How many of you have held a reel of 2” tape in your hands (or had one dropped on your toes)? They were heavy (about 11 ½ lbs), and expensive. They used to cost about $200 for enough 24 track tape to record about 16 ½ minutes of audio at 30 inches per second (ips). 33 minutes if you recorded at the noisier 15 ips. It wasn’t unusual for an album-length project to use thousands of dollars worth of 2” tape.
Storing them took a lot of space and care to prevent them from becoming unplayable after a few years. If you wanted to make copies of the tapes for safekeeping it was expensive. Making safety copies added thousands to the budget. The right time to make safety copies was at the end of the recording – when the budget had already been spent. In most cases that meant that the multi-track tapes were never copied. Instead, you hoped that nothing went wrong with the tapes and that the record label knew how to take care of them. It turns out that isn’t always the case, as this article highlights:
When Jim and I were playing in a band together during our college years, we had the chance to take our band into a recording studio to record some cover songs for our club demo, as well as take a stab at a couple of original songs. We fell in love with the creative process. Neither of us could think of much else for a long time after that experience. We both decided that if we ever got the chance to somehow have our own recording studio we had to do it.
At the time (late 1970’s early 1980’s) there was no way put together a decent recording studio for less than a few hundred thousand dollars. 24 track reel-to-reel analog recorders were the state of the art – and cost in the neighborhood of $50k. A recording console was a necessity – and cheap ones were close to $100,000. Then you add the mics, cables, sound treatment, headphones, etc. It was a big buy-in.
Over the past 15 or 20 years, the recording industry has undergone a paradigm shift, in process and procedures.
In the past, a truly professional recording studio required many large, expensive equipment choices: multitrack tape machines ($55,000 or more, each the size of a washing machine, weighing in at around 400 or so pounds), large format mixing consoles (from $50,000 to $800,000 and more, up to 15 feet long and weighing as much as a small car), racks and racks of outboard processing gear (EQ’s, compressors, reverbs, delays and more, each likely ranging in the thousands of dollars). Not to mention the physical, “brick and mortar” building for the studio itself. Recording procedures were limited by the constraints of the technology available. The traditional setup involved a studio room where the majority of the musicians would perform, some isolation rooms for separating individual players and singers, and a control room to contain and isolate the enormous amount of gear required. Every session was preceded by an hour or so of tape machine cleaning and calibration, in addition to cabling and microphone setup and placement.
The Neumann U 47 is without a doubt the most sought-after, legendary, and unfortunately rare microphone in the history of the recording arts. Known primarily as a vocal mic, it is equally impressive at a wide variety of tasks: from acoustic guitar to upright bass to room sounds for everything from orchestration to drums. The high end response is silky-smooth and the low frequency reproduction must be heard to be believed.
The history of these amazing mics begins at Georg Neumann GmbH as far back as 1928 with the production of the CVM 3 microphone, sometimes refered to as the “Neumann Bottle” mic and seen in historical films of speeches from that era. During World War Two, the Neumann factory was bombed and they were forced to move to Thueringen, while their offices stayed in Berlin. Eventually, in the 1950′s, the East German Government seized the factory and produced microphones there, at first under the “Neumann” name and then under the name “Microtech Gefell”.
The dbx company grew out of the need to reduce tape machine noise. It was founded by David Blackmer and the first products used a solid-state voltage control amplifier (VCA) coupled with a RMS based detection and control circuit. The idea was essentially to compress the dynamic range of the incoming audio signal, then record the result on tape. At this point, the audio would exist on the tape as well as the inherent tape noise. However, since the audio signal was compressed before it was recorded, the volume of the signal on tape was always relatively high. Upon playback, the dbx system would “expand” the entire replay signal (noise included now) with essentially the reverse of the compression curve. Now when the signal was quiet, the noise was expanded downward. During louder passages, the noise was for all practical purposes “drowned out” by the original audio signal. The system did not require elaborate input and output calibration, making it easier to use than the popular Dolby system. Unfortunately, I have always felt that the dbx noise reduction system created too many noticeable artifacts, such as “pumping” and unnatural attack transients.