LONDON--For 80 years, Abbey Road Studios has been one of the most important places in the music business. But of course it is best known for the work done there by a group of four young men from Liverpool, England: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison. The Beatles.
Today, it is still very much a working studio, and artists from all over the world come to record and mix there. CNET got a chance to visit and see some of the most impressive studio rooms and equipment in the industry. Including a microphone that both McCartney and Lennon often sung into.
Throughout Abbey Road Studios, there is recording and mixing equipment everywhere. And since the studios have been used by everyone and anyone in the industry for nearly eight decades, you never know what you'll run into. In one hallway, placed unceremoniously against a wall, this four-track recorder sits in relative obscurity. Until you find out that it was used to record many of The Beatles' songs.
Lester Smith oversees Abbey Road Studios' collection of hundreds of microphones. Stacked on several sets of shelves are case after case of them, most of which are still used today, despite--or perhaps because of, their age.
Here, Smith proudly displays a 1950s-era vocal microphone used frequently by The Beatles. "I can happily say that both John and Paul used this same mic," Smith said.
In the United States, we call this a crosswalk. In London, it's a zebra crossing. Either way, this one is perhaps the most famous in the world, made so by The Beatles on the cover of their "Abbey Road" album. Today, fans of the band from all over the world come to show their respects by posing for pictures in the crossing.
This is the famed Studio 2, a large recording room considered a "mecca" by many in the music business because it's where The Beatles made the majority of their songs. All told, the band recorded more than 90 percent of their songs at Abbey Road Studios, with most of those being done in Studio 2.
In a corner of Studio 2, this is the "Lady Madonna piano," which Paul McCartney played in The Beatles song of the same name. Recently, McCartney surprised people working in a nearby studio room by showing up and pounding out "Lady Madonna" on the piano, something that the sign on it clearly says is not supposed to be done.
According to Lester Smith, this is an original ribbon microphone from the mid-1930s that has been a mainstay for Abbey Road Studios ever since. It is used on many film scoring sessions, as well as many orchestral recordings.
This is the mixing console for Abbey Road Studio's Studio 1. According to sound engineer Simon Rhodes, the studio works with the manufacturers of equipment like this to ensure that it gets the exact machines it needs. A console like this Neve 88RS costs about $800,000. Although digital is all the rage in music, these consoles are strictly analog due to the fact that for professionals like those at Abbey Road, digital is not yet up to the quality standards demanded by clients who pay a lot for the privilege of working there.
This is the patch bay in Studio 1. Usually, this would have so many wires plugged into it--bringing sounds in or out of the mixing board--that it would look like a "swirling mass of snakes," said Rhodes.
Abbey Road Studios maintains a mixing studio that is all-digital known as "The Penthouse." There, musicians working on many kinds of recordings, including the scores for large numbers of feature films use this Neve digital mixing console.
On the right is an M50, and 1950s-era microphone made by the Neumann company, and on the left is a later version of the same mike, a TL M50 that's about 20 years old. The newer model employs transistors to make sound as high quality as its predecessor, but while the newer model has great sound, Rhodes said it's not quite up to the same standards.
In a small cubby space behind the Studio 1 mixing room, there are endless numbers of cords and cables, mainly because the studio used analog recording equipment that requires a different cable for each of dozens and dozens of channels.
This is Giles Martin, a producer who has recorded at Abbey Road Studios for years, is the son of legendary Beatles producer George Martin. Among his most famous projects is the collaboration between The Beatles and the Cirque du Soleil on the remixing of the famous band's songs for the soundtrack of the Las Vegas show "Love."
This is one of four reverb plates stored in a musty rooftop room above Abbey Road Studios. The plates are used to add reverb to recordings but are able to be kept permanently in the small room because wiring connects them to recording equipment below.