Console history question

DonnyThompson

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 25, 2012
@Kurt Foster et al
Kurt... or anyone else who might be able to chime in...
I was wondering what console was used during the hey-day of Sigma Studios in Philly, during the period of The Spinners, Delfonics, Stylistics, etc.
I've tried researching it and haven't been able to come up with much info on Sigma, though I did read that they were the first studio in the U.S. to have a 24 track 2" machine...
There's all kof nfs of info about Thom Bell, Gamble &a Huff, and even session players
( the MFSB crew of Sigma session cats), but I haven't been able to find any info on the desk they were using at that time - this would have been around '70-'75 or so...
I'm just curious if someone might know some things about Sigma; it's not like this is crucial info or anything, I'm just curious, is all. :)
 

Kurt Foster

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Joined
Jul 2, 2002
i am going to guess an API. after reading about Sigma i learned they were one of the first to offer automation, and at that time it would have had to be API. i also guess they used an MCI 24 track
 

DonnyThompson

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Joined
Nov 25, 2012
i am going to guess an API. after reading about Sigma i learned they were one of the first to offer automation, and at that time it would have had to be API. i also guess they used an MCI 24 track
Kurt... thanks for that info! So...
Any idea on the year for that they started using automation on the API desks? I'm thinking The early 70's period of Sigma wouldn't have quite yet seen automation, right?
Probably a little too early? That's just a guess on my part.
 

DonnyThompson

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 25, 2012
Update... @Kurt Foster et al
I finally found some info, from the son of one of Sigma Sound's partners:

"main room philly:

we started in 1968 [i was 11] with electrodyne modules and custom console designed by my dad and built by dave hughes and installed by him my dad and a crew

then a second electrodyne based custom board with more inputs summer 71 [later modded with portable allison 64k automation..people still argue who had the first WORKING automated console in a commercial studio]

then sphere eclipse c

then neve 8078 [kinda it's the closest thing.. Rupert told me it was a prototype broadcast board] 52 in 8 buss modded to 24/32 buss [first 8 fed 1-8/25-32..needless to say i used direct out alot the added buss ACN sucked to me] with massenburg automation
[ocean way bought it for the modules]..the center section sagged and was held up by hydralic jack..it was one of 3 made

then SSL 9000K

b room at 212 and a room at 309 s broad

mci 424's

then in 212 b

600 series

then mitsubishi superstar 60 in [hey it was free ..we bought 3 X850's and a few x86's]

then a protools rig

studio 9 philly was a sony/mci 600 from Studio 2 then a protools rig

nyc we had a few rooms too

mci 536 with optical strip vca faders [i was wrong see my 3rd post down]

not sure if a 600 series later

some early ssl's

glenn rosenstein who is on this site knows more about the nyc boards ..i was too busy in philly

i know SSL took some of our techs design stuff for their monitor section

and the Lynx syncronizer was created in our NYC tsd room by Jerry Block a sigma recording engineer


tape machines were AMPEX 300's 440's 3m 2 trk and 4 trk iso loops ,atr 102 and 104's, mitsubishi x 86's [remember 90 deg gap editing and flourecent markers?]

scully 8 track, mci 16 track and 24 track, 3m 24 trk iso loop , otari mtr 90 ..the big ampex washing machineand a bunch of x 850's

we might have had a studer in nyc..i know my dad was more pro otari for quality and price

i hate to say what the guy that bought the studio did to it ..but he sure spent a lot of time / money"

Great info. ;)
 

Kurt Foster

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Joined
Jul 2, 2002
me too. i was going to guess they had something like a Sphere or custom built. i was going on the automation lead with my detective work and knowing that API claims the first commercially available automation, closely followed by MCI, i guessed API.

i had working tape based automation on my 636 and i loved it. it was a bitch to do complete recalls from day to day if you zeroed the console out but the idea of automation at the time was more to enable engineers to print multiples of the 2 track, not to do recalls from session to session.

all the complaints about latency in the system imo are exaggerated. i actually would print smpte on track 24 of the multitrack and then chase that with an ADAT recorder where i would print the data tracks by patching the consoles data send to the ADAT . i thought it all worked pretty well.
 

DonnyThompson

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Joined
Nov 25, 2012
i had working tape based automation on my 636 and i loved it. it was a bitch to do complete recalls from day to day if you zeroed the console out but the idea of automation at the time was more to enable engineers to print multiples of the 2 track, not to do recalls from session to session.
Yes! That was the idea at the time.
While I worked on consoles at other studios with automation, I never actually owned one with complete recall and moving faders until I got a Yamaha 02R in '97. That desk stored every little facet, even HP / Cue level ssends. Unfortunately, I never did really warm to that desk, or like the sound of it...but for total mix recall it was pretty amazing, and I still managed to do a lot of good work on it.

I had other desks that had "quasi" automation, like the Neotek Elan' ( I loved that desk) but it was mute, switches and fader position only... I couldn't store or recall EQ settings or anything detailed if that nature, and there were up/down arrow indicator lights n each fader that told you to move the fader up or down - it lit up green when you had reached the last stored position - but they weren't motorized, you had to find the "green" fader position manually.
Still, I did use it, and it was pretty accurate, thought there were a few times where it had a mind of its own...a ghost in the machine that sometimes decided to "run home to mama' LOL and null out the fader positions... But all in all it was useful. But very primitive compared to automation systems that came along later.
I think it's cool that Sigma had what could be considered to be the first - or at least one of the first - automated desks. I was surprised ( pleasantly so) to discover how early on in the decade they had it. I would have definitely lost a bet on that, my guess would have been closer to '77 or so. ;)
 

kmetal

Kyle P. Gushue
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Joined
Jul 21, 2009
Do you guys think that not having everything recalled precisely was a creative aid or hindrance? i would imagine your working off what feels good in the moment to some degree. was it considered a big deal to do a recall?
 

DonnyThompson

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Joined
Nov 25, 2012
@kmetal @Kurt Foster , etc al...
I can only speak for myself, pal, but I loved having the ability to recall mixes...not so much because I was "lazy" ...or even because I was over the top picky about all the little details, but strictly from a session flow/business point of view. In those days, like many other studios at the time, I was booked on a regular schedule, so if I was working on a complex mix for several hours for one client, but knew that there was a completely different client who was due in for a session with one of my other engineers for later that day or that evening, being able to store and recall the work I had done meant the difference between either charting every mix parameter and then nulling out the board for the next session, or putting a giant X of labeling tape across the desk with a skull and crossbones and the message " touch this mixer and you die!" LOL,but at the same time, knowing that by doing that, you were shutting down the cash flow.
You have to know, Kyle...that in those days - and I'm sure Kurt (@Kurt Foster ) and every other guy here who had their own commercial rooms during that time will agree, that doing two or three different sessions in one day was not at all uncommon. And, in the interest of not losing money by having to tie up the desk until you resumed the next day, storing and recall became a life saver.
As far as creatively, well, yeah...I suppose that there were probably times where I was storing certain little mix settings, nuances that weren't gonna make or break a mix, but ...knowing that you could store those kinds of things - and then get them back the next day with 100% accuracy in recall - meant that I did store things that probably weren't necessary ... But, because I had that ability, I did.
These are things that just aren't considered anymore with DAWs, because everything you do in DAWs can be stored and recalled...but that wasn't the case back then, and lacking those features not only made it a PITA, but it could cost you money, too.
Somehow we all made it work, but my life got a lot easier after I put those O2R's into the control room. ;)
 

Kurt Foster

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Joined
Jul 2, 2002
we were booked 7 days a week usually at least 12 hours a day, sometimes more than one client. if we were doing critical mixing we were sure to lock the room out and insure there would be enough time to finish. i actually have never spent to more than one day on a mix.

it wasn't unheard of to have a Polaroid camera in the studio to take snaps of the console to do a "recall". snaps and track sheets. some studios made up charts of the console so you could mark all the eq and aux sends. although there was no guarantee the mix would match exactly when you ran it, it was a great way to familiarize interns and second engineers to the workings of the console. in the end we had to use our ears. i have been known to match a mix just by ear. i doubt i could do that now.
 

kmetal

Kyle P. Gushue
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Joined
Jul 21, 2009
having to think about someone else needing the studio before your ready to quit is a buzzkill. it didnt happen to me alot, but it really felt constricting, the times it did happen. i like to feel like i can take a nap or take breaks whenever i want. 7 day weeks full of 12 hr days, can really put the hurt on a person after a certain point.

was it a rule to print a mix to 2track at the end of each session? how did you do car checks, make tapes? i always was fascinated by the era where theyd record it, print the master next door, and send the master next door down to the broadcast. lol, thats faster than it happens now alot of times.
 

Kurt Foster

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Joined
Jul 2, 2002
7 day weeks full of 12 hr days, can really put the hurt on a person after a certain point.
you said a mouthful there. all my life (seriously) i wanted to be involved in audio production. i can remember asking my Mom when i was very young (5 years?) how they got the echo on "Heartbreak Hotel" and her telling me about echo chambers. (my Father had been a folksinger in New York in the early 50's and she had been to recording and television studios with him so she was knowledgeable on the subject. ) ..... anyway, once i got what i had dreamed of having for 20 or so years the painful truth presented itself. it's a lot of long tedious hours and hard work. i used to finish a 14 hour day of tracking and mixing only to go home to bed and dream of being at the console the whole night...... and waking up exhausted after sleeping for 8 hours.

i always printed a cassette or CDRs for the clients with a rough mix at the end of tracking sessions and of course when we mixed we would listen to a cassette or CDR copy in the car. before cassettes and 8 track tapes, some studios employed a low wattage transmitter so you could go outside to listen to a playback over the AM radio in a car.

I had other desks that had "quasi" automation, like the Neotek Elan' ( I loved that desk) but it was mute, switches and fader position only... I couldn't store or recall EQ settings or anything detailed if that nature, and there were up/down arrow indicator lights n each fader that told you to move the fader up or down - it lit up green when you had reached the last stored position - but they weren't motorized, you had to find the "green" fader position manually.

that is exactly the same kind of automation the MCI used. there was a way to get EQ and aux auto on it if you had extra channels open. you could mult a track to 2 or more channels on the console and then by using the mutes you could program eq and aux changes to happen automatically by muting one channel and unmuting the other.
 

DonnyThompson

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Joined
Nov 25, 2012
i always printed a cassette or CDRs for the clients with a rough mix at the end of tracking sessions and of course when we mixed we would listen to a cassette or CDR copy in the car. before cassettes and 8 track tapes, some studios employed a low wattage transmitter so you could go outside to listen to a playback over the AM radio in a car.
Yup. We had an FM transmitter. I didn't trust it implicitly, but it still came in handy. We also had several different playback systems throughout the studio - boom boxes, small stereo systems, etc. that we could playback cassettes and CDs of the 2 mixes.
@kmetal
The idea of another session coming in as a buzz kill never really occurred to me in that way, as I was in business to make money, it was my job, and like any job, you want the work to come in. It also provided you with breaks, which some of those sessions required. Sometimes it was best for me to come back the next day with fresh ears and finish a mix, as opposed to trying to get it all done in one day, although there were times I was able to get a mix done in just a few hours - it depended on the song.
My last three years, I put in a Studio B, which was an 8 track digital tape format, with midi production, and it was good for doing strictly midi stuff, or commercials, VOs, or solo songwriter production, so if a session was booked for something like that, the main room could just remain with the mix settings of the other client and could be walked away from for an evening.
;)
 

DonnyThompson

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 25, 2012
@Kurt Foster
A bit off topic for a moment - did you ever track To or mix off a Sony DASH?
I never had that format but worked at other studios that did....My experiences with it were oddly the same, in that both times, at both studios ( one in Cleveland and one just outside of Toronto, Canada) the DASH decks were down for repair. This would have been around '87 maybe? Both times I ended up tracking to 2" because the Sony machines weren't working, and apparently, with those machines, there was something about them that didn't allow any channels to work if one channel went bad...meaning that if one channel/track on the machine was down, they were ALL down, even if the other channels weren't bad.
Anyway, just curious to see if you had any experience, knowing that you were a Sony (MCI) based room.
 

Kurt Foster

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Joined
Jul 2, 2002
no i never used a DASH machine. i still see them on EBAY from time to time. i always wonder if you can even find tape for them whenever i see one. lol.
 

DonnyThompson

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Joined
Nov 25, 2012
no i never used a DASH machine. i still see them on EBAY from time to time. i always wonder if you can even find tape for them whenever i see one. lol.
Yeah, that pesky format thing raises its head once again.
I know that the DASH was used with great results; Dire Strait's Brothers In Arms (one of my favorite albums) was one of the first - if not maybe THE first - album to use the 24 Track Sony Digital Tape machine.
Neil Dorfman, who engineered and co produced with Knopfler, mentioned that it took him a little bit of time to get used to, because the tape saturation sound that he'd grown so accustomed to with regular analog 1" and 2" wasn't there using the digital format... but that once they did get used to it, he found it to be a very valuable and important part of the sonics of the album, and he loved how quiet it was.
Then again, they were tracking and mixing that album through a custom made Neve 8078 desk, so I'm sure that had at least a little bit to do with how great that album sounded... along with the fantastic performances by Knopfler and his guys.

I've always considered the BIA album - and in particular, the title track -to be what I refer to as a "shiver giver". Knopfler's playing, and his tone, are just so moving to me...
 

Kurt Foster

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Joined
Jul 2, 2002
i always thought "Tug of War" was the first album recorded on digital. it's one of my favorite McCartney records. but again that would have been through the ISA desk at AIR.
 
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