June 27, 2006: Lauryn Hill has purchased the original Paramount Recording API 2488 console. The console will be used for private use and has recorded Frank Zappa, (Apostrophe), Led Zepplin, and 2 tracks on Hendrix's Electric Ladyland. The console is retrofitted with all original 550a's as well as Neve Flying Faders.
One reason the classic albums of the '70s are so appealing is the way they sound. From Aerosmith to Zappa, well-engineered discs in the early years of that decade began to share sonic characteristics that
are often described as "warm," "full," "smooth," and "big." They benefited from an emerging generation of gear that included recording consoles with brand names likeAPI and Neve. An irony of the digital age is that many of today's studio equipment manufacturers aim to reproduce the tones that were harnessed by the tube-and-rough-capacitor-driven technology of that period, with mixed success.
Like the great albums of that decade, some of the best recording equipment of the '70s has also endured. And those survivors are finding appreciative new fans in contemporary musicians who - having experienced both digital and analog technology - have the budget and the desire to embrace them. Among the latest is Lauryn Hill, who has purchased a vintage API 2488 recording console through Sonic Circus for her personal studio.
The South Orange, New Jersey native came to fame as a member of hip-hop group the Fugees, whose 1996 breakthrough The Score was an intelligent, melodic collage of soul, blues, jazz and reggae influences that sold more than four-millions copies. Two years later Hill stepped into thespotlight with her brilliant solo debut The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Widely considered one of the best albums of the '90s, Miseducation won five of the 11 Grammy Awards it was nominated for in 1999 after a long reign on the charts.
The API 2488 console that Hill purchased this summer has an equally impressive resume. The board was owned by Randy Jackson of the Jacksons and before that it's home for many years was Studio B of the legendary Paramount Recording Studios in Hollywood, California.
There it was used for mixing and overdubs by a roster of artists that includes Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, the Commodores, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Flora Purim, Thelma Houston, Mary Wilson, the Temptationsand George Duke.
"I really like that board in particular," says Dennis Moody, an LA-based engineer and producer who began his career at Paramount in 1975 in Studio B as an assistant to engineer Kerry McNabb on albums like Zappa's Apostrophe and Watson's Ain't That a Bitch. "I was 20 years old and I learned on it so to me that was the standard. That API in particular,
the way it was set up and laid out, was fantastic. And then there was the sound. I thought that was the way a board was always supposed to work and sound. I actually learned how good they are after the fact, going into other studios and wondering, 'How come this doesn't sound as good?' In general these API boards have a warmth that comes from the preamps and equalizer that gives each board its own sound," Moody continues. "And that one in particular has got such great warmth. I didn't appreciate that console until I started working on other consoles that were not as good."
Studio B's API 2488 preceded Moody's arrival at Paramount by about a year, according to studiomanager Michael Kerns. Over the decades the board underwent various modifications, but was ultimately retrofitted
with original 550a modules aswell as Neve Flying Faders to maintain it's historic characteristics and improve its functionality. The sonic beauty that API boards yield is a matter of psychoacoustics, according to Paul Wolf, who bought the Jessop, Maryland-based company, known formally as Automated Processes Inc., in 1985 - 17 years after it began as a maker of soundboards for radio and TV broadcasting."The way technology was in the 1970s did not distinguish from the way sound is heard," Wolf explains. "Anything that has harmonic content can generate endorphins, and I think the older consoles had qualities that enhanced that, so when a designer would get that kind of reaction, they knew they were on the right track. Every channel has some phase shift on those boards. Phase shift formed almost an S-curve on the old APIs, which is pleasing. The problem with digital stuff is that the phase shift is random."
In the realm of vintage boards, the only consoles spoken of in the same reverent terms as APIs are the handiwork of British designer Rupert Neve. "The primary difference between the Neve and API designs was the op amp (operational amplifier) and the transformers," Wolf says. "Rupert was a transformer guy and he had someone design the original discrete op amp. Rupert was very, very knowledgeable about transformers. There's a discrete op amp and transformer in APIs
that were kind of designed in conjunction with each other. It basically used to boil down to the American sound verses the European sound. The APIs were a little more aggressive and had a crunchier low end; the Neve consoles were a little smoother but had a fat midrange and a sweet,smooth high end.
"These days," Wolf continues, "there are a lot of people who like things to sound transparent, but I'm not one of them. Once you mic something you've lost the space anyway, so you might as well try to get that romance back by adding something to the sound. That's what's exciting about the old API and Neve consoles. They release a chemical reaction in your brain."