Making the Transition to Transistors

Looking for that rich, warm, smooth tone? Throw out your tubes and replace them with transistors. No, really! We often talk around here about tubes vs solid state. Whether you believe you can hear the difference or not, there is some consensus, at least in the most extreme examples, that smooth, warm, round, rich, gentle etc. are ‘tubey’ sounds, and harsh, brittle, crisp, aggressive and so on are more ‘transistory’ words. I can see why this has become a thing. Or can I?

Here’s a note:
‘The equipment produced a less punchy, softer and rounder aural effect. The end result was a kinder and gentler-sounding record. ‘
(Bloomsbury Handbook of Music Production)

The piece from which I paraphrased the above is recounting legendary Engineer Geoff Emerick describing the greatest record ever made (The Beatles Abbey Road in case you were wondering) AFTER, they switched out the old REDD tube gear for the new solid state TG12345 console. Here’s another quote from the master:

‘The new recording console, that specific one, gave the original rhythm tracks a certain texture that wasn’t as aggressive and upfront and hard as the tube desk would have given us.’
(Guitar World, Holiday 2011)

Well, that all seems to be a little at odds with what we would generally think about tube vs solid state, doesn’t it? How about we defend our position by pointing out that we are really only talking about the console here. How much effect can that have overall, really? I mean they still had tube guitar amps and mics and such, right?

The TG12345 had a ‘profound effect on the sound of the Beatles recordings’. ‘It is no exaggeration to suggest that the TG was almost solely responsible for the sonic differences between Abbey Road and all previous Beatles albums’
(Keyhew and Ryan, Recording the Beatles)

The TG1245, and yes, that specific one, went on to be used on other huge records such as George Harrisons All Things Must Pass and John Lennon’s Instant Karma. Later models of the TG were used for the second greatest record ever made (Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon) as well as Wish You Were Here and numerous other recordings until the units were eventually removed from service at Abbey Road in 1983.

I lived in North London less than a mile from Abbey Road for several years during the 1980’s. I visited the studio during one of its very first public openings for a presentation called ‘The Beatles at Abbey Road’. This was during the late summer of 1983 and I remember the small tour group including myself and my younger sister squeezing past a large console sitting out in a corridor as we were guided through the building. Checking back through history, it’s seems this tour was open only for a short time while a new console was installed in the Studio 2 control room. I don’t remember too many details but I suppose it’s possible we were passing the TG12345 being removed from Studio 2. I recall my sister and I joking about leaving an old console in the corridor and whether anyone would care if we hauled it out of there. They probably would have been happy for us to take it. The first mass market digitally recorded records had just begun to be released a few years earlier in the late 70’s. The 80’s were upon us and analog consoles were a thing of the past.

Some of the surviving TG12345’s are in private collections now (alas not mine). These consoles were designed and built in house by EMI engineers and they were never generally available to anyone else in their day. In modern times Chandler Limited out of Iowa build recreations of many of the TG components if you are keen to recreate the sound in real hardware. For us mere mortals, the Waves Abbey Road EMI TG12345 channel strip plugin is available for a software based solution.

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