Adventures In Audio
What is it like to record at Abbey Road?

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Adventures In Audio.

Thursday November 30, 2006

We have been making some recordings at Abbey Road Studio 2 and Studio 3 recently, for Audio Masterclass. These recordings will feature in the Audio Masterclass Music Production and Sound Engineering Online Course, and Audio Masterclass audio and video products.

The reason why I chose Abbey Road was that there are a lot of variables in recording. And if I want a certain recording to illustrate one point, then the many possible variables can obscure the point in question.

But one way to deal with variables is to record in an absolutely first-class studio facility. After all, what's good enough for Abbey Road should be good enough for pretty well anyone.

Another reason why I chose Abbey Road is that they are totally professional. This is not to say that other studios are not, but you really do get the excellence you pay (a lot!) for at Abbey Road.

But while I was walking in a circle around a stereo pair of microphones reciting poetry in Studio 2, and rattling my tambourine (don't ask!), it occurred to me to wonder what it would be like to record some of my own music there. Perhaps the atmosphere of the place would rub off on me and somehow give my recording the 'Abbey Road magic'.

Now I have to say that my musical talents are modest, and I am certainly not going to burden you with having to listen to me sing. The best anyone has said of me in a review is, "...he has a pleasant enough voice." Mind you, they said that Fred Astaire could dance a bit, so maybe it's not all that bad.

Anyway, I had my Martin acoustic guitar with me. I hadn't intended to use it, but it was there just in case one of the singers I had booked for earlier in the day didn't turn up. I could have used the guitar for something else.

So I looked at my schedule and decided I could allow myself half an hour just before the last of my Audio Masterclass demonstration recordings.

I asked the assistant engineer (who is actually a full engineer, but I had booked him as an assistant) to set up a classic Neumann U47 vacuum tube microphone as the main vocal mic. I also requested a 4038 ribbon mic (which I was told was around 60 years old) as a slightly more distant vocal mic to give me another texture to play with later.

For the guitar I asked for a single Bruel and Kjaer (now DPA) 4011, placed in a 'sweet spot' that had been found in an earlier test recording in Studio 3.

I was able to listen to the headphone feed and slightly shift my position to optimize the mic for the guitar.

So there I was in Abbey Road Studio 2 - the place where all those famous Beatles recordings were made. The place where Pink Floyd recorded The Dark Side of the Moon.

What did it feel like? Was there an 'atmosphere'?

Did the ghost of John Lennon whisper in my ear...?

Well, apparently one of the things George Harrison said about Abbey Road Studio 2 was that it had absolutely no atmosphere whatsoever.

But that's not what I found. When I first walked into Studio 2, it was just another place of work. I had chosen it specifically because it was a suitable place to make my audio and video recordings for Audio Masterclass.

Atmosphere was irrelevant.

But suddenly, when I changed into musician mode and put myself in the same place that all those incredible musicians had been in in years previously, suddenly the magic flooded in. I could almost touch it.

So I made my recording - three takes of one of my own songs, plus a few 'patch ups'.

And that was it - my moment as a musician, recording at Abbey Road Studio 2, was over, and back to the technical stuff.

Listening back to the recordings, one thing I can say is that Abbey Road didn't make me a better musician. I can perform just as well in front of the microphone at home.

However, the sound of those two mics on my voice, the Neumann U47 and the 4038 ribbon mic - well, they certainly provide a golden sheen that I haven't heard before.

I knew what the 4011 on the guitar was going to sound like, and I feel that it captured the instrument and my playing to the best effect possible.

And surrounding the vocal and guitar, there is the Studio 2 acoustic, and at least a little of the 'magic'.


Taking everything into consideration, I don't think I'll be releasing the recording. The one thing that pushed it below the standard I aim for is the guitar playing. After a long day's work in the studio I couldn't stop my hands sweating and I couldn't make the changes with my left hand properly. A more professional player would of course have taken this in his stride.

But I had my Abbey Road experience, and it was well worth the time I took out of my busy day.

By the way, many of the recordings we have made in both Studio 2 and Studio 3 in Abbey Road are gradually being added to the Audio Masterclass Music Production and Sound Engineering Online Course. Others will be made available as audio and video sets, featuring the original .wav files.

If you have ever had a great recording experience, please let us know!

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