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Above: an unpublished photo from the collection of David Hall, courtesy T. Fine.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

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11 Responses to Magnecord Tape Machines used for early stereo experimentation

  1. Carl says:

    What a great photo! So, Fairchild recorders were originally used. Wonder why, in the change to 3-track, they moved to Ampex. Didn’t Fairchild offer half-inch?

  2. Tom Fine says:

    Carl, Fairchild never (to my knowledge) built multi-channel tape recorders. The Fine Sound (later Fine Recording) truck was outfitted with Fairchilds when it was built in 1951 because it was originally built as a sound-for-picture mobile recording unit, to be used for Jerome Hill’s documentary about Albert Schweitzer. You can learn more about the original configuration of the truck in an edition of The Audio Record (published by Audiotape), which is available at archive.org:
    http://www.archive.org/details/audiorecord4552newyrich
    (the issue in question was published in 1952; this large PDF contains all issues from 1945 into the 50’s)
    The Fairchild machines had facilities for a system called Pic-Sync which sync’d the magnetic tape and the camera. Ampex machines did not have that capability.

    Also, for more details about ye olde vintage recorders, at Archive.org are the Tape Recorder Directory editions published by Audiotape, 1955-61:
    http://www.archive.org/details/AudioDevices-TapeRecorderDirectory1960-1961

    When Mercury Living Presence started making stereo recordings in late 1955, 3-channel Ampex 300’s were used. The mono LPs were still made from the single center microphone, so the Fairchilds were kept in service until they were replaced by Ampex 300 full-track machines in 1958.

    • Carl says:

      So, film-sound was a part of their activities from early on. What is awesome is that they ran full-track alongside 3-track. Wow. I always assumed, after adopting multi-track, they just used the center track for cutting mono masters. That’s two masters to edit for each release. I bet there are a few where the mono edits are a little different than the stereo. Thanks for the links, Tom.

      Fantastic blog – thanks Chris, so much.

      • Bob Olhsson says:

        Film sound and radio advertising constituted the vast majority of any independent recording studio’s business prior to the 1970s.

  3. Tom Fine says:

    Carl, you raise another interesting point. Here’s the reasoning for the separate mono full-track machines and full-track mono master. In the early days of multi-track, there was actually quite a bit of cross-talk, which didn’t really matter for the Mercury way of doing stereo (3 spaced omni-directional mics). But the center track has audible cross-talk from the sides and doesn’t sound “right” compared to a full-track mono fed just from the center mic. I think you could have used the center track from the 35mm magnetic film masters with no problems, but the full-track decks were on the truck and editing notes were based on the score and the take sheets, so it wasn’t a huge deal to do a separate edit for the mono master. Here’s why the mono was so important — mono LPs outsold stereo well after stereo LPs were introduced in 1958. There is an AES Journal article, by John Eargle, when he was in charge of disk mastering for RCA, about the importance of mono compatibility of stereo records. The date? Late 60’s, maybe even 1970. In that article or an earlier one on a similar topic by Eargle, he lists US LP sales broken out mono and stereo. Stereo records did not out-sell mono records until the late-60’s, when retailers made the record companies put one or the other in the racks and of course the companies chose the higher-priced stereo LPs.

  4. the on the photo is “Zounds! What Sounds!”

    Great stuff on this page!!

  5. Chris Tarantino says:

    Since there were two mono machines running, was one mono master used to make the edited final version used to and the other used as a safety?
    This is a great photo – would love to see other similar photos from the era if possible!

  6. Tom Fine says:

    Chris Tarantino — yes, two first-generation tapes were made simultaneously (a practice continued in the stereo era), a set of “A” reels and “B” reels. The “A” reels were edited into master tapes from which LPs were cut. The “B” reels were saved as safeties. All Mercury Living Presence LPs were cut from first-generation masters, which was rare but not unheard of in those days. It became rarer in the stereo era because most companies would mix their multi-track first-generation tapes to a 2-channel “cutting master” and then cut LPs from that. Mercury edited 3-track “A” reels to master tapes, then a “live” 3-2 mix was done with the LPs (and later, CDs) were mastered. — Tom Fine

  7. Analogue Fan says:

    That’s interesting. This means they could synchronise two machines so that they could record two channels simultaneously? And they could get the true stereo on playback without problems with tape speed, the phase etc.?

    Great picture, great site! I’m a fan of analogue recording, too. I live in Russia, and already have got fully working, recently serviced stereo recorder STM 310, the next step is two Magnecord mike preamps, and the last step would be a pair of good 1″ mikes.

  8. cherie says:

    Hello
    In search of assistance. I have a MAGNECORD DMT REEL TO REEL, 2 channel with remote control station (Liberty/UA Tape Duplicating INC.) I am interested in selling. I have done a bit of research and I beleive the 1024 is the twin. Any comments would be very much appreciated and info on approx. value. There is one on Ebay 4,000.00 then one for $159.00. Need help in understanding. Thanks.

    • chris says:

      There is no real market for these machines; the ‘value’ is whatever you can get for it in the timeframe/hassle-level that you are willing to endure. $150 – $400 seems reasonable IMO, but then again I paid $25 for mine. Good luck.

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