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Abbey Road Studios
3 Abbey Road, London NW8 9AY
Studios become famous because of their clientele. Abbey Road will always be inseparable from The Beatles in history but Abbey Road Studios and the whole EMI support structure deserves its own credit, not just as a place that produced great sounding records over many decades, but as an infrastructure that nurtured engineers, technicians, producers; people who researched, invented, built the equipment and developed techniques that still set a benchmark for contemporary sound recording.
We can read about the quirky and often regimented methods of recording, devised over its first four decades in existence for classical and 'serious' styles of music, imposed on the 'Pop' generation of the sixties. We can smile at the pictures of men in white coats, engineers in suit and tie and management who demanded that everything was done by the book, often slow to adapt to the changes in multi track recording demanded by the new pop generation.
‘On Ringo's drum sound, I wanted to move the mic closer to the bass drum. Well, we weren't allowed. I was caught putting the mic about three inches from the bass drum, and I was reprimanded. I said, “Look, this is the bass drum sound we've got, and we don't want to touch it.” And so I was sent a letter, from one of the guys in the office down the corridor, giving permission — only on Beatles sessions — to put the microphone three inches from the drum.’ Geoff Emerick.
There was always method behind what may have seemed to be dogmatic. They had a standard to maintain. New equipment or methods would be put through rigorous trials and disregarded or redesigned and rebuilt for purpose.
Although the engineers frequently designed and built their own gear they would not be adverse to accepting outside equipment if they felt that it could do the job better. It must also be remembered that much of this outside gear came from Germany after the war when many of the management and staff may have had good reason to not want to accept this equipment.
This has lead to a legacy of recordings that still sounds fantastic in their original format but can also be re-mastered and wipe the floor with much produced by today's equipment and methods. The system also ensured that all master tapes were logged and kept in optimum conditions so that the legacy of work from EMI artists has been preserved for future generations and re-masters in whatever new format the industry tells us is better.
Whilst much is made of the experimental side to The Beatles recordings and production methods, it has to be set in the context of the them being one of the first artists in history to have the time and money to experiment. The real legacy of Abbey Road lies in the beauty of the sound created.
Abbey Road: Services
Abbey Road History
In 1930 the Columbia Gramophone Company purchased the Georgian townhouse at No3 Abbey Road in St. John Wood, London along with part of the gardens from No5 to construct a set of purpose build recording studios .The facade of the main Georgian building built in 1831 was cleaned up but left largely unchanged to fit in with what was, and still is one of the prestigious areas in London. The house was converted into officers but the majority of the work area would be built hidden at the back in a new connecting block put up in the now enlarged gardens. When completed, the buildings would house 3 studios, mastering rooms, workshops, listening rooms and a garage for a mobile unit, probably the first of its kind. This was later destroyed by fire during the war. For over 30 years the driver of the units was a gentleman with the wonderful name of Harry Hands.
Initially, all the initial recording equipment had to be licensed from Western Electric which owned numerous patents on the available technology of the time so a research department was set up with Alan Blumlein and two assistants, R E Holman and H A M Clarke to design new equipment thus avoiding the large payments being made to the American company.
In the 1950s the studios used a four input EMI console called the RS 39 which would be fed by four, in-house built, moving coil microphones, typically type HB1Cs. In 1952 the studios purchased the first Neumann condenser microphones to enter the country from F.W.Bauch.
In 1954 the RS114 Valve Limiter was introduced
The EMI BTR Tape Machine
During the war, British intelligence had become confused by Hitler's apparently rapid movement from one end of Germany to the other, as he was heard to make radio broadcasts of high quality from all parts of the country.
In 1946 a team of audio engineers from Britain and America, including Berth Jones from Abbey Road, travelled to Germany to study a recording system using magnetic tape. Developed for code breaking for the German military, an example of this machine had been among equipment captured towards the end of the war. This led to the development of the EMI BTR series of tape machines in 1947 for EMI and the BBC. As if to put their own stamp on this German invention, it was given the name 'British Tape Machine' or BTR for short.
By the mid fifties, Studio Two had become the facility's 'middle of the road' and Pop domain. The upstairs control room housed an EMI RS1 mono desk with two-band, Pultec-type peaking EQ on each of its eight inputs — as opposed to the classically oriented shelving EQ that was to be found in the other studios — at 5kHz and 100Hz. It had an echo send on each input, echo return, a peak level meter and a single main gain control.
Abbey Road: Services
The EMI REDD Series of Consoles
1956 saw the introduction of the REDD series of consoles at Abbey Road, the first being the 'REDD 1'. This incorporated six inputs, four used for two crossed pairs of mics and two mono injections. Two of these desks were built, one for Abbey Road and one for on-site classical recordings at Kingsway Hall. These were the first pieces of EMI equipment to be built for stereo. The REDD had simple fixed frequency bass and treble cut or boost eq.The centre frequency set by a choice of two external plug in modules, one called 'classic' and one 'pop'.
By 1958 the design efforts of Len Page at Abbey Road and Peter Burkowitz from EMI Electrola in Germany Cologne produced the Redd 17, a console that resembles the basic style and layout of modern desks. It had ten inputs, two pairs being set up for stereo pairs of mics incorporating sum and difference, 'spreaders' and 'shufflers' on these channels.
The REDD 37 used the German Siemens V72s pre-amps adapted to change the impedance to EMIs standard 200 ohms.
In mid 1963 the REDD 37 in Studio Three was replaced by the new REDD 51 Desk. The REDD 51 used an EMI built REDD47 pre-amp instead of the Siemens V72S amp that had been used on previous desks. In Jan 1964 the Redd 37 in Studio Two was also replaced with a REDD 51 Studio one retained its REDD 37 for the rest of the 1960s.
In May 1968 Abbey Road went 8 track.
The studios were using eight Studer J37 four track machines in the mid sixties but it was reaching a point were demand for eight track from the Pop artists could no longer be ignored. Times and attitudes where changing and the search for the latest facilities were taking over from the demand for excellent sound quality. They were starting to lose work to the many rival independent studios that had now started up in London and upgraded earlier. Dave Gilmour from Pink Floyd was invited to attend a meeting in mid 1967 to discuss upgrading to 8-track. He suggested ignoring 8-track, some considering it to be outdated already and going straight to 16. Abbey Road being Abbey Road decided that 8 track was a big enough financial risk and that 16 would never catch on anyway. They were forced to change their minds a little over a year after the arrival of the first 8 track.
Abbey Road: Services
The prefered choice was Studer, who were in the process of developing the A80 multitrack machine but it was not complete so various different makes were analyzed and tested and the new 3M M23s were shipped over from America although it went through several stages of modifications first, naturally! The first of these came into use in December 1968 in studio 2 along with the new EMI Mk1 TG 12345 8 track transistorized console.
The EMI 'Curvebender' equalizer.
Introduced in 1951, The EMI RS56 Universal Tone Control, also known as the Curvebender was EMI's version of the American Pultec Equaliser.
A three-band stereo equalizer with adjustable centre frequencies, +/- 12dBs gain and cut, and variable Q. It uses Telefunken V72a and V74s on the inputs and outputs to drive the passive inductor filter stages.
A three-band stereo equalizer with adjustable centre frequencies, +/- 12dBs gain and cut, and variable Q. It uses Telefunken V72a's and V74's on the inputs and outputs to drive the passive inductor filter stages.
"As was the case with so much equipment at Abbey Road, the curve bender seemed to be designed more with classical music in mind. From all accounts, though, it was the envy of our British competitors but what strange frequencies of operation. - 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1,024, 2,048, 4,098, 8,192 etc. They were mounted in the cutting room racks and I remember Malcom Davies complaining bitterly that it wasn't much use when trying to match the sound of an American pressing for release in the UK"
Malcom Addey 1978.
Abbey Road Studios
Abbey Road: Services
The EMI TG12345 Console went through four variations and was the first solid-state recording console to be manufactured by EMI. TG consoles in various configurations were used in Studio 3 from 1970 to the end of 1974, Studio 2 from 1969 to mid 1983 and Studio 1 from 1970 to March 1984. The new technology was designed not specifically for the sound quality but to be able to build a console of such size as to meet the demands of the ever increasing number of tracks and on board facilities required by the new generation of pop and rock artists.
The first desk, the Mk I, was installed at the end of 1968, and was use on the final album recorded by the Beatles, ' Abbey Road'. The Mk I desks were followed shortly by modified versions, leading up to two TG12345 Mk IV consoles, one installed in Studio Three in December of 1971. Three years later in November 1974 it was moved to Studio One, until it was decommissioned in December 1983.
DARK SIDE OF THE MOON
Alan Parsons began his career as a staff engineer at EMI Studios and was soon working on the Beatle's 1969 album, Abbey Road. Possibly his most enduring work was as engineer on Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon having previously engineered Atom Heart Mother. The album was recorded over a total of 38 days in the studio spread over seven months. Being a staff engineer, apart from the career boost, Alan Parsons received his normal engineer pay of £35 a week for doing the album.
Dark Side of the Moon.
The Equipment used.
EMI TG Mark IV Consoles.
16-track Studer A80s . The initial tracks were recorded at 15ips onto 2" tape, non-Dolby. To make more tracks available, tracks were bounced down onto a second Studer 16 track, this time with Dolby A.
Bass - Although a Hi-watt amp was set up in the studio area for Roger Waters, and screened off to help with the spill, a mic wasn't actually used. Instead the bass was DI'd and compressed through a Fairchild Limiter. The Fairchild was also used for vocals and sometimes on the mix.
Dave Gilmour used a Hi-Watt DR103 100 watt head through WEM Super Starfinder 200 cabinets with 4×12” Fane Crescendo speakers. The set up was mostly closed miced. Other gear included : A Bison Echorec II, silicon transistor version of the Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face, a Colorsound Powerboost and a Univox Uni-Vibe.
All addition recorded delays on the album were done with tape machines.
Nearly all the reverb was produced with one EMT Plate.
Extra eq. with the EMI 'Curvebender'.
Abbey Road: Services
With the ever increasing number of tracks required by the pop producers and musicians, the recording consoles grew in size to the point where it was felt that the TG design was simply too large for Studio 3. In 1974 EMI decided on a policy of replacing its own TG desks in its studios throughout the world with new Neve consoles, designed in consultation with its own engineers. The initial order was for six desks, five going to export and one for studio 3 at Abbey Road. All were to be 36 input 24 output.
Neve at Abbey Road Studios
Abbey Road: Equipment
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