Audio recording has a long and rich history dating back to the early 1900s, when Thomas Edison invented the first phonograph in 1877, which was constructed out of a mechanical diaphragm outfitted with two needles and a metal cylinder that was wrapped in tin foil. Although revolutionary for its time, it was notoriously difficult to use and the cylinders themselves had very short lifespans as recording mediums.
Of course, this inspired other pioneers, such as German-American inventor Emile Berliner, to invent the gramophone disc, which had far greater fidelity than the ever so fragile metal cylinder and could be manufactured, transported, and stored much more easily without being damaged en route.
Eventually, this gave way to the shellac disc and then to the long-revered vinyl disc, which featured long-term usability and yielded exceptional acoustic detail and depth that still rival contemporary digital audio standards.
Also introduced as a means to improve upon overall sound quality were vacuum tubes and microphones, which largely eliminated the resonant characteristics that horn-shaped transducers were known for.
How Technology Has Affected Audio Recording
As time progressed over the years, advances in technology gave way to the use of more efficient and less expensive transistor pre-amps as well as multi-track tape recorders thanks to pioneers like Les Paul, Bing Crosby, Jack Mullin, and Ross Synder, who were collectively responsible for shaping and inventing the first multi-track tape recorder, the Ampex 200, which quickly cemented the multi-track tape recorder as the ultimate standard recording medium for recording studios, film production companies, and broadcast companies worldwide.
Audio Recording Software
Although traditional multitrack tape machines have been largely phased out in favor of digital alternatives like Pro Tools, Logic Pro, or Cubase, for example, or even new contenders like Cocko’s Reaper or Prosonus’ Studio One, there are many high-end studios such as Abbey Road Studios and AIR Studios (which are both located in London, England) that still carry a healthy selection of well-maintained multitrack tape recorders on hand for clients who wish to achieve that warm analog sound in their recordings.
Ironically, the music industry is one of the few industries in the world where digital technology hasn’t completely replaced analog technology as a “superior” means of making a record, which is largely by virtue of the inherent “fuzzy” and “warm” characteristics of tape machines that many top-tier recording artists and producers prefer to this day.
Newer Isn’t Always Better
For example, for engineers and producers who can’t afford to slap down $2,000 for a high-end multi-track tape recorder or would rather avoid the massive headaches and hassles that would ensue in regard to maintenance and tape calibration, Universal Audio has released truly authentic and exceptionally brilliant digital remakes (the word “emulation” just wouldn’t do these products justice, I’m afraid) of the Ampex ATR-102 and Studer A800 tape recorders, which have both received sloughs of consecutive five-star ratings from industry veterans such as Tony Maserati, Eric Persing, Vance Powell, and Ed Cherney as well as other UAD enthusiasts for their ability to imbue them with a rich and fully cohesive analog “tape” sound at a fraction of the cost for the real thing.
Putting It All Together
Provided that you have a sufficient amount of DSP, this would allow you to run just about any signal through an Ampex or Studer tape recorder (whether it was already recorded or not) in real-time without having to re-record it just to reap all of its sonic benefits, which would be simply impossible with a real-world tape machine.
This is an excellent example of how companies like Universal Audio have successfully integrated the punchy, warm flavor of yesterday’s analog masterpieces with the precision and clarity of today’s digital technology to bridge the gap between both the digital and analog worlds without forcing engineers and producers to sacrifice productivity and efficiency in the name of quality and high fidelity for their clients and for themselves.