The Finest Recorder of its Time
by Jonathan Kleefield
Over 50 years ago, while a student at Columbia University, I joined the college radio station, WKCR-FM, serving as both recording and broadcast engineer, and later, program host and Music Director. Our station, whose 4000 watts of ERP beamed from the old WABD-TV RCA super turnstile antenna on Madison Ave., was one of the first to adopt stereo-FM broadcasting, through a Gates Executive Board.
The core of our music reproduction devices were two Ampex 351-2 machines. With these fantastic devices, I was privileged to record many fine recitals, including those of the Aeolian Skinner pipe organ at St. Paul's Chapel.
Using the simplest of setups- two RCA77DX microphones, the Ampex machines made very faithful recordings of the organ concerts that remain sonically competitive to the state-of-the art 24 bit digital work of today. Even at 7 1/2ips, which we used to ensure no loss of program material from these one hour recitals (2400 feet of Scotch 111 tape on 10 1/2" reels), the recorders produced rock-steady sound, free of audible wow and flutter. I always marveled at the perfectly balanced transports and their braking assemblies. You could fast foward the tapes at full speed, press the stop button, and never tear the tape. You could "rock" the tape back and forth with alternate presses of the FF and REW buttons, and the machines were equally gentle to the tape.
Moreover, the electronics had very low noise, and excellent headroom. I treaure those tapes,a few of which are still in my library, and owe my success in sound recording to those terrific machines- unquestionably the "gold standard" for analog recorders of that day.