1982: The Age Of Digital Audio Begins (REVISED)

Mitsubishi_x800_1980Above: The Mitsubishi X800, an early digital multitrack audio recorder (1980).

What better way to end 70’s month at PS dot com than a to take a quick look forward, from the vantage point of 1982, at the new era of digital audio.  Below: the very-smart John Woram offers an editorial in DB magazine, 1982, on the new age to come.  Although digital multitracking was already widely-used in high-end music production by 1982, that year saw the introduction of the first consumer digital audio playback devices, the CD player.  For the first time, the cycle could be complete: you, as the consumer, could hear exactly (well, speakers and room acoustics notwithstanding) what the producer heard in the mastering suite.  Audio, which had been a chimerical, elusive magnetic or physical/mechanical fluctuation for over 100 years had been successfully reduced to an (at least acceptable) data stream.   Let’s see what Woram had to say…

JohnWoram_DB_Feb1982It’s not an easy thing to imagine the future.  I see this in practice every year with my Visual Semiotics students when I issue an assignment that requires them to re-create a current print advert as it might appear 50 years from now.  The students who manage to do it successfully are able to grasp that both the technology and the aesthetics of the culture will shift, and that these shifts need to be related in some fundamental way.  Of course, they could still end up being very wrong about the particular outcome;  only time will tell.  But a relationship between tools, technique, and form is fundamental to human endeavor.  Woram seems to have very accurately predicted the state of professional audio circa 1995 or so.  It’s now 2013.   Where will be be in twenty years?

Back to that Mitsu’ pictured at the head of the article.  Anecdotal information that I gleaned from engineers I have worked with over the years had somehow created the impression that these machines marked the introduction of widespread digital multitracking, and my admittedly cursory research seemed to confirm that.  T. Fine wrote in to offer a more detailed account based on his ARSC article published in 2008.  Click here to read the complete article entitled THE DAWN OF COMMERCIAL DIGITAL RECORDING.  Fine:

“The first widely-used digital multitrack system was 3M’s,  at first by Warner Brothers’ studios out in California. Ry Cooder’s  “Bop Til You Drop” was the first all-digital rock album, recorded on  the 3M system. Many followed including Ricky Lee Jones’ “Pirates”  and others. Fleetwood Mac did “Tusk” on the 3M recorder, too.  The 3M system was also used by Columbia for classical recordings and  by Deutsche Gramophone. Soundstream was the first AMERICAN digital audio recorder, but not  the first. Denon had them beat by more than 5 years.  All of the early players — Denon, Soundstream and 3M — faded by  the mid-80s. RCA was heavily invested in Soundstream and bought most  of the remaining equipment when the company went out of business. I  don’t know if 3M made 100 total digital recorders. The things cost a  fortune.”

A Few Interesting Mics of the 70s

Shure_SM53_1972Today at PS dot com: 70’s month nears its close with a quick look at some promising but lesser-known mics of the 70s.  If you are using any of these pieces in the studio these days, drop us a line and weigh in.  above: the Shure SM53, a high-end dynamic cardiod that seems to maybe have been Shure’s answer to the RE15?  I’ve been trying to pick one these up on eBay, no luck yet… anyone?

EV_RE15_1975And speaking of the RE15…  after watching the prices slowly rise on eBay for the past year, I finally picked up one of these..  expect some audio clips/shoot-out here soon.  I always ignored these in the past, i figured, I have an RE20, what’s the point…  but I finally had to know.  I recently worked with a contractor/tech from a major live-sound company who had 1/2 the stage mic’d with these things, swears by ’em…  anyway, I am super-curious.  They are apparently very hi-fi with very accurate off-axis response.  More to come…

Turner_TC10_1972While on the subject of dynamic mics…  above, the Turner Model 10 circa 1972.  Those of you who’ve been following PS for a while will know that I am a big fan of obscure Turner models, especially the flagship models like the 510…  I recently bought my second 510 for Gold Coast Recorders and I have to sadly report that it is not as awesome as the example I have had for years… Anyway, the Model 10 seems to have been a replacement for the 500/510 series…  there is a super-rare Model 11 (likely the ‘selected’ hi-fi version of the Model 10) on eBay right now for really cheap…  might be a good purchase for anyone looking for more interesting dynmics mics…

AKG_D124_1972Above, the AKG D190 and D124!  Finally some info on the D124…  these turn up in my old 70s AKG catalogs (most of which you can download here on PS dot com), and I actually use this as the console talkback mic at GCR, but I had not realized that it was the replacement for the D-24.  The D-124 is an amazing little piece of engineering, very nice smooth sound and incredibly small in size.  D-190s are much more common, I tend to see these on CRList quite often.

Shure_SM5_1969Above: Shure SM5 circa 1969.  I love the similar SM7, use it regularly, it seems to have become somewhat of a standard-bearer vocal mic these days…  artists actually ask for it in the studio the same way some will ask for an 87 or 47 or 58….  The SM5 is much less common, no longer made, and consequently extremely expensive.  Are any of y’all using SM5s for music or vocal recording these days?  Thoughts?

Sony_Mics_1969Above: Sony ‘Superscope’ branded C-77, C-37, and C-55 circa 1969.  A C-37 or C-37 Fet is very high on my wish-list…  Never used any of these models.. anyone?

EV_RE55_1969Above: the Electrovoice RE55 is introduced (1969).  Interesting to see that the RE55 was the successor to the 655.  I have a pair of 655 at GCR, very very old pair circa 1950, and wow they sound great.  Fairly high self-noise for a dynamic, but for drum overheads it’s never a problem.  Anyone using the RE55?  Seem pretty uncommon…

AKG_C412_mic_1972Above: The AKG 412 circa 1972.  Seems to be the final evolution of the C12 prior to introduction of the still-standard 414.  Anyone using a 412?  Is it significantly different than a circa 70s 414?

Mechanically-Achieved Audio Time Compression/Expansion

DiagramFrom DB Mag, sometime mid seventies:  a really fascinating discussion of something that I would have guessed was impossible: completely electro-mechanical automated audio time compression/expansion.  As-in: changing the run time of an audio recording without changing the pitch.  The article was written by one Sidney Silver, who was the recording/audio director of the telecom division of the UN.  I feel like this could make an amazing-sounding plug-in if someone took the time to digitally model it.


Here is a June 1958 press announcement for Springer’s device, compete with photograph.  The price in 1955 was $1900 ($14,000 in 2013 dollars) (SOURCE)

FirefoxScreenSnapz001Do any of these ‘Acoustical Time Regulators’ survive?  Anyone ever seen one, or heard this system in operation?

For more information regarding this technology, click here.

Leon Russell’s Direct Box circa 1975

LeonRussell_DI_DB_0675From DB magazine, June 1975: a direct-box that was custom-designed for Leon Russell’s studio.  I am a huge LR fan and once I dig up a 30:600 transformer I am gonna throw one together.  Question for you solid-state guys:   2N3688 is no longer available; is there a ‘preferred’ substitute?  And: 2N3565 seems crazy expensive!  $11!  is there a cheaper sub?

Consoles of the 70s : part 2

Auditronics_Grandson2_1975Above: the Audiotronics Grandson II console circa 1975

Way back in October of 2010 I ran a short piece about some 1970s audio consoles, and now 70s month rolls on with an extensive image gallery of some iconic and some obscure mixing desks from that decade.  I’m a hardware mixer fan; I learned audio production in a studio with a Trident Trimix and my brain often just defaults to finding solutions and working-methods that are faster to do with a real console rather than via a DAW.   I would never give up my Pro Tools, no way… but I honestly can’t imagine giving up the flexibility and endless options that a good-sounding, full-featured console offers.  At Gold Coast Recorders, our Wheatstone SP6 has been going strong for two years now; I’ve had to replace the control room section due to a weird intermittent issue, but I since I had planned ahead and bought a spares-board it was pretty painless.  If you look past the real fetish-brands like API and Neve (great stuff, no doubt) there are a million bargains to be had if you are able to do a little tech work (or pay a decent technician).  I bought both of my SP6s for about $1500, TOTAL, with shipping, and put about 60 hours into arriving at a single great-functioning piece, fully cabled to my patchbays, and with a lifetime worth of spares.  Considering that these SP6s cost around $40,000 each in the mid nineties, this is a pretty great deal.  I guess I’d sum it up this way: if you record bands, if you have the physical room for a console, if you have the patience and/or where-with-all to do some basic troubleshooting, and the board is modular (very important….), I feel like you really can’t go wrong.  Given the outrageous prices of vintage outboard gear on the market today, vintage consoles represent an amazing bargain.  And a potentially amazing headache.  So be careful.

Quad8_2082_Console_1972Above: Quad/eight 2082 console circa 1972

Interface_series_100_mixer_1973Above: Interface Electronics Series 100 console circa 1973

SAIT_Console_Belgium_1973Above: Sait, a Belgium maker, offered this board in ’73

Allen_Heath_248_1973The Allen+Heath 248 portable mixer circa 1973

ADR_Consoles_1973ADR console circa 1973

Auditronics_Grandson_Console_1973The earlier iteration of the Audiotronics Grandson, this one from 1973

API_1604_Console_1974The API 1604 as-seen in 1974, and as still-seen in studios worldwide

Sphere_Alpha_Mixer_1975Sphere was a high-end console-maker that I know almost nothing about; here we see their ALPHA, a compact model from 1975

Interface_104_108_1976In 1976 Interface offered the 104 and 108 series consoles

Trident_1977Above: the Trident range circa ’77.  Apologies for the poor scan, I think I may need to invest in a new scanner.  As I mentioned at the head, I learned on the Trident Trimix, which was a ‘portable’ unit (portable but still around 150lbs!) that was offered a bit later.  I later learned the dark side of the Trimix is that…  aside from the mic inputs, none of it is balanced and the signal-to-noise ratio is very poor.  Which brings up a good point: before investing in one of these things, research the specs.  What I hadn’t known then is that the Trimix was originally conceived of as a live console… designed especially for Queen, if I recall correctly…Anyhow, yes the EQ sounded amazing and the build quality was high but it was far too noisy for modern productions.

SpectraSonics_consoles_1977Above: Spectra Sonics console circa 1977.

Yamaha_PM200_1980The Yamaha PM2000 of 1980, successor to the -“Japa-Neve” PM1000.  And apparently even better?  Weigh in…

Langevin_Consoles_1970The Langevin AM4A of 1970.

Fairchild_portable_Console_1970Here’s an unusual one: The Fairchild Portable Console of 1970, likely one their last pro-audio products.  I have never seen one of these before.  Anyone?

Fairchild_Integra_Console_1968…and not quite the 70s, but…  Fairchild introduces their INTEGRA console, 1968, with the bold notice “No Audio In The Console.”  It’s pretty incredible how ahead of its time Fairchild was.  Anyone ever use an INTEGRA?  Did it sound good/work well?  Bits and bobs from these monsters seem to surface on eBay all the time, but I doubt there is still a complete unit out there.  Anyone?

Fairchild_Integra_Components_1968…and here’s a breakdown of all the aforementioned bits+bobs.

Langevin_AM4A_Console_1968While all of the Fairchild Integras may have been carved up, the Langevin AM4A, certainly the opposite end of the technological spectrum, seems to have fared quite a bit better… I often see these on the market in the $10K range, and I have to admit I have often been tempted…  Can any one tell us how these compare in terms of noise and response to a modern summing mixer?  Anyone using these to mix thru?

Wigend_WAL100_ChannelStrip_1969Wiegand Audio Labs offered their Model 100 channel strip in 1969

Olive_2000_Console_1972Montreal represent!  I KNEW there had to be a Montreal maker of boards in the 70s… and sure enough, we find OLIVE.  Here’s the Olive 2000 circa 1972.  Seems lost-to-history…  anyone?


Much closer to Langevin than Fairchild, here we see the Altec 9300 circa 1970

Studer_189_Console_1972Above: Studer 189 circa 1972.  Just $148,000 (no typo) 2013 dollars! 

SpectraSonics_Consoles_1972Spectra Sonics 1972

Olive_2500_Console_1972Olive also offered a 2500 model in 1972




If any of y’all are actively using any of this stuff, write in and let the world know how they are in terms of sonics, reliability, and general utility.  There is very, very little information online concerning some of these pieces, so you could end up being very helpful to some potential future user of these these machines…

Altec full-line 1976 catalog

Altec_1976_Catalog_Cover70’s months at P S DOT COM continues with a fresh scan of the complete 1976 Altec pro audio catalog, complete with pricelist.  Presented in two parts due to file size.

DOWNLOAD PART 1: Altec_1976_part1

DOWNLOAD PART 2: Altec_1976_part2

Altec_Cinema_1976Above: Altec’s classic Cinema loudspeakers, including (LR) the 1,300lb A2 speaker.

Products covered, with text, specs, and photos, include: Altec 1240B, 1208B, and 1218A ‘Voice of the Theatre’ speaker systems; 1221A stage monitor, 1219B speaker and 1224A Bi Amplifier, Altec A2, A4, A4X, A5X, A7-8, A7-500-8, and A-8 VOTT; Altec 9845A, 9844A, 814A, 849A, 210, 211A, 612C, 614D, 815A, 816A, and 828B speakers; 604-8G, 620-A, 9844, 9845A, 9849-8A, 9849-8D studio speakers, Altec 203B, 311-60, 311-90, 803B, 805B, 1003B, 1005B, 1505B, 32B, 511A, 511E, 31A, 511B, AND 811B horns; Altec 1211A and 1217A column loudspeakers; 417, 418, 421, and 425 musical instrument speaker; plus many many more speakers and speaker components.  We also see the Altec 1220AC mono console, 351C, 1590C, 159B, 1594B, 9440A, 1224A, 1609A amplifiers and 1606A, 1607A, 1608A, and 1611A mixer/amps; Altec 1628A, 1592B, 1599A, and 1589A mixer/preamps; 1603 coupler, 1605A expander, 1612A compressor, 1650 EQ, 9430A digital delay (looks like a lexicon-made unit) and 9880A filter; a load of other bits and bobs, and microphones including the Altec 650, 654, 656, 655, 677, 676, 668, 699, M53, M54, 624, 626, and 687.

Outboard_Altec Altec_VOTT_1976 Altec_Studio_Speakers_1976 altec_Mics

When DIY Gets Sexxxy (SFW)

RadioCraft_cover_0948From RADIO CRAFT 9/1948: plans and schematics to build a vacuum-tube powered KISS METER. In the post-war period of frenetic coupling and reproduction (via Baby Booms), new technology like this was required to ensure optimum conditions of repopulation.  Apparently.  Download a 3-page PDF here:

DOWNLOAD: Kissmeter

meterWe see here the 6J5, long considered to be the most romantic tube.  When two 6J5s love each other very, very much they can combine and create a 6SN7!  HANDS-DOWN WORST JOKE EVER. 

Happy Valentine’s Day!   Schematic below.


Stephens Electronics, maker of the 40-track analog multitrack machine (1973)

Stephens_40_track_1973Commercially-released albums were made on 24-track tape machines for a very long period of time, approximately 1971 – 1995.  Now, before 24-track machines were available there was always the possibility of ping-pong’ing, which can get you 8 solid-sounding tracks on a 4-track machine (and at least 20 on an 8-track) , and at some point in the 70s engineers were able to lockup two 24-track machines to get, I imagine, 46 tracks of audio plus timecode.  But as early as 1973, Stephens Electronics of Burbank offered another solution: a 40-track, 30 IPS 2″ tape machine that still promised 40 – 2oK response.  Users of these machines apparently included Leon Russell and Roy Thomas Baker; can anyone positively confirm any well-known records that were made on the Stephens 40-track?

A helpful dude has made the original Stephens catalog/spec sheet available online; click here to download the PDF (not my link).

Let’s get back to that advert tho…  WTF is going on here?

moodyPensive lady

draggingDrags 132lb tape deck along beach

GreekNonsensical ‘greek’ placeholder copy tells us nothing

headlineHeadline hails the freaks

Aphrodite FowlerThere’s clearly some sort of Venus/Aphrodite metaphor at work here, but what exactly IT ALL MEANS remains a mystery (at left, a painting of Aphrodite by Fowler).  I could find one other similar-period Stephens advert, and it’s a little quirky, but not as bizarre as beach-lady.

Stephens_ad_1974Any of y’all using these machines nowadays?

Many former Stephens users report that the machines compare well to Studer and Ampex in terms of sonics.  They were also designed for utmost mechanical and electronic reliability; designer John Stephens apparently had a background in aerospace engineering.  The machines seem to be few and far between these days, commanding prices well above that of similar vintage Studers.