What is an audio engineer? c. 1961

From an AES journal circa 1961.  It’s interesting to see how the meaning of ‘audio engineer’ has shifted over the past half century.  An ‘Audio Engineer’ circa 1961 would almost certainly be called a ‘tech’ or a ‘broadcast engineer’ today, while the circa ’61 ‘audio technician’ would almost certainly be called an engineer or mixer today.  

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Lang Audio of the 1960s

Download the six-page circa 1965 Lang Specialized Audio Equipment Catalog:

DOWNLOAD: Lang_Audio_Electronics_catalog

Products covered, with photos and text description, include: Lang LRP-1B tape recorder electronics (for Ampex 300 generation machines), LTP-1A tape playback amp, LRA-1C record/playback amp, LMX-4 and LMX-5 broadcast consoles, LMP-1 stereo portable mixer, Record Stereo Mixer, LMX-2 mixer, LPM-2 portable mixer, PEQ-2 and PEQ-3 equalizers, Lang Sync Panel, Disc Recording Equalizer, plus many more accessories.

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Lang was known primarily for the various upgrades and support equipment that they manufactured for Ampex tape machines.  As shown above, they also offered solid-state equalizer that appear similar in function to the popular Pultec units of the era.  There are also several models of audio mixers on offer, a few of which were available as early as 1961.

Above: the Lang ‘compact’ mono mixer.  Advert circa 1961.  Looks very similar to my later stereo Gately mixing system , which I spent $250 and several hours on…and i still can’t figure out what the hell i’m gonna use it for.

Above: the Lang Raecord portable stereo (of a sort…) mixer, also introduced circa 1961.    Seems pretty scarce.

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Fairchild Kit Of The Early 1960s

Above: the Fairchild 661 Auto-ten (a noise gate, apparently), 740 Lathe, 602 and 600 Conax (de-essers, apparently), 670 stereo limiter, 663 Compact console channel compressor, and 666 compressor, which wants you to know that it is emphatically NOT a vari-mu compressor.

Today on PS dot com: some pro audio gear from NYC’s legendary Fairchild Recording Equipment Corporation.  This post will strictly be a scan of marketing materials from the era, as I have never used or serviced any of these pieces (other than a 670 clone).   A PS Dot Com reader alerted me to the fascinating story of Sherman Fairchild, the man behind the corporation that brought the world this very advanced audio technology: you will not be surprised to learn that he had roots in the aviation industry and a key connection to IBM.  See the comments section or click here to learn more.

this gets a little lengthy so click below to READ ON…

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Here’s those EQs and Compressors you asked for. Now go F’ yrself.

Above: 12×3 Audiofax mixing desk circa 1961.

I was reading a 1961 AES journal when I came across this piece by Phillip Erhorn of Audiofax associates in which he details “New trends in stereo recording consoles.”  Erhorn will let you have your channel EQs and compressors, but only very begrudgingly.

Here’s Erhorn describing how he feels the trend for extensive channel EQ developed:

I mean, yeah, I agree, many condenser mics are hyped in the high end.  But why the hostility, buddy?  Oh and about all those channel compressors?

Remember what I said a few posts back about The Pre Rock Era?  How long did it take for our culture to shake off the idea that ‘verisimilitude to an actual acoustic event is the fundamental function of audio’?   I’ll remind you that in only about 3 years’ time, EMI staff engineers would be pushing their modded’ Altec compressors hard to get the sounds that helped create the Beatles’ success.  Oh the times they are a’changing.

Let’s get back to those swell-looking Audifax consoles tho…

Above, the same 12×3 desk, inside and out.  What a work of art this thing is! Someday. I . Will. Build. My. Own. Console.

Another Audiofax console. 

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I am going to take a bit of a left turn here. Not exactly like Jung’s Left Hand Path but…  Let’s get back to the hostility towards this new idea of audio-as-sound-modification-technology (as opposed to documentation-technology) that we read in the passages above.  Erhorn was/is obvs a very talented man who cared deeply about music or he would not have gained the skills/drive to construct the intricate pieces we see above.  So his views can’t just be written off.  Which begs the question:  If Erhorn’s views as an accomplished audio professional were, in 1961, slated for imminent obsolescence, then which of our current paradigms are headed for the dustbin? I don’t think the answer has anything to do with fidelity or even any particular kind of recording technology, necessarily.  In 1961, the history of audio trends was simply an upward vector.  Higher fidelity was ‘better.’  Frequency response and distortion % was always getting ‘better.’  Progress towards increased fidelity was the paradigm, and any deviation from this progress (such as the need to ‘EQ’ a mic to achieve a supposed marketing prerogative or the need to compress a loud, ‘music-less’ but sale-able band of youths) was bad, right?

Well, the ‘fidelity problem’ was pretty much solved by the late 1970s… the high-end of professional and consumer equipment available at that time is as close-to-perfect, in terms of sheer audio performance, as any user is likely to need.  Which is why the manufacturers turned towards the convenience problem instead.   This brought us the Walkman, the CD, and ultimately, the MP3.   So with the ‘fidelity problem’ solved, and all of our attention now collectively focused on the ‘convenience problem,’ we abandonded the paradigm of the upward vector of fidelity and instead enter an age of fidelity-trends.  High-fidelity sounds are in vogue for a while; and them low-fi and distorted sounds become popular.  We then tire of the low-fi and artists start making slick-sounding records again.  Etc., etc.  Now, there are real moments in the culture that precipitate each of these shifts, but the pattern seems likely to keep repeating.  The point is: neither hi-fi nor low-fi are going anywhere.  We now have a plurality of acceptable approaches to the generation of recorded musical performances.  So what’s to obselecse then?  Which viewpoint is about to become hopelessly outdated?

It’s my current feeling that the answer has something to do with copyright, ownership, and fair use.  Not fidelity, not any particular recording technology, but copyright and the idea of what kind of ‘use’ of existing recorded materials constitutes a valid new work.  I really get the sense from younger artists, as well as my students, that existing recordings — audio-masters made and paid for by other people — are fair game for use in their own productions: no credit or compensation necessary. Of course ‘sampling’ occurred in hip hop for ten years before rap artists had to start paying fees to use recognizable samples in their tracks, but I am more talking about the newer trend of simply lifting an obscure existing song, performing some tweaks on it, and calling it your own production.  And maybe it is!  Who is to say, really.  And that’s kind of the point I am trying to make.  If you are a young contemporary musician, what is the material that you work with?  What are the compositional elements that you are concerned with?  It is the notes E2 – E6 on an electric guitar?  Or is anything and everything that you can download for free from the internet?  If you want some concrete examples of the kind of music that I am talking about, check out this thread on Hipster Runoff.   If you are unfamiliar with HRO, the tone might take a little getting used-to, but the musical examples that the author presents are very valid.  Listen to the tracks.  Be aware that these are some of the most popular, most relevant rock-music acts in the world today.  And ask yrself:  how do you feel about this?  Can you accept the paradigm shift that is emerging?  Can you appreciate that this paradigm shift is taking place at the precise moment that the economic base of the century-old Recording Industry is almost fully collapsed?  And while you are pondering that, recall the Marxist relation between base and superstructure, this idea that economic conditions necessarily construct cultural conditions?

Here’s those free music-production apps you asked for.  Now go… make some music.

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The Norelco/Phillips EL 6911 Studio Echo Machine c.1961

Good lord take a look at this thing.  The Phillips EL 6911 echo machine.  Distributed in the US by Norelco, who also distro’d AKG mics in the 1960s.  You can find much more information on this monster at this website.  These still turn up on eBay from time to time. 

 

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AKG Studio Microphones Circa 1962

The AKG C-24 stereo condenser mic.  Yes please.  I think if I added up all the time i have spent mounting my Neumann TLM 103s on their X/Y mount I would i run out and buy one of these.   Oh wait!  I don’t have $12,000!  Nevermind!  Anyone have a strong reco for an affordable XY mic that will put the TLM 103s back in their cases for good?

Above, and above: the AKG C 60.  I’ve never used one of these.  Nice-looking example on eBay right now for $850.

The AKG D19.  I own one of these, and I have used it on a few tracks…nice for low-fi-ish hard-strumming steel-string acoustic gtr.   Based on my experience, I feel like the stated claim of 40-16k hz response is extremely optimistic.  The D19 shows up in a few places in music history: most notably as one of the go-to mics at Abbey Road during the Beatles early sessions.  It also shows up in this Elvis/Martina McBride video (see here) wherein Martina duets with The KingI was working at SONYMUSIC when this video was produced, and I couldn’t help but wonder… in the original ’68 Comeback special, Elvis is using an EV RE15... which looks an awful lot like a D19… Martina’s husband/engineer John McBride is one the biggest Beatles fans in the world…  antique microphone conspiracy theories, take one.

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The AKG D24 Dynamic mic.  Anyone?

Previous vintage AKG microphone coverage on Preservation Sound:

AKG mics of 1954

AKG mics of 1981

AKG mics of 1965

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This month at PS Dot Com: Pro Audio Equipment of the early 1960s

I do not trust you, microphone.  Yet.  

The next few weeks at Preservation Sound: we bring you: in no particular order: some of the state-of-the-art in studio recording equipment of the early 1960s.  A period that I like to refer to as the ‘pre-rock-era.’  As-in, Rock And Roll existed, but Rock?  That was at least one Ed Sullivan show/protest song/freedom march/long haircut/draft card/Godard film away.  Also of note: the period 1960-1963 was also the end-of-the-line of the first Golden Age of vacuum tube audio development.  Although new valves and valve-operated products were still being introduced, it was only a short while before Solid State became the defacto state-of-the-art.

Enjoy the material, and as always… if any of y’all are using this kit in the studio these days, drop us a line and let us know…

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Mics of ’56

Above: Belden 8411, 8422, and 8412 microphone cable.  I still use Belden 9451 for most studio hard-wiring tasks, although I have to admit that I am very devoted to Canare StarQuad for actual mic cables.  Anyone out there prefer Belden mic cable to the Canare?

Above: The Altec 680A omni dynamic.  This one looks very strange.  I am very curious to know what it sounds like.  Anyone?

The Altec M20 condensor microphone.  These seem to still be is use in studios.  I hope I turn up one of them soon…  folks seem to like them a lot.

 

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Audio Manipulation Technologies c. 1956: Radio SFX

From Radio And Television News, 2/56: a short article concerning the creation of sound effects for use in radio commercials, AKA., radio ‘spots.’  The focus here is on creating special-effects (pitch shifting, echo, filter effects, etc) through direct physical manipulation of the tape-recorder (as opposed to utilizing additional outboard equipment).

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Fine Recording Inc: Pioneers in High-Fidelity Studio Recording: UPDATED – 4

C. Robert Fine and Wilma Cozart Fine c.1961 (Source: T. Fine)

Today at Preservation Sound dot com we are pleased to present a special guest: T. Fine, son of high-fidelity recording pioneers C.R Fine and W.C. Fine.  The elder Fines were active studio owners/engineers in the early days of stereophonic LP recording and their efforts brought the world one of the most successful series of LPs ever manufactured: Mercury Records’ Living Presence series (click here for a contemporary reissue of much of this material). 

The younger Mr. Fine presents a history of Fine Recording, INC., the studios, and the equipment that was used; he has also generously provided PS Dot Com with some previously unavailable images of the operation.  We’ll begin with a five-page article from Popular Science (1967) which documents a recording session at Fine Recording, INC.

Click here to read the original article at Popular Science Dot Com

(image source: Popular Science, August 1967)

T. Fine: ” Fine Recording Inc. (h.f. FRI) was a production complex that eventually encompassed four studios, extensive disk-mastering operations, and Walter Sear’s Moog laboratory.  FRI was located in the Great Northern Hotel on 57th Street in Manhattan.

The Great Northern Hotel, Home of FRI., as it appeared in the 1950s (SOURCE: T. Fine)

“The building was torn down in the 80’s and the Parker Meridian Hotel is on the site now. The studio began operation in 1957, first doing mixing and disk mastering while the hotel’s former Ballroom was transformed into a recording space.

Above: The ballroom of the Great Northern Hotel c. 1900, later to become Fine Recording Studio A. The Tiffany glass ceiling remained throughout. (SOURCE: T. Fine)

“In the summer of 1958, the first recording sessions took place in Ballroom Studio A, and continued almost daily until 1971. Studio B, which was located in what had been the ballroom’s service kitchen, was used for small-group sessions, voice-over recording, transcription services and other purposes not requiring a large recording room.

Fine Recording, INC rate-card c. 1959.  In today’s currency: multiply by 11.  (SOURCE: T. Fine)

“A growing sound-for-film business required a film-specialized space, and Studio C was built in 1959, in the suite of rooms on the top floor where conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos had lived. A few years later, the adjoining suite became available, and Studio D was built as a second sound-for-picture studio. Studio C and D shared a film-machine room and both were equipped for 35mm and 16mm synchronized picture and sound work.  The disk-mastering suite, also on the penthouse level, had stereo and mono mastering rooms.

In the late 60’s, Walter Sear had a studio/Moog synthesizer production lab on the 12th floor. Sear was Walter Moog’s NYC regional representative and he provided Moog effects exclusively to Fine Recording clients. After the success of Walter (later Wendy) Carlos’s Moog album, “Switched On Bach” (Columbia), other artists quickly jumped on the Moog bandwagon. Among them were Dick Hyman and Richard Hayman, who recorded several Moog-centric albums for Command. (Ed. note: click here for an excellent  Moog cut from Hyman). Walter Sear did the Moog programming and some of the engineering on those albums, and also recorded his own Moog album for Command, “The Copper Plated Integrated Circuit.”

From the early 1960’s until the end of operations, there was a large tape-duplicating operation in the basement.  Duplicating was originally set up for quarter-track, full-track and 2-track reels, but Fine Recording was also one of the first east coast facilities to duplicate 4-track “Muntz” cartridges, 8-track Lear cartridges and the Philips Compact Cassette.

The studio ceased operation and was sold to Reeves Cinetel in 1971.

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As for equipment: Studio A started out with a Gates Dualux mixing console, which was modified heavily over the years. By 1960, a center-channel buss had been built, and facilities for echo send and return were present from the get-go. The version pictured in the PopSci article (see above – ed.) shows the full extent of the modifications.

Above: the 1960 Gates Dualux console, a slighter later version than installed at FRI.  The Dualux at FRI used 5879 tubes in the mic preamps rather than EF86.  Click here to DL schematics for the Gates 5879 preamps: Gates-M5215_preamp.   Click here to download data on the Gates Dualux: Gates_Dualux_1960

“Fine Recording did not use the Gates Console’s line amps.  Instead the console outputs went through Altec 322C Limiter Amplifiers, which were set to a fixed gain (click here to DL the Altec 322C schematic: Altec-322C)). If you wanted a clean, linear signal (IE., no compression), you just used the console channels conservatively. If you drove the channels beyond a certain level, you’d hit the threshold of the limiter/compressor. This is how the “Command Sound” was achieved, characterized by  bright up-front horns and crunched drum set, but retaining dynamics and punch in the percussion.  (ed. note: ‘Command’ was a prominent record label in the 1960s. For an example of the typical Command sound, click here)

Regarding the session depicted in the Popular Science article: it is of special interest because the master medium was 35mm magnetic film, not tape. The article covers the process from session to mastering to pressing plant. The record in question was one of Enoch Light’s early releases on his Project 3 label (Light started that label after he left Command Records in 1966).

(image source: Popular Science 8/67)

“In 1969, Studio A was rebuilt.  The new Audio Designs & Manufacturing (ADM) console installed was, at the time, among the largest desks outside of Hollywood.

Above: The Fine ADM Console. (SOURCE: T. Fine)

“It featured early assign-automation featuring a patented system. Studio A was originally mono and 2-track.  It later evolved to mono and 3-track, and the 1969 build was for 16-track recording and also 6-track monitoring and mixing for films.

Studio B started out with an RCA console from the former Fine Sound studio on 5th Avenue. This desk had been rebuilt for 3-channel in the mid-50’s (it was based on 3 separate mixers of 4 inputs each, with 3 echo sends and returns). In 1967, Studio B was rebuilt for 8-track, with a new ADM mixing desk. In those days, engineers like to monitor all the tape tracks, but using 8 Altec 604 monitors was not practical. Fine Recording contacted JBL and the famous JBL model #4310 three-way monitor (which was also sold by the thousands as a home-stereo speaker, the Century L-100) was born.  (click here to download further information regarding the JBL/ FRI connection).  Studio B later evolved to a 12-track (a short-lived 1? tape format made by Scully), and then 16-track.

Studio C, the first film-mixing room, had a 1940’s vintage Western Electric/MGM all-passive console, also originally installed at Fine Sound on 5th Avenue. The console took line-level from the machine room and its output was down to about mic level, so Altec amplifier/compressors were used to get back the gain and control peak modulation. Hundreds of films, TV commercials, and special productions were mixed on this console over the years. It later lived at Sear Sound and is now owned by the Museum of Sound Recording group. Studio D’s console was the first all-transistor board at the studio, built in 1966 out of early ADM modules by studio chief engineer Bob Eberenz.

Monitoring was done on Altec A7’s powered by McIntosh amps. Studio B eventually ended up with 8 JBL 4310 speakers powered by smaller McIntosh amps. Tape machines were generally Ampex, but there were Scully 8-tracks and 12-tracks in Studio B for a while.  Mics included a bunch of U-47’s, a bunch of RCA ribbon mics (mainly 44BX and 77DX), some EV 666 dynamics, Church mics acquired from Everest, Schoeps M201’s (used on the Mercury Living Presence recordings, and in the studio),  and a few other types here and there. There were Pultec equalizers all over the place. Also, there were many special-purpose effects devices and modifications to “stock” pieces in order to gain various sounds and effects desired by clients.

From Popular Science 8/67: The mics of Fine Recording.  Evidently there was some editorial confusion regarding microphone-type classification.

“The cutting lathes were Scully, with customized Westrex heads. Stereo cutting amps were McIntosh 200W, capable of 1kW clean peak power! Mono cutting amps were Westrex. Most of the equipment in the duplicating operation was customized or modified.

R. Fine at the Lathe, c. 1959 (SOURCE: T. Fine)

“In 1960, Fine Recording acquired the defunct Everest recording studio in Bayside Queens (see image at head of this article – ed.). This was operated as a separate studio for several years. The Everest studio had a custom Westrex console and was designed for 3-channel 35mm mag-film recording. Eventually, the Bayside location was shut down and the equipment integrated into the Manhattan facility. The old Westrex console sat in a store room and was eventually tossed; think of the value of those components today! (UPDATE: we’ve added detailed information about the Fine Bayside location at the end of this article.  Click here and scroll down to read more). 

The principle players at Fine Recording were owner/president C. Robert Fine, VP and head of mastering George Piros, VP and chief technical engineer Bob Eberenz. Notable recording engineers who worked at the studio over the years included Fred Christie (later of MediaSound), Russ Hamm (Sear Sound, Gotham Audio), Walter Sear (Sear Sound), John Quinn (The Mix Place), Kenny Fredrickson (The Mix Place) and Gerry Block (Sigma Sound Studios NYC). Projectionists, machine room techs and various other employees also had long careers around the NYC studio scene.

Along with owning and running the studio, Bob Fine owned a recording truck, used primarilly to make the Mercury Living Presence classical recordings. His wife, Wilma Cozart Fine, was the VP of classical music at Mercury Records until she retired in 1964 to raise their family. Bob Fine was also an inventor, receiving ten U.S. patents. After Fine Recording, Bob Fine worked for Reeves Telecine until 1974, and then worked as a consultant and studio designer. Fine designed, oversaw the building of, and initially ran the Armstrong Audio/Video complex in Melbourne Australia (later AAV Australia). He later worked at The Mix Place in NYC. Bob Fine passed in 1982. Wilma Cozart Fine returned to the music business in the 1990’s, remastering more than 100 Mercury Living Presence albums for CD release. Wilma Fine passed in 2009.”

Follow the link below for a list of some noteable albums recorded at Fine Recording INC.   And for an excellent + thorough interview of Bob Fine by Bert Whyte, click here to download:  Audio-681_Fine_Recording.pdf

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