The classic consoles on which these plugins are modeled were the centerpieces of Abbey Road’s music revolution in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Learn what they sound like, the differences between them, and how each can contribute differently to your mixes.
By Craig Anderton
REDD and EMI TG12345 are channel strips based on the Abbey Road consoles through which some classic albums, most notably by the Beatles and Pink Floyd, were mixed. The consoles, developed by EMI’s Record Engineering Development Department, were known for their distinctive sound quality and minimalist functionality.
The REDD.17 and later REDD.37-51 consoles were born in a world of limited channels and tube-driven audio, while the TG12345 was created during the transition to multiple tracks and solid-state electronics. So, you might think the difference between them is simple: tube warmth vs. solid-state clarity. But dissecting the REDD and TG channel strips actually reveals as many similarities as differences.
REDD.17 vs. REDD.37-51
We first need to distinguish between the REDD.17 and the REDD.37-51 as they actually have quite a difference in tone. In both REDDs the controls are similar, though the REDD.37-51 (Fig. 1) offers a choice between the REDD.17/REDD.37 preamps or the lower-distortion, higher-headroom preamps used in the REDD.51. Also, the tone control supplements the REDD.17’s high-frequency shelving controls with Pop or Classic modes. The low shelving is the same (boost/cut at 100 Hz), but the Pop option modifies the high-frequency boost to a bell curve at 5 kHz instead of a shelf. For both strips and both REDD.37-51 modes, the high cut shelf frequency is 10 kHz.
Sonically, the differences become most apparent by turning up the drive control and really pushing the console. The REDD.17 (Fig. 2) is the more colorful and heavy-handed of the two—the overdriven, out-of-control sound of Pink Floyd’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn album comes to mind. The REDD.37-51 still adds plenty of character, but the “crunch” sounds more controlled and somewhat more refined.
On drums, the REDD.17 takes otherwise polite sounds and gives them punch. The bass lift can really push a kick for dance music. Drive does add the requisite grit, but light to moderate settings seem preferable because the tradeoff for a fatter sound is reduced clarity. Note that when overdriving the REDD.17, increasing the treble EQ returns some of the clarity.
The REDDs model two different channels (remember, this was analog gear—no two of anything sounded exactly the same), and you can choose either one for the left and right channels. The TG does this as well. A more conservative approach would be to choose the same emulation for both channels, producing a more consistent (and preferable) sound with mono sources, while choosing a different emulation for each channel with complex stereo material (like mixed drums) can widen the image slightly due to the difference between channels.
In general, the REDD.37-51 sounds more refined, especially with higher drive settings, so you can slam it harder before the sound becomes too blurry. The bass lift is more controlled and less distorted when pushed. Also, the Pop tone mode provides a punchier alternative compared to the Classic mode’s diaphanous high end. Overall, the REDD.17 seems best-suited for that hard-hitting sound associated with earlier Beatles recordings, while the REDD.37-51 is cleaner and more versatile, but still has its own kind of gritty vibe and tube warmth.
REDDs vs. TG12345
The EMI TG12345 (Fig. 3) has more options. The compressor is unique and wonderful, albeit a little touchy to adjust. In contrast to REDDs, the EQ adds a band for presence (with boost/cut at 500 Hz to 10 kHz), and there’s a spread control to supplement the stereo, duo (independent left and right channels) and mid-side modes all the consoles have. As a result, the TG requires more tweaking to dial in the sound you want.
The TG12345 seems happiest with input levels of around -8 to -16. The spread control is super cool and is the kind of “magic” control that gear snobs revere. When comparing it to some modern binaural panning and imaging processors I found that the TG doesn’t quite separate with the same kind of spaciousness, but that’s also what keeps the sound from seeming “separated.”
The TG’s dynamics processing is basic—compressor and limiter options (with 2:1 and 7:1 ratios respectively), six release (recovery) options, and a “hold” control that essentially biases the compressor detection to restrict the range over which compression occurs. Waves also added a sidechain high-pass filter to reduce low- frequency compression, and a mix control for parallel compression. However, this compressor is unique, and I suspect many people would use the TG12345 if it had only the compressor module. In addition to relatively standard compression, it can give those squishy, psychedelic drum sounds that at the time had me wondering “how do they do that?” Although I eventually figured out a reasonable facsimile, the TG12345 has the exact sound that takes you back to the late 60s.
Putting Them to the Test
As a test, I duplicated a drum stem which had been processed using Waves L3 Multimaximizer and the VEQ4’s analog button, and substituted these processors for the 3 consoles. I wasn’t trying to emulate the processed sound, but rather, come up with something equally or more satisfying. The REDD.17 was the easiest for dialing in a sound I liked. You can’t be heavy-handed with the drive control but enabling the bass lift, with some high shelf boost, gave a big, “vintage” sound. The REDD.37-51 took a little more work for a satisfying sound. It didn’t have the same gritty, fat sound as the REDD.17, but was more refined, punchy and modern-sounding. Again, it’s worth noting that the bass lift does something to kick drums that simply adding 50Hz on a conventional EQ doesn’t do—the REDD.37-51 retains clarity while adding corpulence.
When used in the context of a modern, rock-meets-EDM type of track, the TG12345 had the others beat. While not quite as defined as the original drum stem, it outdid the original by creating a bigger presence that could really hold its own in the mix, while offering a unique tone.
I then tried a similar comparison with saturating bass. I much preferred the REDD.17 and REDD.37-51. The distortion seemed more like it was part of the tube sound, as opposed to layered on top. Even if you tried to fool the REDD.37-51 by padding the bass and turning the bass tone up full (as well as treble to retain definition), the saturation sounded great as you increased drive. For a deep bass sound, it reminded me of the way an Ampeg B15 amp distorts when you hit it hard. The REDD.17 also had saturation nailed, but in a slightly less refined way that could suit some material.
It’s on the bass that the TG’s compressor really shines. I was totally charmed by the way it evened out slides and notes, and further impressed when preceding it with the REDD.37-51. The combination of grit followed by limiting nailed my favorite kind of bass sound. (TG before REDD.37-51 wasn’t the same: distortion reacting to dynamics, then being limited, was better than adding distortion to limited dynamics.) This pairing will be my go-to bass processing for serious power—a naturally aggressive bass sound (e.g. Les Paul bass) bores a virtual tunnel through the mix.
The TG compressor sounded wonderful on guitar. The limiter also works well but needs more careful adjustment. Virtually any dynamics control settings sound good with electric guitar, so you only need to decide which flavor of “good” you like. Acoustic guitar was almost as non-critical, once you set recovery (release) appropriately for the playing style.
I felt that the TG’s drive doesn’t work for overdriving guitar unless you want to fuzz out in the nastiest possible way. As with bass, my happy place was distorting with a REDD, then compressing with the TG. Since I found the guitar to be best with minimal distortion, either REDD worked because I wasn’t cranking drive up enough to emphasize the differences between the two.
For voice, the TG is a marvelous one-stop processor for lead and background vocals. I used it instead of a vocal chain consisting of a limiter, compressor and VEQ3, and the results were great with either the TG compressor or limiter, depending on the desired effect. Dialing in a bit of presence gave a full, commanding sound. The REDDs also worked well for vocals, but they don’t have the TG’s overachieving compressor.
As to what doesn’t work, overdriving either the REDDs and the TG with digital synthesizers sounded scratchy and fizzy. You can get away with something like a Minimoog triangle wave-based sound, but if you’re like me, the first time you try an FM synthesizer with any of these consoles might be your last.
When Do I Use What?
If I had to come up with a one-liner, the REDD.17 is the 60s, the REDD.37-51 is the early 70s, and the TG12345 set the stage for the late 70s onward. When clarity is paramount, it’s the TG. For gentle overdrive, reach for the REDD.37-51, and for grunge with a heavy fist, the REDD.17. Bear in mind that all of these have their own sonic character whether overdriven or not, and this was especially noticeable with vocals. Even with conservative control settings, vocals just sounded...well, different, and exhibited a certain kind of prominence. Although my favorite for vocals was the clean, present TG, they all have merit with voice.
For drums, your choice will depend entirely on context because all three do a fine job, they just have a different approach. The REDD.17 will smash drums more, giving them power but making them a bit less distinct than the REDD.37-51. The TG’s clarity and punch can really bring out the best in acoustic drums, and for special effects and some serious smacking, the compressor gives effects no other compressor can touch. It may not be a sound you’ll want to use all the time, but when you want that sound, this is how to get it.
As for bass, your choice will depend on context, although I must say that after using the REDD.37-51 followed by the TG, that combination beats either option by itself. For overdrive only, the REDD.17 gives a gruff growl, while the REDD.37-51 dials back the gruffness for a more polished distortion. Similarly, the REDDs do well on guitar, but so does the TG if you want a punchier, more modern sound.
Check out the following audio examples utilizing the REDD and EMI TG12345 console plugins:
- 01 – Acoustic Guitar using the TG compressor with some treble EQ, starts with dry guitar and alternates every two measures.
- 02 – Bass with REDD.17 distortion, starts with dry bass and alternates every two measures.
- 03 – Drums with TG compression, starts dry and alternates every two measures.
- 01 - Acoustic Guitar TG compression
- 02 - Bass with REDD.17 distortion
- 03 - Drums with TG compression
Adapted from music copyright 2017 and 2018 by Craig Anderton.
A Different Way to Mix
Before signing off, let’s zoom out. We already have EQs, compressors and saturation. The “X” factor with these plugins is the console modeling, and no, it’s not a placebo effect influenced by a pretty front panel. These plugins have their own sound, even with conservative control settings. The better you get to know them, the better you can choose the ideal sound for your tracks.
I was less tempted to treat these like the Waves NLS plugins and use them on every channel. Leaving aside the CPU hit, while this might work for roots-rock type projects, they don’t bring out the best in synthetic sound sources. Invariably, for the projects I tested, a mixture of the REDD/TG vintage vibe combined with the modern sound of today’s plugins gave the best results for the widest variety of material.
Want more on mixing Abbey Road sounds? Check out tips for mixing and producing 60s sounds.
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