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Recording Equipment of Startling Studios

Updated: Apr 1


3M M64 Tape Machine

1/2" four-track tape machine. This 3M M64 was one of the few pieces of gear from the Ascot Sound Studios days that was kept into the Startling Studios era. Quadraphonic audio was all the rage in the '70s, and I imagine that this M64 was kept with this in mind. The first console at Startling Studios, a MCI JH-440, came with Quad buses as a standard feature so it seems that being set up for quad was an important part of the design of the studio.

AKG D20 Dynamic Microphone

In the photo of the live room from the brochure we can clearly see an AKG D20 on a stand. The D20 is a now classic cardioid dynamic microphone popular for recording kick drum and other low-frequency sources. From 1964 onwards, a D20 was used almost exclusively to record Ringo's kick drum at EMI (Abbey Road) Studios, so having one at Startling seems pretty obvious.


In this photo of Zak Starkey at Startling circa 1979/1980, we can see what looks to be a D190E on on of the toms. The D190 is a dynamic cardioid that was seemingly pretty ubiquitous in a lot of studios in the 70's. Depending who you ask it is sometimes compared favorably or unfavorably to a Shure SM57.

Allison Research Gain Brain model 700 Compressor (4)

In the rack above the console is a Allison Research RM 160 rack containing four Gain Brain Model 700 modules. The Gain Brain is a FET compressor/limiter that, although is not as widely known as say a UREI 1176, was extremely popular in the '70s. Along with the Kepex gate, the Gain Brain is considered by many to be the "sound of '70s drums."

The Gain Brain is a fixed-threshold compressor with some unique controls; "function", "release", "input", & "output". The Function control is described in the manual as follows: "Controls the relative action of the PEAK and RMS thresholds and is adjusted to give the desired "sound" for a given program material. In PEAK (full CCW) position, GAIN BRAIN functions as a peak limiter, in RMS (full CW) position as a quasi-RMS limiter."

Allison Research Kepex model 500 Noise Gate (12)

The Allison Research RM 160 rack that contained the 4 Gain Brains also contained 12 Kepex model 500 noise gates. As mentioned above, many people consider Kepex gates and Gain Brain compressors to be the "sound of '70s drums." Beatles engineer Ken Scott still frequently mentions his use of Kepex gates throughout the many legendary records he recorded in the '70s.

Kepex gates are functionally pretty basic with range, release, and threshold controls as well as a input key (hence the name "Kepex" which stands for "KEyable Program EXpander").

AMS DM2-20 Tape Phase Simulator

Photos show that the overhead rack was reconfigured some time in the early '80s. One of the additions to the rack was an AMS DM2-20 Tape Phase Simulator. As the name suggests, the DM2-20 was designed to simulate the phasing and flanging effects that you could create with an analog tape machine.

The DM2-20's manual explained what made it different from other phaser/flangers available at the time: "Unlike other units of this kind, which solely mix the delayed signal with the original, the dm2-20 uses two independent delay lines to allow true 'over the top' tape phase simulation."

AMS DMX 15-80 Digital Delay

Photos show that the overhead rack was reconfigured some time in the early '80s. One of the additions to the rack was an AMS DMX 15-80 Digital Delay. Based on the layout of the knobs, this looks to be an original mono unit that was first released in 1978, not the later and more common DMX 15-80S stereo unit.

The DMX 15-80 was the "first microprocessor-controlled" digital delay. In addition to delay, the DMX 15-80 could do pitch shifting, flanging, phasing and other time based modulation effects. An argument can be made that the 15-80 has never really fallen out of favor in professional studios since it's introduction.

Auratone 5C Super Sound Cube Monitor Speakers

A pair of Auratone 5C Super Sound Cube speakers can be seen sitting on the console in pretty much every photo of the control room of Startling I've seen. Auratone's are legendary "real world' passive reference monitors that were nearly every control room in the '70s and '80s.

Its not clear to me what the Auratones were being powered by at Startling. There were at least two pairs of speakers in the control room, sometimes three, but the only visible amp is a single Crown DC300. So there was a least an amp or two that wasn't visible in photos.

Beyerdynamic DT 100 Headphones

Beyerdynamic DT 100 headphones can be seen in several photos of Startling Studios, in fact I think they are the only headphones I've ever seen in photos of Startling. By the 1970s, DT 100's were a recording studio staple and they remain so to this day.

Though many consider their sound quality to be sub-par, especially by today's standards, I think the fact that they are durable and that all of the components can all be replaced fairly easily is what made them so popular with studio owners.

Whitesnake guitarist Bernie Marsden wearing DT 100's at Startling Studios
Beyerdynamic Microphones (unknown models)

The Startling Studios brochure lists "mics by Neumann, AKG, Beyer[dynamic], Shure, Sennheiser, Elctrovoice".

Crown DC300 Power Amp

In the rack in the corner of the control room with the Dolby 361s we can see a Crown/Amcron DC300 power amp ("Amcron" was the export brand name for Crown). Eddie Veale used DC300's to power the main monitors at many of his studios in the '70s, including Ascot Sound Studios, so its a good bet that the DC300 was powering the main monitors at Startling as well.

Mix Magazine say of the DC300: "In many ways, the 1967 introduction of the AB+B-class DC 300 ushered in the era of the modern, high power amplifier. Offering 340 watts/channel (at 4 ohms), this 4-rackspace, 40-pound beast came in at less than the “magic” $1/watt price point, based on its original $685 retail. And with its rock-solid construction, and internal thermal and V-I protection modes, the DC 300 was the ideal solution for high-end consumers, high-SPL studio monitors and live sound systems coming into vogue with the summer of love." (source)

DBX 160 "VU" Compressor/Limiter (4)

The Startling Studio brochure say that the studio has "Four DBX 120 Compressors". The DBX 120 was a Subharmonic Synthesizer with RCA input and outputs, hardly something I imagine would be confused with a compressor. My guess is that this was a typo and what they actually had were four DBX 160 (now commonly known as 160 "VU") compressors.

They are very hard to see, but when looking at this photo from the brochure of the overhead rack you can see what I think are four 160's at the very top mounted in pairs (160 VUs are 1/2 rack sized). Each DBX 160 VU has three silver knobs, four grey buttons at the bottom (one on the left, three in the center of each unit, and a very bright metallic stripe at the bottom.

Since it's release in the 1976, the DBX 160 VU has become a legendary recording studio compressor. It is a transformerless, solid-state, Voltage Controlled Amplifier (VCA) design with fixed program-dependent attack and release times. It is a favorite of many engineers on drums and bass amongst many other sources.

Dolby 360 Noise Reduction Unit (4)

There were four Dolby 360 noise reduction units with CAT No.22 A-Type cards in the rack in the corner of the control room above eight Dolby 361s. Ascot Sound Studios had twelve Dolby units as well, so my guess is the Dolby's at Startling were from the Ascot days.

According to Dolby informational sheets, 361s are "identical to the 360 in size and appearance, but contains facilities for automatic record /play changeover controlled from the recorder. In the new series, the operating mode is set and clearly displayed by illuminated push- button switches."

Dolby 361 Noise Reduction Unit (8)

There were eight Dolby 361 noise reduction units with CAT No.22 A-Type cards in the rack in the corner of the control room below four Dolby 360's. Ascot Sound Studios had twelve Dolby units as well, so my guess is the Dolby's at Startling were kept from the Ascot days.

According to Dolby informational sheets, 361s are "identical to the 360 in size and appearance, but contains facilities for automatic record /play changeover controlled from the recorder. In the new series, the operating mode is set and clearly displayed by illuminated push- button switches." This statement is mostly true except that 361's had two additional buttons on the front and additional inputs and outputs on the back to accommodate the additional features.

Electro-Voice Microphones (unknown models)

The Startling Studios brochure lists "mics by Neumann, AKG, Beyer[dynamic], Shure, Sennheiser, Elctrovoice".

Eventide DDL 1745A Digital Delay

The original configuration of the overhead rack in the control room included a Eventide DDL 1745A. Even though Startling had a 1745M, the more advanced successor of the 1745A, they must have thought the 1745A a worthy enough piece to put in the rack as well. When the rack was reconfigured though in the late '70s/early '80s, the 1745A was swapped for a AMS DMX 15-80 Digital Delay and Marshall 5002 Time Modulator.

The 1745A's predecessor, the 1745, is said by Eventide to be the "World's First Digital Audio Device" (the main difference between the 1745 and the 1745A is the A's LED screen). Unlike Random Access Memory (RAM) which actually stores audio, the 1745A used shift registers which were a simple device with an input, an output, and a clock that delayed the signal in a linear fashion. The 1745A's computer could do delay times of up to 200ms, but had the unique feature of a switch which allowed the user to double the delay time up to 400ms by cutting the sample rate in half. If you're so inclined, Eventide's website has a ton of great information about the 1745A and how it functions here.

Eventide 1745M Digital Delay with Pitch Shift

In addition to the 1745A, the overhead rack at Startling also contained a Eventide DDL 1745M. When the overhead rack was reconfigured in the late '70s/early '80s, the 1745M remained.

The 1745M incorporated Random Access Memory (RAM) into its design (The "M" stands for "memory"). Using RAM gave the 1745M 100x the delay resolution of its predecessor the 1745A, which used shift registers to create delay. According to Eventide, the 1745M had the "ability to produce a wide range of effects including comb filters, recirculation (or “repeat”), flanging, tunneling, and pitch changing. The pitch change module was made available as an option in 1976, and it became the world’s first electronic pitch shifter for musical applications." If you're so inclined, Eventide's website has a ton of great information about the 1745M and how it functions here.

Eventide FL201 Instant Flanger

In the overhead rack was an Eventide FL201 Instant Flanger. When rack was reconfigured in the late '70s/early '80s, the FL201 remained.

According to Eventide, "The Instant Flanger, released in 1976, was designed to simulate true tape flanging. As its time-delay circuit produced many more “nulls” and offered a much deeper flanging effect than anything previously available, it was widely used on many legendary recordings."

JBL Monitor Speakers

Studio Manager Mike O'Donnell told me in an email that the main monitors in the control room were JBL's though he couldn't recall the exact model. They certainly look like JBL's to me but I can't pin down the exact model. Visually, they have characteristics of JBL 4343's, 4315's, and several other models. Startling's designer Eddie Veale was known for designing and building custom monitors, so I think its also a possibility that these were some kind of JBL's modified by Veale.

Originally, the control room had just the soffit mounted speakers up high sort of behind the overhead rack. As early as 1978, they seem to have added a second pair on stands. My guess is that having the monitors up high and behind the rack was problematic. Perhaps uncoincidentally, almost this same thing happened when the studio was Ascot Sound Studios. The main monitors were originally soffit mounted up high (though the studio didn't have the overhead rack at that time), but a pair of JBLs was brought in for Imagine sessions to supplement the mains.

I think its possible that this second set of monitors were originally intended to be rear speakers for Quad mixing that would be brought in and taken out as needed. Quad was all but dead by the early 1980s, so when the need for a second set of monitors arose, they were probably repurposed. Like the Auratones, its not clear to me what the second set of JBL's were being powered by. The only visible amp in the control room is a single Crown DC300 power amp. So there was a least an amp or two that wasn't visible in photos powering the second set of JBL's and the Auratones.

Soffit and stand mounted monitors with David Coverdale in 1981
Marshall 5002 Time Modulator

I've seen a few lists of Ascot Sound Studios gear that include a Marshall 5002 Time Modulator as being amongst the gear. The Marshall 5002 wasn't released until 1977, after Ascot had become Startling, but this made me wonder if maybe Startling Studios had a 5002. I almost gave up on that idea until I saw the below photo from 1980 or '81 showing what I believe is in fact a Marshall 5002 in the overhead rack. Its hard to make out, but I think the layout of the white and blue knobs match.

Like several of the other effects at Startling, The 5002 was a time based effect that could do delay, phasing, flanging, etc... Its hard to find a lot of information about the 5002, but it seems that it was a very unique sounding box that most consider a flanger more than anything else. Many describe its controls as counterintuitive which seems to have turned off some users.

MCI JH-440 Recording Console

The first console at Startling Studios was a MCI JH-440 32 in/24 out in-line console. MCI popularized the concept of the in-line console which allowed a console to be jam packed with features in a very small footprint. Feature-heavy in a small footprint was no doubt attractive for the tiny control room of Startling Studios.

The Startling Studio brochure says the console was 32 out, but from what I can tell all 440's were 24 bus. The 24 VU meters also give us an indication that this console was in fact 24 output. Though if you count the 24 busses, four mixdown outputs, two cue sends, and two echo sends, you do technically get 32 outputs. As mentioned above, there were four master outputs as quadraphonic mixing and panning were standard features on all 400 series MCI consoles.

Within just a year or two of opening, the console was expanded from 32 to 36 input channels. The bottom left photo shows the console in the brochure (photographed when the studio re-opened around 1976/1977) with two blank panels at the end of the input section. In the below left photo from 1978, we can see that the blank sections have been replaced with four more channel strips.

MCI JH-636 Recording Console

At some point in the early 1980s, the console at Startling Studios was upgraded to a MCI JH-636, specifically a model JH-636-36-AF/LM. Using dated photos we can work out that that the JH-440 was replaced by the JH-636 sometime between 1980 and spring of 1983.

After Startling Studios closed around 1987/1988, studio manager Mike O'Donnell bought all of the gear and installed it at his new studio Bluebird Themes. The Bluebird brochure lists the console as being "computerized" and being "36 channel in/36 channel out". Based on that information and photos of the console, we can surmise that the console's specific configuration model would be "JH-636-36-AF/LM".

-"36" after the 636 tells us the console was 36 channels

-"AF" stands for "Auto Fader" which was MCI's VCA automation system

-"LM" was MCI's designation for plasma meters as opposed to VU meters

Though I don't know the exact reason for replacing the JH-440 with the JH-636, my guess is that the automation was the main catalyst not to mention a few additional channels. With the release of the Solid State Logic SL 4000B in 1976 and SL 4000E in 1979, exploding channel counts and automation were fast becoming the norm in studios, especially when it came to mixing. I presume that they liked the sound and functionality of the MCI but were also looking to keep up with the rapidly changing times and landed on the JH-636-36-AF/LM.

Here is the MCI JH-363 at Mike O'Donnell's studio Bluebird after he purchased it from Startling:

Neumann KM84i Condenser Microphone (3)

According to studio manager Mike O'Donnell, "Pretty much all the gear was left behind [from Ascot Sound Studios] including John’s desk, screens, mics the lot." With that in mind, we can be pretty sure the two Neumann KM84i microphones from Ascot were still at Startling Studios even though I haven't seen photos of them.

Ascot Sound Studios had three Neuman KM84i small diaphragm condenser microphones, serial numbers 4104, 4105, & 4095. (Neuman original used the "i" designation, which stood for "international", to signify microphones with a XLR as opposed to Tuchel connectors).

SN 4095 has been sold publicly a few times over the years. Below is a 1999 Authentication letter from Eddie Veale:

Here is a 2016 listing for 4095:

Below are photos from a sale of SN 4105:

Neumann U47 FET Condenser Microphone (2)

In the below photo of the live room at Startling Studios, we can see a Neumann U47 FET. As mentioned in the KM84i section, we know that all the gear from Ascot was at left when the studio was sold to Ringo and that Ascot Sound Studios had two Neumann U47 FET's. The U47 FETs from Ascot were serial numbers 3222, and 3224.

First introduced by Neumann in 1969, the U47 FET was Neumann's attempt to make a solid-state version of the venerable U47 valve microphone. Some time in the mid 1950s, Telefunken stopped manufacturing the VF14 vacuum tube that the U47 was designed around and Neumann never really came up with a suitable replacement. Though the U47 FET didn't have the sonics of the original U47, it eventually found its own niche, particularly on kick drums, bass guitars, and even as a vocal microphone.

One of the Ascot/Startling U47's was reportedly sold at auction in 2011 by MJQ Ltd.

Neumann U67 Condenser Microphone

In the below photo, we can see Ringo in the live room with a Neumann U67 on a Neumann IC 4 swivel mount. We can tell its not one of the U87s that were inherited from Ascot because it lacks the tell-tale slot in the back that is used to view the battery meter on a U87. Ascot didn't own any U67s, so this would have been a purchase made specifically for Startling Studios.

Released in 1960, the U67 was Neumann's direct attempt at replacing the U47 with another valve design. As mentioned above in the U47 FET section, in the mid 1950s Telefunken stopped making the VF14 tube that the U47 was designed around and Neumann had to move on from the design. The U67 was completely new design that used a newly deigned capsule, the K67, and an EF86 tube. The U67's reputation grew throughout the 1960s and by the 1970s, it was a bonified studio staple.

Neumann U87 Condenser Microphone (2)

As with the other microphones from Ascot Sound Studios, we know according to studio manager Mike O'Donnell that "Pretty much all the gear was left behind including John’s desk, screens, mics the lot." Those mics would have included Ascot's two Neuman U87's, serial numbers 8153 and 8154 and their associated Neumann IC 4 swivel mounts.

The U87's were used extensively on John Lennon's Imagine album, and I'm sure they continued to be during their time at Startling.

John Lennon & Phil Spector with one of Ascot's U87's
Reverb Chamber

The studio had a purpose-built reverb chamber that was built for Ascot Sound Studios. While I don't know any information about the chamber specifically in the Startling Studio days, chances are that little to nothing about the chamber changed from when it was Ascot Sound Studios. We know that in the Ascot days, the chamber was miced and returned to the control room in stereo. Eddie Veale (Ascot and Startling designer) says “The chamber was a Crown DC300 amp and loudspeaker and a couple of mics without a delay".

From what I can gather, the chamber was built under the building sometimes called "Assembly Hall" or "Temple" which was not terribly far from the annex at the back of the house where the studio was located. The Hall/Temple building may be recognizable to Beatles fans as one of the spots the band was photographed at in their final photoshoot on 22 August 1969.

Shure SM56 Unidyne III Dynamic Microphone (2+)

At first I though the SM56 in the below photo of Ringo probably belonged to ABC due to the flag, but then I found the below right photo of Whitesnake drummer Ian Paice recording at Startling in 1981. In that photo we can make out SM56's on the toms.

The SM56 was kind of like the hot-rodded version of the famous SM57. The SM56 has a shockmounted base, an impedance selector switch, and a larger transformer than the 57. Of course, SM57's are popular on drums, guitar amps, percussion, leslie speakers, etc.. I'm sure SM56's were used in those same ways at Startling.

STC/Coles 4038 Ribbon Microphone

The photo of the live room of from the Startling Studio brochure shows a STC/Coles 4038 ribbon microphone on a stand. The 4038 was a bi-directional (figure 8) ribbon microphone developed by the BBC in the 1950s. It quickly gained a reputation amongst British recording engineers, including those at EMI (Abbey Road) Studios.

Ringo had a long history with 4038's by the 1970s. According to Recording The Beatles, 4038's were used a fair amount on Ringo's drums on Beatles sessions. Norman Smith used them as a mono overhead on the first few Beatles albums as one of only two microphones on the drums. After falling out of favor for a few years, Geoff Emerick brought the 4038's as overheads on Abbey Road.

Studer A80 Tape Machine

1/4" 2 track. According to O'Donnell, the 2" 16 track A80 was sold at some point to make space in the control room for this 1/4" 2-track Studer A80. The below photo is from 1978, so it would have been very on in Startling's history that the 2-track A80 was added.

The original mix decks at Starling were a pair of Studer B62s inherited from Ascot Sound Studios. While B62s were good decks, they were a compact model and only ran at 7.5ips, and 15ips. I imagine they were looking for a more robust deck that would do 30ips, so an A80 was a logical choice. A80's are still considered by many engineers to be amongst the best sounding and most reliable analog tape machines.

Studer A80 Tape Machine

2" 16 track. According to Mike O'Donnell, the 16-track A80 was sold at some point and a 1/4" 2-track A80 was put in its place. Photos from as early as 1978 show the 16 track having been removed from the control room. It was probably decided early on that the 16 track probably was not going to get much use. With space in the small control room at a premium, if they wanted a 1/4" 2-track A80 they probably needed to get rid of the 16 track just to free up the physical space. Of course, a 16-track head stack could also just be put on the 24-track chassis if an engineer desired the sound of the 16-track.

Unlike the 24 track A80 at Startling, the 16 track didn't have the custom Dolby M series chassis. The control room did have enough Dolby 360 and 361 noise reduction units if an engineer wanted to use NR on the 16 track.

Studer A80 Tape Machines - Photo: Startling Studios Brochure
Studer A80 Tape Machine

2" 24 track. Studer A80 fitted with what I believe is Dolby M16H and Dolby M8HX Noise Reduction Units housed in in one coinvent package to provide 24 Channels of Dolby A NR. I don't believe that Dolby made a M24H unit, strictly speaking, so I believe this was a custom unit that was likely built or at least conceived by studio designer Eddie Veale.

Dolby MH series multi-channel units were compact, expandable, modular assemblies designed specifically for multitrack use, unlike Dolby 360 and 361's which are single channel, full rack space units (starting had 12 of these as well). Both Dolby MH Series chassis and 360/361 units used the same plug-in cards, however. The black section contained the cards (likely Cat. 22 Dolby-A Type cards in this case), and the white section below was the Dolby controls.

Though I don't have 100% confirmation these are the exact specs, this machine looks identical to the one Veale installed at George Harrison's studio Friar Park Studio Henley-on-Thames (F.P.S.H.O.T.), and I know for certain that those are the specs of that machine. It seems a pretty good guess that this was a design he was using frequently at the time.

Dolby "M24H" unit from F.P.S.H.O.T. - Photo:
Studer B62 Tape Machine (2)

1/4" 1/2 track. Holdovers from the Ascot Sound Studios era, the first mixdown decks at Startling Studios were a pair of 1/4" half- track Studer B62 tape decks, serial numbers 2077, and 2078. B62s were probably initially chosen at Ascot for their relatively small size and the excellent sound quality Studer's are renowned for. Ascot/Startling designer Eddie Veale mentions having remote varispeed units for the decks as well.

Very early photos of Ascot Sound Studios show the B62s on small stands, but by the time the sessions for Imagine had started in earnest in May 1971 they were built into a custom cabinet. The cabinet also housed the B62's corresponding Dolby 361 units as well as a Garrard 401 turntable and a Quad 33 preamplifier/control unit. When Ascot was remodeled to become Startling, the Studer's and Garrard turntable were rehoused into a new custom cabinet.

The below left photo shows the cabinet as it looked at Ascot Sound Studios, and the below right photo shows the new cabinet at Startling Studios.

UREI 1176 Peak Limiter (2)

Two "blackface" UREI 1176's are listed in the studio brochure and can be seen in photos of the overhead rack. By 1976, all of the original blackface 1176 revisions (C, D, E, F, G) had been released, so I think these could possibly be any of those versions. The 1176's remained after the rack was reconfigured in the late '70s/early 80s.

First released in 1967, 1176's are an early example, if not the earliest, of a completely solid-state peak limiter. 1176's are renowned for their extremely fast attack and release times and just general unique, aggressive tone.

UREI LA-3A Leveling Amplifier (2)

Two UREI LA-3A Leveling Amplifiers are listed in the studio brochure and can be seen in photos of the overhead rack. It appears that the LA-3A's were removed to make way for more modulation and delay effects when the rack was reconfigured in the late '70s/early '80s.

First released in 1969, the LA-3A is the solid state version of UREI's LA-2A Leveling Amplifier. The LA-3A uses a TB4 optical cell to achieve compression and was especially prized for its smooth sound on mid-range sources such as guitars and vocals.

UREI 527 Graphic Equalizer

The Startling Studios brochure lists a "UREI graphic equalizer". The EQ in this photo seems to most closely resemble a UREI 527. Though a UREI 537 is also a possibility, the shape of the white faders and knob/switch configuration seem to point more towards a 527. Both the 527 and 537 were 1/3 octave, 27-band, solid-state equalizers.

For me, the 527 is perhaps the most curious of the outboard gear at Startling. Graphic equalizers are almost exclusively used in live sound so its inclusion in the rack at Startling Studios is interesting. Its hard to tell for sure if it remained after the overhead rack was reconfigured around 1980/1981, but I think it was in fact removed.


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