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Behind Eddie Kramer Tape, Tubes & Transistors

Feb 17, 2010

About the Modeled Tape Machine

From its introduction in the 1950s, the valve tape machine modeled for the Kramer Master Tape plugin was a mainstay of the recording industry, used for literally thousands of hit albums and singles over more than two decades of recording. It was an early model of this same machine that captured "That's All Right,” the historic first single of an unknown truck driver named Elvis Presley in 1954. This machine was also the backbone of the earliest days of multi-track recording, the basis of the first 8-track recorders that were custom built in late 1957 for the likes of Les Paul and Atlantic Records, the first record company to use a multi-track recorder in their studio on a regular basis. If they ever were to induct a tape recorder into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, this would be the machine!

About the Helios Console

The HLS Channel is modeled after the legendary Helios console channels, designed and built by Richard Swettenham. During the 1960s, Eddie Kramer used a Helios to record some of rock’s most classic tracks at London’s Olympic Studios. In the early ’60s, Swettenham worked at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios as a service/design engineer, later moving to Olympic studios, where he was asked to design and build an especially “musical” recording desk. The desk was a success, and began a golden era for Olympic studios, which hosted recording sessions for such artists as Jimi Hendrix, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Traffic and many others.

Following the success of the first Olympic desk came its successor. Both desks had silver-faced panels with 3-band EQs that had variable boost or cut for midrange frequencies, a high shelf at 10 kHz, and a special low filter that could boost at frequencies of 60Hz – 400Hz and cut at 50Hz. Their mic preamps used an especially musical transformer made by Lustraphone, a London-based consumer and pro audio equipment manufacturer.

This success of these designs drew special interest from Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, who wanted to base a new studio venture on Swettenham’s console designs. In order to avoid conflict with Olympic, rather than commissioning Richard Swettenham to build a console, Blackwell funded Swettenham’s going into business for himself, under the brand name Helios. Under the Helios brand, Swettenham continued to produce custom-made recording desks for various studios using Olympic-style EQ’s, with Beyer transformers replacing Lustraphone’s and other small variations.

Swettenham’s channels shared many basic features, but were essentially custom-built to order, with some user-driven changes. Since the original Olympic desks have since gone through several restorations and the original transformers have been lost, Waves called upon Eddie Kramer, the engineer at Olympic during its heyday. Kramer helped us find the Helios channel that best characterized the sound of the classic rock recordings we all know and love. Eventually, we chose the first desk revision from the Rolling Stones mobile truck, courtesy of Mr. David Kean and the Audities Foundation. Thanks to them, we were able to model original channels that were in the truck from 1970 – 1973, when the console was redone by Helios according to specs from engineer Mick McKenna. Our long, arduous search for the perfect Olympic-style channel reflects the rarity of the original units, and we are truly excited and proud to present the Helios sound for posterity, and for the creative use of generations to come.

About the Pye Compressor

As an engineer at London’s Olympic studios during the classic rock era, almost everything Eddie Kramer recorded during that era passed through the Pye compressors.

The PIE Compressor was modeled on the dynamics processor known as the Pye Compressor, a solid state unit that was manufactured during the 1960s by Pye Telecom. The Cambridge, England-based company originally manufactured military wireless communication devices, later venturing into the television and professional broadcast equipment markets. Pye manufactured a limited number of sound consoles with these compressors built-in, and which were popular enough that the Neve company made a compressor that could fit and replace the Pye compressors in its form factor. While it may well be that the Neve replacements are harder to find than the originals, there is less demand for them than the actual Pye compressors.