Category Archives: History

The Future Of Audio (1962 edition)

IMG_0001In May of 1962 “AUDIO” magazine celebrated its 15th anniversary.  IIRC, AUDIO was the more consumer-facing half of what had initially been AUDIO ENGINEERING magazine; the AES Journal being created sometime in the 50s to carry the more professional articles.  Anyhow, for their 15th, AUDIO asked some of the experts of the time to weigh in on THE FUTURE OF AUDIO.  Harry Olson, certainly one of the greatest inventors of sound equipment who ever lived, had some comments that struck me as being incredibly prescient.  I’ve never seen this reproduced anywhere, so check it out, enjoy it, share it, and take a minute to speculate on where this is all going.

Olson_1962_part1Olson_1962_part2

 

Prepare For A Journey Thru Time And Space (*special soldering-iron edition)

How are y’all doin.  Sorry I’ve been away for so long; it’s been real busy ’round here, and like my Pops always says, you gotta make hay while the sun shines.  But… there’s only so farming you can do without yr back giving out, so I’m taking a little break to re-stock Ye Ole Country Store (aka Blog) with piles of new stuff.  Been a good coupla weeks at the flea market, annoying camera-crews aside (see my Tumblr for details).  Recently picked up a very large collection of circa 1950 DIY Electronics publications, and I’ve culled the cream-of-the-crop for y’all: some still-useful audio projects, and lots of interesting but forgotten bits and bobs from the pre-transistor era.  Schematics and project notes on some unique amplifiers, preamps, and even a novel compressor design that promises some unique sounds.  I’ll be posting a dozen or so of these pieces over the next couple of weeks; in the meantime, here’s a quick visual sampler of what yr in for.

Cinema Sound Circa 1953

Today: some random bits+bobs of Sound-For-Film technology of the early 1950s.  Above: the All-New JBL Theatre Sound Systems, which claim to offer the higher-fidelity needed to properly reproduce the newly-available magnetic soundtracks that were being used in 35mm film at the time.  Prior to the introduction of magnetic 35mm film soundtracks in the 1950s, all film-sound was reproduced in theaters via an optical sound-track which ran alongside the edge of the film-frames.  Fidelity was limited, although I cannot say exactly to what frequency range.  Can anyone tell us what the first feature-film was to be exhibited nationwide with a magnetic soundtrack?

Above: Cinema Engineering presents… the fader!  Straight-line attenuators have certain advantages over rotary controls, such as quicker visual feedback and a range of motion that better correlates with human bio-mechanical consideration.  Nonetheless, rotary faders remained in use in pro audio well into the late 60s.  Does anyone know who first patented and/or marketed the linear fader?

Above: the Cinema Engineering 6517-E ‘Sound Effects Filter,’ aka a high-pass and a low-pass filter both built into a single instrument.   I could find this sort of thing very useful; especially for tracking multiple ‘stacked’ parts such as one singer delivering 7 vocal harmonies over a single phrase, as I found myself doing in a session earlier this week.  Just carve out all of the unnecessary super-high and super-low end… the 80 or 100 hz high-pass filter built into many mic preamps is certainly useful but it’s obvs not always the best cut off choice.

Above: an advert for Glen Glenn Motion Picture Sound Co. circa 1953.  Anyone out there work for this firm?  We’d love to hear yr stories….  drop us a line…

Above: RCA’s ‘film phonograph,’ an apparatus that records and plays-back 35 mm magnetic sound-tracks and plays-back 35mm optical sound tracks as well.  I ended up with a couple of 16mm sound track readers at Gold Coast Recorders; not sure what to do with them.  Has anyone had any luck converting an optical-track reader into a signal processing or signal generating device?  Seems like there’s some potential to make it into  interesting experimental instrument; strobe-light-controlled oscillator perhaps?

 

 

My girl is cool. She digs the old records.

A mere 10 years after Bridgeport-based Columbia Records introduced the LP record, we see evidence that record collecting was already a well-entrenched hobby/sport/folly.  At left is the cover of “Record Research” Vol . 2, No, 6, Issue 18, dated July 1958.  Of course, those folks (and maybe some of you are still kickin…) were more probably more interested in collecting 78s and Wax Cylinders such as our comely friend above is holding.  Stay tuned for an upcoming piece on Columbia’s history in Bridgeport… and for now, check out these bits of Columbia-collecting circa 1958.

 

 

1955: Japan Goes Hi-Fi

Download a three-page 1955 article entitled “Japan Goes Hi-Fi” as originally published in AUDIO magazine.

DOWNLOAD: Japan_Goes_hifi_1955

The article concerns an early Hi-Fi show in Tokyo.  Postwar Japan had sufficiently moved beyond the subsistence level to indulge in luxury-leisure pursuits; soon Japan would come to dominate the world in the electronics field.

The ‘hi-fi coffee shop’ pictured above may seem like a quirky anomaly, but you would be amazed at the sound systems on display in even modest Japanese bars and restaurants.  The last time I was in Japan, we stayed at a bed and breakfast in the mountains of Hokkaido; upon arrival at the inn, my jaw dropped when I saw that the sound system in the lounge consisted of a JBL Paragon speaker and huge McIntosh tube amplifiers.  It’s hard to say exactly why this trend developed, but if you spend any time in Japan, I think it’s clear that ‘excellence’ in general is an important concept in Japanese culture.

Above is a 1955 advert for The Panasonic.  Not ‘a Pansonic,’ but THE Panasonic.  The Panasonic was a single product introduced for the US market by the Matsushita corporation: an 8″ full-range hi-fi driver.  Panasonic would soon grow into an entire global electronics brand, second only to SONY as an ambassador of the Japanese electronics industry.

Here is a 1955 review of “The Panasonic:”

Previous Japanese audio culture coverage here and here.

Ham Radio, Vernacular Graphics, and Silent Keys

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Have you ever been driving around and noticed one of these huge metal antennae towers erected beside a home?

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These are Ham Radio towers.  ‘Ham Radio’ is non-commercial, amateur radio-broadcasting activity which has carried on for nearly a century all over the planet.  Although by definition both amateur and non-commercial, Ham Radio is regulated by the governments of the world (including the US) and a license is required in order to participate.  The plus side of the this regulation is that, unlike, say, C.B. radios, Ham Radios can be incredibly powerful and experienced operators can (with the right equipment) directly contact other like-minded enthusiasts all over the world.  This actually sounds a lot like something else we’re familiar with…  oh right the internet.

So much can be said about this venerable institution, and I am not person to do the explaining.  So why discuss it here?  Well… most common of the signals sent with Ham Radio has always been the human voice; many Hams have, and still do, carry on the tradition of designing and building their own audio equipment; and the innovations sprung from this field have played an important role in the development of audio technologies that we all use today.  The importance of the technical aspects of signal transmission/reception in the Ham community cannot be overstated; in fact, most of he conversations that go on using this technology are in fact concerning the signal quality itself.   A direct consequence of this importance of signal integrity is that Radio Hams would often send physical postcards, in the actual mail, to those individuals with whom they had chatted with on-air.  These postcards confirmed the technical operating parameters of the radio equipment in-place when the successful conversation took place.  These are called QSL cards, and they are one of the most fascinating and exciting examples of vernacular graphic design that I am aware of.    E.  purchased a crate of several hundred at the flea market yesterday; they all date from around 1980-1987 and they are really idiosyncratic and beautiful.  Here I will present some of my favorites:

Follow the link below to continue…

Continue reading Ham Radio, Vernacular Graphics, and Silent Keys

Magnecord INC Historical Archival Material Part 1

From the personal collection of D. Boyers, son of Magnecord founding partner John Boyers, PreservationSound is excited to be able to offer several rare documents and historical reminiscences.  The Magnecord PT6 was one of the very first broadcast-quality tape recorders ever made – 1948 – and you can still find working (or repairable) examples.  If you have been following this site for a while, you will know how much I like these machines.  See this link and this link for some examples of recordings I have done recently with the PT6.

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PT6 Maintenance and Engineering manual:

DOWNLOAD: MagnecordPT6_MaintenanceNotes

The user-manual and schematics for the PT6 tape machine has been readily available on the internet; try this link if you need a copy.  The Maintenance Notes are harder to find.  Great information if you need to perform mechanical service on the unit.

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Four-page “Magnecord, INC” Company Newsletter, July 1952:

DOWNLOAD: MagnecordInc_July1952

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John Boyers was one of the founders of Magnecord.  He is now 95 years of age.   His son D. provides these notes regarding John’s career and contributions to recording history:

“I wouldn’t be too surprised to learn there are some (PT-6s) still in use, probably in some third-world broadcasting station somewhere. My first PT-6 was an engineering sample put together prior to the start of manufacturing. I still have it, and it still works, (although I make that claim having not tried to fire it up for 30 years!)
Dad is still with us, although he is the last survivor of the original group, at age 95… One of Dad’s favorite stories… is the time he couldn’t make payroll, but the man at the bank gave him the funds he  needed because of the trusting relationship he had built with the bank.

 

Dad’s interest was mostly engineering. He designed the heads, experimenting with various metals and ways to make the recording gap smaller and smaller. Back then, the
heads were built one at a time, by hand. One of the handiest features of the “6” was the
ability to do instant playback head alignment with that little 4/40 screw and spring
tensioner. …I don’t remember if that was a feature of the production machines or if it was just something  they built into the sample I have. Oh, here’s another story you might enjoy knowing about: Dad and one of the other guys in the shop had a brainstorm and decided to build a “binaural” (ed: Stereo) transport just for fun. They  got it working and took it down to the Illinois Central train station and made a recording of a steam locomotive going by.
I remember hearing the recording, with the locomotive coming in one channel and going out the other. The binaural recorder was the hit of the audio trade show in Chicago that year. According to Dad, the crowds around the little Magnecord booth were huge and the buzz of the show was all about the unbelievable train recording. I asked Dad why they didn’t get a patent on it and he says that it wasn’t patentable. It had been  done before, although not commercially, and it didn’t meet the “new and novel” requirement of patent law. I’ve often wondered if they weren’t just working with the wrong patent attorney.”

Thanks to D. for sharing this history.  We will leave you today with the remainder of a set of Magnecord-Factory photos circa 1950.

Out-Of-Print-Book Report: History Of Music Machines (Smithsonian)

Came across this obscure volume in a rubbish bin several years ago.  Published by Drake Publishers in 1975 and billed as being ‘Prepared By The Smithsonian’ (No author attributed), “(The)History Of Music Machines” (hf. ‘HOMM’) is a b&w hardcover gift/coffee-table book which presents a fairly interesting survey of the history of reproduced sound.  Several copies are available for just a few bucks at amazon. 139pp.

From the introduction (by writer Irving Kolodin):

“Over the years, the debates have continued about the pros and cons of music machines, the impact of their existence on the habit patterns of society,…. their influence for good and evil on taste…  As for taste, it has been driven to the wall, and all but through it, by exploitation of the music machines’ potential for serving the lowest common denominator.  Whether in records, or in radio’s reliance on the Top Forty -those loudest, hardest, often cheapest appeals to the beetle-browed-  selectivity has since foundered on the rock of commercialism.”

Jesus Irving.  Don’t mince words buddy.  Tell us how you really feel.  Note how he allusively slips ‘Be(e/a)tle’ and ‘Rock’ in there.  Nice one.  ANYhow. Reactionary sentiments asides, HOMM is basically a chronological series of photos with explanatory captions.  I find it interesting because it does not attempt to parse recording devices, electric instuments, synthesizers, amplification equipment, choosing instead to include all of these very different (in my mind, at least) type of equipment into the totality of ‘music machines.’  This suggests the view point that music is either made ‘by man alone’ or somehow made ‘by machine.’  It’s an interesting idea.  A very outmoded binary opposition, certainly.  Here are some highlights.

The multiphone, a wax-cylinder jukebox from 1905.

The Stroh Violin.  DS mentioned  last week that he had seen a band in NYC recently that performs exclusively 1900-1930 music on all period instruments.  ‘One of those Violins with the victrola horn’ is apparently employed.  Now we know that this is called a Stroh Violin.

The much-loved Magnecord PT6 gets some praise.

HOMM ends with some (even then very-dated) images of Electronic Music Studios. Above we have the Columbia-Princeton Studio circa 1959 (see my previous post) and below some rare images of the circa ’65 studios at the Catholic University of America.

(footnote: a nod to EKL, originator of the ‘out-of-print-book-report’ in her PARFAIT series)

Early Electronic Music Technology: Part One

From the back-pages of the AES Journal in 1965:

Moog is a legendary name in the world of music.  As far as manufacturers/innovators of musical/audio equipment go, Robert Moog is a close to a household name as anyone I can think of.  The original Moog Modular Synthesizer, as used in early ‘hit’ electronic records such as Carlos’ “Switched on Bach,” was the earliest commercially-available integrated audio synthesizer instrument.

But as much as Moog was indeed an innovator and a massive contributor to the world of music and audio, widespread acceptance of his (and others – Buchla, EMS, etc) synthesizer systems actually marked the demise of a much earlier tradition of electronic music practice.  Because the Moog Modular, complex and inscrutable as it now seems, was in fact a massive simplification and streamlining of the earlier academic/institutional ad-hoc electronic music studio.   Today we will start (what I intend to be) a series of investigations into the technology of early studios used by electronic pioneers such as Varese, Stockhausen, and Luening.



I am slowly-but-surely accumulating some of the original circa 1960 equipment similar to that which pre-Moog electronic music was created with, and I hope to attempt some of this early practice myself.

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This article, from the same 1965 issue of the AES journal which heralded the arrival of ‘The Moog,” details a basic ad-hoc electronic studio of the era.  Read through it.  The basic components that Robert Moog integrated into his ‘modular instrument’ are all present in the Brandeis studio, minus the keyboard: oscillators, a mixer, a filter, a noise generator, a ring modulator, a spring reverb unit.  And, of course, several tape-recorders to allow the various sounds to be layered and combined in order to meet the composer’s intent.  In order to understand just how much effort was necessary to create even these basic conditions for composing, consider this:  the (very simple) mixer had to be custom-designed and built by an engineering firm.

And the studio-staff themselves designed and built the white-noise generator that the set-up used.

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Columbia University had a similar, but much more sophisticated studio at the time.  They began the construction of their set-up in 1952, nine years before Brandeis did the same.

Here the Columbia/Princeton studio is profiled in the June 1965 issue of ‘Radio Electronics,’ the same year that  the AES covered Brandeis.

You can here some of the music that Otto Luening made on this rig (presumably) at the youtube link earlier in my article.  I find it to be very beautiful; it is in many ways the most basic type of music: I think we experience it directly as ‘Organized Noise,’ as free-as-possible from cliche and expectation.  Just my $.02.

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As I had mentioned earlier, Moog’s real innovation was to take all of the disparate components of electronic sound-generation – the oscillators, mixer, filters, noise generator, ring modulator, a spring reverb  – and combine them into little panels that fit a single chassis, with a conventional piano-type keyboard as the primary input-control device.

But where did our pre-Moog pioneers source their hardware?  As the c. 1965 coverage indicates, Brandeis and Columbia had some of it custom built; some was built by the staff; and some originated as non-musical laboratory equipment.

General Radio was perhaps the pre-eminent manufacturer of electronic test equipment in the 1950s and 1960s.  I have owned some of their pieces, and the build-quality is absolutely incredible.

This type of hardware is fairly easily obtained nowadways for very little money – i generally pay $5 – $20 for a unit – and usually it still works.  Sometimes it is hard to resist the temptation to chop up these pieces in order to use the valuable transformers for other projects, but I have saved a few of the better pieces in the hopes of getting my own super-primitive Electronic Composing Studio together.

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Anyone out there ever made music on a pre-Moog system?

Anyone attend the Brandeis or Columbia programs in the early 1960’s?  Drop a line and let know about it.

Modern Recording And Music Part 2

So.  5 years later.  1981.  How had ‘home-recording’ coverage changed?  The range of products had increased, certainly.  There is still a focus here on consumer and prosumer tape decks and tape stock, vague ‘reader-questions’ such as “what does a producer do,” and of course the Teddy-Pendergrass tracking session notes.  The publication does seem to have gotten more sophisticated though.  We now see ads for expensive test equipment and console automation.   Let’s take a look at some of the more interesting bits and bobs c.  ’81.

I have one of these MXR limiters.  They can be purchased for under $100.  Initially I used it often to group-compress drums together with bass for hip hop tracks; lately I’ve been using it for parallel drum compression and it works great for that.  Very aggressive sound; quiet, good fidelity.  The ‘channel-link’ button seems to do very little; also the input (or output?) gain is not matched between the channels; annoying to work around but it’s worth the hassles for the sound.  Pick one up if you can.

Q is right to demand his Auratones.  This is a truly great product.  I had an old banged-up pair for years, and about 5 years ago I put a newly-manufactured pair of “Avantones” in their place.  The Avantone is just as good, if not better.   What are these speakers and why are they so good?  First off, don’t believe the language in this ad.  These speakers do not sound great, and they CERTAINLY do not give a mixer “all that will be in the grooves.”  These speakers are ‘real-world reference speakers.’ Unlike big, expensive ‘Studio Monitors,’ Auratones/Avantones  have no low end and no high end.  They sound, instead, like the majority of actual speakers that normal people will actually hear your work on.  This is crucial to mixing.  In the audio-post-production (IE,. sound work for video mediums) world we call these ‘TV speakers.”  As-in, ‘hey charlie, lemme hear it on the TV speakers.’  As-in, Auratones/Avantones sound pretty similar to the speakers that are built in to a decent TV set.  But: even better: they can handle very high power.  If you need to, you can put pretty heavy watts into these guys (well, at least the Avantones) and you will not damage them.

I love editing audio on the Avantones.  They just sound good at low volume levels.   Audio playback on really expensive speakers at low level always puts me off.  If I have to spend 3 hours editing drums, i would much rather do it at a quiet level on these little guys.  BTW – in my experience – artists generally hate these things.  The artist will always prefer hearing playback loud, and on the expensive speakers.  Be prepared.

I applaud Avantone for being straight-forward and celebrating their product as being ‘bass-impaired’ and ‘real-world.’  I think that if you had believed this 1981 ad and purchased a pair of Auratones as your main mixing speakers, you would have been very disappointed.  As a 2nd or 3rd pair of studio speakers, tho, they are great.

Pretty incredible that tape stock once made such an enormous difference in the quality of your recordings.  It is a similar concept as data compression today.  But while bytes are basically free, i.e., we all seem to have more data-storage capacity than we need, regardless of the bit rates and sampling frequency that we chose, tape was expensive!  I remember once purchasing a blank cassette tape for almost $60.  The shell was made from a ceramic composite.  What mix-tape could have possibly justified this expense? I think I was like 12 years old btw.

Nice.  Another piece of CT pro-audio history.  I recently came upon a large folio of original documentation on the entire ‘Loft’ line.  There is very little information on the web about this short-lived manufacturer, other than the later employment of its founder Peter J. Nimirowski. Looks like this man ran fast+far from the pro audio world.  If I can ever scare up a piece of this hardware I plan to write a feature on them.

Update:  Peter got in touch with PS.com after we published this article.  Peter tells us that he stayed involved with LOFT for several years after the firm was sold.  Peter also turned us on to the existence of LOFT consoles.  We have no information regarding these consoles in the archive, so if anyone out there can share any images/data ETC., please do.

Ah.  The classic.  These Technics decks just look so great, and they sound great too.  I had 3 or 4 of these at one time, literally pulled from the dumpster of an Ad Agency that ran out of storage space.  Someday another will turn up.  I don’t believe that these decks had balanced I/O, which would put them well in the camp of consumer audio gear, but if I remember right the sound quality was on par with any Tascam or Otari 50/50 that I ever owned.

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The biggest development of the year in audio, however, was no fleeting piece of hardware: it was a new audio-product-delivery technology that would forever change the world of music and audio.   The Compact Digital Audio Disc.  The CD.

There has been a lot of discussion about the recent decline of the Recording-Industry.  A lot of accusations of poor moral decision-making on the part of music (non) purchasers; a lot of charges of greed and short-sightedness on the part of the industry; a lot of chatter that this was all ‘inevitable’ due to ‘information sharing’ in the ‘internet age.’

Can we consider, though, that perhaps it was not illegal file-sharing that began the collapse of the economic basis of the Recording Industry.  Perhaps instead we can trace the problem to the decision to encode consumer audio as data.  To forever free audio from issues of mechanical reproduction and the consequent loss of fidelity that occurs every time a mechanical copy (be it magnetic tape or embossed disc) is made.    Once the Recording Industry made the decision to offer these digital copies (I.E., CDs) of their content for sale, they essentially surrendered the one piece of control that they possessed up to that point: The ability to manufacture clones of their products which were identical in quality to the original.  By making and marketing CDs of their recordings, Record Companies essentially gave away the privileged access that they once had sole control over.

Sure, there were bootleg LPs and Tapes sold before 1981.  But they did not, COULD NOT, sound as good as a Label copy.  A bootleg CD sounds exactly the same as a Label CD.  It has to.  And a downloaded WAV file ripped from a CD sounds exactly the same as a label CD.  It has to.