A Brief History of API
By Dan Alexander
API is a name that is legendary in recording circles. More
than three decades after its inception API consoles, equalizers,
limiters and mic pre amps are all still voraciously sought after
and loved by everyone from home recordists to major engineers and
producers. For years, I've wondered about the history of the company.
Paul Wolff, one of the principles at API and a longtime
API techno-expert, was kind enough to share a bit of the history
API was started by Saul Walker circa 1966/67 with
about 15 employees. Several of the original engineers who came to
work with Saul Walker were from Melcor, a company
that built modular audio products. The API 2520, one of the
more famous amplifiers in the recording world, was a reworking of
a Melcor design. When API closed its doors in 1978
they had 130 full time employees and had built more than 700 consoles.
In 1978, Datatronix licensed the rights to API from
the owners. They designed and built the 550A-1 as well as a few
other not so successful products. In 1985 Paul Wolff, a Datatronix
employee and API aficionado, bought the company. In 1999
the company was acquired by ATI (I think they bought it just
to confuse us), well known builders of state of the art sound reinforcement
consoles. Paul Wolff remains closely affiliated with the
company working as a consultant. During the last five years API
has built 28 full size recording consoles.
Licensees, Pretenders and Descendants 1966-1978:
Besides full consoles API also built zillions of modules,
which were used by others such as CBS for their in house
boards and designers Demedio and Bushnell, to build
many custom consoles throughout the industry. One of the more impressive
of these boards was at the Fox sound stages in Los Angeles
and is now at Oceanway Nashville. (It may have been sold
Another company, APSI, owned by Steve Crump built
consoles from API modules and developed a graphic equalizer
that API marketed until they designed and built their own
graphic equalizer, the 560. Early APSI equalizers have the
API logo on their front panel but were not built or designed
Other companies that built graphic equalizers and complete consoles
somewhat similar in appearance to API were Sphere,
Aengus, and Electrodyne. Mr. Wolff is not aware
of any direct connection between these companies and API.
After API closed in 1978, most of the original engineers,
including Paul Galbert, who had designed the API 554
sweep and the 954 automated equalizers, went to work for Sound
Workshop and later for Otari when it acquired Sound
Workshop. A few of the other original engineers left to form
Quad Eight, but according to Mr. Wolff, they were
not the ones who actually designed the classic API gear.
A few of the studios:
Up until 1978 API built approximately twenty-five forty
input consoles, including several for The Record Plant studios
and its remote units. All The Record Plant console layouts
were specified by Tom Flye, the chief engineer for Record
Plant operations. In one of their remote trucks was a 44 input custom
API that now belongs to Stevie Wonder. Another is
still in service in The Record Plant mobile owned by Kooster,
one of their long time engineers. A 40 input console, loaded with
all 560 equalizers, went to Daniel Lanois' studio in New
Orleans. Another of The Record Plant's APIs spent many years
in Oceanway's studio A. This highly customized 40 input console,
featuring all 550a equalizers, was used by Lionel Ritchie
for much of his solo work not to mention many other mega artists.
Sunset Sound, a legendary studio with a long history of
hits, was famous for its API consoles. The early Van Halen
records were done here.
The largest console actually built by the original API, 48 inputs
with all 560 equalizers, was for Mickey Most's RAK Studios
You be the judge:
To set another storm brewing in the vintage audio world, Mr.
Wolff informs me that the fabled API 2520 has had five
design revisions, the latest of which the current API company
claims is "as close as humanly possible" to the original
API design. I know you APIophiles will have fun deciding
which one sounds the best.
I hope this has been as educational for you as it has for me. Thanks
again to Paul Wolff, and to Jon Rubin for his assistance.
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