To kick off our 10 Days of Apollo celebration, we’re taking a look back at the history of Universal Audio: a studio staple with a legacy that reaches back to the 1940s. We recently spoke with Drew Mazurek from Universal Audio to get a better understanding of the history of the storied brand.

Read on to learn more about how the venerable Bill Putnam Sr. grew the now-legendary Universal Audio from a small studio in the heart of Chicago to a world-renown gear manufacturer and software developer found in studios all around the globe. 

“Universal Audio is really unique in the pro audio business in that we have this heritage and legacy that not many other companies have. The origins of Universal Audio go back to the 1940s when Bill Putman Sr. opened his first studio in Chicago. Over the years, he started to work with some pretty hard-hitting artists like Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, and Count Basey—all of the heavy hitters of the day.

Bill Putnam Sr. and Nat King Cole

It was there that Bill Sr. founded Universal Audio—though, at the time, it was called Universal Recording Corporation. After a little persuading from his buddies Frank Sinatra and Les Paul, Bill Sr. realized that moving to California would help keep Universal Audio at the center of the action. So, he packed up and built a new studio in Los Angeles.

At the time, you couldn’t exactly buy professional recording equipment off the shelf like you can today—most studios built their own gear. Of course, Bill Sr. did it all; he designed and built his own equipment, became a renowned studio designer, and of course, he was an accomplished songwriter, producer and engineer in his own right. It’s kind of crazy to think about all of the things he excelled at.

In the years that followed, Bill Sr. opened up several studios, all of which were extremely successful. He moved beyond solely recording music and started working with film studios, recording voiceovers for cartoons and stuff. At the height of his career, he had as many as three rooms booked nearly 24/7.

Bill Sr. was incredibly smart and equally resourceful. In addition to designing iconic compressors like the 1176—one of the most legendary compressors ever made—or his earlier designs like the 175B and 176 tube limiters, Bill Sr. was also the first person to time-align their monitors and the first person to use artificial reverb in music recordings. Some folks at BBC had experimented with that kind of thing for radio theatre, but Bill Sr. was the first to apply it to music.

It was the band was The Harmonicats, which was a harmonic trio and they wanted to add some more impact to different parts of a song, so Bill Sr. set up a chamber reverb in the bathroom of the studio. He literally pioneered the whole concept of an auxiliary send, along with the concept of a console with channel strips. And the list goes on and on.

Bill Sr. continued to find success for several decades, building new products and iterating on his best designs throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s. Eventually, as he got older, Bill Sr. decided to sell the company to a conglomerate in the early 80s. 

Fast forward a bit to the late 90s and his son, Bill Jr. and his brother Jim decided to pick up the mantle and carry on their father’s legacy. Universal Audio was officially refounded in 1999 and soon after, we started reproducing Bill Sr.’s classic 1176 design, along with the LA-2A design he purchased from Teletronix years prior. So, in a manner of speaking, our heritage stretches all the way back to 1958. We’re coming up the 25-year anniversary of the second generation of Universal Audio and we’re all very excited to see what the future holds.”

Robert Alexander
If you have any questions or would like to purchase Universal Audio gear, we're here to help! Please contact a Vintage King Audio Consultant via email or by phone at 866.644.0160.