Ampex Data Systems Corporation
Industry Data and instrumentation technology for acquisition, storage, and processing of visual information
Founded 1944
Founder Alexander M. Poniatoff
Headquarters Redwood City, California, United States
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 Systems
Ampex headquarters on Broadway street

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.[1] At one time public, the remaining ongoing business unit (Ampex Data Systems Corporation) was acquired by Delta Information Systems in October 2014, with the original parent, Ampex Corporation, ceasing operations in October 2014.

Ampex's first great success was a line of reel-to-reel tape recorders developed from the German wartime Magnetophon system at the behest of Bing Crosby. Ampex quickly became a leader in audio tape technology, developing many of the analog recording formats for both music and movies that remained in use into the 1990s. Starting in the 1950s the company began developing video tape recorders, which set the studio standards for decades, and later introduced the helical scan concept that make home video players possible. They also introduced multi-track recording, slow-motion and instant playback television, and a host of other advances.

Ampex's tape business was rendered obsolete during the 1990s, and the company turned to digital storage products. They never managed to become a player in this field, and the company was moribund by the 2000s.


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 (AMP, née Aircraft and Marine Products) 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.[2] Ampex's first offices were at 1313 Laurel St. San Carlos California, "Howard Ave. at Laurel".[3]

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. The device produced much better fidelity than shellac records. Mullin acquired two Magnetophon recorders and 50 reels of BASF Type L tape, and brought them to America where he produced modified versions. He demonstrated them to the Institute of Radio Engineers in San Francisco on May 16, 1946.[2]

Bing Crosby, a big star on radio at the time, was 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. Another possible motivation wasn't so much that Crosby wanted the more relaxed atmosphere of taping vs live but that live network radio required performing two identical shows a night, one for the east coast and one for the west coast. This may have been what Crosby was hoping to avoid, as that was the argument Crosby used with the radio network when he asked to use transcription disc recordings of his show. Those recordings were made directly from the live east coast show, as were the later taped versions.

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.[2]

Crosby Enterprises was Ampex's West Coast representative until 1957. [4]

Early tape recorders

 Ampex 601 playing a recording of "Les Paul's New Sound". Made in Redwood City, California. Circa 1956.
Ampex 601 playing a recording of "Les Paul's New Sound". Made in Redwood City, California, c. 1956.
Internals of Ampex Fine Line F-44, a 3-head Ampex home-use audio tape recorder, c. 1965.
AMPEX model 300 half-inch three-track recorder
AMPEX 440 (2tr, 4tr) & 16-track MM 1000

The company's first tape recorder, the Ampex Model 200A, was first shipped in April 1948. The first two units, serial numbers 1 and 2, were used to record the Bing Crosby Show.[5] The American Broadcasting Company used these recorders along with 3M Scotch 111 gamma ferric oxide coated acetate tape[6] 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.[5]

During the early 1950s Ampex began marketing one- and two-track machines using 14-inch tape. The line soon expanded into three- and four-track models using 12-inch 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, movie producer Mike Todd asked Ampex to develop a high fidelity movie sound system using sound magnetically recorded on the film itself, as contrasted with the technology of the time, which used magnetic tracks on a separate celluloid base film (later commonly known as mag stock). The result of this development was the CinemaScope/Todd-AO motion picture sound system,[7] which was first used in movies such as The Robe (1953) in 35mm and Oklahoma (1955) in 70mm (and also in 35mm). 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 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.[8]

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. To make the multitrack recorder work, Snyder invented the Sel-Sync process, which used some tracks on the head for playback and other tracks on the head for recording. This made the newly recorded material be in sync with the existing recorded tracks.[9] The first of these machines cost $10,000 and was installed in Les Paul's home recording studio by David Sarser.[10][11]

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 1970s Ampex faced tough competition from the Swiss company 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 ruggedly constructed and had audio specifications that nearly rivaled the first digital recording machines. However, sales of the ATR-124 were slow due to the machine's high price tag. Ampex sold only about 50 or 60 ATR-124 machines, and withdrew from the professional audio tape recorder market entirely in 1983.

The 1990s

By the 1990s, Ampex focused more on video recorders, instrumentation recorders, and data recorders. In 1991, Ampex sold their professional audio recorder line to Sprague Magnetics.[12] The Ampex Recording Media Corporation spun off in 1995 as Quantegy Inc., and is now called Quantegy Recording Solutions.

Video technology

AMPEX VR-1000A (1950s)


Main article: Quadruplex videotape

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.[13] A young, 19-year-old engineer Ray Dolby was also part of the team.[2] 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 14,400 rpm (NTSC). The four head pieces (quad) are switched successively so that recorded stripes cross the video portion (most of the tape middle, audio is on one edge, control track is 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.[14] A 7.5 inch per second version was released later, and this required a new, narrower headwheel. This vertical writing facilitated mechanical editing, once the control track was developed to display the pulse that indicates where a frame ends and the next one begins. Later, Ampex developed electronic editing.

The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences awarded Ampex its first Emmy in 1957 for this development. Ampex 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 color videotape recorder,[15] and during the debate Nixon pointed this out as one of the many American technological advances.

AMPEX VR-3000 (1967)

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. Dolby's contribution to the Videotape system was limited to the mathematics behind the reactance tube FM modulator, as Videotape then used FM modulation for the video portion. Another contributor designed the FM modulator itself. Dolby left Ampex to seek a PhD in physics in England, which is where Dolby Labs was later founded, before Dolby moved back to San Francisco. Dolby's brother Dale was also an engineer at Ampex.


In 1961 Ampex introduced the first helical scan video recorder, the VR-8000, which recorded video using helical scan recording technology on 2 inch tape.

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. The VR-1500 and VR-660 found service at educational institutions especially due to their relatively low cost vs. 2-inch quadruplex VTRs. These machines were simple to operate, reliable, small in size and produced, for their time, very good video without the complexity of the larger and much more complex 2" machines.

HS-100 & HS-200 "slo-mo" disc recorder

HS-100 disc
HS-100 Controller

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 and precise timing control in post production service. 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, which was an HS-100 connected to a control console when combined called the HS-200, had greater precise frame and timing control capability, lending itself to post-production applications like special effects and titles. The HS-200 had a frame accurate timing computer that enabled frame-accurate cuts and dissolve transitions by way of a two-input video switcher. Slow-motion sequences could likewise be programmed and could be "triggered" to begin via an external control pulse such as might come from an external VTR editor like the Ampex VR-2000 VTR with Editec. The HS-200 was the first system capable of single-frame video animation recording, using magnetic discs as opposed to videotape. The HS-200 also provided a readout with specific frame numbers showing from the 900 frames available (NTSC version.) Sequences could be triggered to start from any of these 900 frames with frame-accurate repeatability for creative fine tuning of sequence start and end points.

Type A

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.

Type C

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.


Main article: D2 (video format)

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.

AMPEX DCT-1700D (1992)


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 yielded relatively high capacity and speed for data and video. Double-density DST data storage was introduced in 1996. The final generation of these products were quad density, introduced in 2000, resulting in a large cartridge holding 660GB of data.


The first image of Earth taken from the Moon. On the left the original and on the right a digitally restored version created by LOIRP.
Ampex FR-900 at LOIRP

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 binding agent 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 being scraped off and deposited on the tape heads while lifting the head off the tape, degrading the treble.

shed on head
shed on head
Shed on guide
Shed on guide
Sticky shed from 1/4" Ampex 456 tape on the tape head and tape guide of a Technics RS-1500

The problem has been reported on a number of makes of tape (usually back-coated tapes), including Ampex tapes.

Ampex filed U.S. Patent 5,236,790[17] for a baking process ("A typical temperature used is 54 °C (129 °F) and a typical 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.


Record labels

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.

Legal history

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.[19]

Current situation

The former parent company, Ampex Corporation, no longer has any employees. Between March 30, 2008 and October of that year, Ampex Corp. reorganized under Chapter 11,[20] and divested itself of its remaining going concerns in October, 2014.[21]

Some former subsidiaries of Ampex Corporation, Ampex Data Systems Corporation, Ampex Data Systems International and Ampex Japan Ltd, remain as part of the Delta Information Systems group,[22] manufacturing rugged recording systems for the aerospace and defense industries, and which previously also produced digital archiving systems for both broadcast and aerospace/defense applications.

The Ampex video system is now obsolete, but many thousands of quadruplex videotape recordings remain. Machines that survive are used to transfer archival recordings to modern digital video formats.

Ampex Corporation supported the Ampex Museum of Magnetic Recording, started by Peter Hammar in 1982.[4] The contents of that museum were donated to Stanford in 2001.[23][24]

See also

Research resources

Photo gallery


  1. 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 excellence)"
  2. 1 2 3 4 The History of Magnetic Recording by Steven Schoenherr, University of San Diego, Nov 5, 2002
  3. "Pictures". Retrieved 22 November 2016.
  4. 1 2 "The Ampex Museum of Magnetic Recording" by curator Peter Hammar. "Electronic Servicing & Technology" magazine 1982 June.
  5. 1 2 History of The Early Days of Ampex Corporation As recalled by JOHN LESLIE and ROSS SNYDER, AES Historical Paper, Dec 17, 2010
  6. Recording Technology History: Tape Recording Comes to America Archived March 12, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  7. The 1952 divestiture of Western Electric Company's motion picture sound unit from the Bell System prevented it from completing this project, which Ampex took over, considerably simplified it for manufacturability and lower cost, and for improved magnetic head lifetime, and brought it to market in high volume, in some cases with a market penetration exceeding 90 percent.
  8. "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.
  9. Ampex Sel-Sync, 1955 Archived January 31, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  10. "Studio 3; A Place Of Recording History". Retrieved 22 November 2016.
  11. ARSC Journal, Sel-sync and the "Octopus": How Came to be the First Recorder to Minimize Successive Copying in Overdubs
  12. " - This website is for sale! - sprague-magnetics Resources and Information.". Retrieved 22 November 2016.
  13. Peninsula Electronics
  14. "How Much Should a Tape Recorder Cost? [Ampex ad]" Broadcasting-Telecasting, 15 October 1956, 220.
  15. Audio Engineering Society;  The History of Magnetic Recording by Steven Schoenherr, University of San Diego, Nov. 5, 2002 paragraph 16, last sentence
  18. RWO. "Quantegy Finally Goes Tapeless". Retrieved 22 November 2016.
  19. FindLaw Ampex Corp v. Cargle (2005)
  20. Ampex Consummates Plan of Reorganization: Emerges from Bankruptcy as a Going Concern. Business Wire, October 03, 2008.
  21. Delta Information Systems Completes Acquisition of Ampex Data Systems Ampex Web Site, October 2014
  22. "Delta Information Systems, Inc.". Retrieved 22 November 2016.
  23. "Ampex Museum Status Report 2003" by former curator Hammar.
  24. "Ampex Virtual Museum"

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ampex.
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/23/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.