A range of software and hardware products help you capture some of that Studio 1 magic in your own recordings
Hands up everyone who’s ever dreamed of one day recording an album at Abbey Road Studios? We’re going to take a wild stab in the dark here, and guess that a fair few Songwriting readers have their paws in the air right now – figuratively, if not literally! After all, who wouldn’t want a chance to record at what’s undoubtedly the world’s most famous studio complex? If it was good enough for The Beatles, Yehudi Menuhin, Pink Floyd, Coldplay, Duran Duran, Kate Bush, Depeche Mode, Oasis and Radiohead, it’s gotta be good enough for you, right?
But when it comes to recording at the world’s most famous recording studios, as patronised by some of the biggest names in the music industry, there’s a catch. Namely, that they’re the world’s most famous recording studios, and they’re patronised by some of the biggest names in the music industry! Which means that if you’re just starting out, a couple of days in the famous Studio 1 will probably set you back more than the budget allocated at this stage for your entire future career, never mind your next single.
That doesn’t mean, though, that you can’t get some of that Abbey Road magic to sprinkle over your next release, because the last few years have seen the studio releasing a string of plug-ins, sample libraries and hardware products that are designed to let you capture the Abbey Road sound without ever stepping foot in St John’s Wood, NW8 at all.
For Songwriting readers who record and produce their own material, some of these could be just what’s needed to push your sound up to the next level. The quality level, that is, rather than just 11! So let’s take a look at what’s on offer…
Plug it in…
When it comes to DAW plug-ins for mixing and mastering, Abbey Road has partnered with two of the biggest names in the business, Waves Audio and Softube.
From Softube comes the Brilliance Pack, which consists of software emulations of three different equalisers, all of which were built specifically for Abbey Road and hence were not, prior to this plug-in’s release, available to those recording anywhere else. Specifically, these are treble EQs, enabling you to boost and cut the 2.1, 3.5 and 10kHz frequency bands, or boost (only) at 8kHz. You might apply them to a guitar line, say, to make it stand out in the mix – or run the final mixdown through them to give it a bit more ‘sparkle’ generally.
The rest of the plug-in range all come from Waves Audio. Some of these recreate specific pieces of hardware that were built for the studios, such as the REDD and TG12345 console channel strips used on recordings by The Beatles, the RS56 Universal Tone Control that now exists in plug-in form as the RS56 EQ, or the four EMT 140 plate reverbs that used to live on the roof, but can now be yours in the form of the Plate Reverb plug-in.
Others recreate hardware simply owned by the studios, including The King’s Microphone, which emulates the mics used to record speeches by the Royal Family in the 1920s and 30s, and J37 Tape Machine, which is a recreation of the hardware reel-to-reel recorder used in the making of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, among many other classic recordings.
And then perhaps most interesting of all are those plug-ins that seek to recreate techniques used at the studios. ADT Tape Effect is an easy way of recreating the double-tracking used to such good effect on tracks such as I Am The Walrus, while the studios’ most recent release, the Abbey Road Vinyl Plugin, will make your tracks sound like they’ve been mastered to vinyl on Abbey Road’s vintage cutting lathes.
Prices for the above range from $100-$250 (£80-£200 approx), which while not exactly cheap does put them within reach of dedicated amateurs. But all any of them will do is polish your existing recordings – if you want to really capture that Abbey Road vibe, you need to step back to the recording process itself. Which is where the virtual instruments range comes in.
One of Abbey Road’s most successful ‘diffusion line’ products has been the Abbey Road Drummer series of virtual instruments, which now runs to six volumes. Created in association with Native Instruments, each of these is a virtual drum instrument that’s been created by recording individual hits and fills as played on the actual kits used at Abbey Road during a given time period, using microphones and recording hardware from the era as well.
All the sounds in Abbey Road 50s Drummer, for instance, were recorded using both an early-50s Gretsch Cadillac Green Nitron kit with a 20in bass drum, 12in rack tom and 14in floor tom, and a late 50s WFL kit with a 20in kick, 12in and 13in rack toms, 16in floor tom, and a choice of three different snare drums. Naturally a wealth of different articulations are included for each sound, with the full instrument comprising over 40,000 different samples totalling over 20GB.
And that’s just 50s Drummer… should it not happen to be that early rock n’ roll or doowop sound you’re after, then Abbey Road 60s Drummer, Abbey Road 70s Drummer, Abbey Road 80s Drummer, Abbey Road Modern Drummer and Abbey Road Vintage Drummer are also available. Expect to pay £89 for each, but note that you’ll need either NI Kontakt or the free Kontakt Player to use them..
It’s not just drums that have been recreated, either. Abbey Road has also teamed up with Garritan to produce CFX Concert Grand, a virtual recreation of the Yamaha grand piano found in the legendary Studio 1. All the sounds for this virtual instrument have been carefully recorded by Abbey Road’s own in-house team of recording engineers, using the very best equipment they have available – and similar effort has gone into making Classic Upright Pianos, produced in association with Cinesamples. This instrument models the two uprights housed in the same studio, the Challen piano and, most famously, the Mrs Mills piano (as used on A Day In The Life and Penny Lane).
Both of these (CFX Concert Grand and Classic Upright Pianos) can be yours for around £175 each.
The hard stuff
Finally, for those who like to get really hands-on in the studio, Abbey Road has also teamed up with Chandler Limited to produce modern recreations of some of its vintage recording hardware.
With the cheapest of these being a channel pre-amp that’ll set you back £800 and the most expensive toting a whopping £4K price-tag, such products are clearly aimed at those building a professional studio rather than the average musician recording at home. As such, they’re more suited for the pages of a music production magazine than Songwriting, so we’ll just rattle through them very quickly.
There’s TG Channel, which combines a TG2 pre-amp section with an EQ taken from the famous EMI TG12410 transfer console. There’s TG1, a recreation of the compressor/limiter from the legendary EMI TG12345 mixing console. The same console’s EQ controls now come in standalone hardware form as Curve Bender, while its console strip and the RS168 Zener Limiter are combined in the $4,725 Zener Limiter. The 19-inch rackmount TG2 recreates the TG12428 preamp used at Abbey Road in the late 60s/early 70s, while the same thing also comes in Series 500 lunchbox format as the TG2-500. Completing the range of recreated hardware are the REDD.47 microphone preamp and RS124 valve compressor, which can be yours for $2,350 and $2,875 respectively.
Of course, whether it’s a plug-in, a virtual instrument or a piece of hardware, none of these products come with their own zebra crossing – for that you’ll need to nip down B&Q, buy a tin of white enamel and hope your local council aren’t paying too much attention! But as we said, if you’re recording and producing your own tracks they might just be the very thing you need to give your next release that little extra professional polish – and hey, the worst that can happen is you have a lot of fun trying them out…
Words: Russell Deeks / Abbey Road images: Jan Klos
For more information on all of the above products, see Abbey Road’s own website: abbeyroad.com