In 1970 John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin fame commissioned a unique recording desk from Will Blackham of Future Films Developments.
This console – the one and only Allotrope – was delivered in 1971 and provided a centrepiece for Mister Jones’ private recording studio.
Having a very similar appearance to the famous Strawberry Studios maroon horseshoe Helios (which also passed through my hands –see photograph to the right) the Allotrope offered twenty four inputs with modular eq, similar in appearance to Neve 1066/1073 modules of the same era. They were discrete, transformer balanced and offered similar three band equalisation. The console had four auxiliary sends, a rather groovy penthouse 16 VU meterbridge and an extremely convoluted monitoring arrangement, allowing global switching from input to monitor (I recall) but not allowing both at the same time.
The desk came into my possession very many moons ago when the widow of the second owner (photo to the left) sold her former husband’s studio. I recall that it was a very sad situation. Mike (I’m afraid I can’t recall his surname) had gone out to the pub and collapsed with a sudden heart attack. His studio had been left untouched for several years, more a shrine than a recording studio. I can well understand his poor wife’s trauma, having suffered a similar unexpected bereavement myself a few years ago. The pain of coping means that it can take an awful long time to deal with personal effects.
I originally intended to keep the Allotrope in a large home studio I planned, and even managed to take the desk to pieces and manoeuvre it into my extension. Sadly, though, it was too far gone to resuscitate so I was left with no alternative but to part out the console and rack the eq modules.
Three eight channel racks were made, all of which went to the US. One was sold to a famous basketball player by Vintage King in a slam-dunk deal and a Texas dealer called Mike Castoro bought the other racks. Rather cheekily, Mike then copied the circuit design (with a few tweaks) and has been selling them under the name ‘Wunder’ ever since – he even markets one module under the name Allotrope. I say cheekily because the name (and designs) remain the property of Will Blackham and Future Film Developments Limited. Common courtesy should dictate that Mister Castoro should have sought permission from the rights holder. Will is an extremely easy going guy and would almost certainly have agreed or at the very least issued a license.
So what are the eq’s like? When I spoke to Will Blackham, he said the main reason why only one desk was produced was that the general consensus was that the eq’s weren’t quite there. I would describe them as a cross between Trident A range and Neve 10 series, with perhaps a dash of Audio Design thrown in – very much of their time (like the equally rare and groovy Rosser eq modules originally built for Rockfield and Mayfair studios around the same time). But Will was right – the lower midrange lacked a little (as it does with many of the later Helios modules) and the modules were prone to distortion at slightly too low a level – not a headroom thing but rather a design matter. I know that Mike Castoro has made his own modifications to the circuit, but I’m not sure how the Wunder eqs compare – on principle I can’t be phaffed to give them house-room bearing in mind the dodgy provenance.
We inhabit an industry where the talent of so many gifted designers – Rupert Neve and Bill Putnam immediately spring to mind – has been appropriated to feather the nests of modern manufacturers (who very often don’t update the circuits to the requirements of modern impedance and level matching requirements). It is one thing to proudly flaunt the gear and credit the original manufacturer or designer, but quite another to merely steal the fruits of another’s hard labour and profit without giving any credit to the originator or worse, to flaunt a pedigree without permission. After all, if Wunder Audio had blatantly stolen and released a song and pocketed all the royalties, they would not merely end up in court but deserve to. Or maybe I’m just old fashioned…