Where the old Abbey Road Penthouse had traditional wall-mounted 'main' monitors, the new Penthouse has none. A cruel blow for tradition perhaps, but they were seen more as a disadvantage than anything else. No-one yet knows for sure where surround monitors should ideally be placed, and there are a number of different shades of opinion. In the Penthouse, you can have the monitors where you like, nothing is fixed and relocation is straightforward.
As you probably know, Abbey Road, and practically the entire classical music recording industry uses B&W 801 loudspeakers. Just in time for the new Penthouse B&W have released the Nautilus 801 which is bigger, better and, most importantly, louder. Abbey Road tested them against the main monitors in Studio 3 and the B&Ws apparently won easily. The design of the Nautilus cabinet (with independent enclosures for low, mid and high frequency drivers) is based in part on the sea creature of the same name. Apparently the shape of a nautilus shell is ideal when used to dissipate the rear radiation of a loudspeaker drive unit. Surround sound mixing in the Penthouse uses five Nautilus 801s, with Chord amplification, plus a subwoofer for the '.1' channel. Having experienced surround sound in the Penthouse on such speakers, ordinary stereo is like listening to a cheap portable radio. Perhaps the only drawback is persuading hangers-on not to stand in front of the surround speakers – it's part of the new studio etiquette.
The new Penthouse was designed by John Flynn of the Acoustic Design Group and wired by Kelsey Acoustics. Interestingly, much of the installation was built and wired off site. The Acoustic Design Group hired a warehouse and then built the basic structure of the control on the warehouse floor. Most of the Penthouse being of traditional timber and plasterboard construction, the timber frames were built in the warehouse and temporary cable trays were installed to take the wiring. By the time Abbey Road were ready to take the old studio apart most of the building work had already been done. The floor of the actual studio was taken up and re-laid and then the prefabricated units were brought in, assembled and finished. Apparently the greatest error in the prefabrication was no more than 3mm which demonstrates how good the planning was, and that this can be a very effective method of studio construction. Of course, it was also necessary to consider access and the prefabricated units were all built to a size that could be brought in through a window.
Future plans for the Penthouse include links, naturally enough, with Abbey Road Interactive for the production of DVD, and also, when appropriate, the installation of widescreen video projection equipment. The cabling for this is already in place. Perhaps the previous incarnation of the Penthouse is best viewed as a long-term experiment where Abbey Road learned and developed the market for the Capricorn digital mixing console, and established the ground rules for a successful commercial surround sound mixing facility. The new Penthouse is the culmination of these experiments and is set to enter a new era of entertainment with all the elements in place for success, both for the company and for the client.