Multi Track History

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  • Topic: Multitrack recording, Tape recorder, Sound recording and reproduction
  • Pages : 9 (2989 words )
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  • Published : June 1, 2005
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60s Research Document


History and development of the Multitrack Recorder

Multitrack recorders were originally developed in the early 1950s in Germany. The initial principle of multitracks was to divide a tape in two parts and record different sounds onto each and play them back concurrently. The fact that both tracks would be on the same tape would mean they would be synchronised exactly. In classical music recordings of the 1950s, the early two track machines were first used and recorded in stereo. Two different mics would be used and these signals would be recorded simultaneously. Pop and jazz recordings however, remained in mono until the mid sixties. The first three track recorder is attributed to Les Paul who developed the system with his wife, singer Mary Ford. Ampex were soon to realise the possibilities of such a machine and bought the device from Paul. Ampex quickly released a refined version of the three track which was in common use until the birth of 4-track in the mid 1960s. Many Motown hits and, maybe most famously, Phil Spector's ‘Wall Of Sound' were recorded on three track machines.

When 4-track was born, a new world of recording and bouncing possibilities was opened up to the recording industry. Most Beatles and Rolling Stones albums were recorded in 4-track and Abbey Road became world renowned in the art of 4-track recording. Their engineers seemed to be able to create vast recordings, which required numerous bounces, whilst keeping unwanted bounce noise to a minimum. 4-track also paved the way for innovations in sound such as Quadraphonic. This system used each track as a means of creating a 360° mix. Albums like Pink Floyd's ‘Dark Side Of The Moon' and Mike Oldfield's ‘Tubular Bells' were recorded in Quadraphonic (as well as Stereo) but the system never really took off. It did however have a significant part to play in the development of surround sound.

By 1970 the 16-track recorder was emerging in the rock scene of the United States though the Beatles stuck with the 8-track to record their final albums. Split bank designs became popular offering a main bank of faders used for the mic/line inputs, a separate bank controlling monitor levels and cue mixes and a final section used for other submixes and reverb chambers. The typical price for a 16-track recorder was around $35,000 however the problem of noise build up with numerous tracks still existed (this is the main reason for the lack of interest in 24-track machines at the time).

The fact that magnetic tape could be inaudibly cut and pasted, coupled with the ability to recorded multiple tracks on one tape, transformed the music industry. A new culture developed in which one would record onto multiple tracks and then mix down afterwards. For the following thirty years, tape became the dominant format for sound recording which was then bounced to vinyl record, audio cassette or, by the mid eighties, compact disk.

One of the drawbacks in working with magnetic tape was that the magnetic particles on the tape would cause it to hiss. In the late 1960s, the ‘hiss' problem lead to some studios and manufacturers experimenting with ‘direct to disk' technology. This method of sound recording involved feeding the signal from the microphone straight to the disc cutter, bypassing the tape machine altogether. Although these new endeavours highlighted the magnitude of the ‘hiss' problem, such technology never took off.

Developments in solid-state electronics throughout the 1970s sparked further experimentation with noise reduction. The most commercially successful attempts were developed by Dolby Laboratories. By working with various forms of multiband volume compression and expansion, Dolby's first noise reduction product was named the Dolby A system. They were very successful at increasing the signal to noise ratio and hence virtually eliminating tape hiss. A Dolby A system on a 16-track would cut the...
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