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Meet the Manufacturer – Calrec Audio (part 1)


How curious the British weather is. I started my day’s journey in fog-bound
London and eventually crawled up the motorway to an equally fog-bound North
East of England, but on the way I found one small patch of clear sky and brilliant
sunshine – over Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire. My purpose for calling in at
this quaint Calder Valley town was to visit a manufacturer in whom I have had
a long standing interest. Calrec are not a company to hire bands of trumpeters
to announce their new developments and products. In fact many people outside
the broadcast industry would not recognise them as the major player in high
quality audio equipment that they are. But among the cognoscenti, Calrec are
well respected for producing mixing consoles to precise specifications which
have stood up to years of hard use in studios all over the country and beyond.
The acquisition of Calrec by AMS, and their subsequent parting of the ways,
is something most of us are vaguely aware of. But the details about the reasoning
behind the marriage and divorce of these two leading digital and analogue audio
companies, presented here from Calrec’s point of view, make interesting
reading. As the audio manufacturing industry matures, many other partnerships
will come into being, and smaller companies will be absorbed by larger conglomerates,
but there will always be a place for the independent company, making high quality
products to fulfil the needs of discerning users. I spoke to Stephen Jagger
who has been with the company since pre-AMS days and is now Managing Director
of Calrec Audio Ltd.

“Calrec was founded by a group of hifi enthusiasts building loudspeakers,
microphones and other equipment for their own use. And then they became involved
in doing recordings for other people. They built their own recording studio,
and their own tape machines in Hebden Bridge. They did lot a lot of recording
work and actually published quite a lot of records. Then they started to manufacture
microphones for other people and finally microphones for themselves. In the
early 70s they were approached by the BBC when radio went stereo to make a prototype
run of unitised outside broadcast equipment. (‘Unitised’ is BBC terminology
for ‘modular’). Having done a prototype run we were successful in
getting the main contract which lasted from 1973 to about 1979, they just kept
buying more and more of it. And then in about ‘73 or ‘74 we then started
making television and radio studio consoles for the BBC and for the Independent
Television people, mainly large custom-built consoles.

“Simultaneously the microphone business was going on. In the early
70s we were approached by the Ambisonics group, which included Peter Fellgate
and Michael Gerzon, to provide them with samples of capsules for them to lash
up their own Soundfield microphone. We actually made one or two prototype Soundfield
microphones and then we started production in earnest and launched a production
version at the AES in 1976 or 77. That was a reasonable success to start with,
but it was a very expensive microphone when it was launched, around £3000.
We subsequently redesigned it a couple of times and ended up with the Mark 4
in the early 80s which had a very good performance and was very successful,
in a limited sort of way because there would only be a certain number of people
who would buy that type of thing.”

It is worth noting that one of Calrec’s original founders is still with
the company in the role of Chairman. In fact Ken Farrar has been Calrec’s
chief designer since the early days and is the design brains behind all their
products including the Soundfield microphone.

David Mellor

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Producing Lauren Balthrop

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David Mellor