The History of Ampex

Ampex is an American electronics company founded in 1944 by Alexander M. Poniatoff as a spin-off of Dalmo-Victor. 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.

The company's first tape recorder, the Ampex Model 200, was first shipped in April 1948. The first two units, serial numbers 1 and 2, were used to record Bing Crosby's show. The American Broadcasting Company used these recorders along with 3M Scotch 111 gamma ferric oxide coated acetate tape for the first-ever U.S. delayed radio broadcast of Bing Crosby's Philco Radio Time. Ampex tape recorders revolutionized the radio and recording industries because of their superior audio quality and ease of operation over audio disk cutting lathes.

During the early 1950s, Ampex began marketing commercial single and two-track machines using 1⁄4-inch tape. The line soon expanded into three and four-track models using 1⁄2-inch tape. The company had traditionally concerned itself with supplying the high end and professional market. However, when prerecorded music on tape became more economical, the company began supplying home tape recorders in earnest. The Model 612, introduced in 1955, was actually the world's first stereophonic music system. At $700, it sold for more than double the price of a monaural system. The company acquired Orradio Industries in 1959, which became the Ampex Magnetic Tape Division, headquartered in Opelika, Alabama. Its United Stereo Tapes (later Ampex Stereo Tapes) subsidiary offered music recordings, and by the end of that decade Ampex products were much in demand by top recording studios worldwide. Ampex was even awarded an Oscar in 1960 for their work in motion picture sound systems, particularly Oklahoma.

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. Using this machine, Les Paul invented "Sound on Sound" recording technology. 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.

Ampex's tape business was rendered obsolete during the 1990s, and the company turned to digital storage products.