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2010 TECnology Hall of Fame

Audio Innovations that Changed the (Pro Audio) World

By George Petersen

To expand the scope of the TEC Awards, the TECnology Hall of Fame was created in 2004 to spotlight important innovations from the long and rich history of the pro audio industry. Each year, inductees are selected by a committee of more than 50 industry leaders, engineers, producers, designers, educators, journalists and historians, with the only “rule” being that any selection must be at least 10 years old.

Once the results are in, I research and write narratives that put each into a historical context. The process isn’t necessarily easy. Many manufacturers are long since out of business. At some companies, no one remains who has any knowledge of the product. Worst of all, the history of pro audio—our very lineage—is woefully neglected and sources are scarce, if not impossible to find.

The TECnology Hall of Fame is a continuing project, with 95 inductees to date, with plans to add more honorees in the’ future. We encourage you to check out the inductees from past years. Let’s all keep audio history alive. And if you have any comments or suggestions, let use know. We’ll be listening.

George Ashley Campbell
George Campbell/AT&T
First Audio Equalizer/Bandpass Filter
Electric Wave-Filter (1915)

George Ashley Campbell had a long and influential career in developing technologies for the audio, telephony and broadcast industries. Born in 1870, Campbell graduated with a B.S. degree from MIT and a master’s degree from Harvard and joined AT&T’s engineering department in Boston in 1897. His initial research was in developing means of improving the performance of long distance telephone lines, which took the form of inserting loading coils into phone lines to avoid level losses and cut distortion. Campbell later cited this research as part of his doctoral thesis, which was awarded by Harvard in 1901. Others—including Michael Pupin and Oliver Heaviside— were also involved in similar research, but Campbell was first in creating a working system and this application provided major improvements in long distance telephone quality.

Later, Campbell focused much of his research on audio filter development, creating the classic L-C (inductor and capacitor) filters that even today, are widely used in analog tone control and filtering circuits. He used the concept of combining simple high pass (low cut) and high pass (high cut) filters resulting in a more complex bandpass filter, which was ideal for emphasizing voice intelligibility over telephone lines. These were accomplished using the now-classic “ladder network” filters, so-called because of their resemblance to ladders and documented in Campbell’s 1915 patent application (#1,227,113) for an “Electric Wave-Filter,” essentially the first audio equalizer. Campbell’s filter designs were later refined and expanded by other AT&T researchers such as Otto J. Zobel, who suggested a tunable “Wave Filter” design in his 1921 patent (#1,538,964). Beyond simple analog filtering chores, the Wave Filter more importantly paved the way for multiplexing—the ability to run multiple voice conversations over a single phone wire.

Ironically, this research for the modern audio equalizer was completed years before sound systems or even electrical recording for records even existed. But the basics of audio filtering had been laid and the groundwork was ready to become part of a revolution yet to come. George Campbell died in 1954 at the age of 83, but had been recognized by his peers for his four decades of innovation. He was awarded the IRE (Institute of Radio Engineers) Medal of Honor in 1936, and four years later, received the Edison medal by the American Institute of Electrical Engineers.

Western Electric 555-w compression driver mounted on
the end of the massive snail-coiled Model 12-A horn.

E.C. Wente & A.L. Thuras
First High Frequency Compression Driver
Western Electric 555-w (1926)

There’s no doubt that 1926 marked a busy era for audio technology. Electrical recording—the use of microphones and amplifier-driven cutterheads on record lathes—was becoming a standard operating procedure throughout the industry, and the development of talking motion pictures was underway. The industry suddenly needed loudspeakers, with an emphasis on the word “loud.” A year before, two General Electric engineers (Chester Rice and Edward Kellogg) had unveiled the modern dynamic cone loudspeaker, an important step in the right direction. However, with the low-power amplifiers available at the time, any hope of providing high-output reproduction was pretty much out of the question.

Given that premise, Edward C. Wente and Albert L. Thuras—two engineers from Bell Laboratories—set out on a radical solution. In a 1926 patent application (#1,707,544), offered what they described as “an acoustical device employing an electrodynamic actuated vibrating element” using a “light piston-type diaphragm which is driven by a light rigid coil.” The diaphragm/voice coil was set within a dense electromagnetic structure fed a signal from an amplifier and was designed to mount onto a horn.

The resulting product was the Western Electric Model 555-w “receiver,” and the modern high frequency compression driver was born. It’s surprising how close the 555-w came to modern designs and how little things have changed since then. The original Wente-Thuras design featured innovations such as a lightweight 0.002-inch thin aluminum dome diaphragm with a corrugated surround offering strength, stiffness and flexibility; a phase plug; and a threaded horn mount that allowed the driver to be easily fitted on a variety of horns. The picture shows the 555-w mounted on a Western Electric Model 12-A, a huge, exponentially tapered horn design that was 67 inches tall, with a 45x45-inch throat opening and an 11-foot overall pathway that provided a frequency response as low as 80 Hz. Although bulky, the driver/horn combination proved highly efficient, and could achieve high sound pressure levels from low-powered amplifiers and could be used alone or combined with cone woofers for extended low- frequency performance.

Lansing Manufacturing Iconic
monitor with top-mounted
multicell horn/compression driver
and power supply for supplying
voltage to the speaker field coils.

James B. Lansing/Lansing Manufacturing Co.
First Recording Studio Monitor
Lansing Iconic (1937)

James B. Lansing founded Lansing Manufacturing Company in 1927, initially to supply small 6- and 8-inch loudspeakers for radios. With the ever-improving fidelity of home radio sets, the company did well, but as talking motion pictures became established, Lansing was drawn to the challenge of building extended–range loudspeaker systems for film sound playback. In 1934, he supplied 15-inch woofers, compression drivers and manufacturing expertise for the development of Shearer Horn, the first large-scale, high fidelity system for theater sound reproduction.

Lansing later turned to developing a monitor for film mix stages, resulting in the Monitor System 500, a single-15 driver in a folded-horn “W” box with a sizeable model 805 multicellular horn. Although a quarter the size of the gargantuan Shearer Horn, the 500 was still too large for most recording facilities. With that in mind, Lansing began creating the first recording studio monitor.

Developed in 1937, the Lansing Iconic was a compact (about 40x25x18-inch) two-way system with a 15-inch model 815 woofer in a vented, bass reflex enclosure crossed over at 800 Hz to an 801 compression driver on a 808 multicell horn, for a response that went from 30 Hz to 15k Hz and was rated as flat (±2dB) from 45 to 10k Hz. Both drivers were electrodynamic field coil (electromagnet) designs, requiring an external power supply. Later models were available with permanent magnets, as well as “Salon” home versions in furniture-style cabinets and component-only kits for custom installations.

The Lansing Iconic was well-received among recording and sound-reinforcement users and remained in general use well into the 1940s and beyond. Among the many fans on the Iconic system was Les Paul, who used them in his recording studio.

Alec Harley Reeves

Alec Harley Reeves
Pulse Code Modulation Patent (1939)

Discoveries occasionally occur long before the current technology is ready to accept and support it. And this is certainly the case with British physicist Alec Harley Reeves, who proposed one of the cornerstone principles of digital audio, Pulse Code Modulation (PCM), more than four decades before introduction of the first commercial digital audio recorder.

In his 1939 patent for a “Signaling System,” Reeves describes his invention as a “system for transmitting complex waveforms—for example speech—wherein the waveform is scanned at the transmitter at predetermined instants” and the “amplitude range of the waveform to be transmitted is divided into a finite number of predetermined amplitude values according to the fidelity required.” He also proposed a tube-based PCM circuit, but this was in 1939—well before the introduction of transistors, ICs or microprocessors—and due to the limitations of available technologies, Reeves PCM proposal remained mostly unused until the 1950s, when it was employed into low-fidelity applications such as telephone systems.

During World War II, Reeves turned his efforts to defense projects and proposed the OBOE bombsight system used by the Royal Air Force. Reeves authored dozens of patents during his life and in latter years, he was part of the research team at Standard Telecommunications Laboratories that perfected the use of fiber optics made from low-loss glass. In 1969, 30 years after Reeves’ patent, the British government honored PCM’s role in advancing telecommunications technology with a postal stamp. Reeves died in 1971 at the age of 69.

Ampex VRX-1000 with company
president Alexander Pontiatoff

Ampex Corporation
First Commercial Video Recorder
Model VRX-1000 (1956)

Technology is often filled with irony, and the interesting part about the development of the first commercial video recorder is that its roots hail from audio innovators. In fact, the concept stems from Bing Crosby’s audio engineer Jack Mullin, who brought the first German tape recorders to recorders to America after World War II. Mullin demonstrated them to Crosby, who fronted the capital to Ampex to begin building audio tape recorders in 1946. Four years later, with the advent of television, Mullin talked to Crosby about the notion of recording TV programs on tape. A research project began, resulting in a clunky—although functional—experimental system with tape running over fixed heads at 100 ips. Similar projects were also underway at RCA and at the BBC.

In 1952, Ampex began its own VTR project, with Charles Ginsburg leading a team that included Charles Anderson, Alex Maxey, Fred Pfost, Shelby Henderson and the youngest member of the team, a 19-year old kid named Ray Dolby. But rather than a fixed-head approach, Ginsburg was interested in pursuing the (now-standard) concept of rotary tape heads, proposed by engineer/inventor Marvin Camras. The VRX-1000’s four tape heads whirling at 14,400 rpm yielded a tape speed equivalent to a fixed head deck running at 1,500 ips, and could handle the wide bandwidth requirements of video. A 10-inch reel of 2-inch tape (the team settled on using a 3M formulation) could record 45 minutes and the VRX-1000 debuted at the NATRB (later known as the NAB) show in Chicago on March 14, 1956.

The first production unit (shown prior to shipment in photo with Ampex founder Alex M. Pontiatoff) was sold to CBS who used the deck for tape-delay broadcasts of news broadcasts in November of 1956. Although the VRX-1000 cost $50,000 (an enormous sum in the mid-1950s) and fewer than 20 VRX-1000s were built, one thing was clear. The days of live broadcasts were numbered, and broadcasting and television production would never be the same.

Sennheiser MD 421

MD-421 Microphone (1960)

Introduced in 1953, Sennheiser’s MD 21 (“mikrofon dynamische” ) dynamic microphone was perhaps one of the company’s most successful products. Rugged, reliable, good sounding and available in available in five colors, it was a hit with European broadcasters and remained in production for decades. However, the basic, no-frills MD 21 was an omnidirectional model, so in 1959, company founder Dr. Fritz Sennheiser worked with his design engineers Paul-Friedrich Warning and Johann-Friedrich Fischer to take the design to the next step.

The project was the MD 421, a rugged dynamic mic that could provide a tight cardioid directivity pattern that was consistent at nearly all frequencies. It also featured the capability to handle extremely high sound pressure levels (up to 175 dB!), a hum compensation coil to prevent EMI/RFI interference and a 5-step low-frequency attenuation circuit for tweaking bass response.

The MD 421 had to provide studio-quality frequency response (30 Hz to 17 kHz) and be able to be manufactured in relatively large quantities. It was a tall order, but the development team went to work.

In most studio (or live sound) mic designs, the capsule and electronics are the most difficult part of the design process, but with the MD 421, extreme attention was also paid to controlling low frequency directivity and assuring consistent polar response. This was accomplished using four rear vents near the rear of the mic, felt damping at the rear of the mic body, internal damping within the capsule and a bass pre-emphasis tube that provided airflow between the capsule interior and a large air chamber within the mic body. A cutaway diagram of a MD 421 reveals the complexity of a design that resembles a jet engine more than a dynamic microphone.

The MD 421 body was made of DuPont Delrin polymer resin, which had just become available the year before and 50 years later, the MD 421 remains one of the few professional audio microphones featuring a molded (now glass composite) body.

The MD 421 was launched at Germany’s Hannover Fair in 1960 and carried a price tag of 180 Deutschmarks (about $45 USD). The original version was available with Tuchel or DIN output connectors; an XLR version followed years later. But in any version, the MD 421 was an instant success. In fact at one time, the backorder situation was so extreme that Sennheiser ran ads with a bakery worker posing with trays of mics coming out of the oven, to assure customers and dealers that more MD 421s were on the way.

Today, five decades years after its introduction, the MD 421 remains in use worldwide in broadcast as a vocal microphone and in studios mostly as an instrumental microphone capturing percussion, drums, guitar amps and horns. The current incarnation of the MD 421, the next-generation MD 421-II, incorporates improvements such as a metal inner chassis for better weight distribution, a shorter, sleeker housing and self-sealing (non-adhesive) acoustic connections for improved serviceability. And with some 500,000 units in use since 1960, the MD 421 has definitely earned the well-deserved distinction of an audio classic.

Sequential Circuits
founder Dave Smith with Prophet-5

Dave Smith
First Polyphonic Programmable Synthesizer
Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 (1978)

Once in a while a product comes out that puts it all together—combining the latest technology, while breaking new ground and at the same time, filling a definite void in the market. And as the first programmable polyphonic music synthesizer, the Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 was exactly that. An analog synthesizer with the ability to play five notes simultaneously (enough for a chord) and having the memory capability to store a whopping 40 preset programs (later expanded to 120) might not create headlines today, but the Prophet-5 was a sensation in its time, and is still considered a classic.

The path to success wasn’t easy. Sequential Circuits founder/chief designer Dave Smith was excited about the prospect of combining the sound generation capabilities of the new ICs from Solid State Music (SSM) that reduced the major functions of analog filters and synthesis (VCO, VCA, VCF) into single chipsets, reducing the number of necessary components in an synthesizer circuit from hundreds to a few handfuls. At the same time, new microprocessors had just come to market (such as the 8-bit Zilog Z80), which while primitive by today’s standards could definitely handle tasks such as storing/recalling synth patches. Once the ingredients were in place, Smith worked with John Bowen (now of John Bowen Synth Design) and with some consulting help from E-mu founder Dave Rossum, the Prophet-5 project was underway, and was completed in just six months—an amazing accomplishment.

On its debut at the Winter NAMM show in January 1978, the Prophet-5 was nothing less than a hit. The SSM chips (later replaced with Curtis ICs), combined with Smith’s autotuning circuit kept the Prophet-5 in tune—a problem that plagued many early analog synths. Of course, its ease of operation, great factory patches of thick bass and lead sounds, and lush analog string pads made the Prophet-5 quite desirable—even at an original retail of $3,500 (later $4,500). Soon every top keyboardist either owned one—or wanted one—and the Prophet-5 sounds became a common fixture over radios everywhere, from punk bands to Michael McDonald’s signature sound on hits like the Doobie Brothers’ “What a Fool Believes.”

The Prophet-5 stayed in production until the mid-1980s and sold approximately 8,000 units. Today, Dave Smith continues creating award-winning analog synthesizers with his company, Dave Smith Instruments.

Future Sonics Ear Monitors™

Marty Garcia
First Commercially Available In-Ear Monitoring System
Future Sonics Ear Monitors (1985)

The application of headphone monitoring by onstage musicians has been in use since the early 1970s. These were mainly used by drummers, but also by innovators such as Doobie Brothers guitarist Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, who found that headphone use in live performance not only provided him with improved listening but also protected his hearing from excessive stage volumes. The concept was good, but clunky headphones weren't exactly the ideal solution. In 1978, inventor Steve Ambrose designed and built the first in-ear monitoring system, created as custom products for Stevie Wonder and other top artists.

Several years later, Marty Garcia—a live sound engineer who operated Philadelphia-based Crystal Sound and mixed hundreds of shows—experimented using earpieces carrying a personal monitor mix. Garcia began using consumer earbuds, but after trials with a variety of top performers, saw the opportunity for a more specialized approach, and starting working with audiologists to supply custom ear molds.

In 1985, Garcia was developing and refining his designs for Ear Monitors® and Ears™-brand earphone monitors. That same year, Todd Rundgren used Future Sonics products on his Utopia tour, the first wedgeless stage with all band members wearing Garcia’s Ear Monitors. Garcia founded Future Sonics in 1991 and the word about his Ear Monitors spread, with major artists such as Phil Collins, Steve Miller and The Grateful Dead joining the company’s growing list of users.

Today, the use of earphone monitoring is standard throughout the industry, offering the advantages of reduced freight requirements (by eliminating the need for onstage wedges and sidefill speakers), cleaner stages, lower onstage volume and better monitor mixes for performers. And the key to this revolution was Marty Garcia of Future Sonics.

Waves founders Gilad Keren and Meir Shaashua

Gilad Keren & Meir Shaashua
First Audio Plug-In
Waves Q10 Paragraphic Equalizer (1992)

The concept of plug-ins—additions that add functionality to established programs—date back to text editors running on Univac mainframes in the 1970s. By 1991, plug-ins came on the scene, mainly as filter effects sets for paint and photo manipulation software, notably Digital Darkroom and Photoshop. And although few realized it at the time, the audio world was about to see some rather significant changes in the years to come.

At the AES show in 1992, a new company called Waves unveiled what was the first audio plug-in. Created by founders producer Gilad Keren and musician Meir Shaashua (both also having extensive backgrounds in math and engineering studies), the Q10 Paragraphic Equalizer was a little before its time, but laid the groundwork for nearly two decades of future success for the young business. In addition to being the first audio plug-in, the Q10 was groundbreaking in other areas, offering quality that rivaled or exceeded hardware units, while automating complex filter coefficient calculations and offering a clear, simple to use screen interface.

The Q10 was anything but an immediate success, but this was hardly the fault of the product itself. It ran on Digidesign’s Sound Tools and early Pro Tools systems where only a single plug-in could run at a time. Two years later, the advent of TDM (the open-architecture, 256-channel, 24-bit digital audio bus for Pro Tools) opened the possibility of multiple plug-ins on a single session and software-based signal processing began evolving into an integral part of modern audio production.

Today, Waves (still with Keren and Shaashua at the helm) has become a leader in digital signal processing for the music recording, gaming, live performance, broadcast and film/video post-production industries. And the Q10 that started it all is still going strong (now updated to support TDM, RTAS, Audio Suite, VST and AU platforms and 24-bit/192kHz resolution) and is a component in the company’s high-end production bundles.

Harold “Andy” Hildebrand

Dr. Harold Hildebrand
Antares Auto-Tune (1997)

Antares Audio Technologies was originally founded in 1990 as Jupiter Systems by Dr. Harold “Andy” Hildebrand, a geophysical scientist who developed the first standalone workstation for seismic data interpretation. After nearly 14 years in that industry, Hildebrand turned his focus to merging his knowledge of DSP with audio and music composition. Jupiter’s first product was Infinity, an advanced looping program, followed by 1994’s MDT™ (Multiband Dynamics Tool), one of the first commercial plug-ins for Digidesign’s Pro Tools.

The huge breakthrough came in 1997 with the launch of Antares Auto-Tune plug-in (followed by a hardware rack version) that could correct pitch problems in vocals and other solo instruments. Auto-Tune quickly became the best selling audio plug-in of all time, and once the general public became aware of it, the technology was embroiled in controversy. The erroneous impression was that automated pitch correction meant that anyone could perform with perfect pitch, leading to the ruin of true music performance. However, Auto-Tune was simply another production tool, hardly different that punching in a passage 75 times until it’s right, or “comping” a final vocal/solo by combining different takes or using cut-and-paste editing to replace a flawed chorus with a good one.

In fact, having a pitch corrector in the vocal chain can serve to enhance a vocal (live or studio). By providing a musical “safety net,” a performer could concentrate on the overall performance without worrying about that one tricky note, resulting in a better take, even without the Auto-Tune kicking in. And in a live setting, any real performance is preferable to the lip-synced vocal playbacks on many tours today.

Today Auto-Tune is in its seventh generation and now offers both pitch- and time-based correction. And more than a decade later, it’s more popular than ever, not only for fixing a note or two, but sometimes also used “turned up to 11” to provide an exaggerated perspective on instruments and vocals—such as the iconic Cher/T-Pain-style Auto-Tune effect—or in a completely different vein, to bring musicality to a narrated vocal track.

TECnology Hall of Fame director George Petersen is also the executive editor of Mix magazine and an engineer/producer who’s most recent project is “Voodooville: A Celebration of New Orleans,” a 5.1 surround-audio DVD of jazz/funk/blues/Creole music.


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