The 1622 mixer and the ADAT
In 1987 Barr had introduced an idea to his partners for a high end portastudio based around a video cassette mechanism modified to function as a multitrack analogue tape recorder. He had been inspired by the Akai MG-1212 and the later MG-1214, these 2 had been the talk of the trade the 2 preceding years but Akai had managed to cram 12 channels and later 12+2 channels onto the video tape with quite reasonable sound quality, better than most budget multitrack open reels and way better than any cassette multitrack recorder could offer.
While the 1212/14 ultimately failed primarily because people were worried about long time media availability but Akai used a portable video cassette format that was really only popular in Japan so most punters thought the format was a propriety one developed in-house by Akai. It still sold reasonably and owners of the units were very happy with them, not at the least with the form factor but a 1214 was only slightly bigger than an upmarket 4 track cassette recorder and alternatives tended to be either much bigger or much more limited. Noticeably a number of people considered the unit good enough to release records based on recordings made with the unit.
What Barr had noticed was that these multitrackers/mixers in a box were almost a complete studios only lacking signal processing and Alesis with a digital signal processing chip in the works that could function as an any sort of time based effect or EQ would be able to gain a foothold in the market with a totally integrated device. The other aspect that would give the company a head start would be the use of a large single PCB that used modern manufacturing techniques such as automatic insertion and by utilising a technique borrowed from the CE industry where the variable resistors are printed onto the PCB rather than separate devices soldered to the board, something that only offered CE devices small cost savings but relatively large ones for a mixer with over 100 on-board potentiometers.
This was not a new ideas as such, both Clarion & Sansui and to a degree Yamaha Corp. had tried to sell Cassette multi-track recorders that integrated more of the functions required of a basic studio either into one box or into a “system” that could integrate multiple devices into one unit. The problem had remained the cassette format, the Clarion XD5 and Sansui machines were in fact excellent but were much too expensive for the quality of the results obtained, the limitations of the format meant that it could only be used really to record demos with although with care and trickery a number of people got master quality out of theirs, but that was by no means the norm.
So originally as much a ploy to sell more digital effect processors than anything else but Barr envisioned an upmarket “studio-in-a-box” that would create a new platform for the company to expand into the general home studio market but the early reverb products from the company were primarily popular with keyboardists and MIDI studios, while portable multitrackers were more popular with the traditional rock and popular music bunch. But initial experiments within the company with video recorder mechanisms were not all that successful so the idea slowly morphed into a multi-track digital recorder, that however required more development time so the original release estimate of 1989 was hopelessly optimistic.
However the idea of a using a single consumer style PCB was salvaged as a mixer product, these sort of budget consoles had after all become very popular in Europe in the preceding decade and the Alesis 1622 16 channel, 2/2 bus mixer was introduced in 1989, initially to rave reviews and strong sales in its home country. The design was a bit flawed, in that some compromises made it more suitable for live mixing jobs than recording and next to the European consoles functionally looked more like a 15 years old live console design even though the manufacturing and engineering implementation was bang up to date, but because of importation cost it still undercut the European competition by a significant amount in the Americas which made it almost a class of its own as far as mixers for small recording studios were concerned.
Release of new designed products in house slowed down a bit in the next couple of years even though the engineering department of Alesis was by now considerably bigger than it had been a year earlier, but they became was pre-occupied with the design of what was to become the ADAT, the digital format turned out to be more expensive than initially thought and to keep costs down the company needed to design its own A/DC, DAC and digital transport chips. Other new product introductions in 1989 were 2 from Fast Forward Designs in the shape of the Alesis DataDisk MIDI data recorder and a new version of the HR-16 called Alesis HR-16:B that was identical to the original except that it had samples to suit the dance music market better and a black livery. And at the same time the Alesis Midiverb III was introduced but that was basically a cut down version of the Quadraverb and the Alesis M-EQ 230 equaliser but that used the same on PCB printed potentiometers as the 1622 and enjoyed the same sort of cost savings since it was a 2x 30 band unit with a total of 60 variable resistors.
In 1990 the company introduced the Alesis 3620 compressor/limiter based around a dbx corp. VCA, the name is a celebration of the new headquarters of Alesis at 3630 Holdrege Avenue in LA but the company had moved there earlier in the year. The unit is still being manufactured by current brand owner Numark and is the longest running product to bear the Alesis name. It was initially introduced as a budget compressor and as such has too much pumping artefacts at extreme settings to be considered good, however the dance music fraternity and especially the French house scene started to use these heavily because of the pumping effects and its popularity in the dance music sector as a special effect continues to this day.
Later that same year they released the Alesis SR-16 but Roland’s release of the Boss Dr-550 in 1989 had started to eat seriously into the sales of the HR series of machines and they needed to respond fast, unlike previous models the SR-16 was however designed entirely in-house. 1990 also saw the introduction of the Alesis MicroVerb III, a rack mounted replacement for the Microverb II and the Alesis Quadraverb GT, a version of the Quadraverb with a built in guitar pre-amplifier in response to the popularity of that model with guitarists.
The company went bankrupt in April 2001 and its trademarks, product designs and some other assets were purchased by Numark from the bankruptcy court later that year, the semiconductor divisor was renamed “Wavefront Semiconductor” but some of the semiconductor designs from the company were sold to Behringer who later transferred them to Coolaudio and indeed still makes one or two of them. Keith Barr went on to found Spin Semiconductor.