Once gain, we find ourselves inside the iconic Gatehouse at Abbey Road Studios, a place filled with history, creativity, and a plethora of legendary audio equipment. Join us as we’re joined by the knowledgeable Mr. Mirek Styles, the Abbey Road Products Manager, who’s here to introduce us to some of the most incredible classic hardware used on some of the greatest albums of all time.
The Curve Bender (RS-56): Our journey begins with the awe-inspiring Curve Bender, also known as the RS-56. It’s an absolute beast of a machine, and this heavyweight champ is the world’s first parametric EQ, designed by Emi Central Research Laboratories in the mid-50s. What makes it unique is that it’s passive, meaning there’s no active electronics inside. When using it, engineers often pair it with a V72 preamp to give it the necessary power. The Curve Bender can dig into frequencies like 5K, 8K, 11K, 16K, and the low end of 32, 64, 128 Hz. This EQ was created for mastering rooms and disc cutting, making it a prized tool for engineers to achieve unparalleled sonic manipulation. It’s rare, and only one stereo unit remains at Abbey Road.
But what truly sets the Curve Bender apart is its mechanical nature, being all knobs, buttons, and cog systems. Its stereo operation is a fascinating feature, turning left and right channels in tandem, though you can adjust them independently. Its unique features, vintage charm, and musical sound make it a beloved piece of equipment.
The RS-124 – A Legend Born from Modification: Moving on, we dive into the legendary RS-124. Originally, it started as an Altec compressor, but it underwent extensive modifications at Abbey Road in the late ’50s. Engineers like Pete Baum discovered that Altec compressors were popular in the United States and convinced the studio to import some. Upon arrival, they realized these compressors didn’t meet their standards and decided to overhaul them completely. They modified capacitors, resistors, valves, added controls, and even changed the color. The only recognizable element from the original Altec compressor is the meter with the Altec logo.
These unique compressors were highly sought after by engineers for their distinctive sound. They could be aggressive, subtle, or anywhere in between, depending on the modifications. They became an essential tool for engineers looking to shape their recordings. Unfortunately, as technology evolved, these beauties fell out of favor, but their legacy endures.
Abbey Road’s Red Preamp: The journey continues with Abbey Road’s Red 47 preamp, an integral component of the Red 51 mixing console that recorded a significant portion of The Beatles’ sessions. Unlike the more widely used Siemens V72 preamps, the Red 47 had a distinct, grittier sound. Its compact design with a simple interface, input gain, fine gain, output control, and a rumble filter, makes it a go-to choice for those seeking a preamp with character. It’s part of what gives many classic recordings their signature warmth.
The RS-660 – A Unique Hybrid: Our journey through Abbey Road’s iconic gear culminates with the RS-660, a recent release inspired by the technical notes from Abbey Road. This unique compressor is a hybrid of the RS-124, TG, and Fairchild compressors. It bridges the gap between vintage and modern, offering audio engineers a tool that embodies the spirit of Abbey Road’s innovation.
The equipment such as the TG desks, j37 tape machine, and Chandler hardware, played pivotal roles in shaping the sound of many legendary albums and artists.
The TG desks, known for their clean and polished sound, marked a significant departure from the valve desks that recording engineers were accustomed to. They featured innovative elements like compressors and limiters on every channel, setting new standards for the industry. These desks remained in use at Abbey Road until the early ’80s, contributing to the studio’s distinct sonic character.
The j37 tape machine brought a revolutionary change to recording sessions by allowing the tape machine to be in the control room, enabling better communication between the recording team and producers. This led to creative experimentation with tape manipulation, backward recording, and varispeed effects, further defining the unique sounds heard in classic albums.
The ADT (Automatic Double Tracking) technique, invented by Ken Townsend, simplified the process of doubling vocals and other instruments. It relied on manipulating the very speed of a second tape machine, producing the signature thickening effect that became synonymous with the Beatles’ sound.
Layering, another creative approach employed by the Beatles, involved filling up one tape machine’s four tracks, bouncing them onto a second machine, and repeating the process. This technique, while labor-intensive, allowed for the creation of complex arrangements with only four available tracks.
We also explored some of the modern recreations of this vintage equipment by Chandler Limited, offering musicians and producers the opportunity to capture the essence of these classic sounds in contemporary studios.
Abbey Road Studios remains a symbol of innovation, where pioneering engineers and musicians pushed the boundaries of technology and sound to create some of the most iconic music in history. The unique character of the equipment and the creativity that stemmed from it continue to inspire artists and engineers worldwide.