Class With Professor Hoffman:
We have had the mini-course on "EQ" from you and
the recent mini-course on "compression/limiting". How about the history,
technology and use of echo and reverb in
recordings that we cherish from the 1950's and 60's--why was it used,
why so much in so many recordings and some technical comments about how
it was achieved and what equipment was used? You have stated in a number
of threads that you prefer "dry" or "more dry" recordings to those that
are either "wet" or "drenched", as I like to say (recent Frank Sinatra
and Nat King Cole threads).
Very quickly. In the late 1920's when electric recording came in
(1925), some record companies like Columbia and Victor, recorded in an
ambient environment (churches, meeting halls, etc.)
BUT, when Jukeboxes came in, the Jukebox operators DEMANDED that the
record companies deaden their sound. The metallic sound of the Jukeboxes
made the records sound too thin. SO, the record companies (hurting from
the depression) did just that, just in time for the swing era.
That's why, from about 1935 on (until the 1950's), records were recorded
as DEAD as possible.
Then, the HI-FI revolution began and the very start of the 1950's.
Engineers tried everything to make their records sound "Hi-Fi" even if
they didn't have a clue as to what that meant to a consumer. Mercury
Records and engineer Bill Fine, put a single microphone in a big concert
hall and recorded the first Mercury "Living Presence" LP. This was the
start of the "Hi-Fi" craze, and most engineers from other companies
quickly came to the understanding that ECHO = Hi-Fi.
A guy named Bill Putnam founded Universal Recording in Chicago and he
invented the first "echo chamber". Easier than recording on location in
a big hall. One by one, the "echo craze" spread across the country and
around the world. Capitol built their chamber in 1953, and when they
moved to the Capitol Tower in early 1956, their chambers were well
thought out and amazing sounding (still are). Decca used an American
Legion Hall in NYC to get that natural echo on "Rock Around The Clock"
in 1954, and Columbia built big wonderful wet sounding studios to record
stuff in ("Take Five", "Kind Of Blue", etc.)
Echo was here to stay.
Of course, by 1958, when stereo LP's came in, the engineers DOUBLED the
amount of echo, but that's another story....
How's that for a quick rundown?
Thanks--that helps to set the course for what transpired and how use
evolved. I was listening to those Mitch Miller produced recordings last
night and I could not help but notice how "drenched" they were--Marty
Robbins, Frankie Laine, Guy Mitchell, et al. Further, I thought about
how their "drenching" actually reduced their fidelity.
Indeed. There is ambience, then there is drenched.
Believe me, after you have heard some of these drenched ones without the
downpouring of echo (the bonus track of "Stardust" on Nat "King" Cole's
"Love Is The Thing" DCC Gold CD for example), you can begin to hear the
magic on the actual tapes.
I have the DCC NKC CD (thank you). It is the fidelity of the Love Is
The Thing CD (and others of that period) that gets me wondering about
how wonderful many of those vintage recordings could sound if they were
not so drenched.
A question--In a recording studio or mastering room, is Echo a
physically produced process and Reverb an electronically produced
process? They sound distinctly different with Echo, to my ears, being a
series increasingly softer individual reflections of the original sound
whereas Reverb sounds like a timed fade of the original sound so
My father was Chief Engineer for a group of Top 40 Radio stations in the
Midwest during the 60's and they added electronically produced Reverb
(to everything) at the transmitter site to the signal to be
transmitted...more reverb was added to a largely "wet" original product.
There are all types of "wetness".
I guess echo isn't really echo per se. It should be called reverb. True
echo is kind of like yodeling on a mountain top and then it comes back
to you after a delay.
Nowadays we just use the term "echo" to mean everything.
But, as to types of echo.
1. Reverb, made in a chamber or "plate"
2. Natural reverb with natural decay, from a real big space.
3. Echo or delay. Made by various means. Also called "slap", etc. The
cheap Sun Records slap echo.
One example before I have to go actually do some work.
THE BEATLES "I Saw Her Standing There" (or anything on that first
Beatles LP that you might have in stereo).
Go listen to that song, cutting off the vocals on the right channel. OK?
Now you have heard the Abbey Road "SUPER DUPER" echo treatment:
A reverb chamber being fed back through the console and being printed to
a second tape machine. That tape is being fed back through the console
to the rhythm track of the live recording. With me so far? Now, since
this tape recorder is playing back the live echo, the three-inch gap
between the record and playback head of this "echo only" tape machine is
allowing the ACTUAL PRINTED ECHO on the session master to have a slight
delay in it.
So, it has that nice Abbey Road reverb PLUS the proper slap echo delay
sound thrown in for good measure.
In a related matter-- what are we hearing when we got to the 70s?
Echo Chamber or EMT Plate?
Three things happened that changed the sound of audio in the early
First, the Beatles happened, and a style of recording that was strictly
non-union and unorthodox. As a result, all studios were forced to
upgrade to 8 and 16 track recording all of a sudden, so their clients
could overdub to their heart's content. Thirdly, since the old vacuum
tube consoles had only three or four track mixing, they were torn out
and replaced by solid state gear.
So, in just a few years, all studios had dumped their tube gear. Thus,
the sound of the recordings changed. Now that the studios had all these
endless channels of sound, there was so much tape hiss that they needed
noise reduction during recording and mixing to keep the hiss down. Thus
Dolby A was born, changing the sound.
Now that the studios had all these endless channels of sound, there was
a need to use more than a few microphones to capture the band. This is
where the hi-hat got its own channel, and the bass drum, and the direct
box, etc. Room ambiance died and the dry "detailed" 70's sound was
A simplified version but you get the ideal.
Thanks - this confirms the change in sound I am hearing. EMT plate
echo - how is it different from chamber echo?
Chamber echo is a permanent structure. It works like a cave and is part
of the studio. A plate is just like the reverb in your Fender guitar
amp; a plate that resonates, sort of a poor man's echo chamber. It's
portable and usually sits outside the actual studio in a little side
room in a long rectangular box. It sounds pretty good if set up
correctly and is meant to mimic a good chamber echo without having to
dig a big cave, heh.
I have noticed that EMT plate echo has a different 'timbre' for lack
of a better description. I assume it was variable in decay time. I have
read stories about these EMT plates being big, bulky, immersed in oil!
It's just a plate, in a box the shape of a coffin. It ain't Gold Star
buddy, and the sad thing is that no one seems to care. Echo is echo to