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API

API

In our industry, API stands for Automated Processes Incorporated, a company formed in 1968 in the US by Saul Walker and Lou Lindauer.

Often described as the US equivalent of the original classic Neve consoles, API became a leading supplier of high quality recording consoles, responsible for many of the classic West (and East) coast recordings of the 1970s offering a full bodied, musical sound.

Like Neve in the UK, API used what I call a ‘sub modular’ construction, with separate eq and routing modules, enabling the desks to be easily configured to specific client requirements. Unlike Neve, however, the eq (550A or 560 ‘thumbwheel graphic’ modules) didn’t incorporate a microphone preamp, which was usually built into the routing module.

These early API consoles sound fantastic and are still highly sought after, although potential buyers should be warned; the build quality was far more flimsy than Neves of a similar generation, often using a largely wooden chassis/frame rather than the sturdy metal Neve frames. Wiring was point to point (that is, hand wired in an often convoluted fashion) and prone to problems over time. Although we’ve seen some beautiful, well maintained 1970s API consoles, sadly all too many have been neglected and present major issues to bring up to current standard of reliability and noise.

Partly for this reason, engineers often removed the eq modules (in particular, but also compressors) and fitted them in what were colloquially called a ‘lunch box’ – a portable powered rack to take anything from two to ten modules. Within a decade or so demand was such that API themselves marketed the 550A eq as a stand-alone product and these days API modules and lunch boxes are not merely standard studio items, but paved the way for an industry standard range of what are terms ‘500 series’ modules in every flavour under the sun (500 being based upon the API 500 prefix for their modules).

So what makes API such a great recording tool? Much like Neve units designed in the 1960s and 1970s, the key is twofold; well-designed input transformers which give the sound a solid, well-defined and musical quality, and ‘discrete’ technology. In basic terms (geeks please excuse me), the simplest explanation of ‘discrete’ is that the electronics are based around individual components, transistors, resistors and capacitors (and ‘inductors’ – tiny transformers in the case of Neve) as opposed to ICs – integrated circuits – where a large number of components are incorporated into a single silicon chip. The result is less current loss and so a better defined, fuller and many say more accurate sound, although there’s an element of opinion involved. It’s a more expensive way of manufacturing products but the results are often preferred by engineers and musicians.

API modules are available in many flavours, including; API 550A 3 band ‘classic’ equaliser, API 550B 4 band equaliser, API 560 10-band graphic EQ and the API 512C mic pre.

In the 1990s we produced the design for a work-surface with DAW control based around API modules which we christened The Analog Control. At the time API didn’t get it so it never saw the light of day. Twenty years later various companies are producing small analogue consoles designed to take API or 500 series modules including SSL (the XL Desk) and of course the successful API 1608 expandable console, details of which can be found below…

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