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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 with me.

API Timeline:

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 recently.)

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 by API.

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 in London.

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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