Inside Sound City Studios

Posted by Rob B

Sound City Studios doesn’t boast your typical gear selection but the hidden gems that speak for themselves – think Helios, EMT and Echoplate.

Inside Sound City Studios

Since the ‘70s, Sound City has been more than just a recording studio. An institution in its own right, the studio and its staff have given birth to many of the most iconic recordings to date from Fleetwood Mac (self-titled) to Nevermind (Nirvana) and beyond.

One of the keys to achieving the unmistakable Sound City flavor is the space itself. The studio boasts two rooms, each with their own specialties and despite the popularity of Studio A, which has been widely talked about for decades, let’s start our journey exploring its lesser known counterpart – Studio B.

The live room can be seen as a complement to Studio A, in that it has a more dampened sound, reminiscent of the traditional mid-1970s era, especially in contrast to the nearly slap-like characterstic of the Studio A live room. For those familiar, the now defunct Record Plant in Sausalito is a good comparison to Sound City Studio B.

live b

Studio B Live Room

The room doesn’t boast much in terms of reflections, but it isn’t by any means a ‘dead’ room. Studio B is as intimate as it gets, both in terms of space as well as sound. And while we find it difficult to explain this in plain English, the sound of Studio B can be best heard on records such as ‘Rated R’ by Queens of the Stone Age or ‘Death By Sexy’ by Eagles of Death Metal.

In terms of gear, Studio B boasts a very special Helios console, dubbed Studio 70 Helios, which is the only line console known to have been produced by the company. The beauty here is, of course, the ability to add external microphone amplifiers into the chain.

Despite its nickname, the console is a Type 69 Helios (rumor has it it’s the 7th one produced), originally built for Island Record’s Basing Street Studios in London where it was installed in 1969 and was used as the main mixing desk until 1971. During its stay, it has heard the likes of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Bob Marley flowing through its circuitry. After its departure from Basing Street, it found a new home in Studio 70 in Germany where it helped produce records for Kraftwerk and Giorgio Moroder.

studio b

Studio B Type 69 Helios Console

Studio A, on the other hand, features the ‘Arctic’ Helios. Built in 1973 and destined for one of the production rooms at Olympic Studios in London, it ended up being installed at Arctic Studio in Norway, before travelling to Germany and crossing the Atlantic to Mushroom Studio in Vancouver. It was then installed by Henry Hirsch (Lenny Kravitz, Madonna, Michael Jackson) at Waterfront Studios in 2001 and has widely been considered one of the best sounding examples of a Helios console still in existence today.

Studio A also features a one-of-a-kind pair of RCA Studio equalizer clones built by renowned engineer Dave Amels who ensured the filters built-in are some of the most powerful ever built into an EQ.

Ctrl Room A

Studio A Control Room

Each studio at Sound City comes with its own unique EMT 140 plate, while an additional floating EMT and an extremely rare Ecoplate III are available via the patch bay. Signals from both rooms can be sent to a superb-sounding echo chamber with a decay of about 5 seconds, considered to be one of the studio’s hidden gems. 

 

We must remember however that Sound City Studios continues to live on not only for its vintage gear or modern rigs, but for its unique mix of talent and passion which ultimately led to the production of some of the best recordings ever made. We take this opportunity to thank the fine people of Sound City Studios, who have kindly invited us to visit the newly reopened studio complex and have allowed us to share with you both their history and vision for the future, over these last few articles. And finally, a quote from our very own Stephen Bartlett, CEO of Studio Assistant and fellow engineer:

“I consider myself incredibly fortunate in the wonderful experiences that i’ve had in my career. Starting out as an engineer in Australia over a decade ago i considered it nothing more than dreams to work in the studios of documentary’s and books that I read. From Electric Lady and Abbey Road to The Village and Wisseloord, it seemed like an impossibility. I was fortunate enough to live those dreams, but the one that I believed had “gotten away” was Sound City. Seeing David and the team breathe fresh life into those rooms, and bring them back to their former glory has been amazing. Visiting and hearing the rooms and feeling the energy was nothing short of a dream come true. We’ve been very excited to get to know the team and look forward to seeing them busier than they can manage, and to hear the hits roll out of the building again!”

 

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