The Golden World Story
Studio Appraisal

L to R : Calvin Harris, Peter Burkowitz, Mike McLean in the DAF
photograph courtesy of Mike McLean

An open letter to Bob d'Orleans from former Motown Engineer, Mike McLean. This letter was displayed on the forum of SoulfulDetroit.

Dear Bob,

When Motown took over Golden World, the Hitsville studios were in full operation with the one-inch, eight-track format. As I remember, Golden World had a 1/2 inch three-track Ampex 300-3SS, and (it seems to me, but I could be wrong) a Scully 1/2 inch four-track recorder. The natural tendency on the part of everyone, from Berry on down through all the producers, like Norman Whitfield, etc., was to consider this lack of eight-track technology an unacceptable limitation that rendered the newly named DAF (Davison Avenue Facility) unusable. Right off the bat, the pressure was on to revise the equipment so as to make productive use of the DAF a possibility.

Here are some specific points:

1. ACOUSTICS. The acoustic treatment of the studio and control room was not as elegant or elaborate as that which we had installed at Hitsville, but it was sufficiently good that we never felt the need to make any changes.

We had been through hell at Hitsville, with several experimental acoustical treatments, when finally RCA Custom Records lent Mr. Alan Stevens, who had supervised the construction of the many RCA VICTOR studios, to Motown. He understood the details of the "RCA design" that had originally been developed by such RCA men as Michael Rettinger, John Volkmann, etc. 

As a "moonlight" project, Mr. Stevens, for a fee, prepared a set of construction drawings for Motown that we used to have a new acoustic treatment installed at Hitsville. The result caused a considerable reduction in the size of the main studio room, but the acoustical quality was entirely satisfactory, and remains at the Motown Museum to this day.

I feel that the fact that the Golden World acoustic treatment could hold it's own, in competition with this elegant RCA design, is an indication that this aspect of the Golden World studio design was outstanding, considering the limitations of time and money that existed when it was built.

2. ECHO CHAMBER. We had three chambers at Hitsville: 2644, 2648, and 2652 West Grand Blvd. 48 was the original "funky" chamber. 44 came next, and was idealistic to the extreme. Then we did 52, which was similar to 44, but a little less idealistic. 52 was lost when the building burned down. The Golden World chamber was similar in construction to 52, and worked well.

It took Motown three attempts to reach an optimum design. Golden World built a very similar chamber first time out. I think that this indicates that somebody was doing something right. The DAF chamber was never modified other then to upgrade the transducers, and it seemed to do an entirely satisfactory job.

3. MONITOR LOUDSPEAKERS. When I came to Motown, the monitor was a pair of Altec-Lansing 605A coaxial units. They sounded screechy to me, and I embarked on a horrible journey that included Bozak and Acoustic Research monitors, over the period from 1961 until we took over Golden World in about 1967.

Golden World was equipped with Altec-Lansing 604E coaxial units. These were much more transparent then the old 605A, and at that point I threw in the towel. At my recommendation, Motown switched over to the 604E as the standard monitor throughout the complex. It took Golden World to finally drive the point home, so that I could get my head out of the clouds (to put it politely) and install a "professional" monitor.

Again: There seems to be some evidence that a guy who had some smarts was calling the shots when they built Golden World.

4. CONSOLE. We felt that we should have an eight-bus console to compliment the eight-track recorders that we were going to install. Further, we had some creative ideas about how we wanted to configure the microphone preamps, with a gain control and an adjustable high pass filter on each microphone input. Further, the wiring in the existing console used a special twisted pair wire made out of twisted, fine gauge, non-stranded, "magnet wire" (enameled, instead of with conventional insulation.) The clamping of the cables was not well done, and these wires were being flexed back and forth during normal maintenance operations to the point where we were in mortal fear of them breaking off.

All of this made it a forgone conclusion that we would build a new console, instead of modifying the existing one. However, we reused many of the fine components, such as the Neumann equalizers, the Altec-Lansing 470A plug-in amplifiers, Etc. The fact that we were able to reuse many of the components reflects the fact that the Golden World console was selected by someone who cared about quality.

5. DISC LATHE. The Neumann AM-32B lathe, equipped with a Neumann ES-59 lateral (mono) cutter head was installed in a very small room in the most northwest corner of the building. I felt that this installation was far too cramped to even consider its use. Further, we wanted to locate the disc mastering activities at the "Motown Center" downtown. Eventually, we set up the Golden World lathe there, with a nice Neumann SX-68 stereo cutter head and home-brew cutter head drive electronics. For several years, Motown used this room on the ninth floor, until the Motown operations in Detroit were closed down.

It seems to me that the fact that we were happy to use the Golden World lathe for our new installation speaks well for the fellow responsible for its selection.

Bob, all things considered, I think you did a fantastic job when you built Golden World.

Sincerely, Mike McLean

Notes thanks to Mike McLean



Notes by David Meikle

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