Music Center Incorporated

Last updated
Industry Professional audio
Fateactive years 1955-1982 (Sony buyout 1982)
Founder'Jeep' Harned
Area served
Products Mult-track Recorders
Audio consoles
Revenue US$20 Million (FY 1979)

Music Center Incorporated (MCI) is the former name of a United States manufacturer of professional audio equipment that operated from 1955 until 1982 when it was acquired by the Sony Corporation. The company is credited with a number of world firsts: commercialising the 24-track multi-track recorder, the tape Auto Locator and in-line mixing console. [1]



During the late 1950s Grover 'Jeep' Harned, the founder of MCI, owned and operated a small record and stereo servicing outlet in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He also designed and built custom audio equipment such as mixing consoles, audio preamplifiers and general record electronics at the request of customers like Mack Emerman, the owner of the nearby Criteria Recording Studios.

Harned's growing list of record industry contacts led in time to regular referrals, and then to long term service contracts. In addition he installed commercial sound systems for the Parker Playhouse, Pirate's Worlds and Fort Lauderdale International Airport amongst others. [2] Consequently, in 1965 Harned established the company Music Center Incorporated. [3]

Many years later Harned recounted the change in direction during an interview [4]

"I got into the tape recorder business in an interesting way. I had built a console for Sidney (Sy) Nathan, owner of King Records in Cincinnati. Sid, Mack Emmerman, and Bob Richardson had a bunch of Ampex 350 tape recorders with transports that still ran well, but electronics that were on the verge of quitting completely. So in 1968 Sid, Bob and Mack got together and hired me to design and build some new "solid state" electronics for the old transports. My electronics proved to be quieter, had lower distortion, and they didn't have the 'Bias Rocks' common to so many earlier designs.

I filled this order for 100 units and I thought that would be the end of it, but when the word got around the industry that there was this guy in Florida building these 'solid state' electronics, a lot more people became interested in them"

In 1968 Tom Hidley, then manager of TTG Recording Studios in Hollywood, asked Harned to supply a 24-track recorder. Hidley had recently modified an Ampex 300 tape machine to accommodate 2-inch open reel magnetic tape and required multitrack audio. [5] Harned delivered a custom built 24-track machine — a modified Ampex 300 — which was commissioned later that year. This unit became the prototype for a new MCI product line, the JH-5 tape recorder. The "JH" designation is attributed to Jeeps first wife: Joyce Harned. Mrs. Harned ran the office bookkeeping and files assigning her own numbering system.

Technical innovation

In the late 1960s MCI established a network of dealerships across the United States to sell and service a line of preamps, recording electronics and tape recorders. [6] Studio Supply, one of these dealerships was operated by audio engineer Dave Harrison. He asked Harned if he could design a device to enable an audio engineer to switch quickly and easily between monitoring audio input and track mixdown modes. In 1972 MCI introduced the MCI JH-400 series console, the world's first commercial in-line mixing console. [7] Unlike split mixing console models, the in-line JH-400 series consoles offered the user a choice of options and incorporated Harris 911 IC op-amps, at a lower cost than its competitors. [8]

With the release in 1975 of its JH-500 series mixing consoles, MCI became the first manufacturer to design a sound mixer containing voltage controlled amplifiers (VCA) to aid in mixing multiple channels. [9] Console automation became a necessity at a time when the number of mixing channels grew and there were more faders than a single operator could manage. With VCAs, the engineer could adjust multiple selected channels simultaneously with one fader, without changing the relative levels of the selected channels. VCA technology cost a fraction of the price of motorized moving fader automation (Flying Faders), the competing standard of the time.

The MCI tape AutoLocator, another innovation, was similar in design to a remote control though it had advanced functions such as storing a number of presets to recall a particular position of a given recording track. This proved to be a great time saver during the overdubbing process. The MCI JH-45 Autolock enabled a person with average technical experience to quickly configure two JH-24 multi-track recorders for synchronized recording. Other companies incorporated these features into their products but in many cases, MCI innovated first.

MCI's success could also be contributable to its aggressive pricing strategy as MCI's marketing Vice President Lutz Meyer later attested.

"Our competitors literally took apart our AutoLocator product but couldn't see how we could possibly price it. It had 50 Integrated Circuit chips, it was like a small computer. They couldn't make the same equipment without selling it for twice our price.

"It took Ampex and 3M years to realise it was our loss-leader. Every time we shipped an AutoLocator out, $700 or $800 was going out the door but recording engineers wanted it. And it worked, they are ordering other MCI products".

Commercial success

MCI equipped studio. Courtesy Fred Lyon MCI equipped Studiod.jpg
MCI equipped studio. Courtesy Fred Lyon

MCI's reputation was built on technical innovation and its budget priced systems that were popular with independent music studios. During the 1970s the MCI brand was tied to the fortunes of the Criteria Studios. Rock musician Eric Clapton recorded his 1974 album 461 Ocean Boulevard at Criteria, which had served as the testbed for MCI's new products since the early 1960s. The Eagles recorded their best selling singles at Criteria, and likewise the Bee Gees chose Criteria to record 'Saturday Night Fever, the biggest selling album of the 70s.

MCI branded equipment was renowned for its high build quality and features that generally gave it a competitive edge over more expensive brands such as 3M, Neve and Studer. These features included the Autolocator, constant tension reel servos, wrap and azimuth adjustable heads, long wearing ceramic capstans and one button punch-in and punch-out. MCI marketing appeal coincided with the emergence in the mid 70s of 'independent music studio' operators. Aspiring studio operators fell into either of two categories: those with deep pockets that could afford $45,000 or more for high-end 3M, Neve or Studer gear, and the remainder who couldn't. MCI placed half-page press adverts in industry magazines (such as Record Engineer/Producer (RE/P)) promoting comparable MCI equipment sets for as a little as $25,000-30,000.

MCI continued to grow as Harned confirmed:

"Today, we build our own motors, make our own faders, printed circuit boards, have our own paint shop, do our own silk screening. . . in short we have almost completely integrated manufacturing capacity for professional audio equipment".

By the late 1970s MCI's annual revenue stood at an estimated $20M and its products achieved a 36% market-share in the US domestic market and 45% internationally. The company had a workforce of 250 staff and dealerships in more than 30 countries. [10] Later still AC/DC's "Back in Black", "For Those About To Rock" and many Queen, Led Zeppelin, and other rock albums were recorded on the Harrison-designed MCI consoles. Other famous artists that used MCI branded equipment included Roy Orbison, Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk. [11]

Digital revolution

In 1977, the 2-inch analog multitrack format was well-entrenched in high-end studios, with a wide selection of competing product offerings from companies like Ampex, and MCI amongst others. That year saw the introduction of the world's first commercial quality 32-track digital recorder by the 3M Corporation. MCI unveiled a prototype 3-inch, 32-track analog deck in 1978, which showed Harned's willingness to try new ideas, though it never went into production. Later that year American artist Ry Cooder released "Bop 'Till You Drop", the world's first digitally recorded, mixed and mastered pop album, using 3M's digital recorder.

In 1980, the Sony Corporation and Philips Consumer Electronics (Philips) published the Red Book for the Compact Disc, an industry standard of consumer grade digital media. Many recording studios retooled to support end to end digital production. MCI was one of several major equipment manufacturers that backed the Sony Corporation’s new Digital Audio Stationary Head digital recording standard. In the early 1980s Sony wanted to extend its business operations into the US manufacturing sector and approached Harned with a buyout offer. The Sony Professional Products Division was established in Fort Lauderdale specifically to accommodate this acquisition. [12]

Notable products

JH-10 Multitrack Tape Recorder

The world's first 2-inch open-reel 16-Track tape recorder.

JH-16 Multitrack Tape Recorder

The JH-16 Series of Multitrack Tape Recorders was MCI's first mass-produced series of tape recorders and was produced from 1971-1979. The JH-16 designation encompassed three models of tape recorders from MCI with three different transport series, all known as JH-16 series tape recorders: JH-10 (1971-1973), JH-100 (1973-1975), and JH-114 (1975-1979). [13] The JH-16 came in three configurations: 1-inch, 8-track; 2-inch, 16- track; and 2-inch, 24-track. All three transport series operate in 15 ips or 30 ips, with the JH-100 and JH-114 transport series offering Vari-speed capability. [14]

JH-24 Multitrack Tape Recorder

The JH-24 Series of Multitrack Tape Recorders was produced from 1980-1988 and was the successor to MCI's JH-16 Series. With the JH-24, MCI kept the JH-114 series transport and completely redesigned the audio electronics by implementing a transformless design utilizing differential amplification for the line inputs, line outputs, and head coupling to improve the machine's technical specifications. [13] Additionally, MCI implemented switches on each channel's Record/Cue card allowing the operator to switch equalization networks to align the machine to either NAB or IEC standards. As with the JH-16, the JH-24 came in three configurations: 1-inch, 8-track; 2-inch, 16- track; and 2-inch, 24-track.

JH-400 Series Console

The JH-416 introduced the "In Line Monitoring" configuration that became the standard for many future console designs from both MCI and other manufacturers. In 1974, the product was redesigned as the JH-428, a 24-track recording console.

JH-500 Series Console

This model was first produced in 1975 and became the preferred recording console for Atlantic Records in New York and Criteria Studio in Miami. In time the model range included A, B, C, & D versions offering 28, 32, 36, 38, 42, & 56 channel mainframe configurations. Metering was available as either VU or Light Meters. [15] The 500 Series was highly configurable and was available with a wide array of customization options. The JH-556 was the first recording console designed specifically to cater for dual 24 track recording.

JH-600 Series Console

The MCI JH600 console is still sought after as a great sounding analog recording console, and many studios in the '80s used the JH600 console in combination with the JH24 tape recorder and the JH110B 2 track tape recorder, making for an "All MCI" studio.

The JH-600 series was a totally new transformerless design, including many of the JH-500 features in a more compact frame with automation. They were relatively low priced and many people did not realise just how good this desk was sonically. However many engineers agree that this was the cleanest sounding console of all.[ citation needed ]

Related Research Articles

A hard disk recorder (HDR) is a system that uses a high-capacity hard disk to record digital audio or digital video. Hard disk recording systems represent an alternative to reel-to-reel audio tape recording and video tape recorders, and provide editing capabilities unavailable to tape recorders. Audio HDR systems, which can be standalone or computer-based, typically include provisions for digital mixing and processing of the audio signal.

Recording studio facility for sound recording

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Ampex company

Ampex is an American electronics company founded in 1944 by Alexander M. Poniatoff as a spin-off of Dalmo-Victor. The name AMPEX is a portmanteau, created by its founder, which stands for Alexander M. Poniatoff Excellence. Today, Ampex operates as Ampex Data Systems Corporation, a subsidiary of Delta Information Systems, and consists of two business units. The Silicon Valley unit, known internally as Ampex Data Systems (ADS), manufactures ruggedized, high-capacity, high-performance digital data storage systems capable of functioning in harsh environments on land, in the air, at sea, and in space. The Colorado Springs, Colorado unit, referred to as Ampex Intelligent Systems (AIS), serves as a laboratory and hub for the company's line of industrial control system cyber security products and services and its artificial intelligence/machine learning technology which is available across all of the company's products.

Multitrack recording process of mixing individual sound sources to a single recording

Multitrack recording (MTR)—also known as multitracking, double tracking, or tracking—is a method of sound recording developed in 1955 that allows for the separate recording of multiple sound sources or of sound sources recorded at different times to create a cohesive whole. Multitracking became possible in the mid-1950s when the idea of simultaneously recording different audio channels to separate discrete "tracks" on the same reel-to-reel tape was developed. A "track" was simply a different channel recorded to its own discrete area on the tape whereby their relative sequence of recorded events would be preserved, and playback would be simultaneous or synchronized.

Reel-to-reel audio tape recording type of magnetic tape audio recording

Reel-to-reel audio tape recording, also called open-reel recording, is the form of magnetic tape audio recording in which the recording medium is held on a reel that is not permanently mounted in an enclosed cassette. In use, the supply reel containing the tape is placed on a spindle or hub; the end of the tape is manually pulled out of the reel, threaded through mechanical guides and a tape head assembly, and attached by friction to the hub of the second, initially empty takeup reel.

Video tape recorder tape recorder designed to record and playback video and audio material on magnetic tape

A video tape recorder (VTR) is a tape recorder designed to record and playback video and audio material on magnetic tape. The early VTRs were open-reel devices which record on individual reels of 2-inch-wide tape. They were used in television studios, serving as a replacement for motion picture film stock and making recording for television applications cheaper and quicker. Beginning in 1963, videotape machines made instant replay during televised sporting events possible. Improved formats, in which the tape was contained inside a videocassette, were introduced around 1969; the machines which play them are called videocassette recorders.

The Digital Audio Stationary Head or DASH standard is a reel-to-reel, digital audio tape format introduced by Sony in early 1982 for high-quality multitrack studio recording and mastering, as an alternative to analog recording methods. DASH is capable of recording two channels of audio on a quarter-inch tape, and 24 or 48 tracks on 12-inch-wide (13 mm) tape on open reels of up to 14 inches. The data is recorded on the tape linearly, with a stationary recording head, as opposed to the DAT format, where data is recorded helically with a rotating head, in the same manner as a VCR. The audio data is encoded as linear PCM and boasts strong cyclic redundancy check (CRC) error correction, allowing the tape to be physically edited with a razor blade as analog tape would, e.g. by cutting and splicing, and played back with no loss of signal. In a two-track DASH recorder, the digital data is recorded onto the tape across nine data tracks: eight for the digital audio data and one for the CRC data; there is also provision for two linear analog cue tracks and one additional linear analog track dedicated to recording time code.

Studer Swiss electronics company (to 1994), brand of Harman International (since 1994)

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TASCAM is the professional audio division of TEAC Corporation, headquartered in Montebello, California. Tascam is credited as the inventor of the Portastudio, the first cassette-based multi-track home studio recorders. Tascam also introduced the first low-cost mass-produced multitrack recorders with Simul-Sync designed for recording musicians. Tascam also manufactured reel-to-reel tape machines and audio mixers for home recordists from the early 1970s through the mid-1990s.

Quadruplex videotape first practical and commercially successful analog recording video tape format

2-inch quadruplex videotape was the first practical and commercially successful analog recording video tape format. It was developed and released for the broadcast television industry in 1956 by Ampex, an American company based in Redwood City, California. The first videotape recorder using this format was built in the same year. This format revolutionized broadcast television operations and television production, since the only recording medium available to the TV industry before then was film used for kinescopes, which was much more costly to utilize and took time to develop at a film laboratory. In addition, kinescope images were usually of obviously inferior quality to the live television broadcast images they recorded, whereas quadruplex videotape preserved almost all the image detail of a live broadcast.

History of sound recording Wikimedia history article

The history of sound recording - which has progressed in waves, driven by the invention and commercial introduction of new technologies — can be roughly divided into four main periods:

Magnetophon trademark

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Harrison Audio Consoles is an international company based in Nashville, Tennessee that manufactures mixing consoles, Digital Audio Workstations (DAW), audio plugins, and other audio technologies for the post-production, video production, broadcast, sound reinforcement and music recording industries. The company is renowned as an industry innovation for its "inline" mixing console design that has subsequently become the standard for nearly every large format music console. Over 1,500 Harrison consoles have been installed worldwide, presenting a significant percentage of the overall world market share for high-end audio consoles. The company founder, Dave Harrison, was inducted as a Fellow in the Audio Engineering Society for this technical contribution of the recording industry and in particular the first 32-bus "in-line" console.

Foster Denki KK is an electronics company that manufactures loudspeakers and audio equipment for other companies or sells them under the trade name Fostex. It is traded on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

History of multitrack recording

Multitrack recording of sound is the process in which sound and other electro-acoustic signals are captured on a recording medium such as magnetic tape, which is divided into two or more audio tracks that run parallel with each other. Because they are carried on the same medium, the tracks stay in perfect synchronisation, while allowing multiple sound sources to be recorded asynchronously. The first system for creating stereophonic sound was demonstrated by Clément Ader in Paris in 1881. The pallophotophone, invented by Charles A. Hoxie and first demonstrated in 1922, recorded optically on 35 mm film, and some versions used a format of as many as twelve tracks in parallel on each strip. The tracks were recorded one at a time in separate passes and were not intended for later mixdown or stereophony; as with later half-track and quarter-track monophonic tape recording, the multiple tracks simply multiplied the maximum recording time possible, greatly reducing cost and bulk. British EMI engineer Alan Blumlein patented systems for recording stereophonic sound and surround sound on disc and film in 1933. The history of modern multitrack audio recording using magnetic tape began in 1943 with the invention of stereo tape recording, which divided the recording head into two tracks.

Atlantic Studios was the recording studio of Atlantic Records. Although this recording studio was located at 1841 Broadway, in New York City, Atlantic Recording Studios was initially located at 234 West 56th Street from November 1947 until mid-1956. When the Shorty Rogers and His Giants disc of 33.33 rpm called Martians Come Back! was issued in August 1956, the address of Atlantic Recording Studios had relocated to 157 W 57th Street. The studio was the first to record in stereo due to the efforts of Tom Dowd.

John G. McKnight American engineer

John G. (Jay) McKnight is a co-founder of Magnetic Reference Laboratory (MRL) in San Jose, California, where he was engineering vice-president from 1972 to 1975, and has been the president since 1975. He also develops new products and directs engineering at MRL.

Ampex ATR-100

The Ampex ATR-100 is a multitrack tape recorder, designed by Ampex Corporation, of Redwood City, California, United States. It was introduced at the Spring 1976 AES Conference in Los Angeles, and was geared towards the ultra high end studio market. The original versions were designed specifically as a stereo or quadraphonic mixdown and mastering deck. It has gained a reputation in the recording industry as the most accurate analogue tape recorder ever to be produced.

Sel-Sync or Selective Synchronous recording is the process of selectively using audio tape record heads as play back heads so that new signals can be recorded on other tracks in perfect sync with the existing tracks. Sel-sync recording dramatically changed the recording process allowing overdubbing of individual recorded tracks.

From 1963 to 1970, Ampex manufactured several models of VTR 2-inch helical VTRs, capable of recording and playing back analog black and white video. Recording employed non-segmented helical scanning, with one wrap of the tape around the video head drum being a little more than 180 degrees, using two video heads. One video drum rotation time was two fields of video. The units had two audio tracks recorded on the top edge of the tape, with a control track recorded on the tape's bottom edge. The 2-inch-wide video tape used was one mil thick. The VTRs were mostly used by industrial companies, educational institutions, and a few for in-flight entertainment.


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  3. Jeep Harned, 1930-2003 Obitary Jeep Harned
  4. Interview With G.C"Jeep" Harned the Founder of the MCI Firm
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  6. MCI AT 25: A pioneer Spirit in Studio Equipment Earns Global Respect, 1 Sep 1979, Billboard Magazine
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