In the late 1800s, researchers were seeking a way to amplify an analog signal. The vacuum tube was invented in the early 1900s, but scientists were also investigating the properties of semiconductor materials. A very crude version of a transistor was developed even before the vacuum tube, but the technology of the day was better suited for tubes than transistors, and once the tube was widely available, research into the transistor was largely abandoned for the next 40 years. Tubes became the amplifying device that made radio broadcasting possible – and also ushered in the age of electrical recording.
A practical transistor was invented by Bell Labs in the late 1940s, but it took another 20 years before it eclipsed the tube as the preferred technology for analog amplification. Further development of the vacuum tube came to a halt in the early 1970s, and by 1980, transistors had taken over all of electronics except for a few special purpose applications. In the world of music recording, many engineers, producers, and musicians still prefer the sound of tubes for audio.
But what if the vacuum tube had continued to be refined? We might have much smaller tubes that might have amazing capabilities. We will never know, of course, because the demand is much too small to justify the investment in improved tubes.
In this episode, I look at the history of tubes and transistors, and speculate on what might have been. I also explore the viability of the industry that continues to make high-quality tubes, and the impact on all the current and vintage tube gear we use.
Thanks for your continued interest in My Take On Music Recording. Please share it with your friends and on social media. The audience is constantly growing, thanks to your support.