Abbey Road Studios RS124 (Mac/Win) Review

Abbey Road Studios RS124 Compressor Plug-In reviewed by EM author Eli Crews in EM October 2010 issue
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The RS124 plug-in offers several similar-looking faceplates, each with its own sonic signature modeled on an actual unit.

Abbey Road Studios'' RS124 compressor plug-in is an emulation of the tube compressor designed by EMI engineers in 1960 and based on the Altec 436B. The main compressor used at Abbey Road for more than a decade, the RS124 was used on many Beatles sessions done at that studio.

The plug-in version of the RS124 ($560 TDM, $335 RTAS/VST/AU) is actually three different compressors, each modeled after a specific hardware unit. You access the one you want by clicking on the serial number and selecting one of the models (60050A, 61010B, or 60070B). This process was one of a number of GUI features that I found nonintuitive and discovered only after reading the manual. Each model has the same set of controls represented by slightly different graphics, and each has a distinct frequency response, compression curve, and attack and release times.

The RS124''s Input control is both the input gain and the threshold level for the compressor. The Output Attenuator can only drop your signal in 5dB or 10dB steps. The Recovery/Hold knob selects one of six release times, but also has red dots between each value, which are the Hold settings. These positions essentially disable the release of the compressor. This was useful on the original RS124s for both preventing the rise in volume that happens at the decay of a note under heavy compression, and for priming the compressor so that you wouldn''t hear the (relatively slow) attack of the RS124 clamping down on the first note of a song or phrase. Once the release is held, the Balance control eases up on the gain-reduction amount for as long as you hold it in. The final control is the software-only SuperFuse, which gives you a much faster release time. Enabling SuperFuse disables the Recovery control (which also isn''t clear without some manual perusing), allowing for more aggressive compression.

I tested both the RTAS and TDM formats on a Mac Pro running an Avid Pro Tools HD2 Accel system. My first tests of the RS124 were with drums. In normal mode, the release times were generally too slow for my liking, although I found a good snare sound with the faster 60070B model. In SuperFuse mode, I could really hear the release of the compressor working, and got some fantastic ambience out of close and room mics (see Web Clips 1 and 2). On the drum bus, each model really brought out a different part of the kit.

The RS124 sounded dreamy on bass, with SuperFuse out, and roughly 15dB to 20dB of gain reduction—way more than I usually want to see. Again, each model had a sound, and I kept choosing 60050A because it had the warmth of the others but a little more definition.

On electric guitar, for softer strummed parts or single lines, I really liked the way the RS124 sounded, especially the 60050A model. For louder, more aggressive chord-playing, none of the settings on the RS124 gave me a fast enough attack; I heard loud pops and thumps at the beginning of each phrase before the compressor kicked in. The solution was to automate the input control on the attacks. I really liked the way the 60050A model (Input at 7, Recovery at 3) brought out presence and immediacy to a quietly sung female vocal (see Web Clips 3 and 4). That same model was also my choice for a loud male lead vocal, but with the Recovery at 1.

As a stereo bus compressor, the RS124 really proved its mettle. If there were strong dynamics in a song, I had to automate the Input control from section to section. Once achieved, though, 20dB of gain reduction sounded like a warm, fuzzy halo around the mix, without making it sound dull. The presence of the vocal and snare increased, even at such high compression amounts. The 60050A had the overall smoothest sound for me, although the other models did interesting things.

The problems I had with the RS124 mostly regard the user interface. Some of these stem from Abbey Road''s attempt to create too perfect a replica of the original hardware, but some interface issues were just oversights, like not graying out the Recovery control when in SuperFuse mode or not providing mouse scroll-wheel control. However, there are many aspects of the RS124 plug-in that I absolutely love. The way the plug-in perfectly cements a stereo mix, for example, will be worth the price of admission for many engineers. This is not the easiest compressor to operate, but it really has a distinct character. You can decide if that character fits your needs by downloading the free 10-day trial version. (iLok dongle and account are necessary.)

Overall Rating (1 through 5): 3
Abbey Road Studios RS124 Product Page