Lead photo text: Author Wally Wilson behind the first Sphere multitrack console at Creative Workshop, Nashville, TN, 1976.
Recently there's been renewed interest in Sphere consoles, and the history of Sphere Electronics. With Don McLaughlin having sadly passed away in 2014, I guess I'm the guy left to tell the original story. Don and I formed Sphere Electronics in 1973. This is my personal account of how it happened.
Don was extremely bright in every way, especially with electronics, philosophy, and business. I found Don to be very honest and easy to deal with. He was hard working and inventive, but he loved to have fun. His passion was classical music; he was very knowledgeable of the subject, as well as critical of the quality of recordings. Don built his own tape recorder, a portable 3-track, 1/2-inch, and he would sneak into Royce Hall at UCLA to secretly hang small Stephens condenser microphones over the orchestra and record without anyone's permission. He hated limiters and compressors, so a lot of headroom was his answer. The recorder had mic preamps built in, and that was it. He'd go home and play it back on the same machine, on his 3-channel system with no EQ or futzing around, and it would sound spectacular! Many musicians from the L.A. Philharmonic would come to his house after a performance and listen to their work, and the booze would flow.
But to tell this story, it's necessary to first talk about Electrodyne Corp., a company Don McLaughlin started on his own. My involvement began when I was hired at Electrodyne, in its early days, around 1967. I needed a job badly, and was hired as a wireman. I was promoted to technician in a few days, and when the Console Manager, Johnny Robbins, found out I could operate test equipment - signal generators and oscilloscopes - I was soon promoted to Project Manager, then Lead Project Manager, and, after a few years, to Manufacturing Manager. Don was the President of Electrodyne, and he and I had only spoken a few times.
I reported to the Vice President. It was hard work sometimes, working 24 hour days more than once. Console delivery dates had to be met, not only for customer's schedules but to receive payments to meet payroll. We nearly always had cash flow problems, and were finally bought by MCA Corporation as a tax deduction for them. We were later reborn as the Cetec Corporation, and at this point Don was bought out and departed the scene. I was burned out from trying to run manufacturing through these mergers while attempting to maintain my position. I was supervising about 50 people, and didn't want that pressure anymore. I'd learned a lot but I wanted out, so I resigned from my job there.
I moved to Memphis and went to work for one of our dealers, W&W Distributing. Leon Sides at W&W had sold several of our consoles locally. Meanwhile Cetec Corp. kept calling me to come back to work for them. They'd built five 16-channel consoles, Series 2000, and hadn't sold them. They wanted me to help. After nine months in Memphis, my gig there wasn't going well, so I agreed to go back to Cetec Corp.; but instead of L.A. I opened an office in Nashville. I did sell those five consoles, but it was clear they weren't going to build any more. I was looking at the end of the trail at Cetec Corp. Meanwhile, I'd also developed some ideas about a new console design, including a new name: Sphere. It was an original name, and I thought it had a freshness, as well as a certain appeal.
I'd heard Don was starting a new console company, so I called him and asked if we could meet to discuss my ideas, as well as what he was doing. He was very amiable about getting together. We were face to face in an L.A. restaurant within a few days. He was working on new circuits and module ideas, but had not yet gotten to a console design stage. Here I was with console design ideas, and Don was receptive to doing something together. I asked him what he was going to call his new company. He said, "Mac Electronics," with the Mac from McLaughlin. It sounded terrible to me, and I suggested Sphere Electronics. He liked it and I breathed a big sigh of relief. I suggested we work together, and that I would provide my plans at no cost for no salary, in exchange for a 10 percent ownership in his...