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What's that on the wall at Abbey Road?

Discussion in 'Room Acoustics / Studio Design' started by JohnTodd, Mar 11, 2013.

  1. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member

    For reference:
    Abbey Road - Studio - Studio Two

    I see sheets or curtains hanging, and I see monster gobos. In the other Abbey Road studios, I see the strange panels on the wall that bulge out like pyramids or something. What are these things and what do they do? How do they work? Forgive me if I'm just not seeing the obvious.

    All in all, it looks rather reverberant. I don't see much absorption, but what do I know?

    How can you get a tight focused sound in such a live room? Is it because things are close mic'd and the room is huge?

    Or, from another angle, what is it about the ROOMS that give the "Abbey Road" sound?

  2. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    To me, they look like simple absorber panels that are hung to allow an air space behind them.

    FWIW, The Beatles didn't really like the Abbey Road studio all that much. The live room was pretty sterile, not much more than a box. I think it looks better now than it did then. It was very "industrial" looking when the Fabs were there. They recorded there because their label - EMI - owned the studio and the management of the label wasn't going to pay another studio to record their act when they already had one at their disposal.

    Abbey Road was notorious for being the last studio in town to make upgrades or add new equipment. They had a new 8 track reel to reel that sat around for several months in storage because it was missing a power supply and EMI management didn't want to fork out the dough to purchase one.

    There were more than a few interviews with all of the Beatles where they complained quite a bit about the studio. George mentions there being a lock on the studio lounge's refrigerator, and that if they wanted milk for their tea they had to actually break into the fridge to get it. Ringo mentioned that the toilet paper used in the bathroom was similar to sand paper. I find it funny that the biggest band in the world at that time was treated with not a whole lot more courtesy than the bands recording there that no one had heard of at that time.

    Geoff Emerick, in his book "Here There And Everywhere", talks about how they had to do things behind the studio management's backs... like adding enhanced low end to songs like Paperback Writer and Rain... Paul had come back from a trip to Motown Studios in 1966 and he had been impressed with the amount of low end that those Detroit records had. He returned to Abbey Road and mentioned that he wanted that kind of low end on future Beatles records, and Emerick said he could do it... as long as they kept it quiet and didn't let the management know... because he could lose his job if they found out.

    The steps in the picture lead up to the control room, and it was a place that surprisingly, The Beatles didn't go up to very often. In those days, it was a sort of "line of demarcation" that they rarely crossed.

    These days it's very common to see an artist sitting next to an engineer or producer at the console. But in those days, it was rare. That room was George Martin's realm, and he didn't like people in there, other than cats like Emerick or Phil McDonald (or a very young Alan Parsons). He would put up with it occasionally, but he didn't like it.

  3. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member

    The Beatles recorded there because it was free. Brian Epstein got them a sweetheart deal which worked because EMI (label) owned Abbey Road (studios).

    So those curtains have more mass than they appear to?
  4. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I don't believe it was anything close to "free', John. I'd bet that the studio bills came off the top (gross) from the album sales.

    There would be no way Abbey Road management would lock down that studio for 24 /7 access for the better part of 6 years for nothing. And, from around 1966 to 1968, after the Beatles came off the road and quit touring completely, the band worked nocturnal hours- arriving at the studio at around 7 pm and working through the night, which meant that the engineers and staff that had to remain there for those hours were probably getting paid a higher rate. The management at the label was notoriously tight-fisted, money wise. You can bet they got paid for the years of sessions somehow. ;)

    The Beatles ended up at Abbey Road because EMI was the last label that Epstein approached before throwing in the towel. It ended up being the only label that would take them. It was a kind of last-ditch effort by Epstein, the last stop, after he'd made the round of all the other labels and had been turned down time and time again.

    EMI assigned them George Martin, who had a reputation at that time for taking on "quirky" acts (he had been working on comedy albums with people like Peter Sellers and The Goon Squad), and considering that up to that time, EMI's main revenue turning roster were "serious" and "legitimate" classical and orchestral acts or adult oriented crooner types, the Beatles were considered "quirky" by the management at the label. They gave them to Martin simply because they didn't have any other staff producers who were willing to work with the band.

    It was one of "those" scenarios that ended up being a legendary relationship between artists and producer.

    Funny thing though...As late as 1965, even after the infamous Ed Sullivan show, 4 World tours, 4 mega-selling albums, a slew of HUGE selling singles, and two feature length movies that garnered great reviews, the upper level management at the label was still considering the Beatles to be a "flash-in-the-pan" craze, and one that would eventually sputter and die out.

  5. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member


    Are you talking about those curtains? Are they panels, too?

    Also, I should be more specific. The Beatles royalties were never taken for studio/engineer bills. The label recouped personnel expenses via other means, ie, merchandising, etc. As for the studio itself, EMI never claimed money for that since they owned it. The Beatles had access when they wanted with the understanding that they must continue to make the label good money. It was a wise move on behalf of all parties, albeit nobody really knew how it would work out in the long run.

    When they quit touring and went in for night sessions, they were using a lot of "spec" time, ie, unbooked time. Other acts used the studio during the day with The Beatles gear shoved off to one side. This was relatively consistent during the studio years, although it did vary. They didn't get exclusive access, just a lot of it.
  6. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Many years ago I was an assistant engineer on a session in Studio 2. The studio itself was very configurable in acoustic terms with wrap-around drapes that could be drawn back in various amounts and also the de-mountable absorption panels on the walls. It could cope with the amount of reverb needed for symphony orchestras as well as being set relatively dead for pop track recordings. There were many gobos on wheels that could be positioned around instrumental sections (quite an advanced thing back then), and I remember being impressed by how little sound emerged from a full drum kit surrounded by gobos.

    There were strict union rules about not tracking instrumental parts without vocals, so we had to have the vocalists outside in the corridor with a single mic recording a scratch track while the instrumental parts were being laid down. In overtime (after the end of the instrumentalists' shift), the singers were brought back into the main studio for recording "corrective overdubs", which was when their vocal tracks proper were recorded.
    kmetal likes this.
  7. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member

    Wow! Those union rules!
  8. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    yeah! those lousy unions, they only kept the musicians working. those pesky rules! things are much better now. and we all know that it's way better to overdub vocals than to track live with the band! yeah .......! that's it. facepalm

    the pyramids are diffusion .. the boxes with holes in the face are absorbers ... they are stuffed with rock wool most likely. the curtains are indeed very thick / heavy / absorptive. if they needed to record a dry track they put up gobos and absorbers. it was a very organic approach. also remember that the larger the room, the fewer acoustic issues you have. if you build it large enough, even a cube will sound good. Abbey Road is huge!

    while Abbey Road was a bit primitive in terms of track counts and techniques the equipment and acoustics were stellar. tracks recorded there sound better to me than tracks the fabsters recorded at other studios. those emi guys knew their stuff. I suspect the management didn't really see the need for 8 tracks, after all the boys were doing just fine with 4 track machines. what's all the fuss?

    my take is the sound that was captured with the two 4 tracks / sub mixing/ subsequent compression and generation loss was delicious. mixing to mono was better too. i read an article years ago where Kieth Richard said the same thing about the Stones recording. he thought things sounded better in mono and bounced / compressed ..("it's the sound of rock and roll," ... or some rot like that).
  9. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member

  10. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Everything you see attached to the wall and hung from the rafters can be moved and reconfigured for any type of sound. There were many great rooms back in those days who had this concept down, especially those that did movie tracks. Studio 2 could comfortably accommodate 55 musicians in an orchestral setting. It is approx. 60' X 38' X 28' and has a reverb time of 1.2 seconds. The 'curtains' were made of a combination of fabric and eelgrass called Cabot's Quilt. They installed these in the 50's. However they also proved to be quite the fire hazard so they were replaced in the 80's with a more modern material but still along the same lines as far as what they did to control the sound. All the other panels and boxes are either bass trapping or the adjustable swing-out panels. They also have three large Indian rugs that they put over the solid wood floors to create a dead end to the room.

    Yes, there is a 'sound' associated with Abbey Road. These rooms are unlike any others in the world. Realize that they were built before rock and roll and the sound of a room used in recordings then was the biggest part of the recording process. All the things we can create these days electronically were created acoustically.

    Also as a footnote to this facility, they made almost ALL of the parts that went into the building of this studio complex. EMI had real engineers on staff and whatever new and interesting concept and idea was put forth, if it was deemed worthy, the engineering department would conceive and build devices, sound control, everything that would be needed to instigate these ideas into reality. There are such a large number of little grey boxes that were added to the Beatles recordings simply because someone wanted something that made a sound like nothing anyone had ever thought of, its no wonder that replicating these sounds is so difficult. Plus the one-of-a-kind sound of the room.
  11. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member

    Neato. In the next two years I shall have a large "one-roomer". I was looking into duping the Abbey Road strategy. A pale imitation, but hey, sound physics is sound physics. Only the gear has changed.
  12. Antonios

    Antonios Active Member

    Cheers for the useful info to the folks above.

    Does anyone know if the perforated acoustic panels (shown better in the 5th picture) are metal panels like the sliding ones used in industrial applications?
    I have seen similar metal panels in "industrially looking" studios and they do offer a descent absorption and due to the metal sheet surprisingly enough they absorb some low frequencies as well.
  13. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    i've seen pictures of George Martins studio AIR /London that has these same panels. they're also seen in pictures of the control room of Abby Road 2 circa 1968 / 69. i've wondered about them as well. i would guess they are stuffed with rock wool or ridged fiberglass. the long slats make for a semi reflective surface so things don't get too dead and probably afford a modicum of diffusion.
  14. Space

    Space Well-Known Member

    " due to the metal sheet surprisingly enough they absorb some low frequencies as well."

    This shouldn't come as a surprise. The metal has more mass and resists vibrations at a lower frequency, the main issue is, given the potential weight of a LF metal faced Helmholtz panel, is it attached securely enough :)

    And you will get high frequency thrown back into the room...things to consider.
  15. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    those guys at EMI knew sure their stuff ....
  16. JohnTodd

    JohnTodd Well-Known Member

    Good stuff!
  17. fummunda

    fummunda Active Member

    FYI the slotted panels at Abbey Road are made of MDF about 1/8" thick.
  18. Space

    Space Well-Known Member

    Prove it.

    We can not be certain that medium density fiber was available in the 60's....prove what you say.
  19. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

    Perforated hardboard! Found in loads of studios of that period, especially BBC ones where they would be made in different depths and sizes and worked as absorbers filled with acoustic wadding rather than rock wool, and the panels let sound through to the wadding and also acted as membrane absorbers. Nice and simple and they worked surprisingly well. The hardboard with holes in was also used by shops as wall panels and hooks could be fitted into the holes to support stock and shelves. It was simply a useful sheet material, cheap and easy to decorate. In that era, the modern style of studio design was only just starting. Abbey Road's structure was very conventional, so all hard solid surfaces with treatment added, as has been said, to tame the natural acoustic.
  20. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    I've got some of that "ped" board in my utility room. Go figure, I might start drilling holes all over the friken house hehe. .:whistle:

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