Magnecord Tape Machines used for early stereo experimentation

Above: an unpublished photo from the collection of David Hall, courtesy T. Fine.

T. Fine: “Bert Whyte was an early Magnecorder dealer located on Long Island NY. He was also an early enthusiast for making 2-channel staggered-head binaural recordings. Whyte was a friend of Bob Fine, the engineer responsible for the Mercury Living Presence single-mic mono recordings in the early 1950’s. Fine and David Hall (Mercury’s recording director at the time) let Whyte tag along on several recording trips to Chicago and Minneapolis, where Whyte made experimental 2-mic binaural recordings for his own personal use and to demonstrate the abilities of the Magnecorder. This photo shows White and his binaural rig in the front of Bob Fine’s recording truck. In the foreground at left is a portion of one of the two Fairchild full-track mono recorders used to make the Mercury recordings. Photo date is likely 1952 or 1953.

Bert Whyte went on to write an influential record-review column for Radio & TV News, later Electronics magazine. He was also a founder of Everest Records, where he oversaw engineering and recording of the well-regarded Everest classical records. After Everest went out of business, Whyte returned to journalism, writing for Audio Magazine from the 1960’s until Audio ceased publication. Whyte also continued to engineer and produce records over the years. Probably his best-known later recordings were the direct-to-disc records made for Crystal Clear Records in the late 70’s. At the Crystal Clear D2D recording of Virgil Fox, a parallel recording was made using the prototype Soundstream digital recorder. Those recordings were later released on CD, titled “The Digital Fox.” Whyte was an early enthusiast of digital recording, praising the Sony PCM-F1 recorder in the pages of Audio Magazine. He ran PCM-F1 backups of his direct-to-disc recordings in London, also for Crystal Clear Records.”

What is Psychoacoustics? (1961)




Do certain acoustic phenomena create universal psychological effects?

Does rhythm hold primacy in the hierarchy of musical elements owing to the ever-present heartbeat, with us since months before we are even born?

Do we have genetically programmed responses to such things as the doppler effect (captured via the Leslie speaker), surely a useful phenomenon for hunting animals to pay notice?

Are there other musical devices that could possibly be based in instinctual animal behavior?

1957: Golden Age of Hi Fi (ladies-of), take two

Download a two-page scan of Radio & Television News, August 1957, featuring screen-star Martha Hyer and her DIY audio-hobby.

DOWNLOAD: Martha Hyer 1957 Radio TV News

Hyer is shown above in the midst of assembling her PERI 50, a mono hi-fi amp of the late 50s.  You can download the schematic for the PERI 50 here: DOWNLOAD PERI 50 SCHEM.  It’s a 50-watt ultralinear amp of extremely simple, efficient design.

Thanks to PS dot com reader T.F. for providing this article.  This piece comes as contrast to typical Women-In-Fifties-HiFi depiction, examples of which are in this series of images.    Despite the fact that ‘soldering-your-own-amplifier’ falls much closer to the wine-rack rather than gun-rack end of the macho spectrum, there was apparently nothing in American culture of the 50’s that could not be bro-ified, as this charming shop-apron of the era makes apparent:

Despite its intended message of unapologetic philandering and stamina, I kinda of get the impression that dude’s workmanship is shoddy and he has a shrill voice.  Maybe not the best image to project.  Thank god for social progress.  And on that note: does this website have any female readers who build/service audio equipment?  Drop us a line and represent…



Webster-Chicago: Because Shouting Is Outmoded (1939)

Download the 24pp 1939 Webster-Chicago Sound Systems catalog (in two parts due to size)

DOWNLOAD PART 1: WebsterChic_1939_1

DOWNLOAD PART 2: WebsterChic_1939_2

Products covered, with text, specs, and photos, include: Wesbter-Chicago Super-Fidelity Mixer W-4004, amplifiers W-4030, W-4070, W-4030; remote mixer controls W-903 and W-902; W-975, W-945, W-930 .W-920, W-830, W-814, W-808W-929, W-820 mixer/ amplifers; W-200 microphone matching transformer, W-1260 record changer, plus a host of speakers, intercom equipment, and microphones (appear to be re-branded Bruno, Turner, and EV units: W-1224, W-1245, W-1236, W-1242 and W-1243).


Above: from page 2 of the catalog.  The year is 1939.   “Why Buy Sound Equipment? Because shouting is outmoded.”   The ‘sound of tomorrow’ is electrically amplified sound.  Shouting is a thing of the past.  The sound of one human’s voice can now easily reach many tens of thousands of assembled individuals.  The first recorded use of sound reinforcement (i.e., a PA system) was the inauguration of Warren G. Harding in 1922 (Bushnell, Ferree 2011).  This was incredible technology at the time, technology that has given musicians infinite new possibilities for performnce.  Technology that would also be used to devastating effect in Germany in the 1930s when one bitter man would be able to stir the passions of thousand of assembled individuals in ways that would have been impossible a mere decade early.  Before the PA system: before electrically amplified sound: there were real physical limits to the dissemination of a vocal performance.   That limit is no longer.

Above, Webster’s ‘super-fidelity’ high-power system intended for multi-speaker distribution in arenas ETC: no low-impedance voice-coil output is even offered on this unit.  It does, however, offer two-band EQ and dynamic expansion/compression.

Above, Webster-Chicago’s most modest PA system, the 8-watt W-808.  This was the first piece of antique audio equipment that I ever purchased: $75 at a multi-dealer antique shop on Wickenden st in Providence RI.   My system came with an American D-4 dynamic mic, which I still own and which still works fine after all these decades.   The amplifier and speaker worked too, although I could never figure out why there was a strong slightly off Bb bass-note that went along with everything that I played.  This was several years before I had any awareness of filter caps, of course.



Vacuum-Tube Output Stage for Shure Level Loc

Many of my regular readers will be familiar with the Shure Level-Loc.  For those unfamiliar, the basics:  the Level-Loc is a brickwall limiter made by the Shure microphone company for public-address-system use (podium mics, specifically) in the 1960s.   It uses discrete transistors and transformers in the signal path; it offers balanced mic-level i/o and an unbalanced consumer-level 10K ohm impedance output as well.  There is an input-level control (simply a pot that follows that secondary of the input transformer) and a switch marked ‘distance selector,’ which seems to me to be a threshold control.  That’s it for control.  It is fairly noisy (full-bandwidth noise), even after a recap,  and the transformers are not especially well-shielded.  It runs off of a 9V battery.  For more information on the Level-Loc, you might want to start here.

Anyhow…seems like a toy/piece-of-junk and maybe it is, but these things have become highly coveted for use in recording rock drum performances.  How much so? Well, how many other prosumer PA-system pieces are currently available as a plug-in, an API-500 series module, and a boutique re-build? (image source for above)

I recently picked up a clean Shure Level-Loc for a few dollars at a yard sale; after the aforementioned re-cap (and we’re talking about 20 capacitors here…), it was sounding like it was probably operating within its original design parameters.  I was intrigued, and figured it might be worth getting it into the racks at Gold Coast Recorders to see what it could do.   GCR is a big, live-sounding room, so there’s plenty of sound to get out of it with a squashed compressor.  The only potential problem: the Level-Loc offers only mic-level or low-level medium-impedance output.  I like to run my mic preamps directly into the Lynx convertors; so for the most direct signal, I would need a bridging amp to bring up the level and lower the impedance of the Level-Loc.  It would be nice to have an output level control too, and I wanted the piece to be as physically small as possible so that it could sit directly next to the Level-Loc on a 2RU rack shelf.  Here’s what I did to solve all of these problems and fold the Level Loc into the studio alongside all the other outboard mic preamps.


Most of the RCA Receiving Tube manuals have a schematic for some sort of ‘audio input amplifier'; I wanted one that would provide about 20db of gain as well as a very low-impedance output so that I could drive a 15K:600 output transformer easily (I used an NOS UTC Ouncer to save space).  Based on this i selected the circuit above RCA manual # RC-24.  One 12AU7 tube.  Simple, easy.  The physically smallest plate/filament transformer that I had on hand was an NOS Stancor 120v:120V/6.3V, so I used the voltage-doubler B+ supply circuit as-found in the Altec 1566 and 438; see here for that schematic.  For once i actually did not bother wiring up a DC filament supply, since the gain of the unit is pretty low.  This was the right choice, as i can hear no hum at all in the finished unit.  I added a 500K pot at the input jack and voila.  The whole thing fit inside one of those aluminum Bud Boxes that some folks use for DIY’ing guitar effects pedals.  I left the power transformer bolted outside the unit on the rear; it’s always a good idea to keep power transformers away from audio transformers if you can.   Here’s the interior of the unit:

…and below you can see the finished piece.  Not my finest piece of industrial design but it does the job.  I put the 1/4″ TS input on the front of the unit so that I can use it as a DI input for Keyboards ETC if the need arises.  The circular grill on the top surface of the piece is a heat-vent positioned directly above the 12AU7 tube.

The unit performs well, especially considering that there are only two stages of filtering in the power supply.  I always use four stages of filtering in the equipment that I build for customers, with at least one choke; I was curious this time to see how the basic Altec B+ scheme worked, though, and it seems just fine!  People love their 1566s and 438s so fukk it.  Good enough is sometimes good enough…

Above, the two units side-by side.  So how does it sound?  TW and I were putting down live drums on a track at GCR and here’s the result we got.

First, the drumbeat: close-mics only: CloseOnly

Here’s the same mix, but with the Level Loc signal added: in this case, the Level Loc was amplifying a figure-8 ribbon mic 20 feet from the kit, with the null of the mic facing the kit; the waveform was then re-aligned to eliminate some of the delay: withLevelLoc

And finally, the Level-loc signal only: LevelLocOnly

The Level-Loc is aptly named.  Regardless of what you put in – a baby’s breath or an atomic blast – you get the saaaaame level out.  Zero dynamics.  It’s pretty uncanny.  And a great sound for heavy rock drum beats.  This is the 2nd track that I have used it on in a week and I think it will continue to get a lot of use at the studio.   The output of the balancing amp is a little low – even with the input attenuator all the way open it cannot quite get to full level via the Lynx convertors.  It’s good enough, but it could stand to put out a few more DB.  If you build one of these devices for use with your Level-loc you might consider using a 15K:60K interstage transformer at the input to get a little bit more level out of it; or re-bias the two stages in order to use a 12AT7 instead of the 12AU7.

(Very) Early Electronic Instruments

When you think of ‘early electronic instruments,’ what period comes to mind?  European tape music of the 1950s?  Academic electronic music labs of the 1960s?  How about 1931?

Download a five-page article from Radio News 1931, on ‘The Electrical Future Of Music.’

DOWNLOAD: Radio_News_3107_Electronic_Music

It’s interesting to see her how the focus is primarily on the creation of instruments on which one could perform western tempered music (as opposed to music concrete or noise-music).  Although those more avant garde approaches to electronic music would come soon, this earlier approach – the electronic (as opposed to bellows) organ, the violin-simulating theremin – seems to be what has won out.  Eighty years later, most of us are not usually listening to atonal clusters of carefully organized noise – we’re still mostly listened to very diatonic, 4/4 folk-songs (essentially) performed and presented via wholly electronic means.

Above: the photo-electric organ

Above: the Theremin, still popular today in a variety of musical genres.

Above: an electronic organ built by Westinghouse, 1931.

Above: an electronic Carillion as built by RCA.  The principle employed here is also still very popular today.

Early attempt at acoustic isolation of an instrument for electronic pickup



Today: some excerpts from a piece by C.W. Vadersen as published in the AES journal.  It’s a good thing to remember that early audio technology developed not out of the entertainment industry but from the communications industry: primarily, the telegraph.  As important to us as music and art maybe, the need to communicate is primary (or at least secondary only to the 4 F’s: Feed, Fight, Flight, Sex).

How to we use our senses, and in what proportion? (in Vadersen’s opinon…)

Our interpersonal connections grown exponentially with each new ‘cable’ that we run

The arc of communications technologies circa 1962.  It’s almost impossible to wrap the mind around the growth we’ve seen since then.  How far down on this list would ‘Blog’ appear?

information and ideas about audio history