H2 Audio: Recreating the sound of rock ‘n’ roll

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H2 Audio: Recreating the sound of rock ‘n’ roll

Words by Andy Lloyd-Russell

There are few audio companies these days that can be championed for authentically reviving the sound of rock ‘n’ roll, and for those not already in the know, H2 Audio are doing just that

Founded in 2018 by Al Sutton (Grammy Award winning producer/Acme Audio owner), Tim Mead (Q2 Audio founder), and Perry Tell (producer, engineer, songwriter, entrepreneur), H2 Audio have gone about painstakingly recreating the coveted design and most importantly, the legendary sound of the Helios consoles, originally found in Olympic Studios, London. 

Read all the latest features, interviews and how-to columns here.

For the uninitiated, Helios consoles famously produced some of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll records the world has ever known. The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, David Bowie, Elton John, ELO, Iggy Pop, Dire Straits, Supertramp, Motörhead, (you’re probably starting to get the picture), all made their seminal records with a Helios console at the helm. 

Mastermind and founder of Helios Electronics, Dick Swettenham had started his career as a maintenance tech at none other than Abbey Road Studios in the 1950s, before finally landing at Olympic Studios as technical director, where he was able to implement his designs. During this time and before landing on his coveted Helios console, Mr Swettenham introduced the world’s first professional transistor-based console (no biggy), which was installed into Olympic Studios. It wasn’t until 1969 that the official Helios designs were introduced though and word spread quickly of the revolutionary design and sound of the Helios console at Olympic; and so too did the orders from other studios, artists, and alike. 

The original wraparound console designs were like stepping onto the bridge of the Starship Enterprise; with their sharply, almost vertically-angled channel strips and VU meter bridge and flat fader banks below, they were stratospheric. But what made these consoles so special and what they quickly became so known for was the “Type 69” preamp and EQ channel strip. These fastidiously designed and gorgeously musical channel strips were based around Lustraphone transformers at the input stage, and an inductor-based EQ design, giving them their distinct sonic footprint that so many from engineers to musicians came to love and adore. 

With only around 50 consoles ever produced over the company’s decade-long tenure before closure in 1979, the decades which followed earned Helios consoles a mythical status. Many of the consoles were broken down and separated into rack unit channel strips, leaving only a handful of original consoles in full commission; holding insurmountable value for those that still own one of the remaining originals. 

With all of this nutrient-rich heritage and history of Helios, it’s no wonder that H2 Audio has created some serious excitement in the audio community. While there have been numerous other clones, copies, rip-offs and alike, it’s fair to say no other company until now has brought such a detailed and pinpoint accurate recreation of the classic Helios Type 69 design as H2 Audio have. 

It would seem that the H2 Audio team not only understand the true value of such a meticulous recreation that this design brings, but the importance of carrying it into an accessible format, that being the ever popular 500-series. Smartly, H2 Audio haven’t tried to cram all of the Type 69 character and charm into one 500-series module, but instead opting for two separate single slot units, being the 2128 preamp and 5011 EQ modules. This not only gives people the option of choosing one, the other or both (for the full channel strip experience), but importantly helps maintain a no-compromise, no-corners-cut-like ethic to the design, maintaining electronic and sonic integrity throughout.  

(Image: Vintage King)

For those familiar with the original Helios channel strips will likely find the layout and aesthetic of both the 2128 and 5011 modules rather comforting. Sporting the same dark grey/black colour and sturdy controls, each module oozes its Helios inspired heritage, with all the quirks and characterful design of the original. Both modules promise the same heft, weight and distinct sonic flavour of the Type 69 strip, albeit in a 500-series rack, and for those chasing the sounds of the aforementioned artists and their accompanying records, these modules couldn’t be more authentic, nor in a more convenient package. 

H2 Audio have indeed thought of it all, as for those not sporting a 500-series rack need not worry, as the traditional channel strip rack layout of 0011 channel strip will likely strike as very appealing. This module boasts the full complement of the 2128 preamp 5011 EQ section (or more accurately, all the bells and whistles of the Type 69 channel strip), in one convenient module. As one can imagine, an eight channel rack of these modules is sure to put an ear to ear grin on any engineer’s face, be it an enthusiast of the original console or those simply wanting some of that old school rock ‘n’ roll flavour. 

It’s fair to say that H2 Audio have struck while the iron’s hot, with many of today’s record productions requiring the convenience of modern formatting and flexibility, paired with the distinct sonic character of classic vintage design. Having earned its place in rock ‘n’ roll history and deemed a “holy grail” console of its time, thankfully the sound of Helios has been revived with brilliant authenticity; likely to be heard on a new generation of records. The authentic sound of a classic is reborn, into the modern era. 

Head to H2 Audio for more information. For local enquiries, get in touch with Mixmasters.