Ampex (NASDAQ|AMPX) 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.


Alexander M. Poniatoff established the company in San Carlos, California, in 1944 as the Ampex Electric and Manufacturing Company.

During World War II, Ampex was a small manufacturer of electric motors and generators. Near the end of the war, while serving in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, Jack Mullin was assigned to investigate German radio and electronics experiments. Mullin acquired two Magnetophon recorders and he brought them to America where he produced modified versions. Bing Crosby, then the biggest star on American radio, disliked doing live broadcasts. In 1946 he had asked the NBC network to allow him to pre-record his shows on acetate discs. When the network refused because of the inferior audio quality of discs, Crosby withdrew from the show for almost a year. In June 1947, Mullin demonstrated his modified tape recorders to Bing 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. After a successful test broadcast, NBC agreed to allow Crosby to pre-record his shows on tape. Crosby immediately appointed Mullin as his chief engineer and invested $50,000 in Ampex (then a small six-man concern) so that the company could develop a commercial production model from Mullin's prototypes.

Audio technology

The company's first tape recorder, the Ampex Model 200, revolutionized the radio and recording industries. In 1948, ABC used an Ampex Model 200 audio recorder for the first-ever U.S. tape delayed radio broadcast of "The Bing Crosby Show".

Les Paul, a friend of Crosby's and a regular guest on his shows had already been experimenting with overdubbed recordings on disc. When he received an early Ampex Model 200, he modified the tape recorder by adding additional recording and playback heads, creating the world's first practical tape-based multitrack recording system.

During the early 1950s Ampex began marketing 1 and 2 track machines using 1/4" tape. The line soon expanded into 3 and 4 track models using 1/2" tape. 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 1959, no longer involved in producing radio shows, Crosby sold his interest in the Ampex Corporation, having played a crucial role in underwriting a technology that changed the broadcasting industry.

Ampex built a handful of machines during the late 1950s that could record as many as 8 tracks on 1" tape, though 4 track machines were widely considered state-of-the-art until about 1967. The demand for more tracks suddenly exploded when musicians heard about the extensive overdubbing done on 4 track machines for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Recording engineers Geoff Emerick and Ken Townshend working with The Beatles at EMI's Abbey Road Studios also devised a primitive way to link 2 Studer J37 4 track machines together but this did not last long. In 1967 Ampex stepped up production of their 8-track machines with the new MM-1000 to respond to the demand. At the same time 3M Corporation successfully introduced the M56, a competing 8-track machine . Scully Recording Instruments was also briefly successful with a unique 12 track design using 1" tape.

In 1968 Ampex introduced a 16-track version of the MM-1000 which was the world's first 16-track professional tape recorder. It used a 2" tape transport design adapted from the video recording division. It quickly became legendary for its tremendous flexibility, reliability and outstanding sound quality. This brought about the "golden age" of analog multitrack recording, which would last into the early 1990s. Later machines built by Ampex would have as many as 24 tracks. Even more tracks could be made available by linking multiple machines together with SMPTE time code. By the late 1970s Ampex also faced tough competition from Japanese manufacturers. It 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.

Video technology


Since the early 1950s, Bing Crosby and others tried to record 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, Ampex demonstrated the VR-1000, which was the first of Ampex's line of 2 inch Quadruplex videotape recorders. The first magnetically-recorded time-delayed network television program using the new Ampex Quadruplex recording system was CBS's "Douglas Edwards and the News" on November 30, 1956.

The "Quad" head assembly had 4 heads that rotated at 14,400 rpm. They wrote the video vertically across the width of a tape that was 2 inches (5 cm) wide and ran at 15" (38cm) per second. This allowed hour-long programs to be recorded on one reel of tape. (In 1956, one reel of tape cost $300, equivalent to $2,000 in 2000, and the recorders cost about $75,000 to $100,000, about a half a million dollars today.)

In 1967, Ampex introduced the Ampex VR-3000 portable broadcast video recorder, which revolutionized the recording of high-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 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 VHS.

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.

HS-100 disc recorder

In March 1967 Ampex introduced the HS-100 video disc recorder. The video was recorded on analog magnetic disc. The disc weighed 5 pounds/2.3kg 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. [] . Playback correction was done with modules from the VR-2000 Quad: Amtec: Horizontal TBC. Colortec: Color TBC in line after the Amtech. Procamp: Processing amplifier on the finial output. New Composite sync insertion, level adjustment.


In 1961 Ampex made a 2 inch helical scan VTR for a short time, the VR-8000.

Type A

1 inch type A videotape (designated Type A by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, SMPTE) is 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) is 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.


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 19mm (3/4") width, with the DCT format using DCT (discrete cosine transform) 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 1950, Ampex introduced the first "dedicated" instrumentation recorder, Model 500, built for the U.S. Navy.

* In 1954, in a recording studio equipped with an Ampex reel to reel tape machine, an unknown truck driver named Elvis Presley recorded his historic first single, "That's All Right" at Sun Studios in Memphis.

* In 1956, the first tape-delayed U.S. television program was broadcast by using the Ampex Quad videotape system.

* 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 1963, Ampex technology was used to show replays of the live assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald.

* 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 1970, 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 large rotating carousels. Using sophisticated mechanics and compressed air, the "carts" were loaded into and extracted from the machine at extremely high speed. This allowed TV stations to re-sequence commercial breaks at a moment's notice, adding, deleting and rearranging commercials at will. The TV newsroom also began to use the ACR-25 to run news stories because of its random access capability.

Record Label

Ampex Records was a record label started in 1970. Its biggest hit was "We Gotta Get You A Woman" by Todd Rundgren (as "Runt"), reaching #20 on the charts in 1970. Ampex also originated two subsidiary labels, Bearsville and Big Tree. The label ceased around 1973 and the Bearsville and Big Tree labels were sold 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. [FindLaw Ampex Corp v. Cargle (2005)]

Current situation

The Ampex video system is now obsolete. 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, according to its web site. It continues normal operations and plans to re-emerge.

ee also

* 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

Research resources

* [ Ampex Corporation Records, ca. 1944-1999] (ca.577 linear ft.) are housed in the [ Department of Special Collections and University Archives] at [ Stanford University Libraries]
* FindLaw Ampex Corp v. Cargle (2005) []

External links

* [ 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: is defunct, those URLS have been mapped to the new University of San Diego domain
* [ The History of Magnetic Recording]
* [ Recording Technology History]
* [ Der Bingle Technology]
* [ Total Rewind - The Virtual Museum of Vintage VCRs]
* [ Blog describing many missing UK Television programmes]
* [ "Both Sides Now" webpage on Ampex Records]
* [ Ampex Virtual Museum and Mailing List]
* [ AES Historical Committee: Ampex History Project]

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