Ampex Products Chronology
Ampex VP 4900
Ampex VPR 5800
This deck is capable of recording and playing both low and high band, and is capable of a full 4.2 MHz video bandwidth. This is the first color-capable type A VTR, but it required specially modified monitors that could accept an external subcarrier reference. It was described as a portable, transistorized VTR capable of recording and playing back both B/W and color video signals. Two audio channels could be recorded from microphones or other audio sources. It is was used in closed circuit applications in the medical, educational, industrial, sports and entertainment fields.
Ampex VP 4900
This machine was designed specifically for in education, industry, government, and medicine, with a video response of 3 Mhz and a horizontal resolution of 300 lines. The video signal to noise ratio is 42 dB. A rotary transformer in the drum assembly provided increased reliability of signal transmission from the head, according to the company. Fast forward and rewind speed were each four minutes.
Ampex VR-660 videotape recorder
Subject: Re: [AMIA-L] In-Flight Video
Date: Wed, 9 Oct 2002 21:25:23 EDT
From: Jim Wheeler <Jimwheeler@AOL.COM>
Reply-To: Association of Moving Image Archivists <AMIA-L@LSV.UKY.EDU>
In 1964, TWA had a corner on In-Flight movies. The CEO of Continental
Called the Ampex VP of Engineering and asked if we could develop a videotape system for showing movies. The VP set down with me and we had a plan roughed out within an hour of the phone call from Continental. The VP wanted a single
large monitor in each cabin--just like the TWA system. I argued for individual monitors. We ended up with a compromise--which is what is common today.
I built a small box that converted the 28 volts DC aircraft power to 110
volts AC. This was the power source for the VR-660 helical videotape
recorder. Ampex bought several hundred small TV monitors that would be
mounted every other seat and on both the left and the right walls of the
airplane. The wiring and monitors were installed by a company that did a
poor job. There was crosstalk and RFI problems. Before this happened, I
was transferred to another Division of Ampex in another town and never did hear
how the crosstalk was handled.
I suspect that fiber-optic cables are used in today's In-Flight video
Systems so crosstalk is not an issue.
Another version of "In-Flight" video was developed by the U.S. military.
The U.S. Air Force installed a VR-660 in the tail area of every B-52 used in the
Vietnam war. It was connected to a video camera that was pointed down.
When a B-52 left Guam for a bombing run, the record button was activated. The
VR-660 would record for six hours. Most of the recording was over water but
it also showed what was actually bombed.
This is a good example of where archiving the entire 6 hour tape is not
desired. 5 hours of ocean is very boring to watch.
The source for this chronology of Ampex professional audio and video
products is principally the Ampex Fact Book prepared by Ampex in 1970 to
celebrate the company's 25th anniversary. All dates not in square brackets
are from this document, as are all quotations unless otherwise noted. Any
dates given in square brackets are from another source, often the date on a
manual in my collection. Additional sources I have found helpful are a
chronology prepared by David Dintenfass, anecdotes about the Ampex 200A by
Larry Racies, and comments on the MR-70 by Bill Vermillion. My thanks also
to Russ Bleakley and, indirectly, John G. McKnight, for sending me the Fact
Book. I have also included other significant events in the company's
history. I drew the line at instrumentation recorders, computer equipment,
consumer audio gear, and the like.
An overall chronology is first, followed by a discussion, in
chronological order, of some models of audio recorders.
1944 Nov. 1: Company founded as Ampex Electric and Manufacturing Company.
The name Ampex is derived from the initials of the company's founder,
Alexander M. Poniatoff, plus "ex" for excellence. [This is the party
line. An insider once told me that the "ex" actually stood for
1946 May 2: Incorporated in California as Ampex Electric Corporation.
1947 Oct. 1: Model 200A audio recorder demonstrated at Radio Center,
1948 Apr. 24: First production model 200A recorders delivered to ABC and
placed in service Apr. 25 across the country. First regular
professional use of magnetic recording. [The Germans don't count, I
1949 May: Model 300 audio recorder. It "provided improvements in head
design, drive system and tape path." [Cf. date in Lindsay article,
cited below.] July: Model 300 production begins (Harold Lindsay,
"Magnetic Recording, Part II," db, Jan. 1978: 41). [Cf. date in Fact
Book, cited above.] Lindsay, op. cit., 42, says the 400 was first
manufactured "late in 1949."
1950 Fall: Model 400 audio recorder. This was "lower priced," "of
professional quality," and "developed specifically for independent
1953 Apr.: Model 350 audio recorder replaced the model 400. "The model
350's simplicity, improved tape drive system, durability and
performance established a new standard of excellence for the broadcast
industry." May 1 [per p. 1] or July 2 [per p. 43]: Name Ampex
Corporation adopted. September: Entered motion picture field with
sound equipment for Cinemascope.
1954 May: Model 600 portable recorder for field use. It "retained full
master quality in a highly compact form." [No date given]: Models
3200-3300 high-speed duplicators.
1956 Apr.: Demonstrated model VR-1000, the first video tape recorder at NAB
convention in Chicago. Nov. 30: First coast-to-coast network TV
broadcast using an Ampex video recorder was "Doug Edwards and the
News" on CBS.
1956 Mar.: Ampex wins Emmy for VR-1000.
1958 Model 351 audio recorder. [A flyer in my collection copyrighted 1962
refers to the 351's "four-year history of dependable operation by more
than 9,000 units."--hcs] Apr.: Color video tape recorder. [No model
no. given in Fact Book.] First demonstration of video tape editing.
1959 Jan. 19: Ampex stock listed on N.Y. and Pacific Stock Exchanges. June:
United Stereo Tapes formed to record, make, and distribute stereo
music tapes for home use. October: Orr Industries, Opelika, Ala.,
merged into Ampex Corp. and became the Ampex Magnetic Tape Division.
1960 [specific date not known]: MX-35 four channel stereo mixer. [My copy
of the manual is dated Sept. 1960.--hcs] Jan.: Model 970, a self-
contained portable stereo recorder. It had a built-in stereo amplifier
and speaker system for monitoring purposes. Apr.: Model 354 audio
recorder, "designed specifically for recording and reproducing
stereophonic sound." Apr.: VR-1001A video tape recorder, an upright
1961 Jan.: VR-8000, a closed-circuit video tape recorder for education and
training applications. Apr.: Awarded Oscar for "development of an
advanced multipurpose theater sound system." Dec.: 40 acres purchased
in Redwood City, Calif., for a new corporate headquarters and research
complex. Dec.: Experimental video tape recorder weighing 35 lbs. and
occupying one cubic foot of space developed to record one half hour of
satellite television pictures. Delivered to NASA.
1962 July 26: Ground breaking for Redwood City facility. Mar.: Ampex
Electronic Editor, which allowed editing video tapes without cutting
and splicing. Dec.: VR-1500 portable video tape recorder. Dec.: VR-
660, a 130-lb. model priced at one-fourth the cost of previous video
1963 Aug. 12: Moved in to Redwood City facility.
1964 Apr.: VR-2000 high-band color and B&W video tape recorder. Apr.: MR-70
mastering audio recorder. July: United Stereo Tapes changed name to
Ampex Stereo Tapes.
1965 Feb.: VR-303 closed-circuit video tape recorder. (Dropped the same
year; replaced by the VR-7000.) May: AG-350, the first all-
transistorized audio recorder. July: VR-660B, advanced version of VR-
660; replaces VR-660/1500. Nov.: VR-7000 compact portable closed
circuit video tape recorder.
1966 Jan.: AG-300 solid-state audio tape recorder. Mar.: VR-1200 high-band
broadcast color and B&W video tape recorder. Mar: VR-1100E,
modification of the VR-1100 for mobile use. May: VR-6000 low-cost,
compact close-circuit video tape recorder. Nov. VR-6175 closed-circuit
video tape recorder/TV receiver.
1967 Jan.: AG-440 series audio recorder. "It is a new generation of the 350
and 351 Series recorders, most widely used professional audio
recorder/reproducers ever built." AG-445 is a playback only machine.
Feb.: AG-500 series, solid state compact portable audio recorder. "An
advanced generation of widely used PR-10 recorder/reproducers." Feb.:
VR-7003, first closed-circuit video recorder that can record & play
back at both 525-line and 625-line standards. Mar.: HS-100, high band
color recording system that can do slow motion and stop action instant
replays. Mar.: VR-3000, battery powered portable video tape recorder
and camera combination, less than 50 lbs. Apr.: VR-7500C, first
compact color video tape recorder to cost less than $50,000. Apr.:
Ampex Stereo Tapes announces it will start making cassettes. May: AL-
500, long play professional logging recorder, will record more than 34
hours on a seven-inch reel. June: Second Emmy, for high band color
video tape recording. Oct.: AG-440-8, eight-channel version of AG-440.
Oct.: AG-1000-24 & AG-1000-16, two new solid-state multi-channel audio
recorders. [I think these were the same model later called MM1000, but
cannot prove it.--hcs] Oct.: ADM-500A Duplicator Master and AD-150
Duplicator Slaves for high-speed cassette duplication. Could make ten
copies of an hour long tape in two minutes. Oct.: AG-600 series, a
solid-state version of the 600 series audio recorders. Oct.: AA-620,
solid-state, portable 20W amp/speaker system. Oct.: AM-10, portable
six-position 2 channel mixer. Nov.: VR-2000B & VR-1200B, high band
color video tape recorders. Nov.: VR-5000 and VR-7800 portable video
1968 Apr.: VR-3000 introduced; first deliveries in May. Apr.: HS-200, color
disc recording & editing system for producing commercials. Apr.: MM-
1100 multi-channel audio recorders for mastering, TV, and motion
pictures. June: VR-5003, international version of VR-5000. Aug.: VR-
4900 and VR-5100 closed-circuit video tape recorders. Nov.: VR-7400,
time lapse closed-circuit video tape recorder that can record 76 hours
on a single reel.
1969 Jan.: AG-440B, an update of the AG-440. June: VP-4900C, closed circuit
video tape player, priced at $1950. July: VR-7500X, closed circuit
video tape recorder with higher resolution than previously available.
Sept.: MM-1005, a playback-only version of the MM-1000. [This must be
what was referred to as the AG-1000 above in the entry for 1967.]
Nov.: VR-1500E, lowest priced video tape recorder that allows B&W
[late 1973?]: MM-1100 (date from Alastair Heaslett).
[late 1974 or early 1975?]: MM-1200 (date from Alastair Heaslett).
[Spring 1976]: ATR-100 introduced at AES in Los Angeles. (Date from
Alastair Heaslett, who certainly ought to know.)
[ca. 1978] ATR-700 audio tape recorder. [My copy of the ATR-700 brochure is
[ca. 1983] ATR-800 audio tape recorder. [My copy of the ATR-800 brochure is
Discussion of Specific Audio Recorder Models
Note that more than one version of electronics was used by many of
the tube machines.
200A: The Ur-Ampex. Earliest ones ran at 30 ips only; some later ones
ran at 15 and 30 ips. Ampex made 112 of these (Harold Lindsay, "Magnetic
Recording, Part II," db, Jan. 1978: 40). The 200A used oxide-out wind, like
the Magnetophons. The 201 had the now-standard (except for cassettes)
oxide-in wind, had 300 heads mounted in an adaptor plate, and replacement
electronics configured to fit in the 200A's wire gutter. The 201 conversion
kit brought the Model 200A up to the same level of performance as the Model
300. Both lacked monitor bridges, being designed with the same connectors
as the monitor equipment for the then-current Scully disc recording lathes.
(However, the Model 200A would accept any 600 ohm, +4 signal as input.) A
real masterpiece of industrial design, hard to believe it was their first
effort, rivalled in this regard only by the MR-70. No built-in microphone
preamps. (Note: strictly speaking, there was no Model 200, though that is
the name generally used for this model. The first Ampex was really called
the Model 200A.)
300: Ran at 15/30 ips (strictly speaking, this was a Model 301) or
7.5/15 ips. Machines with serial numbers below 500 differed in many details
from those that followed: top plate solenoids were AC; the top plate was
plywood sandwiched between aluminum and stainless steel; there was no
stiffening "banjo" under the top plate; the cabinets of the console-mounted
machines looked like a miniature Model 200A cabinet. A great machine by any
standard. Available up to four track on half-inch tape. It was the 300
transport that Ampex used to build up the then one-of-a-kind multi-channel
recorder later sold to Les Paul. This was the standard studio mastering
deck for decades. All the major studios owned them by the dozen. Most of
the stereo Mercury Living Presence and RCA Living Stereo records were
recorded on multi-channel Ampex 300s. Ampex made over 20,000 of these
(Lindsay, op. cit., 41), including solid-state versions. The main problem
with the 300 transport is its indirect capstan drive. This design did not
age gracefully: absolute speed accuracy was difficult to attain and flutter
increased with wear. The 300 transport was more than nineteen inches wide;
it had to be mounted vertically in a standard rack. The 300 transport was
also the basis for the 3200 duplicator and various instrumentation decks.
300s with "bathtub" electronics lacked built-in microphone preamps.
400 series: The worst Ampex, hands down, universally considered a
catastrophe. Two motors, capstan to the left of the heads. The electronics
are very similar to those of the 350.
350: A hit and, with the 351, the best of the "smaller" Ampexes. 350s
had a four-pin Jones plug between the electronics and transport; the
electronics had an outboard power supply and used point-to-point wiring and
octal tubes. Some people think the 350 has more headroom than the 351 owing
to an allegedly beefier bias oscillator. Two-track version available, but
maybe not right from the start. (?) The direct capstan drive of the 350
series yielded greater absolute speed accuracy but more flutter than the
600/601/602: Portable tube machines, available mono or stereo. Used
seven inch reels and operated at a single speed, either 3.75 or 7.5 ips
(field convertible with kit available from Ampex). No tape lifters at all!
351: Transport identical to 350 (or nearly so) except that it uses a
six-pin Jones plug to connect the electronics and transport. The first
Ampex to be designed as either a stereo or mono machine from the beginning.
The front panel of the electronics, of which there are several versions, is
distinguishable from 350 electronics only by the black dot under the "input
transfer" switch. Unlike the 350, the 351 electronics have an integral
power supply, printed circuit boards, and use miniature tubes. With the
350, the nicest of the smaller tube Ampexes. The most desirable of the
several versions of the electronics are P/N 02-30960.
354: Same transport as 351. Electronics have two channels crammed
into one chassis, small VU meters and knobs, and a less-than-wonderful tube
complement. Hard to work on because of the cramped interior space, problems
with heat build up for same reason, switches aren't robust. Front panel
bias and EQ adjustments. Available with the same three head configuration
as the 350 and 351 or with a four head headblock, which allowed for a
quarter track playback head. Sound isn't as good (in my opinion!) as the
350 or 351, but still better than most transistor (including non-Ampex)
machines. Microphone preamps plugged in to octal tube sockets and usually
are not present.
PR-10: A small, portable machine that used seven-inch reels and 354
electronics (with a different faceplate).
MR-70: Without any argument the best tube Ampex ever made, probably
the best analog tape deck ever made, period. This machine was an all-out
effort to make a cost-is-no-object, state of the art recorder. According to
a 1966 GSA price schedule in my collection, a two-track, quarter-inch MR-70
in console cost $5456.25 and an identically configured AG-300 cost
$3496.00. Transport is similar to the 300, but considerably beefed up.
Nuvistor electronics. Custom-wound transformers, metal film resistors, film
capacitors, etc., etc. Available in many track configurations, up to eight
tracks on one-inch tape, and speed pairs of 7.5/15 ips or 15/30 ips. Some
track configurations (e.g., two track on half inch tape) anticipate today's
preferred analog formats; some configurations were available only on
special order. It and the much-despised Model 400 series were the only
Ampexes before the ATR-100 to have constant tension. Completely mu-metal
shielded. Motor drive to reel idler for faster starts. Allegedly fewer than
100 made. Parts not shared with the 300 are scarce to the point of being
impossible to get. According to Bill Vermillion, a Studer engineer once
told him that Willi Studer's goal in life was to make a tape recorder
better than the MR-70. He tried for two decades; then came to the
conclusion that he could equal it but not surpass it. All-in-all, a
fantastically elegant piece of industrial design. See Rein Narma and Mort
Fujii, "Performance and Reliability Requirements for a Master Tape
Recorder," Journal of the Audio Engineering Society, v. 12, no. 4 (Oct.
1964): 274-279 for a full discussion of the rationale behind the MR-70's
design. Microphone preamps plugged in to octal tube sockets and usually are
AG-350: The first transistor Ampex. Transport design essentially
unchanged from the 350/351/354. Faceplate and control panel redesigned to
conform to the "new" corporate look of the MR-70 and later AG-440. Eight
conductor Jones plug interconnecting the transport and electronics. Speed
change on the transport now changes EQ automatically. Available with either
the three or four head headstack, like the 354. Locking level controls for
record and reproduce, as on the MR-70. Ampex offered a kit to upgrade tube
350 series machines to use AG-350 electronics. No built-in microphone
AG-300: Facelifted 300 transport, as for AG-350, with AG-350
electronics. No built-in microphone preamps.
MM-1000, MM-1100, MM-1200: Multi-channel mastering machines using AG-
440 electronics. MM-1000 transport based on the VR-1000 video transport.
Available with up to 24 channels. No built-in microphone preamps.
AG-440: The workhorse of the transistor Ampexes. Available in
versions up to eight track on one-inch tape. Synchronous or servo capstan
motor. No built-in microphone preamps.
ATR-100: An MR-70 for the 1970s and beyond. The only analog machine
in the MR-70's league. This machine took fourteen-inch reels and could be
field adjusted to operate at any two speeds from 3.75 ips through 30 ips
(note: speeds do not have to be adjacent). Specifications are at least an
order of magnitude better than any other analog tape deck and in many areas
rival those quoted for digital. Available up to 24 track on two-inch tape.
Later examples were assembled in Mexico. No built-in microphone preamps.
AG-500: Solid-state version of the PR-10.
AG-600: Transistor update of 600/601/602 decks.
ATR-700: According to Mike Rivers approximately a TEAC 7030 with
different buttons and low impedance mike inputs. The same guts appeared as
the Tascam 25-2. Not a "real" Ampex, and not very desirable.
ATR-800: The last of the Mohicans. Made in Japan by Tascam but an
Ampex design. Sic transit gloria Ampex.