When Vinyl Ruled (1)

An Exhibit by the AES Historical Committee at the 109th AES Convention in Los Angeles, 2000 Sept 22...25

  For all those of you that really enjoy "swingin' vu meters" and did not have the opportunity to visit the "When Vinyl Ruled" exhibit at the 109th AES Convention held in Los Angeles from 2000 Sept 22...25, here is a brief recap of what went on. The event was sponsored by the AES Historical Committee chaired by Jay McKnight, and was organized by Irv Joel and Paul McManus. The core team included Irv Joel, Paul McManus, Jim Webb, Shelley Herman, John Chester, and David Baker.

    Paul brought two of his tape recorders: a 288 pound 1963 Ampex Model 300 3-track one-half inch tape recorder, and a 1957 Ampex Model 350 2-track one-quarter inch tape recorder; also 3 Altec 604 speakers, 3 McIntosh tube power amplifiers, and various period piece displays and exhibits. The real star of the show was a 1960 custom built Universal Audio (UA) 12 input by 3 output vacuum tube recording console designed by Bill Putnam, and built in the attic next to the echo chambers of United Recording at 6050 Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood. This console was the original remote recording console from United (now Ocean Way) and Western (now Cello) studios, which were originally owned, designed and built by Putnam.

Unlike today, in 1960 there were very few recording studios and they were mostly owned by the major record companies. This meant there was a very small market for recording equipment. Almost all recording consoles of the day were custom built using lever key switches, transformers and vacuum tube amplifiers. First an engineer had to come up with a viable block diagram and gain chart, then have a large piece of metal panel machined to attach all the components to. Next came the wiring and soldering, and finally the testing. One additional consideration for the engineer was the choice between rotary or slide faders. A very unique feature of this UA console is that it is of all modular construction. It has 12 identical input modules, each built on a plug in chassis and featuring a mic preamp with switchable line pad, low and hi frequency equalization, and an echo send. The plug in modular output line amplifiers are capable of delivering a healthy +30 dBm, so headroom is not a problem.

    Wally Heider (before he started his own studio) was the manager of remote recording for both United and Western studios, and this console was used to record many artists, including Wes Montgomery, the Smothers Brothers, and the Doors. One of Paul's favorite records, Peter, Paul and Mary's "In Concert" from 1964, was also done on it. This was just remixed from the original 3-track tapes and sounds wonderful.

    When Paul got the console in the mid 1980s it had not been used since the early 1970s, and was in very poor condition. Mice had chewed through some of the wiring, every tube and capacitor was shot, there were no power supplies and not one piece of paperwork on it. Over a very leisurely period of time (about 4 years) he slowly rebuilt it. The most time-consuming part was tracing each wire and circuit to draw up proper schematics and block diagrams. Then it took a while to figure out what the proper operating voltages should be and to procure power supplies adequate to run it once he had calculated the loads (dc for filaments, 10 A @ 12 V, and dc for B+, 250 mA @ 350 V).

 All of the above mentioned equipment was set up and arranged to look like a 1960's era 3 track control room. But this exhibit was more than just a static display of antique studio gear!  Since all the gear was operational, Paul gave continuous playback demonstrations using period recordings.  We had made direct, one-to-one analog half-inch copies of some original 3-track studio masters, and we played those transfers at the exhibit. Those recordings included "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" and "Mess of Blues" by Elvis Presley, "Old Devil Moon" by Peggy Lee, "Peter Gunn Theme" and "Dreamsville" by Mancini. We also had some superb classical pieces from Everest, Vanguard and RCA. The UA console has no panpots, but it can switch between mono out of the middle speaker, stereo (phantom center) out of the left and right, or three track discrete out of all three speakers. Paul demonstrated all of these.

    Our guest speakers were Al Schmidt, Dennis Drake, David Baker, Ed Greene Irv Joel and Bruce Swedien. Paul gave continuous demos the rest of the time. We had quite a few notable visitors including Jay McKnight, Dale Manquen, Ray Dolby, Walter Sear, Allen Sides, Eddie Kramer, Bill Putnam jr., Bob Katz, J.J. Cale, Bernie Grundman, Doug Botnick, Al Grundy, Wes Dooley, Jerry Cubbage, John Woodgate, Elliot Mazer, Bob Olhsson, Mike Dorrough, John Eargle, and John Windt.

    Dale Manquen very graciously brought some 3M memorabilia including many photographs and an electronics module from a 3M machine that never made it to market. The original cardboard cutout for the 3M Model 56 that Dale made was well received, as was a Bodine motor with a portion of the sides machined off for clearance in the 3M deep-drawn-web cast transport. The original plug-in circuit bread-boards for the 3M Model 23 were something not seen before. The tie in with Paul's UA console is that after the 3-track era ended in the mid-1960s, Wally Heider packaged the console with a 3M Model 23 one inch 8 track recorder. Bruce Botnick rented this equipment from Wally to record the Doors at the Hollywood Bowl in 1968, and at other venues later on.

    Shelley Herman set up a nice display of phonograph record parts, to show the different steps involved in manufacturing a vinyl phonograph record. Shelley also had a very nice display of phonograph cartridges and cutting heads. He also borrowed several analog signal processors: a Pultec EQP1A vacuum tube program equalizer and a Lang Electronics PEQ-2 solid-state program equalizer from Coast Recording Equipment Supply in Hollywood. To round out our vintage processing display, Universal Audio loaned us an LA2A vacuum tube leveling amplifier that uses a "revolutionary electro-luminescent optical gain control" (light bulb and light dependent resistor strip) for the gain reduction element, which gives it an extremely fast attack time.

    Our thanks to the following companies who helped to make this exhibit a reality: ASC (Acoustic Sciences) loaned us an "Attack Wall" to improve the listening environment; JBL Professional provided transport of the equipment in and out of the convention center; Coast Recording Equipment Supply loaned us Pultec and Lang equalizers; BMG, Capitol, Vanguard/Everest, Sony/Columbia, and Universal Music who loaned us their master recordings to play for our demonstrations.

    And of course a big thank you to all those who visited the exhibit. If you enjoyed the event and would like the idea of other working historical exhibits in the future, please email or write to the AES Historical Committee Chair, Jay McKnight , at Magnetic Reference Laboratory.   Thanks to all. We hope you had as much fun as we did!

Photo credits: All of the images courtesy of Mike Dorrough except as noted below.
Images 1, 2, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15, 16 courtesy of Paul McManus
Images 13, 18, 21 courtesy of Christine Lakeland

2002-06-14 i

AES - Audio Engineering Society