In terms of features and control, the designs of today are light years away from what was once used.
But what about the sound?
Classic Recording Consoles : Part 2
The designers of these consoles weren't going out on some sort of limb in their design. They were using the most upto date technology available at that point in time.
The transformers used were what was around at the time. Plenty of manufactures, all possibly over engineered which seems to help ( bigger transformers always seem to sound better?) . The famed Lustraphones of the early Helios (Olympic) desks were purchased from a local company and were changed over to Beyers after the first few consoles. When stable and low cost ICs became available they all but EMI (who stopped making desks after the discrete TG series), incorporated ICs in the design.
Some used ICs that hindsight (and our ears) now tells us were awful.
What about the famed eq of the Trident A and B series, or the Neves. Again fairly standard inductor capacitor networks, the same as the Pultecs. When gyrator circuits became possible to implement inductors went out and for many they couldn't wait to get the transformers out of the consoles.
Did these 'advances' lead to 'better' sounding consoles? We would first have to define 'better' but lets not sit on the fence here. In most cases it produced worst sounding consoles.
If the studio equipment sounded so good in the first place why would it have changed?
It all starts with the introduction of a new technology and in sound recording there were three phases of technology; valve, transistor and then ICs. Designers will look at ways of incorporating a new technology to enhance their own designs. This may or may not have a commercial consideration. The technology became available to enabled more facilities to be incorporated at a cheaper cost and they became the two most important considerations.
The sound engineer wants facilities to make their lives easier.
The producer and the musicians want to be in the forefront of the industry producing the latest sound and work on the assumption that latest sound is produced by the latest gear.
The record companies think that cutting edge technology will sell more records.
Then you have to add to this an aesthetic angle that comes from all parties. The mixing desk is the focal point of a studio, the cover of the book, by which a studio would stand or fall. It also becomes very easy to make the assumption that the desk with the best facilities is the best desk.
The Studio needs to attract the producers, engineers and record labels and stay ahead of the competition. They become under pressure to adopt the latest offerings.
The designer feeds this system but if they are designing for a commercial aspect he is also a slave to it. He wants the best sound and the best features.
In the sixties and seventies the test instruments show the eye the weakness of the design. This is the part that I think designers have struggled with over the years. You build a console for your own studio, and sound wise people love it. Once you start to produce that for a commercial market it becomes open to criticism about any flaws . How do you put a piece of equipment on the market that you know it is technically flawed.
|The end of an era for most of the British console manufactures.|
The real competition that started the demise of some of the British manufactures came from abroad but the final nail in the coffin came from closer to home in Oxford. In the mid 70s we started to see the importation of commercial American consoles i.e. MCI , API, and Harrison. The British manufactures didn't suffer because of sound quality, they were up there with the best or arguably the best. It came down to cost and features per buck. The recording industry at this point was obsessed with features. If you look at any of the advertising literature from the seventies, nobody talks about sound quality. MCI flooded the British market with reasonably low price desks, stacks of channels and features for the studios to show off to the record companies, producers and musicians and not a bad sound. They kept the cost down because they were selling a standard product not a custom one. They also had a brilliant sales man in the UK in Dag Felner, a veteran of the London recording scene.
Some companies like Cadac realised that the market was getting difficult and moved away from studio consoles. Others like Neve had always diversified into other sound areas, some did this successfully, some not. It's sad to think that Helios didn't survive. Maybe they were just too heavily linked in with the past in an era that didn't really have a great deal of nostalgia or sold Pop and Rock music as something that had to keep being modern and cutting edge. Maybe what we now view as beautiful old consoles just looked old.
Times have Changed
Should we really be surprised that many people are now going back to the designs that were being used fifty years ago.
The instruments that produced those original sounds are still thought of as being the best; Fender Strat/Telecaster, Gibson Les Paul /SG /335. Marshall - Vox - Orange - Hi-watt -Valves - Hammond - Fender Rhodes. Most of this is late fifties, early sixties technology.
Pop music has been around long enough now that we are able now to make our own judgments on the sound that we like. Through this there has become a demand for older technology and the manufactures can now respond to that demand. Strangely enough the challenge now for the manufactures is to keep the idiosyncrasies of the 'classics' that the purchaser demands and expects.
Lots of info on 'How to get a Record Deal' ... Here
Some info about Cadac Recording Consoles ... Here