Philips/Sony announce CD prototype. In January PolyGram CD replication plant in Hannover, Germany begins production. Digital Audio Disc Committee accepts CD standard.

• 1982: In June, first broadcast of CD music on WFMT-FM in Chicago. On Oct. 1, Sony launches first CD player commercially in Japan. First title released—Billy Joel’s 52nd Street (CBS). In November, EMI provides its first CDs—Paul McCartney’s Tug of War and a Sibelius symphony.

► Music Videos come of age – “Thiller, Billie Jean and the MTV Years”


Recording and Mixing “Billie Jean”….

The year is 1982. The song is “Billie Jean”. The sonic image of Michael Jacksons’ “Billie Jean” is a perfect example of what happened, when I sat around dreaming awhile, about combining different recording techniques to produce a unique musical canvas with a tremendous ‘sonic personality’.

Of course I was comfortably ensconced in Westlake Audio’s beautiful new Studio ‘A’ on Beverly Boulevard, with my good friends Quincy Jones, Micheal Jackson and Rod Temperton. We were doing our favorite thing… We were making music!!! We had just started recording Michael Jackson’s album “Thriller”…

We were recording Michael’s song “Billie Jean”…..

I recorded the drums,(played by the fantastic drummer, N’Dugu) with as tight, and powerful a drum sound as I could come up with. Of course I put N’Dugus’ drum set on my plywood drum platform. Also at this time, I had a special kick drum cover made that covers the whole front of the kick drum. There’s a slot with a zipper in it that the mike fits through. When the kick drum mike is in place, in the slot in my drum cover, I zip the opening tightly shut around the mike.

I brought in my old pal George Massenburgs’ spectacular sounding, portable, 12 channel recording console and used it to record the rhythm section. With it I recorded the bass, drums and guitars on my analogue 16 track, with no noise reduction equipment in the way of that fantastic sound!

In my estimation, the the result of the song “Billie Jean”, is a perfect example of what I call “Sonic Personality”. I don’t think there are many recordings, where all you need to hear is the first few drums beats, and you instantly know what song it is.

Great albums always start with great songs….

“Billie Jean” is just such a superb song! Of course, Michael wrote “Billie Jean”..

Quincy says that the lyric that Michael wrote is highly personal. I’m sure that’s true. Michael told us… it was about a girl, that climbed over the wall at Michael’s house, and was lounging out there, by the swimming pool…. she was laying out there, near the pool , lounging… hangin’ out… with shades on, her bathing suit on. One morning she just showed up! Kind of like a stalker, almost. She had accused Michael of being the father of ONE of her twins… Is that possible? I don’t think so….

When it came time for me to mix “Billie Jean”, it was business as usual… When I am working with Michael, Quincy, Rod, Jennifer, Sergio and so on….. I am allowed total ceative freedom with the sonics of the music… In other words, I am always left to myself when it is time to mix. My mixes can take hours, days or even weeks…. I firmly believe that a mix is not finished, until it is on a Record for sale at Tower….

So I had been mixing “Billie Jean” for a day or two. I’d do a mix. ….. Say I was up to mix number 2…. (At that time I was mixing onto 1/2” analogue.) I thought it was killer!!!

I called MJ, Quincy and Rod into the control room and played mix 2 for them. They loved it!!! They were all dancing and carrying on like crazy!!! Smiles all around! Then Michael slipped out of the control room, turned around and motioned to me to follow him… Then he whispered to me, “Please Bruce, it’s perfect, but turn the Bass up just a tiny bit, and do one more mix, please….” I said to him…”OK Smelly, no problem”…

(When we were recording “Off The Wall”, Quincy gave Michael the nickname of “Smelly” because when Michael liked a groove, he’d call it “Smelly Jelly.” Also Michael doesn’t curse, and when MJ wants to say a bad word he’ll simply call it “Smelly”… The name has stuck…)

Then I went back into the control room to add Michael’s tiny bit of bass to my mix… Quincy pulled me over into the corner and said “Please Svensk… “(Svensk is Quincy’s nickname for me. It means “Swedish Man” in Swedish… When you have a genuine Quincy Jones nickname like ‘Svensk” – You are truly honored….) Q said to me…. “Add a little garlic salt to the snare and the kick. Just a squirt!!!”) so I went back into the control room and added a little garlic salt to the snare and the kick. Just a squirt!!! Now I was up to mix 20 on “Billie Jean”.

Well, this went on for about a week. Soon I was up to mix 91!!! I had a stack of 1/2 inch tapes almost to the ceiling!!! I would do a few mixes, we’d listen… Then do a few more. We had it PERFECT!!! We thought we had a really ‘HOT’ mix on “Billie Jean”. I played Mix 91 for the boys… Everybody smiled… but Quincy had one of his funny looks on his face…

I thought…. Hmmmm…. Oh, Oh….

Quincy said “You know Svensk, just for the fun of it, can we listen to one of your earlier mixes???” My heart jumped because I knew that my earlier mixes were dynamite!!! Then Quincy said, “Let’s hear mix number 2!!!” Oh WOW!!!! Hallelujah!!! I love mix 2!!!!


Well, here’s the deal. When “Thriller” was released to the Whole World by Epic Records, on Tuesday, November 30, 1982, it went to Tower Records with MIX 2 OF “Billie Jean” on it!!! AND, when the single of “Billie Jean” came out it was MIX 2!!!

The REAL Story of “Billie Jean”…
by Bruce Swedien
From Bruce Swedien’s Facebook Page

The CD 20th Anniversary – The History of the CD Timeline

Reprinted by permission of Medialine Magazine – www.medialinenews.com

• 1983: CD commercially launched in U.S. The Compact Disc Group formed in March. First set of CD discs available in U.S.—12 from CBS, 15 from Telarc, 30 from Denon.

• 1984: Sony opens in October first U.S. CD replication plant (Digital Audio Disc Corp.) in Terre Haute, IN. The facility’s first commercially available CD was appropriately enough, Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A.. Sony’s first portable CD players are available in November. Warner Bros. Records first label to sell new title simultaneously in LP, cassette and CD formats with Madonna’s Like A Virgin.

• 1985: Philips creates CD-i (interactive CD) technology. Three million CD players sold in U.S. CD-ROM drives hit the computer market.

• 1986: 45 million CD discs produced annually, overtaking records as principal recording format.

• 1988: CD disc annual production reaches 100 million units. More than twice as many CDs (149.7 million) shipped than LPs (72.4 million). CD-Recordable disc/technology introduced.

• 1989: “Ban the Box” movement led by Rykodisc looks to eliminate the 6×12-inch cardboard outer box.

• 1990: CD player U.S. penetration at 28 percent; 9.2 million players sold annually in U.S. Worldwide CD sales hits 288 million discs.

• 1991: Paperboard packaging group forms. Jewel box Advocates and Manufacturers (JAM) coalition formed in April seeks to preserve packaging standard. Philips launches CD-i (interactive CD) format.

• 1992: CD disc annual production reaches 300 million discs. SPARS (AAD, ADD and DDD) codes officially retired. CD-R sales reach 200,000 discs.

• 1997: Mitsui builds first CD-R production plant in U.S.

• 1999: CD shipments hit 939 million units, reports the RIAA.

• 2000: CDs represented 91 percent of all music units shipped in the U.S. in 2001, reports the RIAA.

• 2002:1.63 billion CD audio discs and 1.485 billion CD-ROMs replicated in North America, reports IRMA. 4.35 billion CD audio discs and 3.24 CD-ROMs replicated worldwide, reports IRMA.

► MIDI is standardized as the universal synthesizer interface

► IBM introduces a 16-bit personal computer

The first Personal Computer (PC) from IBM ran on a 4.77 MHz Intel 8088 microprocessor with 16 kB of memory (expandable to 256k), one or two 160k floppy drives and an optional color monitor. With a starting price of $1,565, the PC quickly becomes the industry standard, and was one of the reasons Time magazine chose the “personal computer” as its 1982 Man of the Year.

The Intel 8086 chip was chosen because IBM already had the rights to use it in exchange for giving Intel the rights to IBM’s bubble memory technology. Unlike its Apple competitor, the PC was built from off-the-shelf parts and could be sold by outside distributors (such as Sears & Roebuck).


► Sony introduces the PCM-F1, the first 14- and 16-bit digital adaptor for VCRs

For those who were recording in the ‘70s, the Sony PCM-F1 was their first digital recorder. Unlike its predecessor, the F1’s A/D-D/A processor was small in size (roughly the size of a hardcover dictionary) and matched Sony’s SL-2000, the first portable consumer Betamax recorder.

The F1 allowed engineers to enter into the digital age for less than $2,000 – in the era when the alternatives could easily cost more than 10 times as much.

► Sony releases the first CD player, the Model CDP-101

In the fall of 1982, an announcement was made in Tokyo that four companies, Sony, CBS/Sony, Philips, and Polygram had jointly developed the world’s first CD system. These companies announced that they would commence domestic sales in the autumn. From that point on, there were many news reports about the CD system, touting it as the development of the amazing digital CD player and the arrival of the digital age. A few months later, Sony launched the CDP-101, the world’s first commercial CD player.

The CD’s project leader, Nobuyuki Idei based the model name on the numerals 0101 as a reference to the digital medium. In the binary language, 0101 represents the number five. Idei chose the number five to indicate that the product was of a medium class. The product launch actually took place without Idei, who was lying on a hospital bed suffering from a bout of pneumonia he had caught during the frenzy to commercialize the system. When Idei saw the CDP-101 advertisements in newspapers in the hospital, he said to himself, Ah, it has finally been launched.

Some time later, the sample discs that had been used all over the world for demonstrations found their way back to the engineers. Although the surfaces were covered with scratches, when the discs were put in the player, the sound quality was as if new. In addition, while Sony was launching the CDP-101, CBS/Sony launched the world’s first fifty CD titles, the very first one being 52nd Street by Billy Joel.

Thus, the CD system was introduced worldwide. All divisions at Sony cooperated to commercialize CD hardware. Moreover, both Sony and CBS/Sony jointly developed hardware and software, doing everything possible to make the CD a product of the future. Sony Corp. chairman Norio Ohga later said, “There has never been an example as strong as the CD of how effectively the combined power of the Sony Group can be”.

► Dolby proposes a 5-channel surround-sound scheme for home theater systems.

Recognizing the potential for decoding multichannel sound at home, in 1982 Dolby introduced Dolby Surround, a consumer extension of the Dolby film sound project. The first technology to be licensed to consumer electronics manufacturers was a means of decoding the surround channel in home systems. This was followed by Dolby Surround Pro Logic (1987), a technology that made it possible to decode the center channel as well, and to take advantage of advanced circuitry developed originally for theatrical playback.

Unlike the quadraphonic sound of the 1970s, Dolby Surround quickly gained marketplace acceptance. For one thing, the multiple channel configuration and its ideal utilization it were firmly established within one industry (film) in advance of its introduction to another. Also, it was developed with a clear objective, specifically to enhance the viewing experience. And third, software and hardware standards for both the film and consumer electronics industries are defined by one organization.

As home viewers began to set up more surround systems, the consumer electronics industry realized that a new category of home playback system was being forged. “Home theater,” as it is now called, soon became the fastest-growing consumer electronics segment, bringing new life to a stagnating industry. Like Dolby noise reduction, Dolby Surround is administered by the Dolby Laboratories licensing program with quality standards both for hardware and for recorded and broadcast media.

Dolby Surround programming now includes television broadcasts—not only films with soundtracks encoded with Dolby technology, but also regular TV series, specials, and sports events transmitted in Dolby Surround. Dolby Surround has even spread to video games and other multimedia applications. As with Dolby films, material encoded with Dolby Surround is compatible with two-channel stereo and even mono playback

Excerpted from A History of Dolby Laboratories: Dolby Surround and home theater
Reprinted by permission of Dolby Laboratories – www.dolbylabs.com

► Roger Linn kicks off the first commercial drum machine

The LM-1, Roger Linn’s first commercial drum machine, was the first programmable drum machine to feature sampled sounds. It featured “twelve 8-bit samples (kick, snare, hi-hat, cabassa, tambourine, 2 toms, 2 congas, cowbell, clave, and handclap). All sounds were tunable”. There were a total of 100 programmable patterns which could be programmed in realtime or steptime, featuring variable swing-time and quantization programming functions. The programs were chained together to make a song. In addition to each sound having its own individual output, there was also a built in 13-channel mixer. Each sound had its own control for pan and level and was outputted to two main output pairs (for hi and low level). The LM-1 featured tape sync, data storage connectors, and a footswitch input. There was a clock output with variable pulse frequency and an external clock input.

The first 35 LM-1′s were “assembled in Roger Linn’s home. Then Bob Easton of 360 Systems took over LM-1 manufacturing. Earliest LM-1′s featured engraved buttons, but lacked front-panel controls for swing-time and quantization functions and weren’t up to the quality standards set by those manufactured by 360 Systems.”

“Even before the LM-1 went into production, Linn was able to drum up (pun intended) buyers. They must have wondered what they were in for, though. ‘I had a prototype that wasn’t actually producible, basically a cardboard box with a bunch of wire-wrap boards mounted inside. But it worked. I would show it to people who had come over to my house, and they would give me 50% deposits on the finished product. On occasion, I would take this cardboard box down to somebody’s session and show it to them. It was pretty hilarious.

“‘Later, when I had a real prototype, I’d keep it in my car. At one party, I showed it to some members of Fleetwood Mac, and I generated some sales from that.’ … ‘I used to play with Leon Russell, so he bought one. Stevie Wonder bought one of the first ones. Boz Scaggs bought one. So did Daryl Dragon (the Captain), Peter Gabriel.’”

Excerpted from Mark Vail’s book – Vintage Synthesizers
Reprinted by permission of Backbeat Books. – www.backbeatbooks.com


The MIDI standard is born.


► The Apple Corporation markets the Macintosh computer.

Named for one of the designer’s daughters, the “Lisa” was the first PC to offer a graphic interface. Touted as a computer that would increase productivity by being easier to use, it included a Motorola 68000 Processor running at 5 Mhz, with 1 Mb of RAM, two 5.25″ 871k floppy drives, an external 5 MB hard drive, and a built in monochrome monitor. At $9,995, the price was too steep for most and Apple released the first Macintosh for substantially less money. Later, Apple released the Lisa 2 (which was later renamed the Macintosh XL), which included a single 400k 3.5″ drive, 2 MB of RAM and a 10 Mb hard drive.


► Droidworks unveils the SoundDroid

Lucasfilm and Convergence Corp. formed The Droid Works and, under the design leadership of Andy Moorer, unveiled the SoundDroid™ workstation at the 1985 NAB show. Offering picture interlock, multitrack recording, sound synthesis, editing, mixing dynamics control, reverb and effects from a slick interface of touch-sensitive graphics screens, soft-keys, assignable knobs, moving faders and shuttle wheel, it was a spellbinding technological achievement. A year later, commercial systems were offered to the public, and won a Mix Magazine TEC Award, but The Droid Works’ true workstation approach to sonic manipulation was years before its time. The company folded a few years later.

Excerpted from Reflections on 20 Years of Audio Technology Innovations
by George Petersen
Reprinted by permission of Mix Magazine – www.mixonline.com

► Digidesign introduces their first digital audio editor

Digidesign introduced Sound Designer, a program that allowed editing and manipulating of E-mu Emulator II samples using a Macintosh. The program also offered FFT analysis, digital EQ/mixing/compression, FM and waveshaping synthesis, and waveform redrawing using a mouse. Years later, Digidesign would bundle Sound Designer software with its hardware for the Mac II family of computers and call it Sound Tools.

Excerpted from Reflections on 20 Years of Audio Technology Innovations
by George Petersen
Reprinted by permission of Mix Magazine – www.mixonline.com

► Sony and Philips produced the standard for Compact Disc Read Only Memory (CD-ROM)

► Sony introduces the D-5 portable compact disc player at the 1985 Japan Audio Fair

After the launch of the first CD player, Tsurushima and his colleagues at the Engineering Development Department of the Audio Business Group decided to develop a more compact CD player that required fewer parts and less power. They worked vigorously to improve the CDP-101, enlisting the help of other divisions, while striving to develop a one-chip LSI circuit and reduce the size and thickness of the optical pickup device. The Audio Division was pushing ahead with a project to reduce the cost of the CD player. They called this project the CD CD Project, or the Compact Disc Cost Down Project. To meet a price target, it was necessary to significantly reduce the costs of the semiconductors and the optical pickup device.

The team approached the relevant people with requests to build these parts at a specific reduced price. At first, they were told it was impossible. However, members of the division overseeing the development of these components did everything they could and eventually found a way to manufacture cheaper and more compact parts. In autumn 1983, Sony had the technology to build a CD player deck that was one-tenth the size of its first player.


► First digital consoles appear

► R-DAT recorders are introduced in Japan


► Akai unveils the first cost-effective digital multitrack – the A-DAM

Unveiled in 1988, Akai’s A-DAM (Akai-Digital Audio Multitrack) stored 12 tracks on 8mm videotape in an 80-pound, rackmount chassis and used the modular digital multitrack (MDM) approach, where multiple tape transports could easily be slaved for more tracks. It cost $35,000, but a bargain compared to the $100,000-plus prices on reel-to-reel digital machines

Excerpted from Technology Innovations: Products that Forged an Industry
By George Peterson
Reprinted by permission of Mix Magazine – www.mixonline.com


► Digidesign markets “Sound Tools,” a Macintosh-based digital workstation using DAT as its source and storage medium.Nobody knew just how significant January 20, 1989 would be, as Digidesign unveiled Sound Tools, a Mac-based (SE or Mac II). 2-track digital recording/editing system. Sound Tools combined outboard converters and DSP with its Sound Designer II software, and at $3,995, was just the ticket for editing tracks on those DAT machines that were showing up in studios everywhere. Eventually the SD II file format became a worldwide standard.

Excerpted from Reflections on 20 Years of Audio Technology Innovations
by George Petersen
Reprinted by permission of Mix Magazine – www.mixonline.com


► The write-once CD-R becomes a commercial reality


► Alesis unveils the ADAT, the first “affordable” digital multitrack recorder

Revolutions often occur where you’d least expect them. Who would have guessed that a surprise product unveiling at the annual expo of the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) would forever change the world of professional and semipro recording? The place was the convention center in Anaheim, California. The date was January 18, 1991. The product was the Alesis ADAT, a compact studio recorder that could store eight tracks of digital audio (at better-than-CD quality) on an S-VHS tape and could be interlocked with up to fifteen more ADAT units, to provide up to 128 tracks!

Certainly, the product represented a remarkable technology, but what was most impressive was the original ADAT’s $3,999 price tag. This was far lower than the $35,000 Akai A-DAM (an earlier modular digital recorder that recorded twelve tracks on an 8mm videotape), and the Yamaha DMR8 (a $34,000 digital 8-track/mixer combination that used a proprietary tape format).

Immediately upon its debut, ADAT had the audio industry buzzing. ADAT’s scheduled December 1991 release date came and went, and initial deliveries didn’t begin until February or March of the next year, with large-scale production runs ramping up in the summer of 1992. During the 16-month period between the first ADAT announcement and widespread store deliveries, 1/2-inch analog 8-track sales came to a virtual standstill, and for a while every conversation in the audio and music industry seemed to be centered around this newcomer on the digital multitrack block.

The repercussions of ADAT were far-reaching indeed. Was it mere coincidence that as the first ADATs were delivered to retailers, the Society of Professional Recording Services recommended that record labels drop the ADD, DDD, etc., code designations that graced album releases, indicating whether the product was recorded and/or mixed using analog or digital gear? After years of “educating” consumers to look for that all-important “DDD” tag, was the decision to abandon the code based on affirmation of analog (particularly advanced analog techniques) as a viable medium, or was the availability of low-cost digital a perceived threat to the allure of a DDD sticker?

In October of 1992, Fostex announced an agreement with Alesis to develop ADAT-format recorders under the Fostex name, thus transforming ADAT from a simple model name into an accepted audio format. At the same time, Tascam unveiled its DA-88 family of competing recorders. It was obvious that a generic term was needed to describe this new breed of expandable digital tape recording systems. I came up with the phrase “Modular Digital Multitrack,” or MDM, which is now an accepted term throughout the industry.

The Formats

Eventually the Akai A-DAM and Yamaha DMR-8 formats were discontinued. Three current MDM formats exist today:<p >• ADAT I is a 16-bit format (with 67 minutes maximum record time on a T-180 S-VHS tape); compatible machines include the (original) Alesis ADAT, Alesis XT, Fostex RD-8, Fostex CX-8, and Panasonic MDA-1.

• ADAT-II is a 20-bit S-VHS format (with 67 minutes maximum record time on a T-180 S-VHS tape) used in the Alesis LX20, XT20, M20, and Studer V-Eight recorders.

• DTRS (Digital Tape Recording System)—a 16-bit format that records on Hi-8mm videocassettes used in the Tascam DA-88, DA-38, DA-98, and the Sony PCM-800.

Excerpted from The Alesis ADAT: The Evolution of a Revolution
by George Petersen
Reprinted by permission of artistpro.com – www.artistpro.com


► Philips DCC and Sony’s MiniDisc, using digital audio data-reduction, goes on the market

Ten years after the launch of CDs, Sony announced a new music medium. In the 1990s, the production volume of audio compact cassettes was rapidly declining from its peak of 76 million units in 1988. Seeing this trend, the president of Sony felt the need to replace compact cassettes with a recording and playback device that uses a disc smaller than the CD to replace the audio compact cassette. This led to the development of a new music medium – the MiniDisc.

Basing its work on Sony’s established MO technology, a team began work on creating a compact audio recording device that used discs. It was decided that the new disc size would be 64 mm and that it would have a recording capacity of up to seventy-four minutes, the same as a CD, on an area one-quarter the size of a CD. With the cooperation of the Sony Information Systems Research Center, this led to the development of the ATRAC (Adaptive Transform Acoustic Coding) digital signal processing technology for audio compression. To ensure that the final product would be portable, technology to reduce track skipping when jostled was simultaneously developed with a new shockproof memory based on semiconductors.

In May 1991, all development was concluded, and the MiniDisc (MD), the new audio standard, was announced. To enhance portability, the disc was housed in a shell. The MD combined recordable features of the cassette tape with the random access functions and high quality sound of the CD. Sony clearly explained the difference between the CD and MD; the CD was for leisure listening and the MD for enjoying music anywhere and anytime, much like the Walkman.


► Mackie unveils the first “affordable” 8-bus analog console


1994 – Global Big 6 control $30 billion record industry: Philips (owns Polygram, A&M, Mercury, Island), Sony (owns CBS Records), Matsushita (owns MCA, Geffen), Thorn-EMI (owns Capitol, Virgin), Time Warner, and Bertelsmann (owns RCA Records).

► Flash memory cards introduced

SanDisk in October introduced the Compact Flash memory card to store audio and visual data on cards no larger than a matchbook holding 4-106 MB of data. SanDisk and Siemens AG in 1997 patented the MultiMediaCard no larger than a postage stamp holding 2-16 MB.

► Yamaha unveils the ProMix 01, the first “affordable” digital multitrack console.


► Sony and Toshiba reach a compromise to develop a single DVD standard by the end of the year rather than continue to develop competing DVD players

► DVD-Video and DVD-ROM format established

In December, 1995 the format for DVD-Video and DVD-ROM was established. “It calls for a CD-sized 5-inch (12cm) disc, 0.05 inch (1.2mm) thick, with an MPEG2-compressed storage capacity of 4.7 gigabytes per side (7.5 times that of CDs) and an average transfer speed of 4.69 megabits per second (three times faster than CDs). DVD-Video, for movies and concerts, will provide LD-like imagery while playing for 133 minutes per side. Its soundtrack will allow eight-language dubbing and 32 sets of subtitles. DVD-ROM, for computer data, will handle huge applications, enable impressive visuals, and manage hybrid software for multiple operating systems.”


► Experimental digital recordings are made at 24 bits/96 kHz


► Experimental digital recordings are made at 24 bits/192 kHz

Early in 1997 direct Stream Digital, consulters in designing A/D-D/A converters were approached by the Korean Electronics maker Samsung to produce a 24 bit 192kS/s recording system and a set of recordings. Their objective was to show the WG4 committee (those responsible for deciding which audio formats would be incorporated into the DVD spec) that the 24/192 format would be suitable for DVD.

Three recording sessions were set up for us by Kompas CD Multimedia, one of the leading classical recording companies in Europe and included such artist as:

• The Tois Jazz Trio in Deventer, Holland

• The Orpheus String Quartet in Tubingen, Germany

• The Queens College Choir in Cambridge, England

Two main recording systems were devised, using dCS 24/192 converters and a Genex GX-8000 Magneto Optical recorder. These were compared against several other formats, including 24/96, a 16/44 digital Nagra and 16/44 Panasonic DAT recorder.

The recordings were successfully completed and everyone was very impressed with the results. “The 24/96 had been good, but the 24/192 was a lot better in every respect. Even with the most complex and dynamic passages there was no sense of strain and the level of transparency was one step beyond that achieved with 24/96.” Upon completion, the system delivered to Samsung, who went on to make their demonstrations to the WG4 committee and the rest is history. 24/192 is now one of the formats in the DVD specification.

► DVD videodiscs and players are introduced

Initially, DVD was an abbreviation for “Digital Video Disc”… after many debates, this was changed to “Digital Versatile Disc”, and then finally it was agreed that DVD simply stood for “DVD”.

In December of 1995, the DVD format was ratified to encode video in the MPEG-2 video format, and allowing audio to be encoded in the PCM, DTS, MPEG audio or Dolby Digital (AC-3) formats. Unlike the CD, which encodes audio as CCDA (compact Disc Digital Audio) and data as ISO 9660-compliant files – the DVD is always authored according to the UDF (Universal Disk Format).

► MP3 players for downloaded Internet audio appear

MP3 ( short for MPEG-1 Layer III or MPEG Audio Layer III) was developed by the German company Fraunhofer Gesellschaft as an audio subset of the MPEG industry standard for compressing audio data down to filesizes that can be easily stored onto various data media and communicated over the internet.

MP3 started in 1987 at the Fraunhofer Institut Integrierte Schaltungen in Erlangen, Germany using the code name “EUREKA project EU147 – (DAB) Digital Audio Broadcast” and was accepted by MPEG (Motion Picture Experts Group). The algorithm was finalized in 1992 as part of MPEG-1, although further work on MPEG Audio was finalized in 1994 as part of the second phase, MPEG-2, which resulted in a compression scheme for the encoding of audio onto DVD.

Since its beginning, MP3s popularity had increased to such an extent that file sharing has shaken the very foundation of record companies, both large and small and has invited major manufacturers are flooding the market with portable MP3 players of all types and forms.

► MP3.com was founded in November by Michael Robertson with 3,000 songs available for free download. In the next 12 months, it became the #1 music site on the Internet with 3 million hits monthly.


► Audio DVD Standard 1.0 agreed upon by manufacturers.

DVD-Audio is a new format that allows high-fidelity audio to be delivered onto a DVD disc. Unlike the DVD video standard, DVD-Audio can encode up to 4 hours of 24-bit/192kHz stereo audio or 2 hours of 24/96 surround sound audio onto a disc. The trade-off for the fidelity is that there’s less room for video and other data content.

Not everyone is sold on the format, as the equipment is expensive and the discs can’t be played on a conventional DVD player (which is only able to play DVD-Video, PCM audio and Dolby Digital (AC3)… and of course, there’s the debate as to whether typical human ears can distinguish the difference.

** End of Current Timeline – more to come ***

Creative Commons License

The History of Recorded Sound by https://davidmileshuber.com/hrs/ is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Audio and related History Museums


History of Recording

28 Grenville Rd
Watertown, MA 02472
Phone: 617-926-2298
Email: info@synthmuseum.com

10787 SE 96th Court
Portland, Oregon 97266
Phone: 503/289-4343
FAX: 503/296-2001
Email: glenn@tinfoil.com


360 Sound: The Columbia Records Story

– Haven’t read this one yet, but it looks great … the pics are awesome!

Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust

– Another must-read book from Geoff Emerick (Beatles engineer” and Howard Massey. I really have to credit Massey for giving this book an amazing richness.

Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles

– Ken Scott and Bobby Owsinski’s book is a must-read that’s practically impossible to put down!

Recording the Beatles

– I found the book to be a fairly dry read, but the pictures and the packaging are first-rate.

The Quincy Jones Legacy Series: Q on Producing

Brick n’ mortar:

Computer History Museum
1401 N Shoreline Blvd.
Mountain View, CA 94043
Tel: +1 650 810 1010
Fax: +1 650 810 1055

Experience Music Project (EMP)
325 5th Ave. N.
Seattle, WA 98109
Tel: +1 877 EMPLIVE (877 367 5483)
Fax: +1 206 770 2727

Museum of Sound Recording
c/o Brunswick Tape Media
580 8th avenue, 21st floor
New York, NY 10018
Tel: +1 212 997 9279
Fax: +1 212 764 4160

Spark: The Museum of Electrical Invention
1312 Bay Street
Bellingham, WA 98225
tel: +1 360-738-3886