Although the history of Turnkey has monopolised our attention thus far in this family tree of the home/project recording scene, it was the development of affordable multitrack tape recorders that really liberated music recording from the studio to the home - and for that we have to thank two Japanese manufacturers, Teac/Tascam and Fostex. Indeed, until the advent of cheap, reliable hard disc recording (and pace ADAT), it could reasonably be claimed that Fostex and Tascam were the home recording business - or at least the majority of it. Undoubtedly, that has changed in recent years, though both companies still have a significant presence in the market. So this month we follow the serpentine way in which Fostex and Tascam further developed in the UK, including a brief period when they actually shared the same distributor. Our guides through the jungle are two who were very much in the thick of it when analogue tape machines ruled the world, sometime Harman stalwart Bob Goleniowski (now Allen and Heath's sales director) and former Harman, Fostex (and now SCV London's) Tony Besgrove.
These days looking after Fostex through its UK distributor SCV London, Tony Besgrove has been more deeply involved in the UK history of both Fostex and Tascam than most - though his revelation that the company he initially joined in this industry wasn't Harman, but Tannoy, calls for some explanation. 'Yes, at the time, 1978, this was when Sidney Harman had sold his commercial interests when he was part of Jimmy Carter's government, selling his companies to Beatrice Foods, so the company I joined was Tannoy Products Ltd, based in High Wycombe. We were selling products like Ortofon cartridges, Harman-Kardon, JBL and both Tannoy domestic and professional.
'Shortly after I started, we moved to Slough and became Harman UK, which was when Tim Frost joined us as a technical guru becoming Mr. JBL and Mr. Tascam. I'd started with Tannoy essentially to sell Hi-Fi products but soon after we moved to Slough there was a night of the long knives when half the reps were sacked overnight, a new business plan was drawn-up concentrating on Tascam and JBL Pro and I found myself looking after the South for the Pro products, while Bob Goleniowski was looking after the North. It was round about then that Harman bough the Turnkey/Bandive/Atlantex group, and with that came both the Turnkey shop and the Fostex brand, along with two well-known names - Bob Thomas and Tony Gravel.'
This led to some glorious confusion. Here was Harman not simply selling Tascam, but Fostex as well - and with two Tonys and two Bobs selling the rival brands. 'For six months we did the two products together. I think all the time Teac had been planning Teac UK and when that came about, Bob Thomas and Tony Gravel went off to start Tascam UK, leaving Bob Golly and myself handling Fostex. So here were the two sets of Bob and Tonys, now changing horses in mid-stream - people were asking "so what are you selling today?".
Fostex too was destined to set-up on its own, as we saw in Audio Pro's April issue, but it comes as news that the man chosen to inaugurate the UK operation was an industry outsider, an ex-IBM man called Oz Hornby. Whether it was his choice to take on the gigantic warehouse in Hanwell, or a whim of Fostex's Japanese team, it turned out to be a poor one - though it was fun for the employees while it lasted. 'Just before it opened, Oz Hornby got the boot and Andy Bereza took over and then Ivor Taylor (see Audio Pro May) came along and became general manager,' Mr. Besgrove recalls. 'I moved over to the new company along with a couple of guys from the service department, who also left Harman when I did. Bob Goleniowski stayed where he was with Harman and did fantastically both there and now at Allen and Heath - he's one of the most professional sales guys I've known. But that warehouse was huge - I remember opening the door when I first got there and saying the shipment hadn't arrived only to be told, "yes it has, it's over there" and there it was in the far corner. We used to go for cycle rides round the warehouse. We played cricket and football in there - it was the size of Clapham bus garage - it really was that much too big, but it was a very nice time to be working there. Business was good and we really enjoyed it. The G series was selling incredibly well, the 16, the 24, the Dolby C and Dolby S models, the days of the R8 and the 812 mixers - business was great. After all, in the early 1990s, if you wanted to build a studio you had a simple choice - Fostex of Tascam. The R8 had been introduced not long before and it was the best selling product the company had for something like seven years, it was huge. Back then an eight track studio recorder and mixer would cost you about two and half grand and people forget that a 16 track would cost you seven grand and a 24 track, nine grand - and we were selling these in serious quantities. Now you don't - which is down to digital technology. When it was analogue, dependent on machine transports and heads, there were only a few companies that actually had the technology and the tooling to do it, but with digital technology and computers, anyone can do it and all that expertise has gone out of the window.'
Which is not to say that Fostex had been totally blind-sided by the advent of digital recording. In fact it had put a considerable amount of effort into its own hard disc product, the Fostex Foundation System. 'When New England Digital - Synclavier - went bust, Fostex bought the entire New Hampshire operation and I think there were about 80 people there. The development team at Fostex UK, people like Ivor Taylor (FT May), Richard Weir and Roger Patel, along with the Americans helped develop the Fostex Foundation, which was a great product but lacked the support. I think Fostex Japan either ran out of money, or out of the will to support it and it never caught-on, but it was a great system. Partly its failure was a matter of timing - hard drives were becoming physically smaller and smaller yet holding more and more data and the prices were tumbling. All the same, if Fostex Foundation had been continued with, it could have been a wonderful product. Anyway, I went on holiday, came back and found they'd closed the company.' This, let it be added was the third time Tony Besgrove had returned from a holiday to find a crisis - it's wonder he dares take a holiday at all. 'In my career I've lost two general managers and an entire company, while I've been away on holiday,' he laughs - only a little ruefully. 'Anyway, when Fostex UK closed, at that point SCV stepped-in. In Belgium France and Holland, Fostex had been distributed by SCV International companies so, though SCV London was purely manufacturing SCV and LA Audio products, at the time, I think Robert Morgan-Males and Julian Blythe decided to set up SCV London, take on Fostex and bring LA Audio back into the fold for distribution, because that had been handled by Key Audio.' In 1994 Mr. Besgrove duly moved across from Fostex UK with Mark Perrins and two of the Fostex service team in, since when it has been, more or less, business as usual - though it seems likely that the rapid growth of digital means that sales of Fostex hardware must be a shadow of their former glory. 'Fostex is part of a huge company, the Foster Corporation, which is the world's largest loudspeaker manufacturer - they can make 20 million loudspeaker drivers a month - employing something like 20,000 people just in China, but Fostex is really just a small, specialist part of that organisation. They built their reputation on multitrack technology which was really a spin-off from Tascam, developing the quarter inch eight track, when Tascam wanted a half inch eight track. That expertise set them apart from other companies but other large companies have put their resources into digital multitrack since those days, so, where there was once just two players in the market, there are now half a dozen companies providing hardware, with even more offering software for computers,' he says.
'That said, Fostex still does have expertise for products like the PD6, DVD-RAM six channel recorder, which is now the recorder of choice for companies like Paramount and Universal in the States for film work, although it's only been out since February this year.' So what does Fostex sell in the UK in these digital days? 'We still sell analogue tape machines, we still sell the digital tape machines and we're still selling close on the kind of numbers that we did before, but it's reaching a lot more people because digital technology has become a lot more affordable. So even though there are people like Zoom and Roland and Korg in there, we are all selling large numbers.' Still selling a basic cassette machine in large numbers (it appeals to technophobe guitarists, apparently) the company has recently launched a £349 eight track onto Compact Flash machine, so while the days of B16s and X-15s may be long gone, Fostex home recording lives on. 'That brings down the price of an eight track multitracker to pretty much the point where top of the range four track analogue machines are, so Fostex has decided it's not worth developing analogue products for that market. They'll keep on developing the digital ones from now on.'
Like many of the key players in the UK's home/project studio business, Bob Goleniowski's career has been woven round and through several of the major recording gear brands. Today, in an almost Fortean twist of fate, he is Sales Director Allen and Heath, the company originally founded by Turnkey's Andy Bereza (see Audio Pro April) but before becoming part of the management team which bought out the veteran desk manufacturer from Harman, his career took in both Fostex and Teac/Tascam. 'I came into the business in November 1978,' he recalls. 'Before that I'd been in retail and electronic engineering, post-college and I'd been a musician since I was 13 too - playing bass.' In true weekend warrior tradition he lets slip that he has recently begun playing again, following a recent Allen & Heath 'do'. 'I joined when Teac was selling under that brand - Tascam didn't appear until about eight or nine months later. We were selling the good old Teac 3340 and 2340s and from there the new model, the 3340 was introduced and that was the first product I recall with the Tascam name actually on the product. Even the first Portastudio, the 144, had Teac on it. At the time, in the Harman Group, David Bisset-Powell of Martin Audio, was my boss - he was head of the Pro side for a while then went off to do other things, including Tannoy. So the early Teac/Tascam team was basically David Bisset-Powell and Tim Frost. We were really the first guys who were charged with getting the pro side of the Harman business going.
'Back then the home recording business didn't really exist as such. In fact before Tascam brought out the Portastudio, a lot of the Teac four track recorders were sold through Hi-Fi stores and that was where I'd first seen one - while I was working in a studio that had just acquired one, which they'd bought from a Hi-Fi store in Lichfield. It was really only because of my background as a musician that it occurred to me that a better place to sell these things was through music shops, so over a period of time we shifted the emphasis away from Hi-Fi shops and eventually removed them from Hi-Fi stores. In fact to promote the products at that stage we did a lot of road shows and I teamed-up with Alan Townsend at Roland, so we were able to do quite a few joint training seminars, because he was doing a lot of work at the time introducing MIDI.'
Bob Goleniowski's career with Harman lasted right through to three years ago, when he took part in the management buy-out at Allen and Heath, 'I was with Harman for over twenty years and I had a good time. As for Tascam, we handled up until about 1987, when Teac UK was formed, so in effect I was there from when the first Portastudios came out till then. At the time, 3340s and the original Portastudios were like the Yamaha DX-7 - the demand for them was unbelievable. It wouldn't be unusual for us to ship something like 1,000 Portastudios a month at one stage - enormous quantities. Obviously, it's changed a great deal now because the recording side has moved onto computer to such a degree, so the hardware scene must have changed a great deal. During that time the really significant changes were the way costs kept coming down as the number of tracks you could get on a given tape width reduced - starting with 24 tracks on two inch and then one inch 16 and so on. It made a huge difference in costs and the quality loss, though it was there, didn't really have much impact on the people who were buying that equipment, mostly due to the tremendous improvements that were being made in noise-reduction at the time. It suddenly became affordable to get a really good recorded sound working at home. Every time there was another development - moving from two inch to one inch tape, for example, people were going around predicting it would never catch on but it always seemed to and people loved it, used it and it produced some very good results.' In the process, arguably, it played a very significant role in the changes within the music we were listening to and buying... but that is an discussion for another time.