Recording innovator John Stephens, founder of Stephens Electronics, passed away at age 76.
As the first 3M 8-tracks came to market, Stephens developed improved record amplifiers and later bought transports from 3M, marketed with his electronics. Eventually, 3M stopped selling transports to Stephens, who began building his own decks. These recorders combined excellent electronics and a clever capstan-less/pinch-roller-less transport. A modular construction allowed creating custom portable decks housed in road cases, and an optional DC supply simplified location work. These were employed on countless live music and location film recordings, including classics such as Robert Altman’s Nashville.
John Stephens, circa mid-1960s; inset: the portable 24-track—a Stephens innovation.
At most, Stephens made only a few hundred decks, ranging from ½-inch 2-tracks to 2-inch 40-tracks — another first. A good number of these machines remain in service today and are considered by many to be among the finest-sounding recorders ever made. Stephens’ legacy lives on in the tools he built and the multitude of great performances recorded on these machines.