|Industry||Data and Instrumentation Technology for acquisition, storage, and processing of visual information|
|Founder(s)||Alexander M. Poniatoff|
|Headquarters||Redwood City, CA, USA|
|Key people||D. Gordon Strickland, Chairman & CEO; Lawrence Chiarella, President-Ampex Data Systems Corporation|
|Products||miniR® 700 Mini-Recorder, TuffServ 480 Solid State File Server And Airborne Recorder, Multiplexer (AMux 600) Product Line, DSRs 440 Solid State / Disk Recording System, Etc.|
Ampex is an American electronics company founded in 1944 by Alexander M. Poniatoff. The name AMPEX is an acronym, created by its founder, which stands for Alexander M. Poniatoff Excellence. At one time public, Ampex is currently a privately held company.
Russian inventor Alexander Matthew Poniatoff established the company in San Carlos, California, in 1944 as the Ampex Electric and Manufacturing Company. The name came from his initials plus "ex" to avoid using the name AMP already in use. During World War II, Ampex was a small manufacturer of high quality electric motors and generators for radars that used alnico 5 magnets from General Electric. Ampex's first offices were at 1313 Laurel St. San Carlos California, "Howard Ave. at Laurel".
Near the end of the war, while serving in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, Major Jack Mullin was assigned to investigate German radio and electronics experiments. He discovered the Magnetophons with AC biasing on a trip to Radio Frankfurt which gave much better fidelity than shellac records. Mullin acquired two Magnetophon recorders along with 50 reels of BASF Type L tape and brought them to America where he produced modified versions. He demonstrated them on May 16, 1946, to the Institute of Radio Engineers in San Francisco.
Bing Crosby, arguably the biggest star on radio at the time, was very receptive to the idea of pre-recording his radio programs. He disliked the regimentation of live broadcasts, and much preferred the relaxed atmosphere of the recording studio. He had already asked the NBC network to let him pre-record his 1944-45 series on transcription discs, but the network refused, so Crosby had withdrawn from live radio for a year and returned (this time to the recently created ABC) for the 1946-47 season only reluctantly.
In June 1947, Mullin, who was pitching the technology to the major Hollywood movie studios, got the chance to demonstrate his modified tape recorders to Crosby. When Crosby heard a demonstration of Mullin's tape recorders, he immediately saw the potential of the new technology and commissioned Mullin to prepare a test recording of his radio show. Ampex was finishing its prototype of the Model 200 tape recorder and Mullin used the first two models as soon as they were built. After a successful test broadcast, ABC agreed to allow Crosby to pre-record his shows on tape. Crosby immediately appointed Mullin as his chief engineer and placed an order for $50,000 worth of the new recorders so that Ampex (then a small six-man concern) could develop a commercial production model from the prototypes.
Crosby Enterprises was Ampex's West Coast representative until 1957. 
Early tape recorders
The company's first tape recorder, the Ampex Model 200A, was first shipped in April 1948. The first two, serial numbers 1 and 2, were used to record the Bing Crosby Show. The American Broadcasting Company used these recorders along with 3M Scotch 111 gamma ferric oxide coated acetate tape for the first-ever U.S. delayed radio broadcast of The Bing Crosby Show. Ampex tape recorders revolutionized the radio and recording industries because of their superior audio quality and ease of operation over audio disk cutting lathes.
During the early 1950s Ampex began marketing one- and two-track machines using ¼" tape. The line soon expanded into three- and four-track models using ½" tape. In the early 1950s Ampex moved to 934 Charter St. Redwood City, California. Ampex acquired Orradio Industries in 1959, which became the Ampex Magnetic Tape Division, headquartered in Opelika, Alabama. This made Ampex a manufacturer of both recorders and tape. By the end of that decade Ampex products were much in demand by top recording studios worldwide.
In 1952, Ampex was approached by movie producer Mike Todd, who wanted to develop a high fidelity movie sound system using sound magnetically recorded on the film. The result of this development was the Todd-AO motion picture system, which was first used in movies such as Oklahoma and The Robe. In 1960, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded Ampex an Oscar for technical achievement as a result of this development.
Les Paul, a friend of Crosby's and a regular guest on his shows, had already been experimenting with overdubbed recordings on disc. He received an early portable Ampex Model 200A from Crosby. He invented Sound on Sound recording using this machine. He placed an additional playback head, located before the conventional erase/record/playback heads. This allowed Paul to play along with a previously recorded track, both of which were mixed together on to a new track. This was a destructive process because the original recording was recorded over.
Professional 8-track recorders
Ampex built a handful of multitrack machines during the late 1950s that could record as many as eight tracks on 1 inch tape. The project was overseen by Ross Snyder, Ampex manager of special products. In order for the multitrack recorder to work, Snyder invented the Sel-Sync process to use some tracks on the head for playback while using other tracks on the head for recording. This allows the newly recorded material to be in sync with the existing recorded tracks. The first of these machines cost $10,000 and was installed in Les Paul's home recording studio by David Sarser.
In 1967 Ampex responded to demand by stepping up production of their 8-track machines with the production model MM 1000. Like earlier 8-track machines of this era it used 1 inch tape.
16 and 24-track recorders
In 1966 Ampex built their first 16-track recorder, the model AG-1000, at the request of Mirasound Studios in New York City. In 1967 Ampex introduced a 16-track version of the MM 1000 which was the world's first 16-track professional tape recorder put into mass-production. Both used a 2 inch tape transport design adapted from the video recording division. The 16-track MM-1000 quickly became legendary for its tremendous flexibility, reliability and outstanding sound quality. This brought about the "golden age" of large format analog multitrack recorders which would last into the mid-1990s. MCI built the first 24-track recorder (using 2 inch tape) in 1968 which was installed at TTG Studios in Los Angeles. Later machines built by Ampex starting in 1969 would have as many as 24 tracks on 2 inch tape. In addition to this, the introduction of SMPTE time code allowed studios to run multiple machines in perfect synchronization, making the number of available tracks virtually unlimited.
By the late 1970s Ampex faced tough competition from Studer and Japanese manufacturers such as Otari and Sony (who also purchased the MCI brand in 1982). In 1979 Ampex introduced their most advanced 24-track recorder, the model ATR-124. It was considered by many to be the finest machine of its type. The ATR-124 was very ruggedly constructed and had outstanding audio specifications which nearly rivaled the first digital recording machines. However, sales of the ATR-124 were slow due to the machine's very high price tag. Only about 100 of the ATR-124 machines were sold. Ampex withdrew from the professional audio tape recorder market entirely in 1983.
By the 1990s Ampex focused more on video, instrumentation, and data recorders. In 1991, the professional audio recorder line of business was sold to Sprague Magnetics. The Ampex Recording Media Corporation was spun off in 1995 as Quantegy Inc., and is now known as Quantegy Recording Solutions.
Starting in the early 1950s, RCA, Bing Crosby and others tried to record analog video on very fast-moving magnetic tape. As early as 1952, Ampex developed prototype video tape recorders that used a spinning head and relatively slow-moving tape. In early 1956 a team led by Charles Ginsburg produced the first videotape recorder. A young, 19-year-old engineer Ray Dolby was also part of the team. Ampex demonstrated the VR-1000, which was the first of Ampex's line of 2 inch Quadruplex videotape recorders on March 14, 1956, at the National Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters in Chicago. The first magnetically recorded time-delayed television network program using the new Ampex Quadruplex recording system was CBS's Douglas Edwards and the News on November 30, 1956.
The "Quad" head assembly rotates at 3,600 rpm. The four head pieces (quad) are switched successively so that 14,400 recorded stripes cross the video portion (most of the tape middle, audio is on one edge, sync pulses on the other) so that head to tape write speed is well in excess of the 15 inch per second physical motion. They wrote the video vertically across the width of a tape that was 2 inches (5 cm) wide and ran at 15 inches (38 cm) per second. This allowed hour-long television programs to be recorded on one reel of tape. In 1956, one reel of tape cost $300; and Ampex advertised the cost of the recorder as $45,000.
The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences awarded Ampex its first Emmy in 1957 for this development. Ampex has received a total of 12 Emmys for its technical video achievements.
In 1959 Richard Nixon, then Vice President, and Nikita Khrushchev held discussions at the Moscow Trade Fair, which became known as the “Kitchen Debate” because they were mostly held in the kitchen of a suburban model house. The discussions were recorded on an Ampex videotape recorder, and during the debate Nixon pointed this out as one of the many American technological advances.
In 1967, Ampex introduced the Ampex VR-3000 portable broadcast video recorder, which revolutionized the recording of broadcast quality television in the field without the need for long cables and large support vehicles. Broadcast quality images could now be shot anywhere, including from airplanes, helicopters and boats.
The Quadruplex format dominated the broadcast industry for a quarter of a century. The format was licensed to RCA for use in their "television tape recorders." Ampex's invention revolutionized the television production industry by eliminating the kinescope process of time-shifting television programs, which required the use of motion picture film. For archival purposes, the kinescope method continued to be used for some years; film was still preferred by archivists. The Ampex broadcast video tape recorder facilitated time-zone broadcast delay so that networks could air programming at the same hour in various time zones. Ampex had trademarked the name "video tape", so competitor RCA called the medium "TV tape" or "television tape". The terms eventually became genericized, and "videotape" is commonly used today.
While the quadruplex recording system per se is no longer in use, the principle evolved into the helical scanning technique used in virtually all video tape machines, such as those using the consumer formats known as VHS and the briefly successful Sony Betamax format. (Sony Betacam was successful as a professional format, but operated with a different recording system and faster tape speed than Betamax.)
One of the key engineers in the development of the Quadruplex video recorder for Ampex was Ray Dolby, who worked under Charlie Ginsburg and went on to form Dolby Laboratories, a pioneer in audio noise reduction systems.
Ampex 2 inch helical VTR
Ampex 2 inch helical VTRs were manufactured from 1963 to 1970. Model VR-1500 for home. The VR-660 for Broadcast television systems, industrial companies, educational institutions, and a few for In-flight entertainment.
HS-100 & HS-200 "slo-mo" disc recorder
In March 1967 Ampex introduced the HS-100 video disc recorder. The system was developed by Ampex at the request of the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) for a variety of sports broadcast uses. It was first demonstrated on the air on March 18, 1967, when “ABC’s Wide World of Sports” televised the “World Series of Skiing” from Vail, Colorado. The video was recorded on analog magnetic disc. The disc weighed 5 pounds/2.3 kg and rotated at 60rps, 3600rpm (50rps in Pal). One NTSC unit could record 30 seconds of video, PAL units 36 seconds. The video could then be played back in slow motion, stop action to freeze frame.
A more deluxe version, the HS-200, was introduced around 1971, and provided a large control console with variable speed playback. This made it ideal for instant replay for sports events. CBS-TV was the first to use the technique during live sportscasts, though it was quickly adopted by all American TV networks. The HS-200 also had greater hard drive capacity, lending itself to post-production applications like special effects and titles.
1 inch type A videotape (designated Type A by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, SMPTE) was an open-reel helical scan videotape format developed by Ampex in 1965, one of the first standardized open-reel videotape formats in the 1 inch (25 mm) width; most others of that size at that time were proprietary).
1 inch type C videotape (designated Type C by SMPTE) was a professional open-reel videotape format co-developed and introduced by Ampex and Sony in 1976. It became the replacement in the professional video and television broadcast industries for the then-incumbent Quadruplex.
D2 is a digital video tape format created by Ampex and other manufacturers (through a standards group of SMPTE) and introduced at the 1988 NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) convention as a lower-cost alternative to the D-1 format. Like D-1, D-2 video is uncompressed; however, it saves bandwidth and other costs by sampling a fully encoded NTSC or PAL composite video signal, and storing it directly to magnetic tape, rather than sampling component video. This is known as digital composite.
DCT & DST
Digital Component Technology (DCT) and Data Storage Technology (DST) are VTR and data storage devices respectively, created by Ampex in 1992. Both were similar to the D1 and D2 VTR formats, using a 19 mm (3/4") width, with the DCT format using DCT (discrete cosine transform) video compression, also its namesake.
The DCT and DST formats yield relatively high capacity and speed for data and video. Double-density DST data storage was introduced in 1996. Current products are quad density, introduced in 2000, and a "large" cartridge that holds 660 GB of data.
- In 1948, the first tape-delayed U.S. radio program was broadcast by using an Ampex Model 200 tape recorder.
- In May 1949 Model 300 introduced improved in audio head, tape drive and tape path.
- In 1950 Model 400 introduced low cost professional quality audio recorder.
- In 1950, Ampex introduced the first "dedicated" instrumentation recorder, Model 500, built for the U.S. Navy.
- In April 1953 Model 350 introduced audio recorder to replaced the model 400. 350 had more simplicity and durability.
- In May 1954 Model 600 introduced mastering quality audio portable recorder. Models 3200-3300 high-speed duplicators also introduced.
- In 1954, in a recording studio equipped with an Ampex reel-to-reel audio tape recording machine, an unknown truck driver named Elvis Presley recorded his historic first single, "That's All Right" at Sun Studios in Memphis. Also that year, Ampex introduces the first multi-track audio recorder derived from multi-track data recording technology, and Ampex introduces the first magnetic theater sound system, made for Todd/AO CinemaScope.
- On March 14, 1956, The Ampex VRX-1000 (later renamed the Mark IV) videotape recorder is introduced at the National Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters in Chicago. This is the first practical videotape recorder and is hailed as a major technological breakthrough. CBS goes on air with the first videotape delayed broadcast, Douglas Edwards and The News, on November 30, 1956, from Los Angeles, California, using the Ampex Mark IV.
- In March 1957, Ampex won an Emmy award for the invention of the Video Tape Recorder (VTR).
- In 1958, NASA selected Ampex data recorders and magnetic tape. It has been used for virtually all U.S. space missions since.
- In 1959, the Nixon-Khrushchev Kitchen Debate was recorded on Ampex videotape. The fact that the debate was being videotaped was mentioned by Nixon as an example of American technological development.
- In 1960, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented Ampex with an Oscar for technical achievement.
- January 1961 Helical scan recording was invented by Ampex. The technology behind the worldwide consumer video revolution; it is used in all home Video Tape Recorders today.
- In 1963, Ampex technology was used to show replays of the live assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald.
- In 1963 as well, Ampex introduced EDITEC, electronic video editing, allowing broadcast television editors frame-by-frame recording control, simplifying tape editing and the ability to make animation effects possible. This was the basis for all subsequent editing systems.
- On December 7, 1963 - Instant Replay is used for the first time during the live transmission of the Army Navy Game by its inventor, director, Tony Verna.
- In April 1964, Ampex introduced the VR-2000 high band videotape recorder, the first ever to be capable of color fidelity required for high quality color broadcasting.
- February 1965 introduced VR-303\VR-7000 closed-circuit video tape recorder. (
- May 1965 introduced AG-350 first all-transistorized audio recorder.
- July 1965 introduced VR-660B VTR advanced version of VR-660; replaces VR-660/1500.
- November 1965 introduced VR-7000 compact portable closed circuit video tape recorder.
- From 1966-1967, Ampex FR-900 drives were used to videotape the first images of the Earth from the Moon, as part of the Lunar Orbiter program. As of 2009, two drives are being refurbished to recover the images as part of the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP).
- In 1967, ABC used the Ampex HS-100 disk recorder for slow-motion playback of downhill skiing on the program World Series of Skiing in Vail, Colorado. This was the first use of slow-motion instant replay in sporting events.
- In 1968, the introduction of the Ampex VR-3000 revolutionizes video recording: the first truly portable VTR. It is used at the '68 Summer Olympics in Mexico City to follow the world’s cross-country runners for the first time in Broadcast history.
- In 1969 Ampex introduced Videofile, still in use today at Scotland Yard for the electronic storage and retrieval of fingerprints.
- In 1972, Ampex introduced the ACR-25, the first automated robotic library system for the recording and playback of television commercials. Each commercial was recorded on an individual cartridge. These cartridges were then loaded into a large rotating carousel. Using sophisticated mechanics and vacuum pneumatics, the "carts" were loaded into and extracted from the machine with an 8-second cycle time for spots under 61 seconds. This freed TV stations from loading individual machines with spots in real time, or preparing spot reels in advance of a broadcast. The TV newsroom also began to use the ACR-25 to run news stories because of its random access capability. The ACR-25 used AVR-1 signal, servo, and timebase systems, and a machine-programming control bay designed by Ampex engineer E. Stanley Busby. Both machines had a lockup time of 200 milliseconds, as distinct from the industry standard 5 second pre-roll. This was accomplished with optical-vacuum reel servos providing the vacuum capstan negligible inertial mass to control, and predictive digital servos which could re-frame vertically at horizontal rate, as well as timebase correction with a window exceeding 64 microseconds (compared to the VR-2000's window of less than 5 microseconds).
- Also in 1970, Ampex started its own record label, Ampex Records. Its biggest hit was "We Gotta Get You A Woman" by Todd Rundgren (as "Runt"), reaching #20 on the charts in 1970.
- In 1978, the Ampex Video Art (AVA™) video graphics system is used by artist Leroy Nieman on air during Super Bowl XII. AVA, the first video paint system, allows the graphic artist, using an electronic pen, to illustrate in a new medium, video. This innovation paved the way for today's high quality electronic graphics, such as those used in video games.
- In 1983, Ampex introduced the DCRS digital cassette recorder, offering compact cassette storage with the equivalent of 16 digital or 8 DDR instrumentation reels on one cassette. Also, Partial-response maximum-likelihood (PRML) data decoding technology has its first use in Ampex's DCRsi™ recorders. This technology is now commonly used in high performance computer disk drives and other high density magnetic data storage devices.
- In 1982, Ampex introduced DST (high-performance computer mass storage products able to store half the Library of Congress in 21 square feet (2.0 m2) of floor space) and DCT, the first digital component post production system using image compression technology to produce high quality images.
- In 1985, Ampex introduced the DIS™ 120i and DIS™ 160i dual port, data/instrumentation recorders. These made it possible for the first time to capture real time instrumentation data and then utilize the same recorder to process the data in a computer environment through its second port using SCSI-2 protocol.
- In 2005, Ampex received its 12th Emmy award for its invention of slow-motion color recording and playback. Also honored with Lifetime Achievement Awards were the members of the engineering team that created the videotape recorder when they worked for Ampex: Charles Andersen, Ray Dolby, Shelby Henderson, Fred Pfost, and the late Charles Ginsburg and Alex Maxey.
Ampex Recording Tape
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Sticky Shed Syndrome
Some master tapes and other recordings predominantly from the 1970s and 1980s have degraded, due to the so-called sticky Shed Syndrome: the binder deteriorates, resulting in the magnetic coating coming off the base and either sticking to the backing of the tape layer wound on top of it (resulting in dropout), or getting scraped off and deposited on the tape heads (lifting the head off the tape, degrading the treble).
The problem has been reported on a number of makes of tape (usually tapes with a back coating), including Ampex tapes.
Ampex filed a patent (number 5,236,790) for a baking process ("A typical temperature used is 54'C. and a typical effective time is 16 hours") to attempt to recover such tapes, allowing them to be played once more and the recordings transferred to new media. The problems have been reported on tapes of type 406/407, 456/457, 2020/373.
- In 1959, Ampex acquired Orradio Industries and it became the Ampex Magnetic Tape Division.
- In 1995, Ampex divested this division, then called the Ampex Recording Media Corporation. This became Quantegy, Inc. which later changed its name to the current Quantegy Recording Solutions.
- In January 2005, having previously filed for bankruptcy protection, Quantegy closed its manufacturing facility in Opelika.
Ampex Records started in 1970. Its biggest hit was "We Gotta Get You A Woman" by Todd Rundgren (as "Runt"), reaching #20 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1970. Ampex also originated two subsidiary labels, Bearsville and Big Tree. Ampex Records ceased around 1973 and Bearsville and Big Tree switched distribution to Warner Bros. Records and Bell Records, respectively. Later on, Big Tree was picked up by Atlantic Records.
In 2005, iNEXTV, a wholly owned subsidiary of respondent Ampex Corporation, brought a defamation lawsuit against a poster on an Internet message board who posted messages critical of them (Ampex Corp. v. Cargle (2005), Cal.App.4th ). The poster, a former employee, responded with an anti-SLAPP suit and eventually recovered his attorney fees. The case was unique in that it involved the legality of speech in an electronic public forum.
The Ampex video system is now obsolete, but thousands upon thousands of quadruplex videotape recordings remain. Those machines which still survive have been pressed into service to transfer archival recordings onto modern digital video formats.
Ampex Corporation is the parent company of Ampex Data Systems which manufactures digital archiving systems, principally for the broadcast industry. On March 30, 2008, Ampex Corp. filed for Chapter 11 reorganization. The company emerged from bankruptcy in October 2008.
- Corporate website, www.ampex.com
- The Edsel Show — the first major television program to be preserved on videotape
- An Evening With Fred Astaire — the first television program to be prerecorded on color videotape
- List of record labels
- Erhard Kietz and his patents for Ampex Corporation
- Ampex Corporation Records, ca. 1944-1999 (c.577 linear ft.) are housed in the Department of Special Collections and University Archives at Stanford University Libraries
- FindLaw Ampex Corp v. Cargle (2005)
- "Company Profile for Ampex Corporation (AMPX)". Retrieved 2008-10-21.
- Abramson,The History of television, 1942 to 2000 - McFarland, 2003 - ISBN 9780786412204, page 286, Chapter 2, footnote 34 "1944 he founded Ampex (the name was created from his initials, AMP, plus "ex" for exellence)"
- The History of Magnetic Recording by Steven Schoenherr, University of San Diego, Nov 5, 2002
- Ampex Buildings in October 2000
- "The Ampex Museum of Magnetic Recording" by curator Peter Hammar. "Electronic Servicing & Technology" magazine 1982 June.
- History of The Early Days of Ampex Corporation As recalled by JOHN LESLIE and ROSS SNYDER, AES Historical Paper, Dec 17, 2010
- Recording Technology History: Tape Recording Comes to America
- "Sel-sync and the "Octopus": How Came to be the First Recorder to Minimize Successive Copying in Overdubs" (PDF). ARSC Journal. Retrieved March 27, 2011.
- Ampex Sel-Sync, 1955
- Studio 3: A Place of Recording Studio History...
- ARSC Journal, Sel-sync and the "Octopus": How Came to be the First Recorder to Minimize Successive Copying in Overdubs
- Peninsula Electronics
- "How Much Should a Tape Recorder Cost? [Ampex ad]" Broadcasting-Telecasting, 15 October 1956, 220. http://americanradiohistory.com/Archive-BC/BC-1956/1956-10-15-Quarter-Century-BC.pdf
- RECOVERING HIGH RESOLUTION LUNAR ORBITER IMAGES FROM ANALOG TAPE.
- Quantegy Finally Goes Tapeless
- FindLaw Ampex Corp v. Cargle (2005)
- Ampex Consummates Plan of Reorganization: Emerges from Bankruptcy as a Going Concern. Business Wire, October 03, 2008.
- "Ampex Museum Status Report 2003" by former curator Peter Hammar.
- "Ampex Virtual Museum"
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Ampex|
- Ampex Corporation website
- Ampex Data Systems website
- Alexander M. Poniatoff
- About Poniatoff and Ampex during his time
- Another site about Poniatoff
- About Poniatoff at the 20th Century American Leaders Database
- a more precise origin of the recording of Bing Crosby shows
Note: acusd.edu is defunct, those URLS have been mapped to the new University of San Diego domain sandiego.edu
- The History of Magnetic Recording
- Recording Technology History
- Der Bingle Technology
- Total Rewind - The Virtual Museum of Vintage VCRs
- "Both Sides Now" webpage on Ampex Records
- Ampex Virtual Museum and Mailing List
- AES Historical Committee: Ampex History Project
- An Ampex recording head, deconstructed.