Historical Presentations and Exhibits at the 145th AES New York 2018 Convention

Author: Gary Galo   Date Posted:9 November 2018 

Historical presentations and exhibits continue to be an important part of AES conventions. Thomas Fine gave an outstanding presentation titled "The Commercialization of Stereophony, 1955-1960." This presentation was a sequel to the one he gave last year on "The Roots of Stereophony," which covered the early development of stereophonic recording, including two-channel telephony in France and England in the late 19th century, experiments by Alan Blumlein and Bell Labs in the early 1930s, war-time stereo recordings made on the German Magnetophon tape recorders, and the staggered-head stereo tape recorders made by Magnecord in the early 1950s. 
This year's presentation concentrated on the first commercially issued stereo recordings and, as with his previous presentations, it was accompanied by an extensive slide show and numerous recorded examples. Tom divided his presentation into five broad categories, beginning with "On the Horizon: Early Commercialization of Directional Sound." This segment included Bert Whyte's 1952 experiments with Magnecord's PT-6 staggered-head stereo tape recorder, and Emory Cook's commercial two-band stereo LP record (left side on the photos below). 

"Home Stereo's First Foothold: 2-Track Tapes" covered the first commercial reel-to-reel tapes, released by RCA Victor in late 1954. Images courtesy of Thomas Fine.


Other record companies followed suit, with tapes made in both staggered-head and in-line head formats. Although this was the first practical means of delivering stereophonic sound to the consumer, the tapes weren't cheap. Tom pointed out that the $14.95 US retail price of the RCA Victor tapes was the equivalent of about $140 of today's US dollars. 
"Competing Designs: Finding a Stereo Disc Standard" included discussion of the systems proposed for cutting two channels into a single record groove. One was a hybrid system with one channel as lateral vibrations and the other as vertical. The Western Electric 45/45 system was eventually standardized, and the entire industry followed suit.
The Westrex "45/45" single-groove system for stereo two-channel records. Courtesy of Thomas Fine.


"Stereo Goes Mainstream (sorta): The 2-channel LP" covered the first commercial stereo LP records, beginning with Sid Frey's stereo demonstration disc issued on his Audio Fidelity label in 1957. By 1958, most major labels began issuing stereo LPs cut with the Westrex 45/45 system including RCA Victor, British Decca, Mercury, and Capitol. Most of these labels had been making simultaneous stereophonic recordings during their monaural sessions, some as early as late 1953, giving them a library of material ready for release (American Columbia was an exception, and the launching of the stereo LP in 1958 forced a scramble, as they began remaking a lot of their monaural catalog in order to catch up). 
In 1959, Enoch Light launched the Command label with his first Persuasive Percussion album, which became the first stereo gold record. It was engineered by Tom's father, C. Robert Fine, and was number one on the charts for 13 weeks and in the top 10 for 43 weeks. One cut Tom played from this album was "Miserlou," going back and forth between his own transfer of the original LP and the CD reissue. The bells featured on this cut had such incredible high-frequency energy that several cutter heads were burned out before a safe cutting level was found! With consumer acceptance of the stereo LP, other stereo formats were introduced, including stereo FM radio, the 8-track cartridge tape and cassette tapes. These were all covered in the segment "Stereo Becomes Ubiquitous," along with the Sony Walkman, Compact Disc, and portable music devices that play files rather than physical media. This was another superb presentation, and one hopes that Tom Fine will be a continued presence at AES conventions. Tom operates an audio transfer and restoration studio in Brewster, NY.
The first commercial tube amplifier designed by Robert von Lieben in 1912 (Left). Also, in the Audio History Library exhibit was a Western Electric Mechanical Amplifier dating from around the turn of the 19th century.
The New York City-based Audio History Library has been a regular exhibitor at AES conventions for many years. Under the capable and dedicated leadership of its director, Louis Manno, the Audio History Library is a non-profit educational charity, serving as the "world's only repository and resource for the technological history of acoustic and electronic products that have made possible the very existence of the radio, television, concert touring, film (other than silent), and recording industries." (www.audiohistory.com) Their ever-expanding collection consists of documents from more than 2,000 companies in 37 countries, including manufacturer product literature, owner and service manuals, equipment reviews, and photographs, plus a large collection of vintage audio equipment.
Robert von Lieben is not exactly a household name, even among devotees of audio history. However, the Austrian physicist, who died in 1913 at the age of 34, played an important role in the development of vacuum tube amplifiers. Von Lieben's work paralleled that of American Lee de Forest, and in 1910 von Lieben received a patent for a vacuum tube with a grid that allowed controlled amplification, something that de Forest had yet to achieve. Among the items on display in the Audio History Library booth was the first commercial tube amplifier, a von Lieben design manufactured by Gesellschaft für drahtlose Telegraphie in 1912 (Company for Wireless Telegraphy, a predecessor of Telefunken).
Quoting from the description in the display, written by Saul Walker, "This ingenious device makes use of a circa 1900 telephone receiver (earpiece) mechanically coupled to a carbon button capsule from a telephone microphone (mouthpiece) to amplify audio frequency electrical signals. A conventional telephone mouthpiece of that period contained an electrically conductive carbon capsule mechanically coupled to a diaphragm causing its electrical conduction to vary in proportion to sound waves striking the diaphragm. Since electrical current from a battery or other DC voltage source powered the device, it was capable of producing electrical signals with higher energy than the original source. That same principle was applied to this electromechanical amplifier in that the small amount of electrical energy required to operate the telephone earpiece causes pressure to be applied to the carbon capsule, which in turn produces larger audio frequency electrical signals from the current supplied by the battery." 
Anyone who values our audio heritage should visit the Audio History Library website and consider making a donation.


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