A year ago, the Mix Foundation for Excellence in Audio, which produces the annual Technical Excellence & Creativity Awards, announced the TECnology Hall of Fame. It debuted by honoring 25 innovations that shaped the course of pro audio during the past 125 years. The task of selecting so few from audio’s vast heritage was difficult, yet with the help of an elite committee of 50 industry leaders, we settled on the first 25 inductees, available at www.mixonline.com/TEC20.
This year, we’ve added 15 more honorees from 1913 to 1995. To keep these in historical context, inductees must be more than 10 years old, hence the 1995 cutoff. So if your personal fave isn’t included, look again next year; the competition can be fierce. And, as always, your comment/suggestion/corrections are welcome. Drop us a line at [email protected]. Meanwhile, let’s take a step back and explore the roots of pro audio.
Regenerative Feedback (1913), Superheterodyning (1918), FM (1933)
Born December 18, 1890, Edwin Armstrong developed an interest in wireless technology as a teenager. He later entered Columbia University’s Electrical Engineering program, where he investigated practical applications for Lee De Forest’s Audion triode tube. In 1913, in an effort to improve radio reception, Armstrong fed the output of the triode back into its input, a process he called “regenerative feedback.” It greatly amplified the signal and, if enough feedback was applied to the input, it also acted as an oscillator. Armstrong eventually raised the funds to patent the circuit, which became the basis for today’s continuous-wave radio transmitters.
In 1918, he invented superheterodyning, which used the principle of heterodyning (combining two frequencies to create new signals equal to the sum and difference of the original pair), and applied it to radio receivers. Ironically, one of his most notable developments was frequency modulation (FM) in 1933, which didn’t make its mark until decades later. To promote the technology, he built the first FM radio station in 1940, but despite the band’s improved sound, he was unable to convince networks and broadcasters to support FM. After years of legal battles and despondence over FM’s lack of success, he committed suicide in 1954.
WESTERN ELECTRIC/BELL LABS
Electrical Recording (1925)
No technology breakthrough in audio recording created such a stir as the development of the electrical recording process. Essentially, this revolution marked the demise of acoustic recording, whereby audio signals entered a sound horn pointed at the source and sound waves within the horn vibrated a diaphragm attached to a needle that etched a groove in the wax record master. In the early 1920s, the threat of competition from the fledgling radio industry sent record companies on a quest to improve disc quality.
Although unveiled in 1925, electrical recording resulted from several successive technologies, ranging from Western Electric engineer Edward C. Wente’s development of the condenser mic in 1916 to the availability of improved carbon mics — such as Western Electric’s venerable model 1B. But the breakthrough came with Henry C. Harrison and Joseph P. Maxfield of Bell Labs, who created a matched-impedance recorder that had a bandwidth of 50 to 6k Hz — greatly improved from acoustic system’s limited 250 to 2.5k Hz range. After paying a $50,000 fee (plus a per-disc royalty), record companies invested in the technology with new names such as Columbia’s “Viva-Tonal” and the Victor Talking Machine Company “Orthophonic” (VE, or Victor Electric) process.
True to form, many critics hated the electrical process, claiming it brought out individual instruments, thus destroying acoustic recording’s smooth ensemble sound; other detractors believed that this new technology sounded harsh and unnatural. (Sound familiar?) Meanwhile, engineers with years of experience working with acoustic horns were faced with a need to know and understand electronics. But along with improved 78 players in the home and other record labels joining the electrical recording revolution, there was no turning back. Within a few years, acoustic recording had completely disappeared and the era of modern recording had arrived.
Bing Crosby (left) and Bob Hope working both sides of an RCA 44B
photo: Courtesy Southern Methodist University archives
HARRY F. OLSON AND LES ANDERSON, RCA
Model 44 Ribbon Microphone (1931)
When engineers Les Anderson and Harry F. Olson joined RCA in 1928, talking motion pictures were the rage, radio was king and sound reinforcement systems were coming into their own. However, mics with any kind of true pattern control were nonexistent. Noting the earlier research of some Siemens engineers on replacing speaker voice coils with a metal ribbon design, the pair applied the ribbon approach to microphones, first with field coils and later with permanent magnets, resulting in the first ribbon mics (the PB-17 and PB-31), which offered the advantage of a bi-directional pickup pattern.
In 1931, the PB-31 was replaced by the 44A, which was enormously successful and highly regarded for its smooth tone and defined pattern control, which not only reduced the effects of reverberation on soundstages, but also offered higher gain-before-feedback in live sound applications. The 44A was updated with improved magnetic material in the 44B/44BX models. RCA also launched the unidirectional 77A/77B models and the multipattern 77C/77D mics. Nearly three-quarters of a century later, all of these RCA ribbon models are still hard-working audio tools prized by engineers worldwide.
604 Duplex Speaker (1944)
Altec Lansing’s famed 604 was not the first Duplex® coaxial speaker; that honor goes to the company’s 1941 model 601, which mounted an HF compression driver onto the back of a 12-inch woofer with a hole cut into the center of the magnet, forming a throat for a small multicell horn in the center of the cone. However, it was Altec Lansing’s model 604 coaxial that created a splash that continues to this day. The 604 was based on a 15-inch woofer with a 3-inch voice coil within an Alnico V permanent magnet, combined with a large HF driver and a six-cell horn. The 604 was capable of a then-impressive 30 watts of power handling, but due to its high efficiency, wide bandwidth and point-source imaging, it was soon adopted as a standard monitor in studios.
Altec continued improving the 604 through the years, and the drivers have been used in numerous variants, either in stock “utility” cabinets, custom enclosures, modified third-party designs (Big Reds) or with an alternate crossover such as Doug Sax’s Mastering Labs model. The affinity for the 604 may have waned in the studio, but it later regained popularity as the basis for UREI’s 811/813/815 monitors.
Pultec EQP-1 Program Equalizer (1951)
Pultec founders Gene Shank and Ollie Summerland unveiled the first passive program EQ in 1951. This EQP-1 was based on filter circuits licensed from Western Electric and sounded great, but suffered the gain insertion losses typical of any passive filter, so the duo upgraded their original unit to the EQP-1A, which followed the EQ section with a gain makeup stage using a push-pull design with 12AU7, 12AX7 and 6X4 vacuum tubes. Designed for broad equalization of program material, the EQP-1A had four low boost/cut frequencies, three high-cut frequencies and a choice of seven HF boost points, along with a bandwidth control for shaping the high boost curve.
Like many boutique entrepreneurs, Shank and Summerland built every unit to order by hand in their true two-man operation. Other Pultec units included the EQ-H2 high-frequency equalizer, the MEQ-5 mid-band EQ and the EQP-1A3 (an EQP-1A in a two-rackspace chassis), as well as solid-state versions, which had silver-face front panels. The company folded decades ago, but its spirit lives on in products such as Manley Lab’s Enhanced Pultec EQP-1A, an updated version with improved sonic performance.
GEORG NEUMANN COMPANY
48-Volt Phantom Power (1966)
Phantom power is nothing new; in fact, the concept hails back to the early days of telegraph and telephone technology when it was discovered that low voltages for carbon mics, ringers and buzzers could be run down a two-conductor signal line. Originally, there was no need for phantom power in the audio industry, where the choice was dynamic or ribbon mics (which require no powering) or tube mics, which typically draw high currents that are inappropriate for phantom powering. With the advent of transistor-based condensers, the alternative to an external power supply was battery powering or the 12-volt AB power system (sometimes called T-powering) developed by Hamburg’s NWDR Labs.
Neumann’s first mic with AB powering was the 1965 KTM, but the company’s engineers were not impressed with the 12V system. In 1966, Neumann launched the renowned 48V powered KM 83/84/85 condensers (now the KM 183/184/185 line), and with no voltage potential between the two conductors — hence the name “phantom” — the system could withstand shorts, polarity reverses and connection to dynamic mics without damage. The KM 80 Series mics were a hit, the 48V standard was adopted throughout the industry and, today, 48V phantom power makes life a little easier for thousands of audio engineers.
ITI ME-230 Parametric Equalizer (1969)
With so many tools available at our fingertips, it’s hard to imagine a time before parametric equalizers existed, but we have George Massenburg to thank for this development. In 1967, Massenburg was using a prototype sweepable EQ designed by his friend Bob Meushaw. The unit had noisy early op amps and an odd interface, but offered advantages over the graphics, program EQs and filters available at the time. Two years later, Massenburg wanted to create a more elegant interface on a 3-band equalizer (with independent control of gain, Q and frequency for each band) for a console he was designing for ITI. Only one ITI board was ever built (it’s currently at the bottom of the Baltimore Harbor), but the ME-230 parametric EQ it featured was shown at AES in 1971.
It was somewhat crude, and many of the components (particularly op amps) were hardly up to today’s standards, but the parametric equalizer was finally born, and Massenburg presented his findings on parametrics in an AES presentation a year later. Massenburg never patented the circuit or trademarked his term “parametric,” but continues to build (much improved!) parametric EQs sold through George Massenburg Labs.
Moog Music Minimoog Synthesizer (1970)
Even though his name is nearly synonymous with synthesizers, Bob Moog didn’t invent the instrument. In fact, his Minimoog wasn’t even his first creation or the most powerful. But the Minimoog found its way into the studio, where session players wanted a compact synth to use on dates. Sensing a new market, Moog took the most requested modules from his large modular systems and put them into an easy-to-use package that didn’t require patch cords or programming knowledge. It was unveiled at AES in 1970 and priced at $1,200.
The pro community saw the Minimoog as an audio tool, but the response at NAMM from music dealers was less rosy, especially in an era when synths simply weren’t sold in music stores. But with time, sales took off, and by 1980, when production was halted, more than 12,000 Minimoogs had been sold, although Moog had sold his interest in the company by then. Years later, Moog bought the company back, and today, Moog Music offers keyboard and rackmount versions of the Minimoog (now updated with MIDI, preset memories and more), but its thick, chunky, phat, classic sound remains faithful to the original.
Signal flow in a Dolby Stereo system
Dolby Stereo Theater Sound (1976)
The roots of multichannel theater sound hail back to Disney’s Fantasia, which, in 1940, appeared in certain theaters with a “steered” 3-channel optical track played by a truckload of equipment. After World War II, interest in stereo films increased, and in 1953, The Robe, the first CinemaScope film, featured four tracks of stereo sound on magnetically striped film stock. This single-system approach simplified the presentation, but stereo film releases were rare, as mag-striped prints were fragile and expensive and distributors had to maintain inventories of mono and stereo prints.
Everything changed in 1976 with A Star Is Born, the first film released with a Dolby Stereo soundtrack. The format used phase matrixing to store four channels (left/right/center/surround) onto a 2-channel format, which, in this case, was two closely spaced optical tracks on a standard 35mm film. The beauty of the system was compatibility: A 35mm Dolby Stereo film could be played anywhere, whether in a non-Dolby mono drive-in or in a theater upgraded with Dolby cinema decoders and a 4-channel playback system. And, with no appreciable cost increase in manufacturing stereo prints, film studios were receptive to the idea. By 1977, the success of blockbusters such as Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind helped push exhibitors into upgrading to the new format. Interestingly, the tens of thousands of Dolby Stereo tracks encoded onto Beta/VHS HiFi video releases laid the groundwork for a revolution in home theater, fueled by the arrival of Dolby Pro Logic — equipped stereo components in the years to come.
Today, movie prints with digital sounds have Dolby Stereo analog soundtracks for backup and compatibility with all cinemas. Dolby Surround is also used on nearly every TV surround broadcast.
ATR-102 Mastering Recorder (1976)
Unveiled nearly 30 years ago at AES in 1976, the Ampex ATR-102 (the 2-channel version of the company’s ATR-100 Series recorders) is still considered by many to be the best mastering deck ever built. Unfortunately, it wasn’t always that way. Early units were sometimes erratic and unreliable due to some substandard assembly line work and uneven quality of parts from outside suppliers. But after a few years of such growing pains, the ATR-102 emerged as a favorite of studios and broadcasters alike.
Created by Ampex hardware engineers, the ATR Series incorporated advanced aerospace techniques with clever design details. The transport’s gentle pinchrollerless design with capstan and reel motors under servo control provided smooth, continuous tension and tape handling, with almost nonexistent speed drift and extremely low flutter due to the large capstan. A unique plug-in head block let users change heads/guides in a matter of minutes, while its layout and convenient thumbwheel made for fast, easy editing. In all, some 3,000 machines (mono, stereo and multitrack) were made until the series was discontinued in 1982, but ATR-100s are still quite alive thanks to parts, service and even new designs (such as the 2-inch 8-track and 1-inch 2-track) from ATR Services Inc.
Kim Ryrie shows lightpen control of the CMI
CMI (Computer Musical Instrument) (1979)
Fairlight was founded in 1975 by Kim Ryrie and Peter Vogel, who were interested in using the newly available microprocessors to create digitally controlled synthesizers. Fairlight began shipping its revolutionary Series I CMI (Computer Musical Instrument) in 1979, with the first two units going to Peter Gabriel and Stevie Wonder.
Based on two 6800 processors, the CMI provided digital synthesis with a 6-octave keyboard, 8-note polyphony, two 8-inch floppy disk drives (one for the operating system, the other for archiving/library storage of sounds) and a whopping 208 KB of RAM. The system offered onscreen displays of waveforms, which could be modified via Fourier synthesis or simple light-pen redrawing of the waveform.
It also offered sampling, with the ability to pitch-shift sounds or make modifications via the CMI processor. An onboard sequencer stored note velocity information, and up to eight 8-bit audio outs were available for routing to a mixer or multitrack. Things can (and will) change over time. Now celebrating its 30th anniversary, the company’s latest generation of digital consoles integrate for 24-bit/96kHz DAWs and are based on a 240-channel, 72-bus QDC engine.
ROGER LINN, LINN ELECTRONICS
LM-1 Drum Computer (1979)
It isn’t often that an inventor creates a musical instrument that almost overnight changes the course of popular music, but Roger Linn is one such innovator. The concept of the drum machine wasn’t exactly new: Kimball received the first auto accompaniment patent decades before and Roland had its first drum box back in the 1960s. However, Linn’s LM-1 Drum Computer was the first programmable drum machine with realistic sampled drums and was an instant success among recording pros — even at a retail of $4,995.
Roger Linn in 1982, with the LinnDrum
The LM-1 had 18 8-bit/28kHz drum sounds but no cymbal samples because of the huge memory requirements of long sounds. Only some 500 units were sold — seemingly all to producers and composers who previously hired session players — putting studio drummers on the endangered species list. Suddenly, jobs sprang up for drum machine “programmers.” In 1982, the LM-1 was replaced by the LinnDrum, a lower-cost (only $3,000!) unit that added cymbal sounds, live drum trigger inputs and sounds that could be interchanged by swapping socketed internal ROM chips. But either way — LM-1 or LinnDrum — pop music would never be the same. In his post-LinnDrum life, Linn created Akai’s MPC Series and now operates Roger Linn Design, makers of the AdrenaLinn beat-synched multi-effects processor.
DAVE SMITH, SEQUENTIAL CIRCUITS
MIDI Specification (1983)
The Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) had its origins when Sequential Circuits’ founder (and designer of the Prophet-5, the first fully programmable polyphonic synth) Dave Smith presented a 1981 AES paper for a Universal Synthesizer Interface (USI) based on his meetings with Tom Oberheim and Roland’s Ikutaro Kakehashi. USI proposed a common note-on/off communications protocol between electronic instruments from different manufacturers. In a rare example of insight and cooperation, U.S. and overseas companies began working together to refine USI into the more powerful MIDI standard. MIDI was first publicly demonstrated at Winter NAMM 1983, when a Prophet-600 was connected to a Roland JP-6.
Dave Smith (R) demos MIDI at Winter NAMM, 1983
As computers became affordable and more powerful, MIDI became a staple in studios, along with growing racks of synths, drum machines, sequencers and samplers, with control rooms expanded to house all of this gear. During the years, the original MIDI spec was enhanced with features such as MIDI Sample Dump, MIDI Time Code, MIDI Show Control, MIDI Machine Control and General MIDI, as well as incorporating MIDI sequencing into the DAW environment. Smith later joined the development team on Reality — the first professional soft synth — and, more recently, started Dave Smith Instruments to design new, enhanced analog synths such as the Poly Evolver Keyboard.
System One (1985)
In 1984, four former Tektronix engineers formed Audio Precision with the intent of becoming “the quality leader in the audio test equipment market.” Armed with decades of experience in designing audio test gear, the group set out to accomplish that task. A year later, the company unveiled its System One, which was three to 10 times faster than other systems on the market, while setting new performance standards with residual distortion and noise specs that could handle the CD players and 16-bit digital products that had just come to market.
One of the first PC-based instruments, System One combined dedicated hardware with software that simplified the creation of automated test procedures, which was ideal in manufacturing environments where non-technical users often run quality control tests. Within a few years, the System One was accepted as the standard in consumer and pro audio, but the company continued to refine the product with software updates and new hardware platforms that added DSP (FFT analysis, waveform displays, etc.), digital domain testing and full 192kHz measurements. In 20 years, more than 10,000 Audio Precision systems have been sold and thousands of the original System Ones remain in operation worldwide.
02R Digital Console (1995)
At the APRS (UK studio) show in 1995, Yamaha unveiled its less-than-$10,000 02R 20-bit 8-bus console, offering 24 analog inputs and 16 digital tape returns for a total of 40 inputs in remix. To say this product was a “hit” would be an understatement: “Revolution” would be a far more accurate term. In addition to providing digital domain mixing, the 02R offered moving faders; instantaneous reset of all console parameters; limiter/compressor/gate on every channel and output bus; programmable 4-band, true parametric EQs; four I/O card slots accommodating ADAT, DA-88, S/PDIF and AES/EBU signals; and two SPX-quality internal effects processors. A slick feature was the ability to create “libraries” of favorite DSP settings, while a central LCD panel showed EQ curves, DSP parameters, console setup/routings, etc.
Perhaps one of the 02R’s coolest features was a simple cascade port on the rear panel, which allowed multiple consoles to be linked for more I/Os, creating a fully loaded 80-input board for less than $20,000. And as the 02R was software-based, later updates added new functionality such as surround mixing.
Eventually, the 02R was replaced by Yamaha’s 02R96, a 56-input, 24-bit/96kHz board with full mix interfacing with popular DAWs. But in its time, the original 02R was a hugely successful product that broke all the rules, and, paired with a couple of ADAT or DA-88 recorders, the notion of the affordable all-digital studio was no longer a fantasy.
George Petersen is Mix’s editorial director.