TECnology Hall of Fame 2006
The TEC Foundation for Excellence
in Audio established the TECnology Hall of Fame
in 2004 to honor and recognize audio products and
innovations that have made a significant contribution
to the advancement of audio technology. Inductees
to the TECnology Hall of Fame are chosen by a panel
of more than 50 recognized audio experts, including
authors, educators, engineers, facility owners
and other professionals. Products or innovations
must be at least 10 years old to be considered
1916 E.C. Wente,
Western Electric—The Condenser Microphone
1933 Harvey Fletcher & Wilden Munson,
Bell Labs—Fletcher-Munson Loudness Curves
1939 The Shearer Horn
1953 Hammond B-3 Organ
1955 Ampex Sel-Sync
1959 Telefunken (AKG OEM) ELA M 251
1967 Neumann—U87 Studio Microphone
1967 Richard Heyser Time Delay Spectrometry
1971 Neville Thiele/Richard Small Thiele-Small Vented Enclosure Parameters
1977 Urei Model 813 Studio Monitors
1978 David Griesinger, Lexicon Model 224 Digital Reverb
1979 Teac Portastudio
1981 Sony Pro Audio PCM-3324 Digital
1983 Yamaha DX7 Synthesizer
1987 Sonic Solutions NoNoise
INNOVATIONS THAT CHANGED THE PRO AUDIO WORLD
by George Petersen, editorial director, Mix magazine
The history of professional
audio is a comparatively short 125 years—barely
a ripple in geologic time. But a lot happened
in that century and a quarter.
Three years ago, the Mix Foundation created a TECnology Hall of Fame to spotlight pro audio's long and rich history. Selecting a few inductees each year from a 125-year heritage is no easy task: An elite committee of more than 50 industry leaders, engineers, producers, designers, educators, journalists and historians volunteered to help.
Once the results were in, I wrote narratives putting each into a historical context. It's not easy: Many manufacturers are long since out of business. At some companies, no one remains with any knowledge of the product. Unfortunately, the history of pro audio—our very lineage—is woefully neglected and sources are scarce, sometimes impossible to find.
Information about the 40 previous inductees can be found elsewhere on this site. But meanwhile, set your time machine (analog, of course) back and enjoy this magic carpet ride through the annals of audio.
E.C. WENTE, WESTERN ELECTRIC
THE CONDENSER MICROPHONE (1916)
Born in 1889, Edward Christopher "EC" Wente had a long and fruitful career during his tenure at Western Electric/Bell Labs from 1914 to 1954.
One of Wente's first assignments at W.E. was improving the quality of telephone audio, and in 1916 filed patent #1,333,744 for a "Telephone Transmitter," which we have since come to know as the condenser microphone. This first design was fairly crude, but provided remarkably flat performance compared to the carbon mics used at the time. A year later, Wente described a version in The Physical Review, which featured a large (1.9-inch diameter), 22-micron diaphragm and was capable of reproduction beyond 15kHz—an astonishing accomplishment in a day when most 78-rpm acoustic recordings topped out around 3k Hz.
Over the years, Wente's condenser mics continued improving, (such as using aluminum diaphragms, which greatly increased a mic's sensitivity), fueling the impending revolutions in the electrical recording process and motion picture sound. Western Electric's condenser lineup expanded with well-known models such as the 7A/8A/9A/10A/47A/53A offering tabletop, floor stand and hanging variations for any application—all featuring Wente's model 394 condenser transmitter.
Aside from the condenser mic, Wente's innovations were many, including the compression driver, the dynamic mic, the multicellular horn, a "light valve" for translating audio impulses into variable density patterns for film soundtracks and he made major contributions in the study of auditory perspective, anechoic room design and acoustical wall materials. He was granted a total of 36 patents and was awarded a Scientific and Engineering Academy Award in 1936 for his multicell horn design.
HARVEY FLETCHER & WILDEN MUNSON, BELL LABS
FLETCHER-MUNSON LOUDNESS CURVES (1933)
Nearly 75 years ago, Harvey C. Fletcher and Wilden A. Munson—two Bell Labs engineers studying various aspects of subjective loudness—changed the way in which the world understands the hearing process. Their research asked a large number of subjects to compare the relative volume of two tones to a standard 1kHz tone at a set level. Averaging the results collected from the group, Fletcher and Munson defined of human hearing awareness at various frequencies.
In a landmark paper published in the October, 1933 edition of the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, Fletcher and Munson showed that hearing is frequency selective, more specifically, hearing is most sensitive to pure tones in the 3,000 to 4,000 Hz range and less so above and below that. to perceive that a 100Hz signal is of equal loudness to a 3,000Hz tone, requires an actual SPL of the 100Hz tone that's much higher than that of the 3kHz tone, particularly at low volumes.
The phenomenon was referred to as "Equal-Loudness Contours," and although this original research was later updated and refined (most notably by D. W. Robinson and R. S. Dadson in 1956), Fletcher and Munson's pioneering work laid the groundwork for creating industry-standard measurement curves, from the classic A/B/C/D-weighting filters to the current ISO 226:1987 standard.
Wilden Munson continued his acoustical research at Bell Labs until retiring in 1962. Harvey Fletcher worked on a number of projects at Bell Labs, including the development of a vacuum tube-based hearing aid and helped found the Acoustical Society of America, serving as its first president.
THE SHEARER HORN (1935)
In the late-1920s, audiences would line up to catch any film where the lips moved in sync with the projected image. After a few years, the novelty wore off, and consumers and studios started noticing the sound quality—or lack thereof—accompanying those pictures. Better mics/record electronics and variable density/variable area soundtracks led to improved cinema audio, but the playback systems were hardly state of the art. Western Electric's solution was a single-driver on a large re-entrant horn. It didn't sound very good (even after Western Electric pumped it up with a separate HF unit and extra 18-inch woofers) and RCA's competing system was no better.
One who was dissatisfied with these bulky, 5kHz bandwidth systems was Metro Goldwyn Mayer sound department head Douglas Shearer, who set upon creating a improved system. Shearer enlisted engineer John Hilliard to head the team, with draftsman Robert Stephens and MGM engineer Harry Kimball. Consultant John Blackburn suggested using James B. Lansing's new high-performance components. Essentially, Shearer had created a dream team with some of the best minds in audio. Other ideas employed on the project came from William Snow, a researcher who worked with Harvey Fletcher at Bell Labs and RCA's John Volkmann and Harry Olson—the latter known for his work co-developing RCA 44-series ribbon mic.
Known as the Shearer Horn, the two-way system used a large multicellular horn coupled through a "Y" throat adapter to Lansing's new 284 compression drivers. Low-end was handled by a "W" bin folded horn loaded with two 15-inch Lansing woofers. Several units could be stacked (horizontally or vertically) for greater bass output and detachable wings could be added to either side.
On its debut, the Shearer Horn was a near-instant success, offering high-SPL/high-fidelity performance from a package of smaller assemblies that could be easily shipped/installed and fitting through doorway widths. Thousands of Shearer-style systems (from a variety of suppliers) were employed in theaters everywhere and the system received a technical Academy Award in 1936.
It can be said that the Shearer Horn began the age of modern sound systems, with serious examinations of horn, driver, enclosure and crossover designs—and the relationships between them. Equally significant was its role in launching an entire new industry of pro audio with an awareness for fidelity. The system's lifespan was cut short with the first Altec A-4 Voice of the Theatre models in the mid-1940s (designed by Hilliard and Lansing), but innovations such as the “W” bin design were in use for another half century.
HAMMOND B-3 ORGAN (1953)
When clock manufacturer Laurens Hammond introduced his first tone wheel organ in 1935 (patent #1,956,350), he had no idea that he'd launched a groundbreaking instrument that—more than 70 years later, would still have a major effect on musical styles. Initially, the Hammond organ was intended for the church and home markets, but it was the debut of the semi-portable (meaning only 400 pound!) model B-3 in 1954 that really brought this instrument to the forefront of jazz, R&B and rock'n'roll. Certainly, the B-3 was the right instrument at the right time, but its soulful versatility and great voicings (combined with a Leslie rotating speaker from Don Leslie) soon made the instrument a mainstay in every genre of pop music.
With two 5-octave keyboards, nine drawbars on each manual, two pedal drawbars, 10 presets and switches for percussion, volume, decay, and harmonics and chorus/vibrato scanner—the B-3s provide an incredible palette of sonic textures—it's almost synthesizer-like. But from a modern perspective, the fact that B-3s work at all is somewhat of a miracle. The ToneWheel design uses a series of notched rotating wheels that create a tone that's picked up by magnetic coil, where the pitch of each wheel is determined by its rotational speed and the number of notches. The system is cantankerous, but minor variations at each point in the tone wheel help create that organic Hammond sound that simply can't be duplicated by today's samplers and synthesizers.
AMPEX SEL-SYNC (1955)
The development of Sel-Sync (Selective Synchronous) recording by Ampex a half-century ago eventually turned the recording world upside down, yet it was a quiet step with little fanfare. The impetus for multitracking came from Les Paul, who modified a tape deck with an extra head and a switch to defeat the erase function and was doing sound-on-sound recording as early as 1949. However, the technique was risky: One bad pass and the recording was ruined, and each additional pass added noise and distortion.
With the concept for an 8-track in mind, Paul met with the special modifications team at Ampex, which started the project in 1953. To succeed, the task required designing new record/play and erase heads, and the difficult switching of very low-level/high-impedance circuitry to achieve exact sync in monitoring previous tracks while overdubbing new ones. Ampex engineer Mort Fujii felt it could be done, and the first 1-inch Sel-Sync 8-track (based on an instrumentation deck) went to Paul two years later for $10,000—a sum that could have bought two nice houses at the time.
Ironically, Ampex' attorney advised the company that the concept was "obvious engineering" and non-patentable, so no patent for multitracking was ever issued, although Ampex did eventually trademark the Sel-Sync name—in 1961!
TELEFUNKEN (AKG OEM)
ELA M 251 TUBE MICROPHONE (1959)
There are many fans of Telefunken microphones, with the company's U47 and ELA M-Series issues leading the pack among highly coveted vintage mics. However, Telefunken never built studio mics, instead outsourcing manufacturing to companies such as Neumann and AKG, who made models that bore the Telefunken name.
In the 1950s, Neumann U47s sold in the USA were distributed through Telefunken, hence a large number of such Telefunken-badged U47s in American studios today. Eventually, Neumann established its own North American distribution and stopped supplying U47s to Telefunken.
Seeking a high-quality studio replacement, Telefunken asked AKG to create a large-diaphragm, multipattern, tube condenser that—like the U47—had its pattern control on the mic body, rather than on the power supply, and the result was the ELA M 251 and ELA M 250. The latter was a two-pattern (omni/cardioid) design, while the three-pattern 251 added a figure-8 pickup as well. Other variations of the mics include the modele 250E/251E, export versions fitted with a 6072 double triode and the non-"E" (domestic European versions) with an AC701 tube.
All used the proven CK12 capsule also employed in AKG's famed C-12. Other than body size (the 250/251 mics were much larger than their C-12 cousins) and move to a body-mounted polar pickup switch, a major difference between the C-12 and the 251 came in the form of an innovative design whereby the two halves of the backplate were kept insulated from each other. Electrically separating the two backplate sections and switching between them provided a selection of the three polar patterns.
Nearly a half-century after its introduction, hundreds of vintage Telefunken ELA M251/250's are in use worldwide and still prized by engineers for their smooth vocal reproduction and sparkling high-end response. But credit should be given to AKG for designing this timeless, enduring classic.
U87 STUDIO MICROPHONE (1967)
When a microphone remains
in production for nearly 40 years, words like
"classic" certainly apply, but the roots
of the U87 go back much further. In 1960, Neumann
launched the U67, a three-pattern tube mic for
close-miking that was intended as a replacement
for the U47. Designed by Neumann's Dr. Ing. Gerhart
Boré, the U67's great sound and modern,
tapered, shaft body made it an instant success.
In 1966, Boré's team was asked to create
a solid-state version of the U67. The transistorized
U87 was unveiled in 1967.
The U87 used a K87 capsule
that was acoustically identical to the K67 capsule
in the U67 and did not require an external power
supply. This was a major convenience, although
as phantom power was not universally available
in 1967 (Neumann had just introduced 48-VDC phantom
powering the year before), the original U87 had
a internal battery compartment housing two 22.5-volt
batteries as an alternative to phantom power.
In 1986, phantom power was
well established as a studio standard. The U87's
difficult-to-find 22.5V cells were removed and
a DC/DC converter was installed in its place.
The result was the new model U87A, which offered
improved performance, with a 4 dB lower noise
floor and an output that was 6 dB hotter. Once
the Tuchel output connector was replaced with
a standard XLR jack, the mic was designated U87
Ai. The model is still in production, with thousands
in use throughout the world.
TIME DELAY SPECTROMETRY (1967)
Sometimes, even the greatest ideas take a while to come to fruition. In 1967, Richard C. Heyser, a research engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology published a landmark paper in the AES Journal. Titled "Acoustical Measurements by Time Delay Spectrometry," the article described a technique whereby loudspeakers and other electro-acoustical systems could be measured in a reverberant, real-world spaces—without requiring an anechoic chamber. Others saw additional applications for TDS, such as measuring room acoustics. Unfortunately, the horsepower to perform such computations using 1960s technology was simply unvavailable, but Heyser's concept of TDS drew wide acceptance.
Later, acoustician/educator offering them licenses to build and operate TDS devices created by combining off the shelf products from GenRad and Tektronics Don Davis organized a seminar with 20 leading audio engineers/researchers, and Cal Tech with a custom Heyser-designed interface.
Finally, TDS went big time in 1983, when Crown's Techron division unveiled the TEF System 10, the first portable TDS analyzer/acoustical measurement system. Encompassing the gamut of TDS measurements, TEF (Time-Energy-Frequency) included energy-time curves and the ability to show complex waterfall displays of audio spectra. The 40-pound suitcase System 10 units included a custom computer with 96 kilobytes of RAM and a 9-inch green-phosphor screen and cost $14,500. However, acoustical research would never be the same, as for the first time, complex on-site measurements of systems and spaces were possible from a commercially-available product.
Richard Heyser's work was not limited to audio—as we know it. During his distinguished career, he contributed to advancements in ultrasound and in underwater/space imaging as well as techiques for mapping earthquake faultlines using sonic waves. He was presented with numerous accolades during his lifetime, and was elected president of the AES, but passed away in 1987 before his term began.
NEVILLE THIELE/RICHARD SMALL
THIELE-SMALL VENTED ENCLOSURE PARAMETERS (1971)
Speaker design has long been considered some kind of black magic. Yet over the years, the increased application of solid science to loudspeakers has brought true predictability (rather than simple trial and error) to the process.
A major step forward came when two researchers, following earlier work by Leo Beranek, published their findings regarding the relationship of loudspeaker parameters to low frequency performance in vented cabinet enclosures and simple methods of measuring them. Among these were the driver's free air resonance, electrical and mechanical Q, DC resistance, efficiency, piston area, thermal power rating, etc.
In 1961, an Australian broadcast engineer named Neville Thiele published a paper in a radio/electronics journal describing his work in simulating loudspeaker response as electrical filters as a means for speaker design. Several years later, Richard Small, an American studying in Sydney read the paper, and convinced the University of Sydney to let him enroll for a Ph.D, expanding and refining its premise. With the help of colleague Robert Ashley, Small also convinced the AES to reprint Thiele's original paper in 1971 and followed it up with a series of his own papers.
The effect of the Thiele-Small research was dramatic, not only influencing manufacturers to provide more details about the drivers they built, but also bringing about a new era in the predictability of loudspeaker response based on enclosure volume and port dimensions. Today, the Thiele-Small parameters are adopted and provided by nearly every raw loudspeaker supplier.
Today these pioneers are still active in the industry and have received numerous accolades from AES, IEEE and many others. Neville Thiele teaches graduate-level courses in loudspeaker design at the University of Sydney. Richard Small is senior principal engineer with Harman/Becker Automotive Systems.
UREI MODEL 813 STUDIO MONITORS (1977)
In the mid-70s, UREI founder Bill Putnam—dissatisfied with the sound of the Altec 604 monitors in his United Western Studios—worked with UREI’s Dean Austin and Dennis Fink on ways to improve the 604. They replaced Altec’s stock multicell horn with a wider dispersion design. An Eminence 15-inch woofer was added to boost LF output. Ed Long redesigned the crossover and applied his Time-Align™ techniques, adjusting crossover group delay parameters to achieve time-coherent, true point-source performance.
Engineers and producers mixing on the system were so enthusiastic about its sound that UREI decided to produce the monitors as a commercial product, with the first UREI 813 debuting in 1977. Typically soffitt-mounted, these large, double-15 monitors were ideal for the larger, higher-SPL control rooms of the time.
Two years later, Altec replaced its Alnico 604-8H with a ferrite model, requiring modifications to the 813 design. A foam diffraction buffer was added to reduce reflections at the crossover point, along with crossover mods and small Helmholtz resonators in the horn flare. This new 1979 model was the 813A, followed by the 815A (a 604 plus two extra woofers) and the single-driver 811A, but the 813A was far more popular.
Altec’s financial and QC problems led UREI to find a new source for the 604, with the solution being a PAS coaxial 15 mated to a JBL 2425 compression driver. The new 813B version debuted in 1983. Later that year, Putnam sold the business to Harman, with UREI becoming a division of JBL Professional. The 813C, a new model with all JBL drivers, launched in 1984 and was the best in the series. But in its various incarnations, the UREI 813 was the most successful large format studio monitor ever made.
DAVID GRIESINGER, LEXICON
MODEL 224 DIGITAL REVERB (1978)
Unveiled at the AES show in 1978, the Lexicon 224 was not the first digital reverb (that honor goes to EMT’s 250), but the 224 and its later 224X and 224XL cousins was certainly the most ubiquitous and popular studio reverbs in history.
The 224 was conceived when Dr. David Griesinger, a nuclear physicist/musician/classical recording engineer who—after looking into the existing means of creating artificial reberberation (plates, springs and multiple head tape systems)—started working on a digital solution. Later, seeing EMT’s 250 encouraged him to merge an S100 microcomputer with his reverb design. He pitched his rough prototype to Lexicon founder Francis Lee, who bought the invention and brought Griesinger onboard to help refine the product. One of Griesinger’s concepts for the new reverb was creating a separate control unit for parameter adjustment and program access, and the Lexicon 224 was unveiled at the AES show in 1978.
The 224 reverberation system consisted of a compact, console-top controller with four-rackspace brain, two inputs, four outputs, and interchangeable (!) programs to simulate chambers, plates and rooms. The 224 was hailed as "affordable," meaning $7,500 with two programs or $7,900 with four programs. But at half the price of EMT’s 250, the 224 was a hit. Eventually the 224 evolved into the improved 224X and 224XL, which included the LARC (Lexicon Alphanumeric Remote Control), offering fingertip access to programs and parameters with dedicated function keys, six data sliders and a 24-character LED display.
Today, Griesinger is the principle scientist at Lexicon, and is chiefly responsible for the algorithm design of the company’s reverberation and surround sound products.
TEAC PORTASTUDIO (1979)
The music industry was forever changed on September 22, 1979, at the AES Show in New York's Waldorf Astoria Hotel, with the introduction of the TEAC Model 144 Portastudio®, an integrated 4-track cassette recorder with Dolby B noise reduction, 3.75 ips operation and a 4x2 mixer with pan, treble and bass on each input. And user could record three tracks, bounce them down to a fourth and then record three more for a lofty total of seven tracks!
By modern standards, the 144 was simple and offered only passable sound quality. (Portastudio designs improved considerably in the following years, both in audio performance and features/flexibility.)
Perhpas the most famous Portastudio recording of all time was Bruce Springsteen's 1982 Nebraska album. Originally cut on a 144 with a couple of Shure SM57s, it was originally intended to be a demo. However, The Boss liked the feel of the songs so much that, rather than recut them, they became the master tracks.
Certainly for most musicians seeking a sketchpad device for recording musical ideas and demos, the 144 was an overnight sensation, a runaway success story with a legacy of thousands of artists and engineers today who made their first multitrack recordings on Portastudios.
SONY PRO AUDIO
PCM-3324 DIGITAL MULTITRACK (1981)
In the late '70s, Sony launched a program to provide pro users with tools to support the impending consumer digital audio revolution. Sony's Toshitada Doi led a team of 30 researchers set on bringing digital to the pro market.
At the European AES Show in 1978, Sony showed a prototype digital machine that recorded 24 tracks on 1-inch tape. It never went into production, but it laid the groundwork for Sony’s popular line of ½-inch DASH (Digital Audio Stationary Head) format multitracks.
Three years later, as Mitsubishi began delivering its X-800 digital 32-tracks, Sony countered with its PCM-3324 digital 24-track, which was two years from shipping. The original 44.1/48 kHz, 16-bit PCM-3324 required a dedicated 20-amp AC circuit and weighed 440 pounds, but had a maximum record time of 65 minutes and could easily be synched to a second deck for 48-track work. Even with its $150,000 price tag, the PCM-3324 found early adopters such as Stevie Wonder, Frank Zappa and remote trucks, and a new industry emerged offering digital rentals.
Although the DASH spec included other variations such as 2/4/8/16-track decks, it was the 24-track machine that gained popularity, especially with each new generation sounding better and costing less. But the real attraction was DASH's thin-film head technology, which supported double density tracking, so tapes made on a 3324 could be played on the PCM-3348 48-tracks.
YAMAHA DX7 SYNTHESIZER (1983)
Every decade or so, a keyboard instrument comes out that not only is adopted by musicians, but also shapes the course of pop music. Debuting just months after the announcement of the MIDI spec and offering a new and varied palette of tonal textures, Yamaha's DX7 was the right synth at the right time.
The magic behind the DX7's FM synthesis engine was discovered in the early-1970s by Dr. John Chowning at Stanford University. In the mid-70s, Yamaha licensed the technology and spent nearly a decade working on the project, both in Japan and with Chowning in California.
When the DX7 launched in 1983, users were amazed by its purity of tone and its ability to mimic certain instruments—particularly struck percussion, chimes, electric pianos, etc.—and its wealth of cool synthesizer sound from, sweet pads to growling leads. During its short tenure, Yamaha sold a then-unheard-of 200,000 DX7s. The DX7 also marked the beginnings of custom VLSI integration into musical instruments, making it affordable as well.
Unlike most synths of the time, the DX7 didn't have a sea of control knobs, instead opting for a panel of membrane buttons and a small cryptic display. Programing custom sounds was difficult, and I once spoke to a service center who informed me that 95 percent of the DX7s returned for repairs had all of their stock memories intact. But players loved the sounds of the DX7 and the many FM-related products that followed.
SONIC SOLUTIONS NONOISE (1987)
In 1984, Lucasfilm and Convergence Corp. formed The Droid Works and under the leadership of Andy Moorer, showed its SoundDroid™ workstation at NAB in 1985. The product was amazing but was years ahead of its time and was too expensive for the typical studio. In 1986, former Droid Works execs Bob Doris, Jeffrey Borish and Mary Sauer left to found Sonic Solutions.
Some months later, Andy Moorer joined the Sonic team and the company debuted NoNoise®, a Macintosh-based system that applies proprietary DSP algorithms that eliminate broadband background noise like tape hiss and record surface noise, as well as AC hum, HVAC buzz, camera whine and other such ambient noises. NoNoise could also reduce overload distortion, acoustical clicks/pops, transients caused by bad splices and channel breakup from wireless mics—without affecting the original source material. Sonic Solutions eventually expanded into 2-channel and multichannel workstation development. Four years later, the company unveiled the first 24-track editing/mixing workstation and subsequently developed the first DVD premastering system.
Recognized for its use in restoring tens of thousands of recordings, forensic tracks, movie and TV soundtracks around the world, NoNoise was honored with an Emmy Award for outstanding technical achievement by The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Today, Sonic Solutions focuses on developing DVD authoring tools and multimedia applications. Its DAW and NoNoise products are now sold through Sonic Studio, a separate company formed by former Sonic Solutions employees.
Mix magazine editorial
director George Petersen is also the author of
Crazy Campsongs (www.crazycampsongs.com),
a collection of warped singanlongs.