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 Best Recording Engineers And Producers. Legendary Albums. Absolutely best sounding recording consoles and mixing desks.
 

 

PART One-The famous British Recording Consoles

What makes a recording an icon and legendary part of music history?

The best sound is timeless and becomes a legend early. And perfect sound his perhaps easier to be felt than to be described.

I believe there is a connection between the great sound and a great recording. That belief dates back from Eighties when I was listening to the great records of Led Zeppelin, Beatles, Doors, Frank Zappa or Black Sabbath. I always noticed, that there is something more to the great impact of those recordings then just artistic performance or the composition alone. It was the specific, very pleasing to the ear sound that was both natural and somehow better then nature at the same time. Then I started and developed the interest in technical devices creating that sound. There were several bands that I particularly liked. There was the big trio of early hard rock: Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. I simply loved the Beatles. Those bands I called the Extra Class of World's Music. There are several more bands that can be counted into that class: The Doors, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Yes, Jethro Tull.  
I learned to like The Rolling Stones a little bit later, they did not impress me that much at first, although I liked Brown Sugar. I have always thought that they did not have as good sound as The Beatles, with the exception for the very first albums, which are actually first class in terms of good sound. I called them First League Bands. The sound of bands like Genesis, Soft Machine, Free, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Jefferson Airplane, The Mamas And Papas, Allman Brothers etc. was actually the same, I simply enjoyed the artistic aspects of the Extra Class Bands more than the First League Bands. I could hear it on really small, oval speaker of my Thomson MK 125 cassette tape recorder that I got as Santa Claus gift before Christmas from my father back in 1973. The speaker could produce only around 1,5 watts rms, but still I could hear the difference between the great Extra Class recordings and anything not falling into that category. I really believe there's nothing better then this early classic sound back from the breakthrough of Sixties and Seventies decades. When it comes to Seventies I also liked the sound of Boney M which was really good and also Bee Gees and Abba.

Later, during the Eighties I listened to new records by the same groups and they were not close to the first original ones. Instantly I recognized that it was the sound. The records were louder, they had more even frequency spectrum, much brighter hi end but somehow they did not sound convincing to me. For example I liked A Momentary Lapse Of Reason much less then Wish You Were Here for example, even if the record was much louder and clearer from the first impression point of view. I simply did not like the sound of newer equipment in comparison to the late sixties early eighties recording and mixing gear. The eighties equipment gave more punch and treble, it was probably much better in terms of noise and distortion, but it lost the beautiful musicality and superb naturalness of the earlier gear. Maybe it is the reason nobody listens to the music the way they used to listen back in those days. I believe that inferior gear (from artistic point of view) was the major obstacle for artists like Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath Led Zeppelin etc. from making better records than their first ones and repeating their incredible success. People back then enjoyed the fusion between the sound and art now is only more like the sound and less art. In this article we will analyze what was the famous legendary studio equipment that made those beautiful records and who was working on those recording sessions.

There is three main ingredients that contribute to a great recording: the sound, the artists-performers, the mixing engineer and producer. All of those three ingredients will then give something that actually enables the making a great recording-a great and inspiring atmosphere. Recording music is actually recording human emotions and feel, and if these are not present during the recording session there is no way to produce a great recording.  Let's start from the gear. The best sounding recording consoles\mixing desks originate from early Sixties. Until this day there is nothing that sounds better. The whole music gear industry still makes money trying to emulate this gear, making statements about tubes use and "vintage sound", just because that vintage sound is something people appreciate the most. The music software industry continually makes digital recreations of vintage analog gear, simply because there is still great need and love for that kind of sound. Probably the best sounding and most representative recording console of that era is the console used by EMI recording studios in London, so called REDD 37. All but one (The Abbey Road) Beatles albums were made using this recording console. It was all tube design that sounded absolutely gorgeous. Only one possible description of that sound is the absolute naturalness with very broad dynamic range, full bodied mids, sharp but smooth treble and great openness. How does a musician perform when using such console?  He climbs to the top of his musical abilities and that is what The Beatles did when recording in EMI Studios. They recorded all but one of their albums using the REDD 37 recording desk. Up to this day the sound of The Beatles from those early recordings is considered as probably the best in all the history of music recording industry. The tube properties of that greatly sounding console in conjunction with tape reel to reel machines gave absolutely outstanding, actually never repeated results.  Here is the picture of that recording\mixing desk:        


 

Another incredibly famous console is the first transistorized recording console used by EMI Studios, called the TG 12345. A great number of top albums in recording history was made using this console including The Dark Side Of The Moon by Pink Floyd, The Beatles Abbey Road and many others. The sound was different to the Redd 37 desk-more powerful in bass and less trebly, with very rich lower middle spectrum, a very musical sound that was true inspiration to some of the best musicians in the history. Here is how the EMI TG 12345 looked like:

The magical component of the sound of those consoles is that recordings made on them, such as Pink Floyd's "The Dark Side Of the Moon",  "Wish You Were Here" or The Beatles' "Let It Be" album have some very characteristic feature of making the artists sounding like they are present right here between the speakers of our stereo system or headphones creating illusion that the sounds produced by them are actually alive or true. This particular feature makes recordings made with use of those consoles particularly convincing and different from other recordings. To me, the whole essence and objective of hi fi was always creating an impression that the sounds coming from speakers are not fake or artificial but real. This does not have much to do with frequency response, level or dynamic range- there are millions of recordings that sound much louder and more powerful in terms of frequency content, but do not create that effect of complete illusion of reality. This quality of those consoles not only has great significance regarding the final sound of records created with their use. It was essential in the very moment of recording, inspiring artists and making them feeling what they did much better. It was the whole secret of the magic behind those legendary performances back from the late Sixties\early Seventies. It worked liked a feedback- the musicians and singers felt and heard themselves better and natural, and gave better, more natural performances that were very musical. And the mixing engineer\producer heard what they did in the same way and was able to participate in the whole audio spectacle almost as a band member and create timeless recording. This has great influence on the way the listener perceived the music then and perceives it today-after all those years the artists sound convincingly true. This is all the magic of recording music. Those two recording consoles made probably the biggest studio albums ever recorded, such as "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" by The Beatles or The Dark Side Of The Moon by Pink Floyd. Although worth noting are the "Alan Parsons Project" albums, which were mainly recorded in Studio2.

TG consoles in various configurations were 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.
During these periods they were used on everything that came out of the Abbey Road studios.

 

The same TG 12345 console was used for mixing The Beatles "Anthology" series, because George Martin, The Beatles' producer could not think of any other console to give the archival recordings better sound.

 

What came after the EMI TG 12345 CONSOLE?

During the early Seventies a very fast evolution in the recording business took place, there was need for bigger and bigger recording consoles and the number of tracks rapidly increased from 8 to 16 and then to 24 in a very short time. The TG12345 console grew to 16 track but around this time EMI decided they no longer wished to be in the recording console business and further development of the TG console was abandoned. Although the EMI usually produced all the gear needed for own recordings, including even tape decks, the decision was made, for the first time, to purchase a console from
an outside manufacturer for use at Abbey Road.

The studio management agreed to purchase a Neve console, with a number of
EMI modifications incorporated. These mods included an EMI designed Phase meter and low-level
meters, and the incorporation of input meters on every channel, as a "signal present" indication.

The console was designed as 36 input 24 track, with the monitor section in a separate wing on the left
making the overall configuration L-Shaped. The desk also featured the original "Necam" moving-
fader automation system. The tape machines were Abbey Road's trusty Studer A80's, often in a
24 tk + 16 tk arrangement, synchronization being Studer's own TLS2000 system. The monitor section
could handle an additional 24 inputs on mixdown (although these were non-automated). Here is how this console looked like:

The sound was good, bud not as good as former consoles. Rupert Neve's design was characterized by very good technical specifications like dynamic range, low noise and frequency response, but musically was somewhat less convincing then the Redd 37 or the REDD 51, which was the newer version of the 37. The sound of Neve-EMI console can be described as extremely clean and silk-like, with soft quality to it and with very broad frequency spectrum.   

  

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Copyright ® by Mariusz Wojto˝, 2007-2008. Copying, the use of excerpts for any purpose without the agreement of the author prohibited.
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