Multi-Track Recording

Multi-Track Recording

Multi-Track Recording

Multi-Track Recording

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PLEASE NOTE: None of the Vintage Museum items are for sale.

reel to reel tape recorders



This is a list of information we have gathered from a variety of sources on some of the major analog reel to reel tape recorder and related equipment manufacturers.  While we have strived to provide the best information available to us, there will be corrections and additions. We include personal stories about the companies when they are provided to us.  We always invite input on corrections and updates. Thank you!

pdf of some of our collection

First Teac 4 track simul-sync reel to reel tape recorder in the vintage reel tape recorder recording collection
1/4" 4 track
Teac TCA-43 simul sync

Teac A-3340 4 track simul-sync reel to reel tape recorder in the vintage reel tape recorder recording collection
1/4" 4 track
Teac A-3340 simul sync

Pioneer RT-2044 4 track  reel to reel tape recorder in the vintage reel tape recorder recording collection
1/4" 4 track
Pioneer RT-2044

First Teac Tascam 8 track 1/2" reel to reel tape recorder in the vintage reel tape recorder recording collection
1/2" 8 track
Teac Series 70

Otari MX-5050 BQ III  1/4" 4 track reel to reel tape recorder in the vintage reel tape recorder recording collection
1/4" 4 track
Otari MX-5050 BQ III

Tandberg 100 1/4" 8 track instrumentation/data  reel to reel tape recorder in the vintage reel tape recorder recording collection
1/4" 8 track Instrumentation
Tandberg 100

Teac Tascam 80-8 1/2" 8 track reel to reel tape recorder in the vintage reel tape recorder recording collection
1/2" 8 track
Teac Tascam 80-8

Fostex R-8 8 track 14" reel to reel tape recorder in the vintage reel tape recorder recording collection
1/4" 8 track
Fostex R-8

Fostex G-16 1/2" 16 track reel to reel tape recorder in the vintage reel tape recorder recording collection
1/2" 16 track
Fostex G-16

Above, some of the multi-track reel to reel tape recorders in the Reel2ReelTexas/MOMSR vintage reel tape recorder recording collection

Early Multi-Track Recording Processes

Although General Electric researcher Charles A. Hoxie invented the pallophotophone (a machine that used 35mm film to optically record multiple tracks of sound) in ca. 1922, modern multitrack recording began in 1943 with the invention of stereo sound, which divided the recording head into two tracks.

Multitrack recording is a process where the tape is divided into multiple audio tracks parallel with each other. Because they are carried on the same medium, the tracks stay in perfect synchronisation. The first development in multitracking was stereo sound, which divided the recording head into two tracks. First developed by German audio engineers ca. 1943, 2-track recording was rapidly adopted for modern music in the 1950s because it enabled signals from two or more separate microphones to be recorded simultaneously, enabling stereophonic recordings to be made and edited conveniently. (The first stereo recordings, on disks, had been made in the 1930s, but were never issued commercially.) Stereo (either true, two-microphone stereo or multimixed) quickly became the norm for commercial classical recording and radio broadcasts, although many pop music and jazz recordings continued to be issued in monophonic sound until the mid-1960s.

Much of the credit for the development of multitrack recording goes to guitarist, composer and technician Les Paul (right), who lent his name to Gibson's first solid body electric guitar. His experiments with tapes and recorders in the early 1950s led him to order the first custom-built eight-track recorder from Ampex, and his pioneering recordings with his then wife, singer Mary Ford, were the first to make use of the technique of multitracking to record separate elements of a musical piece asynchronously — that is, separate elements could be recorded at different times. Paul's technique enabled him to listen to the tracks he had already taped and record new parts in time alongside them.

The earliest multitrack recorders were analog magnetic tape machines with two or three tracks. Elvis Presley was first recorded on multitrack during 1957, as RCA's engineers were testing their new machines. Buddy Holly's last studio session in 1958 employed three-track, resulting in his only stereo releases not to include overdubs. The new three-track system allowed the lead vocal to be recorded on a dedicated track, while the remaining two tracks could be used to record the backing tracks in full stereo.

Multitrack recording was immediately taken up in a limited way by Ampex, who soon produced a commercial 3-track recorder. These proved extremely useful for popular music, since they enabled backing music to be recorded on two tracks (either to allow the overdubbing of separate parts, or to create a full stereo backing track) while the third track was reserved for the lead vocalist. Three-track recorders remained in widespread commercial use until the mid-1960s and many famous pop recordings — including many of Phil Spector's so-called "Wall of Sound" productions and early Motown hits — were taped on Ampex 3-track recorders.


Four Track Recording

The next important development was 4-track recording. The advent of this improved system gave recording engineers and musicians vastly greater flexibility for recording and overdubbing, and4-track was the studio standard for most of the later 1960s. Engineer Tom Dowd was among the first to utilize 4-track recording for popular music production while working for Atlantic Records during the 1950. Many of the most famous recordings by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were recorded on 4-track, and the engineers at London's Abbey Road Studios became particularly adept at the technique called "reduction mixes" in the UK and "bouncing down" in the United States, in which multiple tracks were recorded onto one 4-track machine and then mixed together and transferred (bounced down) to one track of a second 4-track machine. In this way, it was possible to record literally dozens of separate tracks and combine them into finished recordings of great complexity.

All of the Beatles classic mid-1960s recordings, including the albums Revolver, engineered by Norman Smith (left center - engineer for all Beatles recordings up to Revolver), and Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, were recorded in this way. There were limitations, however, because of the build-up of noise during the bouncing-down process, and the Abbey Road engineers are still justly famed for the ability to create dense multitrack recordings while keeping background noise to a minimum.

4-track tape also led to a related development, quadraphonic sound, in which each of the four tracks was used to simulate a complete 360-degree surround sound. A number of albums including Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon and Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells were released both in stereo and quadrophonic format in the 1970s, but 'quad' failed to gain wide commercial acceptance. Although it is now considered a gimmick, it was the direct precursor of the surround sound technology that has become standard in many modern home theater systems.


In a professional audio setting today, such as a recording studio, audio engineers may use 64 tracks or more for their recordings, utilizing one or more tracks for each instrument played.

The combination of the ability to edit via tape splicing, and the ability to record multiple tracks, revolutionized studio recording. It became common studio recording practice to record on multiple tracks, and mix down afterward. The convenience of tape editing and multitrack recording led to the rapid adoption of magnetic tape as the primary technology for commercial musical recordings. Although 33⅓ rpm and 45 rpm vinyl records were the dominant consumer format, recordings were customarily made first on magnetic tape, then transferred to disc, with Bing Crosby leading the way in the adoption of this method in the United States.

Ampex's original 8-track recorder

The original Ampex 8-track recorder (not to be confused with 8-track tape endless-loop cartridge players), model 5258, was an internal Ampex project. It was based on an Ampex 1" data recorder transport with modified Ampex model 350 electronics. It stood over 7 feet (2.1 m) tall and weighed 250 pounds (110 kg). 8 tracks were chosen because that was the number of 0.070 inches (1.8 mm) recording tracks with 0.060 inches (1.5 mm) guard tracks that would fit on a 1 inch (25 mm) recording tape, the widest tape available at the time. These are the track widths used in all professional analog multitrack recorders except 24-track recorders.

The first of the Ampex 8-track recorders was sold to Les Paul for $10,000 in 1957 and was installed in his home recording studio by David Sarser.[4] It became known as the "Octopus". 

Ampex Sel-Sync 1955 • Mix Magazine Les Paul story by George Peterson 10/01/2005

The second Ampex model 5258 8-track 3 was sold to Atlantic Records at Tom Dowd's insistence in early 1958.[5] Atlantic was the first record company to use a multi-track recorder in their studio.

Les Paul 8 track evolution

Multi-track recording differs from overdubbing and sound on sound because it records separate signals to individual tracks. Sound on sound which Les Paul invented adds a new performance to an existing recording by placing a second playback head in front of the erase head to play back the existing track before erasing it and re-recording a new track.

Multi-track recorders also differs from early stereo and three track recorders that were available at the time in that they can record individual tracks while preserving the other tracks. The original multi-channel recorders could only record all tracks at once.

The earliest multitrack recorders were analog magnetic tape machines with two or three tracks. Elvis Presley was first recorded on multitrack during 1957, as RCA's engineers were testing their new machines. Buddy Holly's last studio session in 1958 employed three-track, resulting in his only stereo releases not to include overdubs. The new three-track system allowed the lead vocal to be recorded on a dedicated track, while the remaining two tracks could be used to record the backing tracks in full stereo.


Other early multi-track recorders

Frank Zappa experimented in the early 1960s with a multi-track recorder built by recording engineer Paul Buff in his Pal Recording Studio in Rancho Cucamonga, California. However,recorders with four or more tracks were restricted mainly to American recording studios until the mid-to-late 1960s, mainly because of import restrictions and the high cost of the technology. In England, pioneering independent producer Joe Meek produced all of his innovative early 1960s recordings using monophonic recorders. EMI house producer George Martin was considered an innovator for his use of two-track as a means to making better mono records, carefully balancing vocals and instruments; Abbey Road Studios installed Telefunken four-track machines in 1959 and 1960 (replaced in 1965 by smaller, more durable Studer machines), but The Beatles would not have access to them until late 1963, and all recordings prior to their first world hit single I Want to Hold Your Hand (1964) were made on two-track machines.


Mellotron Information, photos and video provided by Doug Berg view more   

It is a keyboard with a capstan motor and 35 playback heads.  The tapes are 3/8 in. strip and when you strike a key a pinch roller presses the tape to the individual head.

Mellotron 400SM magnetic recording tape photos and information provided by Doug Berg   Mellotron 400SM magnetic recording tape photos and information provided by Doug Berg   Mellotron 400SM magnetic recording tape photos and information provided by Doug Berg

Instrumentation Data Multi-Track reel tape recordersTeac Sr-58 mutitrack data reel to reel tape recorder in the / Museum of Magnetic Sound Recording vintage reel tape recorder recording collection

 Texas Department of Public Safety Dispatch logging reel tape recorders

Photo above shows logging recorders in one of the police dispatch offices of the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Ampex reel to reel data instrumentation reel to reel tape recoder in the - Museum of Magnetic Sound Recording vintage reel tape recorder recording collectionMany folks are not aware that many of the professional reel tape recorders that Ampex and Magnecord produced were "data" or "instrumentation" recorders. The US Defense Department and NSA were early adapters. Here's a declassified document from the NSA detailing the development of magnetic tape recording with NSA. Here's an excerpt from the NSA document

"In the quarter-century following the end of World War ll, the role of magnetic recorders in COMINT activities went from that of nonexistence to being an essential, critical component. During this era magnetic tape recorder technology moved through much the same sort of ferment and rapid advancement that computers demonstrated in the succeeding generation.: At base, the tape recorder made possible the off-line, riot-real-time processing of intercepted signals. As the quantity of targeted signals increased arid theri structures became more sophisticated and more complex, the necessity for equally sophisticated, complex analysis and processing at NSA Washington and other rear-echelon locations became absolute". Read the entire document from the NSAAn IBM 704 mainframe with IBM 727 seven-track tape drives on the left. (image courtesy of LLNL)

IBM's first magnetic tape data storage devices (right), introduced in 1952, use what is now generally known as 7 track tape. The magnetic tape is 1/2" wide and there are six data tracks plus one parity track for a total of seven parallel tracks that span the length of the tape. Data is stored as six-bit characters, with each bit of the character and the additional parity bit stored in a different track.

These tape drives were mechanically sophisticated floor-standing drives that used vacuum columns to buffer long U-shaped loops of tape. Between active control of powerful reel motors and vacuum control of these U-shaped tape loops, extremely rapid start and stop of the tape at the tape-to-head interface could be achieved. When active, the two tape reels thus fed tape into or pulled tape out of the vacuum columns, intermittently spinning in rapid, unsynchronized bursts resulting in visually striking action. Stock shots of such vacuum-column tape drives in motion were widely used to represent "the computer" in movies and television.

While many Ampex and other reel tape recorders went to recording studios and broadcast stations, a large percentage went to data recording (especially Ampex & Magnecord) . WeAmpex PR 260 1/4" 8 track instrumentation/data  reel to reel tape recorder in the vintage reel tape recorder recording collection provide this Ampex/Teac PR-260 using 1/2" tape and running at speeds from 15/16/ to 30 ips, as an example of some of the data recorders. This is a closed loop, however we don't have much additional sales info. There is an Ampex PR-260/280 manual in the collection for reference.  Ampex Data Brochure  •  Ampex SP-300 flyer  pdf

Tandberg 100 1/4" 8 track instrumentation/data  reel to reel tape recorder in the vintage reel tape recorder recording collectionThe Tandberg 100 left is an 8 track instrumentation/data recorder using 1/4" tape. Almost 50% of the professional reel to reel tape recorders produced were used in data recording. Users included the military, radio and television, 9-11 call centers, hospitals, the petroleum industry and many more. Magnetic tape continues to be used for data recording, although mostly it is cartridge based.

The Teac XR-7000 (below) is a 21 channel instrumentation recorder. Frequency: 40kHz - Dual display modes: bar-graph for all data channels or 2CH waveform display.- XR-7000 FM Wide Band Group-I recording, plus High Band recording, which doubles Wide Band Group-I response to DC 40kHz. - ID information recording and search functions speed data processing. Recording/reproduction is possible for up to 5 hours 44minutes with the XR- 7000. TEAC WX-7064 (far right)



Tascam instrumentation reel to reel tape recorders 8 Brush data add (right below)

Tascam data instrumentation reel to reel tape recorders  Brush Development ad for their data products 1951  Brush Development Company adin the vintage reel tape recorder recording collection

Brüel & Kjær was founded by Per Vilhelm Brüel (b. March 6, 1915) and Viggo Kjær (b. June 5, 1914) on November 28, 1942. The two men met while studying at the The Polytechnic School in Copenhagen (now the Technical University of Denmark). After receiving their M.S. degrees in 1939 they decided to start a company developing instruments for acoustic measurements. Holger Nielsen joined the company as third partner in 1945, and was with the company until his death in 1978.


Lyrec TR86	Instrumentation recorder, 8-track on 1/4" photo in the vintage reel tape recorder recording collectionBrüel & Kjær is known for the green color of its instruments, but where did the color come from? The first instruments were fabricated by Brüel and Danish army technicians at the radio workshop in 1942. The light-green lacquer used for the instrument front panels and dark green for the cabinets were standard Danish military colors and, of course, the paint was readily available, they have continued this color scheme to this day.

Lyrec 1972 TR86 Instrumentation recorder, 8-track on 1/4" (left). TR53-16 Multitrack recorder 16 tracks on 2" tape. TDU7202 Digital delay line. One of the first commercially available delay lines on the market.

Hewlett-Packard-HP-3964A-Instrumentation reel to reel tape recorder.

Hewlett-Packard-HP-3964A-Instrumentation reel to reel tape recorder.    Hewlett-Packard-HP-3964A-Instrumentation reel to reel tape recorder.  Hewlett-Packard-HP-3964A-Instrumentation reel to reel tape recorder.  Hewlett-Packard-HP-3964A-Instrumentation reel to reel tape recorder.

Crown 700T AR Vetter Model A reel to reel instrumentation tape recorder

Crown 700T AR Vette rModel A reel to reel instrumentation tape recorder  Crown 700T AR Vette rModel A reel to reel instrumentation tape recorder  Crown 700T AR Vette rModel A reel to reel instrumentation tape recorder  Crown 700T AR Vette rModel A reel to reel instrumentation tape recorder



1970 Hewlett Packard instrumentation recorders and information about Magnetic tape recording in the's vintage reel tape recorder recording collection  1970 Hewlett Packard instrumentation recorders and information about Magnetic tape recording in the's vintage reel tape recorder recording collection  1970 Hewlett Packard instrumentation recorders and information about Magnetic tape recording in the's vintage reel tape recorder recording collection  1970 Hewlett Packard instrumentation recorders and information about Magnetic tape recording in the's vintage reel tape recorder recording collection  1970 Hewlett Packard instrumentation recorders and information about Magnetic tape recording in the's vintage reel tape recorder recording collection


(comments by Martin Theophilus) David Forchhiemer (left at Martin's ham rig) took a part-time radio announcer’s job at KVLF while attending Alpine High School in the 1960s and made broadcasting his life’s work. His expertise in country music programming from the 1970s through the 1990s put the stations where he worked in the top echelon of the market. Billboard magazine named him country music programmer of the year in the late 1970s. His work took him from coast to coast where he was program director for stations in Memphis, Philadelphia, Houston, Shreveport, New Orleans, Denver, Oakland-San Francisco, Sacramento and Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The family moved to Alpine in 1951. David graduated from Alpine High School in 1964 and from the University of Texas at El Paso in 1970. While attending UTEP, he continued his radio work at KHEY, the border city’s country music station and where he took his radio personality name, Bob Young, that he would be known as throughout his career.

Through David and John King, I became interested in radio and recording. I rode my bike out to the station and sat for hours nights and weekends by the turntable on the right with Bob Beall and Phil Wayne Evensburger who were the DJ’s. I was a “go-for” to copy tapes and retrieve news from the teletype. Never paid, just wanted to learn about the recording technology (KVLF was using one Magnecord 536B at that time) and enjoy the music and stories.  

In the early '60's I saw KVLF set up a automated cart room and began the radio automation in Alpine, Texas which served the Big Bend area. It was an interesting transition. Martin's interview with Society of Broadcast Engineers.

Radio Automation

Originally, in the US, many (if not most) broadcast licensing authorities required a licensed board operator to run every station at all times, meaning that every DJ had to pass an exam to obtain a license to be on-air, if their duties also required them to ensure proper operation of the transmitter. This was often the case on overnight and weekend shifts when there was no broadcast engineer present, and all of the time for small stations with only a contract engineer on call.

In the U.S., it was also necessary to have an operator on duty at all times in case the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS) was used, as this had to be triggered manually. While there has not been a requirement to relay any other warnings, any mandatory messages from the U.S. president would have had to first be authenticated with a code word sealed in a pink envelope sent annually to stations by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Gradually, the quality and reliability of electronic equipment improved, regulations were relaxed, and no operator had to be present (or even available) while a station was operating. In the U.S., this came about when the EAS replaced the EBS, starting the movement toward automation to assist, and sometimes take the place of, the live disc jockeys (DJs) and radio personalities.

Early automation systems were electromechanical systems which used relays. Later systems were "computerized" only to the point of maintaining a schedule, and were limited to radio rather than TV. Music would be stored on reel-to-reel audio tape. Subaudible tones on the tape marked the end of each song. The computer would simply rotate among the tape players until the computer's internal clock matched that of a scheduled event. When a scheduled event would be encountered, the computer would finish the currently-playing song and then execute the scheduled block of events. These events were usually advertisements, but could also include the station's top-of-hour station identification, news, or a bumper promoting the station or its other shows. At the end of the block, the rotation among tapes resumed.

Advertisements, jingles, and the top-of-hour station identification required by law were commonly stored on Fidelipac endless-loop tape cartridges, known colloquially as "carts". These were similar to the consumer four-track tapes sold under the Stereo-Pak brand, but had only two tracks and were usually recorded and played at 7.5 tape inches per second (in/s) compared to Stero-Pak's slower 3.75 in/s. The carts had a slot for a pinch roller on a spindle which was activated by solenoid upon pressing the start button on the cart machine. Because the capstan was already spinning at full speed, tape playback commenced without delay or any audible "run-up". Mechanical carousels would rotate the carts in and out of multiple tape players as dictated by the computer. Time announcements were provided by a pair of dedicated cart players, with the even minutes stored on one and the odd minutes on the other, meaning an announcement would always be ready to play even if the minute was changing when the announcement was triggered. The system did require attention throughout the day to change reels as they ran out and reload carts, and thus became obsolete when a method was developed to automatically rewind and re-cue the reel tapes when they ran out, extending 'walk-away' time indefinitely.

Radio station WIRX may have been one of the world's first completely automated radio stations, built and designed by Brian Jeffrey Brown in 1963 when Brown was only 10 years old.  The station broadcast in a classical format, called "More Good Music (MGM)" and featured five-minute bottom-of-the-hour news feeds from the Mutual Broadcasting System. The heart of the automation was an 8 x 24 telephone stepping relay which controlled two reel-to-reel tape decks, one twelve inch Ampex machine providing the main program audio and a second RCA seven inch machine providing "fill" music. The tapes played by these machines were originally produced in the Midwest Family Broadcasting (MWF) Madison, Wisconsin production facility by WSJM Chief Engineer Richard E. McLemore (and later in-house at WSJM) with sub-audible tones used to signal the end of a song. The stepping relay was programmed by slide switches in the front of the two relay racks which housed the equipment. The news feeds were triggered by a microswitch which was attached to a Western Union clock and tripped by the minute hand of the clock, then reset the stepping relay. Originally, 30-minute station identification was accomplished by a simulcast switch in the control booth for sister station WSJM (AM), whereupon the disc jockey in the booth would announce "This is WSJM-AM and... (then pressing the momentary contact button) ...WSJM-FM, St. Joseph, Michigan." This only lasted about six months, however, and a standard tape cartridge player was wired in to announce the station identification and triggered by the Western Union clock.

Solidyne GMS200 tape recorder (rt) with computer self-adjustment. Argentina 1980-1990 

A different technology appeared in 1980 with the analog recorders made by Solidyne, which used a computer-controlled tape positioning system. Four GMS 204 units were controlled from a 6809 microprocessor, with the program stored in a solid-state plug-in memory module. This system has a limited programming time of about eight hours.

Satellite programming often used audible dual-tone multi-frequency (DTMF) signals to trigger events at affiliate stations. This allowed the automatic local insertion of ads and station IDs. Because there are 12 (or 16) tone pairs, and typically four tones were sent in rapid succession (less than one second), more events could be triggered than by sub-audible tones (usually 25 Hz and 35 Hz).



The following photos are of  professional reel tape recorders provided by William "Bill" Schoenborn  - I have attached two other pics that you may be interested in. They were taken in 1974 at WEZO-FM in Rochester, NY, where I also worked."

"The picture of two racks of WEZO automation equipment shows three Revox A77s, two carousel-type cartridge playback machines of unknown brand,
and two single-cart playback machines, also of unknown brand. The other picture is the WEZO production studio: two Revox A77s, an Ampex,
a Magnecord PT6-J, and a cartridge recorder of unknown brand.

  professional reel tape recorders provided by William "Bill" Schoenborn  professional reel tape recorders provided by William "Bill" Schoenborn


Here are a couple of articles about automation and Drake-Chanault who produced 10" reel tapes for radio.

The Time Has Come to Talk of Many Things - Radio World files - by Tom Vernon

Radio World automation article by Tom Vernon  Radio World automation article by Tom Vernon  Radio World automation article by Tom Vernon  Radio World automation article by Tom Vernon

By Hank Landsberg, Director of Engineering, Drake-Chenault Enterprises, Inc. 1974-1988.

  Drake Chenault article by Hank Landsberg  Drake Chenault article by Hank Landsberg  Drake Chenault article by Hank Landsberg

Go to more information about radios and broadcasting

Impact on popular music

The artistic potential of the multitrack recorder came to the attention of the public in the 1960s, when artists such as the Beatles and the Beach Boys began to multitrack extensively, and from then on virtually all popular music was recorded in this manner. The technology developed very rapidly during these years. At the start of their careers, the Beatles and Beach Boys each recorded live to mono, two-track (the Beatles), or three-track (the Beach Boys); by 1965 they used multitracking to create pop music of unprecedented complexity.

The Beach Boys' acclaimed 1966 LP Pet Sounds relied on multitrack recorders for its innovative production. Brian Wilson pretaped all the instrumental backing tracks with a large ensemble, recording the performances live, direct to a four-track recorder. These four-track backing tapes were then 'dubbed down' to one track of an eight-track tape. Six of the remaining seven tracks were then used to individually record the vocals of each member of The Beach Boys, and the eighth track was reserved for any final 'sweetening' overdubs of instruments or voices.

3M introduced the 1-inch eight-track version of their model M-23 recorder in 1966, probably the first mass-produced machine of this format. It remained in production until 1970 and was used by many top studios worldwide including Abbey Road Studios in London. Both Pete Townshend and John Lennon had 3M 8-track machines in their home project studios c. 1969-1970. Ampex began mass production of their competing 1-inch eight-track MM1000 in 1967. One of the first 8-track machines in Los Angeles was built by Scully Recording Instruments of Bridgeport, Connecticut and installed at American Recorders in late 1967. The debut album by Steppenwolf was recorded there and was released in January 1968.

Because The Beatles did not gain access to eight-track recorders until 1968, their ground breaking Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band LP (1967) was created using pairs of four-track machines; the group also used vari-speed (also called pitch shift) to achieve unique sounds, and they were the first group in the world to use an important offshoot of multitrack recording, the Automatic Double Tracking (ADT) system invented by Abbey Road staff engineer Ken Townsend in 1966.

Other artists began experimenting with multitrack's possibilities also, with the Music Machine (of "Talk Talk" fame) recording on a custom-built ten-track setup, and Pink Floyd collaborating with former Beatles recording engineer Norman "Hurricane" Smith, who produced their first albums.

The first eight-track recorder in the UK was built by Scully and installed at London's Advision Studios in early 1968. Among the first eight-track recordings made there were the single Dogs by The Who and the album My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair... But Now They're Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows by the band Tyrannosaurus Rex. Trident Studios obtained their first eight-track recorder soon afterward. It was during The Beatles' recording of their White Album sessions of late 1968 that EMI's Abbey Road Studios finally had eight-track recorders installed, until then the group went to Trident to record with eight-tracks. The Beatles used eight-track to record portions of the White Album, the single "Hey Jude" and the later Abbey Road.

Other western countries also lagged well behind the USA – in Australia, the largest local recording label, Festival Records, did not install a four-track recorder until late 1966; the first eight-track recorders did not appear there until the late 1960s;


Large Format Professional Analog Recorders

In 1967 Ampex built its first prototype 16-track professional audio recorder AmpexMM100 (right)at the request of Mirasound Studios in New York City. This machine used reels of 2-inch tape on a modified tape transport system originally built for video recording. In 1968 it introduced the 16-track production model MM-1000, the first commercially available 16-track machine. Machines of this size are difficult to move and costly to maintain. Prices were very high, typically $10,000 to $30,000 U.S. dollars. Crimson And Clover by Tommy James and the Shondells was released in November 1968 and was among the first 16-track recordings.

One of the first 16-track recorders was installed at CBS Studios in New York City where it was used to record the second album by Blood, Sweat & Tears released in December 1968. The Grateful Dead released their first 16-track recordings Aoxomoxoa in June 1969 and Live/Dead in November 1969. TTG Studios in Los Angeles built its own 16-track machine in 1968. This was used on Frank Zappa's album Hot Rats released in October 1969. Volunteers by Jefferson Airplane was released in November 1969. The back of the Jefferson Airplane album cover includes a picture of the 16-track MM-1000.

Advision and Trident were also among the first in the U.K. to install 16-track machines.[citation needed] Trident installed its first 16-track machine in late 1969. "After The Flood", a song from the Van der Graaf Generator album The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other, was recorded at this studio on 16 tracks in December 1969. Production of 16-track machines boomed and the number of studios worldwide using these machines exploded during 1970 and 1971. By the end of 1971 there were at least 21 studios in London using 16-track recorders in conjunction with Dolby noise reduction.[7] Groups using Trident at this time also included Genesis and David Bowie as well as Queen who experimented with multitracking extensively most prominently on their albums Queen II and A Night at the Opera.

Australia's first sixteen-track recorder was installed at Armstrong's Studios in Melbourne in 1971; Festival installed Australia's first 24-track recorder at its Sydney studio in 1974. During the 1970s, sixteen, twenty-four, and thirty-two tracks became common in professional studios, with recording tape reaching two and three inches (5.08 cm - 7.62 cm) wide. The so-called "golden age" of large format professional analog recorders would last into the 1990s when the technology was mostly replaced with digital tape machines, and later on, computer systems using hard disk drives instead of tape. Some music producers and musicians still prefer working with the sound of vintage analog recording equipment despite the additional costs and difficulties involved.

Large format analog multitrack machines can have up to 24 tracks on a tape two inches wide which is the widest analog tape that is generally available. Prototype machines, by MCI in 1978, using 3" tape for 32 tracks never went into production, though Otari made a 32 track 2" MX-80. A few studios still operate large format analog recorders, though much of the time their use is only to copy sounds onto a modern digital format. Maintaining these machines has become increasingly difficult as new parts are rarely available. New tape is still available but prices have risen significantly in recent years.Sigma Sound Studios was a recording studio in Philadelphia

Sigma Sound Studios was a recording studio in Philadelphia

Sigma Sound Studios was a recording studio in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was founded in 1968 by recording engineer Joseph Tarsia.. Located at 212 North 12th Street in Philadelphia, it was one of the first studios in the United States to offer 24-track recording and the first anywhere to successfully employ console automation


Dennis “Wiz” Leonard’s Notes on Europe ’72

Here are my old friend, Dennis “Wiz” Leonard’s tech notes on the recording of the Grateful Dead’s great live album, “Europe ’72”.  Most of my blog is my own writing, but I asked Wiz if I could share this, and he graciously said, “yes”.  This is the clearest explanation of how Alembic did live recordings that I’ve ever seen.  Wiz now works at Skywalker Sound…he went way big league!

Dennis Wiz Leonard Europe ’72 Technical Liner Notes By Dennis Leonard
“Less is more!” This was the motto of Alembic and many of the sound artists in the S.F. Bay Area’s growing community of folks trying to advance the state of the art in both “live” and “recorded” sound for rock ’n’ roll. One can hardly mention this philosophy to recording without touching on the Alembic PA system and its unique qualities.

The new paradigm for live sound: the Alembic PA. In 1964 The Beatles played at Shea Stadium using a circular array of Vox Grenadier Column speakers, a box quite similar to the Shure Vocal Master Column. This approach to sound for a stadium was doomed even if all the girls did not scream. Fast-forward to ’67-70 and things were not much better.

The Alembic PA was the first really hi-fi approach to a live system. It had direct radiator low-frequency elements rather than horn-loaded boxes, which were the standard. It was an electronically crossed-over three-way system using McIntosh MC-75, MC-275, and MC-3500 vacuum-tube amplifiers and Ampex MX-10 vacuum-tube mixers as the front-of- house console. It eventually evolved into the famous Wall of Sound. This was a philosophic approach, brainchild of The Bear, put together by some of the most talented engineers in the Bay Area, and the same philosophy was applied to the task of recording bands.

Alembic Recording did not have a truck to pull up to a venue. We had gear, and we often built a studio at the venue in a room somewhere backstage. Sometimes we would haul the gear to the gig in a rental truck, then unpack and build the studio for the gig in the truck, take it apart when we were done, and take it back home.

Recording Europe ’72 was a monumental task, and we came up with a great solution to building a truck which we could fly airfreight to and from Europe. A video-production company was letting go of a pair of cargo containers built for them to ship a portable video-production remote unit by airfreight. This was perfect—when set back-to-back, these two rode in the top of a 747 airfreighter. Each container was built around a reinforced floor, the sides and top latched on and off.

We moved all of the components of our Ampex MM1000 16-track into a video chassis that put all 16 sets of AG-440 electronics down below the transport which was then on a 45 degree angle.  This was not only more robust, but it was also going to allow us to run 14-inch reels. This took place in an all-night marathon. When we started, Ron Wickersham was not sure all of the original cabling would work. We were lucky it did! At around 5 am, the new machine was rolling; no cables needed to be cut or spliced from the original wiring loom!

Another obstacle was that the capstan speed in an MM1000 was derived from line frequency. Ours was a 60-Hz machine and we were going to 50-Hz land. Ron came up with a solution which would also solve another problem down the road: He built a precision 60-Hz crystal oscillator; we drove a McIntosh 275 vacuum-tube amplifier and picked off a tap on the output transformer, which would give us 120 volts with enough current to run the capstan motor at our precise 60 Hz/15ips, also now immune to line-frequency fluctuation.

The other problem arose when we tried to get Ampex to give us their 207 tape on 14-inch reels. Ampex 207 had a thinner backing; instead of the traditional 30 minutes one got out of a 10.5-inch roll, 207 would give us 45 minutes, so a 14-inch reel was going to run 90 minutes—very desirable when recording a band with long sets, like the Dead. Ampex would not build the reels; we had to do those ourselves. Remember, we were running the recorder’s capstan on an oscillator, so for building the reels we hooked up a variable-frequency oscillator. We would ramp the machine up to 60ips to pack the tape.

Each of the 14-inch reels had a splice in it. Ron and Sue Wickersham and I spent a few nights at Alembic having a 14-inch- reel-building party.

The recording rig was quite simple: “less is more.” We recorded the Dead quite often, so a lot of what we did for Europe ’72 had been tested and proven.

We built the rig at Alembic. One of the newly procured containers had the 16-track and an outboard equipment rack, the other . . . a custom built cabinet which was our tape library, and this cabinet also had our monitor console, Revox two-track, cassette machine, and Orban reverb units mounted on top of it. A carpenter met us at Heathrow airfreight in London. When the gear arrived, we took the sides and tops off of the two containers (which were left there in storage for the tour) and had them fork lifted into our rental truck for the tour. The container floors were about ten inches high, so after the two were in the truck, the carpenter secured them and built us a filler floor so that the recording truck would not have a split- level floor.

We wired the truck up and hung drapes and the 4310 JBL monitors, as well as many other things at the first show venue, Wembley Arena.

The flow of the rig, starting inside the venue, consisted of the following:

Two nine-pair snakes plugged into a custom Alembic split. AC from the stage ran to the truck with the two nine-pairs. Once inside the truck, the AC power was conditioned in an automatic, motor-driven variac made by General Radio. This was to, hopefully, prevent severe voltage fluctuation. The split plugged into the rack, which held a patch bay and minimal gear. We had a couple of Ampex MX-10 tube mixers and some limiters. The limiters, by the way, were used only on vocals for our monitor mix; we did not want to do anything to the vocals on the 16-track record master.

One of the big “less is more” philosophic bits of Alembic magic was the use of transformers in the input section of the MM1000. Ampex offered modules which plugged into an octal socket on the back of each 440 record amplifier. We used these sockets for the transformers, which would allow us to take microphone level right into the tape recorder, totally passive—no electronic noise added and no record console electronics to fail.

The MM1000 fed a very small, 16-track Alembic monitoring console built by Ron. Janet Furman was our technical engineer and not only fixed things, but also set up the 16-track to the custom equalization we were using with the thinner-backed Ampex 207 tape. We could monitor, solo, and build a two-track mix on this. We recorded to a Revox B77 and a Sony cassette machine, and we also had some pretty simple spring reverbs for our two-track mixes.

Shows seemed to generally fit on two 14-inch reels and a ten-inch reel or two. Tape changes were quite interesting: We did not have a lot of room and had practiced this quite a bit, and it took three of us to do this at high speed. In an effort to not run out of tape during a performance, we had an indicator-light system of communication. Under Jerry’s monitor wedge there were three small lamps mounted on a piece of wood. The lights could be lit from the truck. A green, yellow, and red light: Green = we are rolling and in record; yellow = if you can wind it down and stop, we need to change tape; red (if, in fact, the band did stop for us) = changing tape, not in record.

This, of course, did not fit in with the way the Grateful Dead worked. There were not going to be any rules. Early in the tour, I tried a “yellow,” asking for a possible  wind-down of the jam so that we could change tape. Even though this had been an idea we had discussed Stateside, Jerry was having no part of it! As I switched on the yellow light, I looked at Garcia on our 13-inch B&W TV monitor. He looked up at the camera, knowing I was watching, and simply smiled and nodded no in a very friendly way. Don’t fuck with the music!
We did some tape changes while the band was playing. We really did not want to interfere with the flow of the music.

I was in the truck for the tour, parked in front of the Ampex 16-track. Since we had no record console in the path to tape, the 16-track itself was actually the only place to make any level adjustments, so with our custom MM1000, all 16 of the AG440 record amplifiers were clustered together in two stacks of eight, easy to keep an eye on. Betty Cantor did our live two-track mix in the truck; she was around eight feet away. The band really had no set lists in those days, so as the show went down, I would write one on each of the tape boxes. Bob Matthews was at front of house. We would chat on our intercom after songs, and he, Betty, and I would decide how many stars to give a song: Three stars meant it was a really good performance! The star system was used when we got back home in order to focus on candidates for the Europe ’72 album.

Twenty-two shows in two months (57 days) is a vacation tour. The current tour-booking standard is to average 4.5 shows a week, and the Grateful Dead Europe ’72 tour was booked at around 2.5 shows per week. It does not get much better! Although it was an amazing time, with many days off, we took recording this tour very seriously and there was no relaxation on a show day at all.

It was a high time for everyone. The music was just amazing and for me not seeing any of it except on a small B&W TV was OK. I did, however, get inside on the last night. Due to circumstance, I was alone in the truck. We had, only minutes before, put a fresh 14-inch reel up and had 1.5 hours before the next tape change. A microphone on stage needed attention and I had to go inside. I did this with a bit of trepidation; I really did not want to simply leave the truck, but no one else was available and the mic needed to be fixed. The band was in a spacey jam and was very unlikely to produce levels which would be a problem on tape.

I locked the truck, went inside, and quickly fixed the bad mic, which was just a bit loose on its stand. As I went for the stairs to leave, the band dropped into “Morning Dew,” which has always been a favorite tune of mine. I decided to stay. Dynamically, the levels in the truck—which was now “running itself”—were going to be fine, and I had to stay! I parked myself behind Jerry’s rig for the song, a time I will absolutely never forget.

Fast-forward to Alembic Studios, 60 Brady Street, San Francisco. The band is choosing the final songs for the album. I am walking down the hall towards the control room. Jerry bursts out, very animated as he catches me, “Hey, Wiz. Guess what? ‘Morning Dew’ from the Lyceum is for sure going on the album.” (Big smile from Jerry.) He says, very emphatically, “And no one was in the truck!” (Bigger smile.) The Grateful Dead’s music was built on taking chances, embracing the unknown, letting serendipity have its hand. So the fact that, while no one was in the truck, a true pearl was recorded was not unusual at all! It was just an affirmation that we were letting the muse guide us in an invisible and mysterious way.

The tour was a truly magical time. It changed my life forever! If I were to be marooned on an island with only one piece of music I could ever listen to, “Morning Dew” from Europe ’72 would be it. Jerry’s solo says it all!

Oh… One more anecdote, I got back to SF after a quick trip to Vermont to get my dog Zach… Got back to Alembic in time to meet the gear, we were now at 60 Brady street… Big M (Bob Matthews) grabs me and says, “Hey remember we had to fast wind some tapes off, so I want you to play the tour, the whole tour, so all the reels are playback packed at “Tails out” the control room is yours” So I said, “hey I’ll just live here till it’s done, ok?” Big smile from Big M… What a drag, I had to play the whole tour, update thoughts (Star System) on quality and I put another pair of 4310’s in the back of the control room and played the room miss through them… (Surround sound) sat and did a live mix for I am not sure how long, I would play and sleep, sleep and play… But it was pretty constant… Stop every show to clean the heads….. Then I moved up to Fairfax and really slept..

Home Multitrack SystemsTeac A3340 reel to reel tape recorder in the vintaged recording collectionDokorder reel to reel tape recorder ad/photos in the vintage reel tape recorder recording collection

In 1972 TEAC marketed their consumer 4-channel quadraphonic tape recorders for use as home multitrack recorders. The result were the popular TEAC 2340 and 3340 models. Both used ¼ inch tape. The 2340 ran at either 3¾ or 7½ inches per second and used 7-inch reels while the 3340 ran at 7½ or 15 inches per second and used 10½ inch reels. The 2340 was priced at under U.S. $1,000 making it very popular for home use.

The advent of the compact audio cassette (developed in 1963) ultimately led to affordable, portable four-track machines such as the Tascam Portastudio which debuted in1979. Cassette-based machines could not provide the same audio quality as reel-to-reel machines, but served as a useful tool for professional and semi-pro musicians in making song demos. Bruce Springsteen's 1982 album Nebraska was made this way, with Springsteen choosing the album's earlier demo versions over the later studio recordings.

The familiar tape cassette was designed to accommodate four channels of audio – in a commercially recorded cassette these four tracks would normally constitute the stereo channels (each consisting of two tracks) for both 'sides' of the cassette – in a four-track cassette recorder all four tracks of a cassette are utilized together, often with the tape running at twice the normal speed (3¾ instead of 1⅞ inches per second) for increased fidelity. A separate signal can be recorded on to each of four tracks. (As such, the four-track machine does not utilize the two separate sides of the cassette in the conventional sense; if the cassette is inserted the other way round, all four tracks play in reverse.) As with professional machines, two or more tracks can be bounced down to one. When recording is complete, the volume level of each track is optimized, effects are added where desired, each track is separately 'panned' to the desired point in the stereo field and the resulting stereo signal is mixed down to a separate stereo machine (such as a conventional cassette recorder).

Digital multitracking

Thomas Stockham of Sound Stream DigitalBy the early 1970s, Thomas Stockham (left0of Sound Stream Digital, created the first practical use of pulse code modulation aka PCM digital recording, for high fidelity purposes. The first to be released were re released cleaned up versions of acoustic recordings made by the great tenor, Enrico Caruso. Early computer algorithms were used in the process of cleaning up these scratchy old 78 RPM records. The process could not be done in " real time " as the early computers were not very powerful or fast. All of the data had to be stored on linear digital tape. And then it had to be able to be played back, in real time. Though the actual ingest from the 78 RPM records to the digital tape was also done in real-time. It was only the computer processing to clean up the surface noise, pops and scratches that took the early computers of the day, quite some time to process.

By the late 1970s, 3M, introduced the first digital multi-track recorder (right). It utilized 1 inch wide tape and recorded 32 tracks. Unlike analog tape, edits could not be accomplished with a grease pencil, razor blades and splicing tape. So a secondary 4 track editing & mix down recorder was also created with an electronically controlled edit controller to make effective digital edits. This early system used a 16-bit digital "word". Unfortunately, the only converters of the day were Mitsubishi  X-80 the last tape editable digital reel to reel tape recorder in the vintaged recording collection12 bit & 4 bit. So 2 were cascaded/daisy chained to create the necessary 16-bit word for 96 DB of dynamic range. The signal was then sampled faster than any other digital recordings made up till that time at 50,000 times per second aka 50 kHz. It was known to be the best sounding of all the later digital multi-track recorders because their use of 50 kHz sampling did not become the industry standards later established as 44.1 kHz for CD's & 48 kHz for digital video. The accepted world standard was created by Sony along with Philips. Then, Sony created a 24track digital recorder where the Mitsubishi Corporation created a different 32 track digital recorder. The Mitsubishi recorded their data differently and it could be edited, the old-fashioned analog way, with a razor blade and splicing tape(X-80 left which was the last tape editable digital recorder). The Sony used 1/2 inch tape whereas the Mitsubishi used 1 inch wide tape. So the first recordings that were released produced on the 3M, 32 track digital recorder were still analog vinyl releases, since the CD had yet to be invented. These professional linear tape digital recorders established the "DASH" format meaning, " Digital Audio Stationary Head". By the time the other manufacturers released their digital multi-track recorders, the CD had already come into being. The sampling rate dictates the upper range of the frequency response,whereas the bit depth dictates the dynamic range and signal to noise ratios.

ALESIS recorder in the Reel2ReelTexas vintage reel tape recorder recording collectionStarting in 1992, the ALESIS Corporation, who made digital drum machines and inexpensive analog audio mixers introduced the first multitrack, eight track, project studio, digital 8track machine. It was christened the ADAT, after the earlier 2 track digital recorders of the time known as DAT (Digital Audio Tape) based upon a small spinning head, similar to a consumer video recorder. The ADAT machine recorded its data in an already well-established consumer format based upon VHS videotape recorder technology. 8 separate data tracks were recorded within the same bandwidth it took to record your favorite TV shows on your home video recorder. Numerous machines could be electronically locked together with a single cable. You could plug in enough 8 track machines together to create one giant 128 track machine. And like the professional studio recorders before it, a large full function remote control was also available. The following year, the TEAC/TASCAM Corporation,introduced their DA-88. Those used the smaller 8 mm video format tapes. Those recorded 4, duplexed pairs of data tracks and would require a "read before write" function for overdubbing purposes of adjacent tracks. A full size remote and remote metering was also made available. Later units introduced by both companies provided for higher bit depths such as 20 & 24 bit. These machines like the early home studio TEAC's before them, slashed the prices of professional digital multitrack recording. It changed the recording industry forever.

By the late 1990s, dedicated multitrack recorders of any kind started to fade into oblivion with the introduction of the Macintosh and Windows operating systems in the computers we use today. Some of the first companies jumping on board with this technology were New England Digital and Digidesign, from the US & Fairlight, from Australia.

Through the 1990s, multitrack recorders became digital, using a variety of technologies and media types. These including digital tape format (such as ADAT), or in some cases Minidiscs.

Some of the leading providers of multitrackers was Tascam (hard drive or cassette based), Alesis (ADAT digital tape based), Roland/Boss (hard drive based), Fostex (hard drive based), Yamaha (hard drive based), and Korg.

A highly competitive market and rapidly falling costs for this equipment has made it common to find multitrack recording technology outside a typical recording studio.

Computer-based recording

The first software-based digital multi-track recorder, called Deck, was released in 1990. The core engine technology and much of the user interface was programmed and designed by Josh Rosen, Mats Myrberg and John Dalton from a small San Francisco based company. They formed the platform upon which Pro Tools was built in 1991. The same technology lay behind the 1992 release of Cubase Audio, the first version to offer audio support in addition to MIDI sequencing capabilities.

While hardware costs have fallen the power of the personal computer have increased, so that today, an average home computer is sufficiently powerful to serve as a complete multitrack recorder, using inexpensive hardware and software. Since 2012, the multitracking software GarageBand is offered as a free download for all of Apple's new computers or $4.99 for older models. This is a far cry from the days when multitrack recorders cost thousands of dollars and few people could afford them.

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