The words “Abbey Road” bring to mind a stream of iconic images that include the Beatles hard at work on their album of the same name and Pink Floyd tracking The Dark Side of the Moon. But the legendary facility–known as EMI Studios before 1970–has not only been where many great albums have been recorded, it is also where many of them have been mastered. Now Abbey Road has made it easy for mere mortals to have their albums mastered there, too, using the studio’s Online Mastering service.
“We decided to offer an alternative to our 175 [pounds sterling] hourly rate, to suit a wider range of customers,” explains Lucy Launder, Head of Mastering and Video Services. “At the hourly rate, the client can attend the session with the engineer of their choice, but with our online service they are charged a flat rate per song, and I allocate their job to one of our expert engineers. We are still able to honor specific requests, however; for example a classical project will be allocated to an engineer with more classical experience.” The online CD mastering rate is 90 [pounds sterling] per song–currently the equivalent of $149 U.S.–and vinyl pricing is based on disc format (7″ or 12″ single, or LP album).
Once you have registered at abbeyroadonlinemastering.com, you can upload up to 2GB of uncompressed WAV or AIFF files (16- or 24-bit/44.1kHz or higher) to a secure server. Users may log specific requests during the registration process, with follow-up communication via email if desired. Once the tracks have been mastered, which takes no longer than five working days, users receive notification that they are ready for download. Abbey Road includes a reference for listening, and the finished master is provided as either as a WAV file, downloadable DDP Image file, or an audio PMCD. Vinyl is provided in the format requested.
Abbey Road’s mastering suites feature vintage EMI TG 12410 analog mastering consoles and SADIE 5 PCM8 DAWs: Meyer and B&W monitors: Benchmark and Apogee converters; Prism Sound, Weiss, Junger, SPL and TC Electronic outboard processors: CEDAR software plug-ins; and Neumann cutting lathes.
To demonstrate the process, Abbey Road mastered a track from my upcoming album, Hologramatron. I created an online account following the simple instructions and quickly up loaded a 24-bit/48kHz AIFF file. Veteran engineer Geoff Pesche mastered “Stars of Sayulita”, a track featuring vocals by Harry Manx and Deborah Holland, and relatively lush instrumentation that includes Moog Guitar and Robert Powell’s pedal– and lap-steel guitars.
Pesche used SADIE to play the digital audio into an Apogee Rosetta converter, and then routed the analog signal to the TG console for equalization. Compression and additional equalization were handled by Prism Sound Maselec MLA-2 and Maselec MEA-2 processors, before the audio was converted back to digital (via the Apogee) and finished off with a Junger accent2 hardware digital limiter.
The results? Expert use of compression and limiting increased the level dramatically without compromising the dynamic range-no mean feat-though other differences were difficult to detect. Visit guitarplayer.com to compare the unmastered and mastered versions of “Stars of Sayulita” for yourself, as well as to read an interview with Geoff Pesche in which he discusses his mastering philosophy.