Soundstream


Soundstream

Soundstream Inc. was founded in 1975 in Salt Lake City, Utah by Dr. Thomas G. Stockham, Jr. It was the world’s first digital audio recording company, providing commercial services for recording and computer-based editing (Easton 1976).

In 1976, Soundstream made the first live digital recording of an orchestra using its prototype two-channel recorder (LA Times 2004). Soundstream’s first commercially released recording (popular music on the Orinda label) in 1977 was a month shy of the world’s first digitally recorded commercial release. For the ensuing three years, 50% of all classical music recorded digitally used Soundstream equipment.

The Soundstream tape recorder consisted of a Honeywell instrumentation transport for 1" reel-to-reel tape, and analog and digital circuitry designed and built by Soundstream. In 1977 the company developed a four-channel recorder, with 16 bit converters operating at 50 kHz (unlike competitors JVC and Sony, which sampled at 44.1 kHz). In some instances two four-channel devices were ganged to a single transport, providing eight-channel recording. The signal-to-noise ratio exceeded 90 dB, with total harmonic distortion as low as –92 dB. The frequency response was flat from 0 Hz to 22 kHz. Wow and flutter were unmeasurable. Editing could be performed at sample accuracy (i.e., 1/50,000 of a second); any mixing was performed digitally.

Unlike its competitors, Soundstream's analog circuitry was transformerless, permitting a frequency response to 0 (DC). This accounted for the ‘bass drum heard round the world’ review of the 1978 Telarc recording of the Cleveland Symphonic Winds (World Book 1978, Eddy 2005). Soundstream collaborated with Telarc for several years, producing legendary symphonic recordings; the earliest ones are chronicled in (Renner 1992).

The care with which Telarc selected and used its microphones and audio console, combined with the Soundstream recorder, created a gold standard for audiophile recording. Telarc has re-released many of its [http://www.telarc.com/sacd/soundStream.asp original Soundstream recordings] in SACD format, with a DSD-equivalent sampling rate of 50 kHz.

Soundstream recordings made before the advent of the CD were released as high-quality vinyl LP albums. Despite analog playback, many of these releases were sufficiently impressive to gain an early acceptance for digital audio (Ranada 1980, BM/E 1977). The recording industry’s transition to digital was further facilitated by the many demonstrations given by Dr. Stockham, whose articulate explanations of digital audio theory and practice were renowned (Stockham 1971b, Stockham 1977).

Soundstream provided world-wide on-location recording services to Telarc, Delos, RCA, Philips, Vanguard, Varese-Sarabande, Angel, Warner Brothers, CBS, Decca, Chalfont, and other labels. It also leased or sold some recorders (a total of 18 were manufactured). Although most recordings were of classical music, the range included country, rock, jazz, pop, and avant-garde.

Soundstream’s digital editing system was the first instance of a computer used to edit commercial recordings. It consisted of a Digital Equipment PDP 11/60 computer, Soundstream’s interface to transfer data between its recorder and the computer’s disks, digital-to-analog playback hardware, and editing software. For all intents and purposes, this system was the very first digital audio workstation. In addition to its own facility, Soundstream installed editing systems at Paramount Pictures (Hollywood), RCA (New York), and Bertelsmann (Germany). A system was delivered to the U.S. Department of Justice to aid the analysis of bootleg recordings.

In 1976 Soundstream restored acoustic (pre-electronic) recordings of Enrico Caruso, using 'blind deconvolution' (Stockham 1971a). These were released by RCA as "Caruso - A Legendary Performer". In subsequent years Soundstream restored much of RCA's Caruso portfolio.

In 1980, Soundstream merged with Digital Recording Corp. and became DRC/Soundstream. It attempted to develop a home digital player that would use a photographically reproducible ‘optical card’ as opposed to the mechanically pressed CD (Miklosz 1981). This effort was eclipsed by the rise of the CD, leading to the company’s demise in 1983.

ee also

*Thomas Stockham

References

* BM/E, "New Audio Tape Machine Delivers ‘Digital Fidelity’", Feb. 1977.
* Robert Easton, "Soundstream, the first Digital Studio", Recording Engineer/Producer, April 1976.
* Tracy Eddy, "The Bass Drum Heard `Round the World: Telarc, Frederick Fennell, and an Overture to Digital Recording", IEEE Today's Engineer Online, July 2005.
* Los Angeles Times, Jan. 9, 2004.
* John Miklosz, "Digital Audio System uses Rectangular Records", Electronic Engineering Times, Nov. 23, 1981.
* David Ranada, "A Dozen Digital Demo Discs", Stereo Review, Jan. 1980.
* Jack Renner, "The Roots of Telarc", Telarc newsletter, Fall 1992.
* Thomas Stockham, "Restoration of Old Acoustic Recordings by means of Digital Signal Processing", 41st Convention of the Audio Engineering Society, 1971a.
* Thomas Stockham, "A-D and D-A Converters: their Effect on Digital Audio Fidelity", 41st Convention of the Audio Engineering Society, 1971b.
* Thomas Stockham, "Records of the Future", Journal of the Audio Engineering Society, Oct. 1977.
* World Book Encyclopedia, "Yearbook", 1978.


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