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Plugging Into Abbey Road

By Frank Wells. On July 10, Abbey Road Studios drew a contingent of pro and consumer audio journalists for the launch of Waves’ Abbey Road Studio 3, a plug-in that emulates the monitoring environment of Studio 3 in software for virtual monitoring with headphones.

London, UK—Abbey Road Studio 3 has a legacy as storied as its larger brethren. Studio 3 is where Pink Floyd recorded The Dark Side of the Moon, Amy Winehouse recorded her final tracks and, more recently, where the band Brockhampton recorded its U.S. Number One album from last year, Iridescence. The studio has hosted recent projects for artists including Paul McCartney, Royal Blood, Florence + The Machine, Nile Rodgers & CHIC, Anderson .Paak, and Yussef Dayes, to name but a few. Part of what draws them there is Studio 3’s large control room, powering what’s known as one of the world’s finest mixing environments.

On July 10, the facility drew a contingent of pro and consumer audio journalists for the launch of Waves’ Abbey Road Studio 3 plug-in. A collaboration between Waves Audio and Abbey Road Studios, the plug-in emulates the monitoring environment of Studio 3 in software for virtual monitoring with headphones; it’s enabled by the combination of Waves Nx technology and 360° measurements of Studio 3’s acoustic characteristics and its loudspeaker complement. The result, said Mick Olesh, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Waves, lets users “virtually pop in to Abbey Road and check their mixes.”

Related: Producer Greg Wells Talks Inside Abbey Road Sessions, by Larry Jaffee, Aug. 12, 2013

To make their case, the launch at Abbey Road featured four DAW stations set up in Studio 3’s live room that let attendees experience stereo and surround mixes through the plug-in and headphones, while the same mixes were cycling in the Studio 3 control room for comparison.

The plug-in combines room emulation (the way sounds from two or more loudspeakers interact within a listening environment), human hearing modeling, and motion tracking of the listener’s head position within a virtual “sweet spot” in an effort to make headphone use practical when making decisions on elements such as spatial imaging, reverb and panning (including surround panning).

The software emulates the control room’s array of speakers—its large Quested Q412 main monitors, B&W 800D midfields for 5.1 and 7.1 mixing, and a pair of SCM25 nearfields from ATC—as well as the way the room acoustically interacts with the loudspeakers.

“It’s a room you can trust,” said Mirek Stiles, Abbey Road’s head of audio products. Mixes from Studio 3 “translate to the outside world in meaningful way,” he said. “Sometimes people are forced into situations where they’ve got to make an important decision over headphones. This [plug-in] gives them a fighting chance.”

Related: The Road to History: Inside Abbey Road Studios, by Christopher Walsh, Sep. 22, 2009

While the Studio 3 control room is amply sized, Waves product manager Yoni Zlotkin noted, “The room has a very short and dry and precise character. The Questeds have lots of low end, and you really hear that rolling and rumbling in the room. You get this sense of sustain in the low end in the room, and it comes through the plug-in. The B&Ws are a great Hi-Fi reference, and they sound great for surround. The ATC nearfields are more isolated from the room acoustics because they’re closer up to the mixer; there’s less room and more speaker.”

Adaptation for individual headphones is based on measurements of the various headphone models specifically supported. “We developed an inverse fitting and smoothing of the curves,” said Zlotkin. “It’s pretty subtle. It just touches it where each headphone might have quirks in their curves. I think the plug-in also works great even without needing to correct professional headphones.

Related: Waves, Abbey Road Team for Mixing Plug-In, July 10, 2019

“Some users might experience the stereo field as being too wide or too narrow because their head size varies from the default,” explained Zlotkin. The solution is a tweakable head circumference parameter included in the feature set.

While head tracking—using a webcam to track head movement +/-30° or, for faster and more accurate capture of a full 360° of rotational motion, by using the optional Nx Head Tracker device—can be turned off within the plug-in’s control panel, Zlotkin noted, “The head movements you naturally do affect the sound and reinforce the spatial image your mind perceives.” When monitoring in surround, he added, “even the slightest head movement instantly reveals the front from back.”

The Abbey Road Studio 3 monitoring plug-in is “another tool in your arsenal,” Stiles concluded. “For me, and I think for most people it’ll be the same, once you switch it off, you miss it.”

Waves Audio •

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