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Audio Innovators Recall Emil Torick

He's best known for the Audimax, though his work ranged well beyond

When one traces the origins, art and science of broadcast audio processing, the work of Emil Torick stands out.

Engineer, scholar, inventor, once CBS vice president of audio technology, he was perhaps best known for the development of the CBS Audimax, considered by many the first true audio processor. It was the first device to incorporate a gain platform, overcoming many of the obvious processing artifacts of previous devices.

Torick is shown last fall in New York, where he received the AES Distinguished Service Medal. Courtesy AES Torick passed away unexpectedly at his Santa Barbara, Calif., home in June at the age of 78.

He had lifelong interests in music and technology. Starting in 1958, he had a chance to pursue both when he moved from Pittsburgh to Connecticut and began a 28-year association with Stamford-based CBS Laboratories, the technology R&D entity later known as CBS Technology Center.

His research there led to the awarding of 16 U.S. patents, many for audio processing circuits, as well as the publication of more than 60 technical articles. After holding a number of tech and marketing titles, he was named vice president of audio technology. He also served as director of R&D for the CBS Musical Instruments Division, which included Steinway pianos, Fender guitars, Rodgers and Gulbransen organs, Lyon and Healy harps and Gemeinhardt flutes.

Torick is regarded by many as a founder of modern broadcast audio processing technology, remembered fondly by later designers.

‘The headwater’

“Emil was named moderator of a recent AES audio processing panel,” recalled Glen Clark, developer of the Texar Audio Prism, “because it was felt that he was the headwater from which all else flowed. … Some of the personality of the Texar M-100 card came from Emil’s influence in the Audimax.”

Eric Small, chief technology officer of Modulation Sciences Inc. and a co-developer of the Orban Optimod, encountered Torick around 1964 while installing CBS processing gear at WNCN(FM) New York.

“Things weren’t working the way we expected. Enter Emil and the beginning of me asking dumb questions and Emil patiently teaching me.

“Nothing much changed throughout the rest of our careers,” Small said. “I was always a bit in awe of him. Emil was always a gentleman, always willing to take the time to explain and teach.”

Audio processing innovator Bob Orban called Torick a “legend in our industry.” Orban’s colleague Greg Ogonowski said the CBS boxes were “the force to be reckoned with for a long time.”

Bill Sacks, now a self-described “Optimod mechanic,” recalled an “extraordinarily friendly guy who loved to share stories about his CBS Labs days. He was the first to understand psychoacoustics and apply it to processing. The Audimax was a groundbreaking device, incorporating both the Gated Gain Stabilization (GGS) and return to zero circuits. It was the first leveler to address the noise-pumping artifacts of earlier processors, and was fully invisible when set up properly.

“It is a testament to his design that 40 years after their creation, I still get Audimax processors sent to my shop for rebuilds.”

Consultant David Bialik was the one who invited Torick to participate in recent AES panels about loudness and the history of audio processing; he deeply admired Torick as an audio designer. “Also he was an accomplished player of the violin who introduced me to the music of Mozart.”

Torick was born near Pittsburgh in late 1931. He served as an Air Force officer in Korea and worked as a freelance violinist and organist-choir director; he played with the Pittsburgh Symphony and directed the first televised concert of the symphony for the local public television station.

A graduate in music from Duquesne University, he also held a BS degree in physics from the University of Pittsburgh and an MBA degree in business administration from the University of Connecticut.

Diverse contributions

Many consider 1959 to be the birth date of modern audio processing, as that was the year that CBS introduced the Audimax I. Costing about $1,000, it was the first device to hold audio level constant over a 6 dB gain platform, making the processor sound less busy. This was followed shortly by Audimax II, which added an adjustable noise gate that froze gain when the input level fell below a preset threshold. The Audimax II-RZ added a return-to-zero circuit. Next came the Audimax III, which transitioned the device to solid-state circuitry.

Shortly thereafter, Torick and the CBS researchers developed the AM and FM Volumax as complimentary peak limiters. First came the 400 AM and 410 FM units. The FM Volumax was one of the first devices to control the pre-emphasized part of the audio above 2 kHz in a separate sidechain, resulting in a more natural sound. The product later evolved into the slimline 4000 AM and 4100 FM Volumax.

‘The warm glow of the CBS Volumax ‘Red/Green Junction’ will live on in memory of Emil Torick, CBS Laboratories,’ wrote Greg Ogonowski, who said Torick’s work inspired designs at Gregg Laboratories and Orban. ‘The CBS Volumax peak limiter, together with its companion AGC, the CBS Audimax, were the most popular broadcast audio processing systems in the 1960s and early 1970s. … The FM and Recording Volumax were the first audio limiters to use high-frequency control before clippers to control peaks while minimizing high-frequency distortion. This would be the basis for all commercially successful limiters to come for many years.’

Courtesy Bundid Niyomtham and Greg Ogonowski The Audimax and Volumax are also remembered for their “mystery modules,” key bits of circuitry shrouded in potting compound and small metal cans. The practice continues today in Orban processors and other broadcast gear.

Throughout these early years, CBS sold the Audimax with a 30-day, money-back guarantee, a marketing strategy that broke through some of the resistance to a new technology. The high price was still an issue, however, and it wasn’t till the less-expensive 400 series was introduced that sales really took off.

In 1975 the product line was sold to Thompson, which marketed 1 RU Audimax and Volumax under the Thompson-CSF Labs logo.

For about a decade, the Audimax and Volumax enjoyed top billing in the processor market. However, the technology had taken single-band audio processing about as far as it could go. In 1971, Mike Dorrough introduced the DAP (Discriminate Audio Processor), and the age of multi-band processors began.

While Torick is best remembered for his work on the Audimax, many other CBS Labs products incorporated his mastery of both psychoacoustics and electronics. The theory sections of many CBS manuals provide an excellent background on the development of processing technology.

The model 700 Loudness Meter was the first device to give a visual indication of the relative loudness levels of broadcast programs. The limitations of VU meters for monitoring program loudness had long been understood, and the existing Fletcher-Munson loudness contours were not applicable to broadcasting.

Torick’s research resulted in equal loudness contours using pink noise, and defined physiological loudness in terms of frequency content, linear summation of octave bands and the ballistics of the hearing mechanism. The revised CBS loudness algorithm of 1981, developed by Bronwyn Jones and Torick, has been translated to DSP and is included in the software-based Orban Loudness Meter.

Building on this research, Torick, along with Jones and colleagues, developed the CBS 710 Automatic Loudness Controller as a novel type of limiter.

Rather than using an AGC loop with voltage sensing, the 710 used “loudness sensing,” and only reduced gain when a preset “loudness threshold” was exceeded. The 710 was popular with television stations, under fire from the FCC for airing commercials that sounded louder than program material. These innovations live on in the Orban Optimod TV 8585, which incorporates both the CBS loudness meter and loudness controller.

Poor-quality voice programs could be improved with the CBS 4500 Dynamic Presence Equalizer. Psychoacoustic research at CBS determined that most of the energy in speech is contained in vowels, generally in the 100–1,000 Hz range, while most information in speech is conveyed by consonants, which usually fall into the 2–4 kHz band.

Since these higher frequencies are more rapidly attenuated with distance than are low-frequency components, the character of speech changes with distance. Speech heard at a close range, where high-frequency energy is abundant, is said to have presence, hence the name of the band.

Sound levels for consonants are typically 15–20 dB below those for vowels, but the ear usually compensates for this. In extreme cases, as in poor-quality voice circuits, this is no longer possible.

The Dynamic Presence Equalizer compensates for reductions in the presence band level during speech broadcasts. A speech-music discriminator would remove the equalizer from the path during musical passages.


When the FCC approved 125 percent positive peak modulation to enhance the loudness of AM stations, Torick and his associates developed a revised AM Volumax to take advantage of the new rules.

The 4000 Volumax was developed with an innovative logic circuit that reversed peak polarity if negative peaks were higher than positive.

In the early 1970s, Torick was involved with quadraphonic sound, helping to develop the SQ matrix system, which was used in the encoding of CBS quad records and was proposed as a standard for FM broadcasts. By the time the FCC decided on a standard for four-channel broadcasts, however, interest in the technology was waning.

Brochures courtesy Greg Ogonowski When the CBS Technology Center closed in 1986, Torick became president of Broadcast Technology Partners, an organization established by CBS, the National Association of Broadcasters and an investor group to license new technology in FM broadcasting to the consumer electronics and broadcast industries.

While at BTP, Torick, working with Tom Keller of the NAB, developed FMX, a system aimed at improving FM stereo transmission quality.

Benefits of FMX, according to Torick, were reduced noise levels, extended stereo separation and greater range than conventional FM broadcasting when received by FMX-capable tuners. The system also was backwards-compatible with existing standards.

FMX quickly became a source of controversy. MIT professor and founder of the Bose Corp., Amar Bose, developed a mathematical model of FM multiplex and conducted field tests of FMX, concluding that the proposed system actually would degrade the quality of stereo reception, whether received by FMX or conventional receivers.

Torick countered that the Bose research was flawed, and cited numerous stations having success with FMX. But following the Bose controversy, interest in FMX gradually faded.

Tom Keller said, “At that point we needed more money for additional R&D, but there were limited funds and licensing problems. Even though we had some very successful stations, the system died a slow death.”

Music and more

During his career Torick worked as chief technical advisor on recording technology and digital transmission media for the Recording Industry Association of America, and he consulted to the Consumer Electronics Association. He also served on the National Radio Systems Committee.

Under State Department auspices, he was a member of the U.S. delegation to the International Radio Consultative Committee in Geneva, and worked for 12 years as U.S. chairman of one of its technical groups. In the FCC Inquiry on Digital Audio Broadcasting, he represented the Eureka-147 Consortium of government and industrial organizations from four European countries.

Torick was active with the Audio Engineering Society throughout his career; he was awarded a Fellowship in 1969 and its Bronze Medal in 1984. In 1979 he was named an Honorary Member and in 2009 was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, one of its highest honors.

During a term as the society’s president in the late 1970s, Torick laid the groundwork for AES Technical Standards activities. He served as president of the AES Educational Foundation from its establishment in 1984 until recently. The foundation has awarded nearly 200 grants for graduate study in audio engineering.

Among other accomplishments he was assistant concertmaster of the Norwalk Symphony for many years; he continued to perform on violin and organ, and was involved with organizations of chamber musicians, organists and music enthusiasts in Connecticut and California. Following his retirement in 1979, Torick moved to Santa Barbara, where he continued his consulting practice on a limited basis.

According to his son Lou, who owns a violin shop in Chicago, Emil Torick also worked to bring quality concert programming to his new community through his leadership of the Santa Barbara Music Club.

Frank Foti, president of Omnia Audio, remembers Torick for his panels and workshops on processing at AES as well as his ability to bring people together.

“Processing has become a very competitive market, and sometimes we had less-than-positive thoughts towards our fellow panelists. But Emil stayed above all that, was on a first-name basis with everyone and saw the potential in just about everything. I believe there’s a lesson there for all of us.”

Recalling those sessions, Marvin Caesar, former president of Aphex Systems, said of Torick, “Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed him smiling during the presentations. He did appreciate how far audio processing had come from his days at CBS and he had no ego about all his contributions to modern processing. He was truly a gentleman and a scholar.”

Tom Vernon is a longtime RW contributor.

In 2005 RW contributor Charles “Buc” Fitch recalled the Audimax and Volumax. Scans of CBS manuals are available on Harold Hallikainen’s broadcast history site.