Hands-On Review:Propellerhead® Abbey Road Keyboards ReFill Collection
Abbey Road arrives in your Reason® rack
By David Dolan, Line 6 Product Marketing Manager
As both a musician and a lover of music (good thing for a musician to be, don’t you think?), I have a wide range of tastes and my love for music spans many styles and decades. The manner in which I create is a reflection of that love, and it’s exemplified in a number of ways. One of them is that, while I depend on some of the most exciting technology available when it comes to composing and recording, I also love, respect, and often strive for the sounds of the past. Given that, you can see how "excited" and "curious" wouldn’t fully describe my feelings when an advance copy of Propellerhead’s new ReFill, Abbey Road Keyboards, landed in my lap.
A ReFill, in case you’re not a seasoned Reason® user (though, trust me, you want to be!), is a kind of component package for Reason that contains patches, samples, REX files and Song files. It essentially allows you to infinitely expand Propellerhead’s state-of-the-art system with more sounds. Abbey Road Keyboards is the ReFill that gives you an ensemble of specific legendary instruments, recorded in their original legendary manner, with the original legendary mics, right there in the room where the legends were first created. I open the box and it practically screams "welcome to your session at Abbey Road!"
You’ve heard of Abbey Road, you’ve seen the album cover, you know how loved and respected it is, but are you aware of the incredible details that turned it into the most respected studio anywhere? I used to fall asleep during history class in school, but here’s a little history lesson I would have stayed awake for, and you should too …
In 1929 EMI took a huge leap forward and over two years they created the world’s first custom-built recording studio. A sixteen-room residence with nine bedrooms(!), five reception rooms, two servant rooms, a wine cellar and 250-foot-long garden was converted into a premier recording studio. With that began a saga of nearly eighty years that has attracted the most famous musicians from around the world. The respect and stature of Abbey Road, at its core, is due to its recording equipment, unique construction, ambiance, the top engineers and remarkable acoustics. In short, it has helped capture some of the most inspired musical moments of our time.
The Struggle To Reach Abbey Road
As someone who writes and records, I’d have to say that I’ve been pretty lucky in that I have a lot of great gear to work with. But, it’s not like I could just book myself a session at Abbey Road and hire in top-notch session players and engineers when I want to work on my next album. Until now. Like most musicians with these kinds of aspirations, I’ve faced a constant struggle between being able to capture the "Abbey Road" sound and being able to bring that same tone to my home studio. I’ve heard stories about people doing some wild things to recapture this sound, and I have to admit that I’ve tried a few of them myself. Whether it’s recording in the bathroom with a 100-foot cable to the basement, clearing out the dining room furniture or removing all the paintings from the wall, it’s a pursuit to capture the soul of the record. Regardless of how meticulous you are in the signal process or tailoring the room’s acoustics, it’s been virtually impossible to recapture the acoustics of Abbey Road.
Of the individual studios at Abbey Road, the one chosen by most artists because of its stellar history is Studio Two. The dimensions include a 28-foot-high ceiling and over 2,280 square feet of space—easily large enough to comfortably house a full orchestra. Its acoustics are meticulously tuned with suspended bass traps, hanging quilted curtains and four 10' by 20' acoustically treated panels that swing out from the walls so that the total room size can be temporarily reduced.
Thinking about the layout of the room, you can almost be instantly transported to Abbey Road as we listen to the classic recordings made there. These qualities encompass the soul of the recording and continue to lure us deeper into our favorite albums. Abbey Road Keyboards is a stunning Propellerhead ReFill that has captured these Abbey Road characteristics and has allowed us to bring Abbey Road home with us. The wait is over.
The Ghosts Are In The Room
Far less than the plane ticket to the UK, the Abbey Road Keyboards ReFill is priced at MSRP $229, and it’s more than a bargain. Look at what’s living inside this nicely put together little box: The Abbey Road Keyboards includes the sound of seven of the most illustrious instruments of our time, including*:
Everything was recorded on location using the original mics, outboard and vintage mixing desk from Abbey Road’s Studio Two, recreating not only the sound of the instruments themselves, but the very signal paths, technology, and recording techniques that contribute to the Abbey Road sound. Each instrument was captured using multiple microphones placed at different locations in Studio Two’s beautiful-sounding recording space, allowing for full ambience control in Reason.
When I first got the ReFill, I was pretty amazed with Propellerhead’s attention to detail. For anyone interested in the gear, consoles, microphones or signal process/paths, the beautifully designed "Guide to Abbey Road Keyboards" alone is perfect for anyone who’s interested in recording. It’s an intense read, but I suggest you glance at it, because it really clues you in on the history behind the instruments whose sounds you’ll be playing.
The ReFill comes with two disks: one has 16-bit samples, the other has 24-bit samples. To reduce the amount of CPU usage, I start working with the 16-Bit ReFill while I create my songs. When the song is complete, I then switch the 16-Bit ReFill with the 24-Bit to take advantage of the higher resolution.
The installation is pretty easy and is similar to the previous ReFills. All you have to do is drag the ReFill files from the DVD-ROM of your choice (16- or 24-bit) to the folder where you keep your ReFills. That’s it. Abbey Road Keyboards contains four ReFills. The first, Abbey Road Keyboards, is filled with patches for all the instruments. The other three, Abbey Road Samples 1-3, contain the source material that is needed to load the patches.
You’ve probably played thousands of sampled sounds before and no doubt you’ve heard the good, the bad, and the ugly. What Propellerhead does, however, is in a whole other league. Through Propellerhead’s unique Hypersampling technique, they are able to create a very real experience when playing these amazing instruments and they do this by recording samples of each instrument at different velocity levels. Basically, they match up the feel of the instrument so that if I hit my controller key softly, the sample sound is soft. When I hit the controller hard, the sound is hard. In addition, Propellerhead utilizes a number of other techniques during their Hypersampling process: multiple microphones are used for capturing and controlling distance, ambience, and character (Mrs. Mills, for example, was sampled using 11 mics!); recording multiple "same velocity" samples allows the Reason NN-XT sampler to automatically alternate between sets of similar sounding samples for a more realistic performance, and multiple variation sampling captures the human nuances of musicianship.
In the end, it’s like playing the original instruments. The feel of Abbey Road Keyboards is so good that when I shut my eyes and play the Mrs. Mills pianos, it feels like I’m immediately transported to Studio 2.
Propellerhead has always been known for their reliability and attention to detail but Abbey Road Keyboards takes it to a new level. With six keyboards and tubular bells, we’re given access to arguably some of the finest and most famous keyboards of all time and at the same time we’re able to bring the magical characteristics of Abbey Road home with us.