Resurrecting an Audio Dinosaur

Plus: Martin Audio WPS Line Array
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Steve La Cerra

Steve La Cerra

About two years ago I was visiting my friend and Audio Yoda Tony Ungaro, an outstanding engineer and composer. As I was ready to leave, he said, “Wait, I have something for you…” Tony brought out this Ampex 351 and said, “It’s a channel from an old tape machine. It has a mic input that you can use for a preamp. Play around with it—you’ll figure it out.” Oh yeah.

Off I went on my merry way, already having decided that, even if this thing doesn’t produce any sound, it’s going to live in my rack because it looks awesome. At this point I knew nothing about either the Ampex 350 or 351, so I thought a good start would be to see if it powered up.

I hacked apart a spare IEC power cable, tack-soldered it to the funky power connector, put on a pair of safety glasses, made the sign of the cross and flipped the power switch. The light for the VU meter illuminated, and I held my breath as the tubes started to glow. I had a fire extinguisher nearby—just in case. Holy Fire Bottles Batman, it worked! And nothing exploded.

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Well, the thing has a mic input and a headphone jack (mono, of course), so I dug out a w57 and a pair of cans, plugged them in and turned some knobs. Lo and behold, the 351 passed audio, and had plenty of gain, so it could indeed be used as a microphone preamp.

I next did a quick test run in the studio, connecting an RCA 44BX to the 351 and recording the results. Not too shabby. The Ampex 351 (and the 350) has ridiculous amounts of gain, like on the order of 90 dB—so I could easily use it with a low-output ribbon mic to record the sound of a mouse eating cheddar cheese at 100 yards.

Knowing that the 351 was operational, I began the journey of refurbishing this Beautiful Beast and learned quite a bit in the process. I’ll discuss some of the highlights over the coming months.

Martin Audio WPS Line Array

Martin Audio WPS Line Array

Product of the Month: Martin Audio WPS Line Array

Based on the technology of the company’s MLA series of large-scale touring loudspeakers, the WPS Line Array is a compact 8-inch line array element, and the fourth addition to the company’s Wavefront Precision line array series. Intended for use in applications requiring high output with reduced weight and footprint, the WPS is a three-way passive design with a frequency response ranging from 70 Hz to 18,000 Hz (±3 dB). It can produce a maximum SPL of 133 dB. Each WPS cabinet incorporates two 8-inch LF drivers, four 4-inch midrange drivers, and four 1-inch exit HF compression drivers loaded with a molded horn that spans the entire width of the enclosure, creating a 100-degree horizontal pattern with constant directivity. Vertical coverage is 10 degrees.