The

Recording Session

Vault

The Trident A-Range

A Classic Console From the Golden Age of Music

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One of the final remaining Trident A-Range consoles. This legendary console is located at Studio Bell of the National Music Centre of Canada. This image appears through the courtesy of Studio Bell of the National Music Centre of Canada. This photograph was taken by and is credited to Mr. Brandon Wallis.

In 1967, Trident Studios opened for business in the heart of London. It quickly became notable for bringing new technologies onto the recording scene in London, including being among the first studios to offer both eight-track analog tape machines for recording and Dolby Noise Reduction. The recording studio facility also caught the eye of some of the greatest acts in recording history, including the Beatles, who would record one of the greatest hit songs of all time, “Hey, Jude,” in the studio in 1968. As the studio gained in prominence, so did its need for a new console to match the tremendous evolution in technologies that were occurring during this period of the late 1960s and into the early 1970s. With the growth in analog multitrack recording technologies— as eight track analog tape machines gave way to the development of sixteen-track analog tape machines by 1971, it became clear that the studio would need a new console to facilitate a workflow that would require more inputs and routing flexibility. At first, the studio owners reached out to other manufacturers and technical designers, including Rupert Neve, but, were left dissatisfied with what they were being offered. So, in 1971, the engineering team at the venerable studio facility decided to create their very own console and— as a result— the Trident A-Range was born and so, too, was a new company— Trident Audio Developments.

Up to this point in the history of music recording, it was not entirely unusual for recording studio facilities to design and construct their own consoles. For example, the consoles at Abbey Road Recording Studios were entirely designed by the engineering teams at the studio facility, including the famed REDD and TG12345 desks. Even Helios, a console manufacturing company that would eventually compete with both Neve and Trident for customers in the early days of console manufacturing, was born out of a custom-designed console for the famed Olympic Recording Studios complex in London. The same reasons which led to the creation of Trident Audio Developments— among them, namely, the growth in the capability of analog multi-track recording technologies— led to the growth of other new console manufacturing companies, most of whom, we would recognize as industry leaders today— such as API and SSL. At the time, there were also a number of smaller companies, and even individual engineers, such as, Daniel Flickinger, who would create custom consoles for both prominent artists and the growing recording studio landscape. Out of this growth, Trident, Neve and Helios emerged early on as major competitors. The Trident A-Range console was the flagship product made by the company and from 1971-1975, it eventually produced thirteen of them for sale to recording studio facilities around the world.

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Malcolm Toft works on the design of the original Trident A-Range console in 1971. Image courtesy-- Malcolm Toft

In the summer of 1996, I was offered a golden opportunity to intern at OmniSound Recording Studios in Nashville, Tennessee, which at that time was being managed by a very talented young engineer named Patrick Kelly, who was assisted by the house engineer, another incredible talent in his own right— Aaron Swihart. I was very fortunate to be able to work with this very talented staff in a studio which had two rooms— an A-room in which there was a Trident A-Range console, and a B-room which contained a Trident 80B. As an intern, I had the opportunity to help set-up and tear down sessions for Gene Eichelberger, a legendary, Nashville-based recording studio engineer, who loved using the Trident A-Range console and had been the studio manager at the Bennett House, (which like a lot of iconic Nashville studios, no longer exists) which also featured a Trident A-Range console in the facility. Gene was kind enough to give me a tour of the console, and after learning some tips and tricks from both Patrick and Aaron, I had a few opportunities to work with the console on my own— mostly doing rough mixes. It is safe to say, that the first console that I ever had the opportunity to sit behind and do any real meaningful work on was the Trident A-Range. At the time, it was a console that seemed a bit out of place, as digital was looming just over the horizon. But, it was very easy to use, and it sounded absolutely incredible. After my departure, and a change in management, it was later replaced by a large-format API console, which is still in use in the A-room at OmniSound Recording Studios to this day. The first song that I had the opportunity to mix, as a rough, on the Trident A-Range at OmniSound, was “Do Right By Me,” performed by soon-to-be country music star, Lorrie Morgan, as a demo on two-inch analog tape in the mid-1980s at the studio, and later cut by Reba McEntire. As a young intern, I had often wondered (to myself) why any great recording studio facility would have such an old console— but, after working with it in my very first evening alone in the studio, it became apparent to me, that this console was just special. And this evening, as I compose this essay, I still find myself dreaming at times about having the opportunity to both own and care for a vintage, or even a new Trident console. The Trident A-Range was a special console for me, but, it also played a very important role in the history of the recording of popular music.

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Malcolm Toft introduces a Trident A-Range in Japan in 1974. Image courtesy-- Malcolm Toft

To compile a list of the artists that have recorded their albums through a Trident A-Range would result in a paper that would be virtually endless. It might be easier to write an essay about the Trident A-Range by spending my time discussing who walked into a recording studio between 1972 and 1985 and did not record their album through one of these amazing consoles. Each of the former Beatles (George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr), Aerosmith, David Bowie, Dolly Parton, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, Queen, Elton John, Genesis, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, Kiss, Led Zeppelin, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Journey, John Cougar Mellencamp, Metallica, Neil Diamond, Ray Charles, Roy Orbison, Stevie Wonder, The Cars, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Motley Crue, B.B. King, Barbara Streisand, Rod Stewart, Rush, Frank Sinatra, Carly Simon, and Elton John recorded their hit songs through a Trident A-Range console and, this is by no means an exhaustive list. Some of the greatest music EVER recorded came to us through a Trident A-Range console and later, through the Trident 80B— another great console from Trident Audio Developments and one that I, too, have spent some time working on and will soon feature in another essay for this website. The A-Range is a special console and when the final model is retired from service, it is my opinion that it should be placed in a museum and cared for with the dignity, respect,  grace, and honor that any great masterpiece of pioneering technology should be accorded.

The question always becomes, especially for those among you who did not have the privilege to work on one— how does a Trident A-Range actually sound in the control room? Compared to a Neve, SSL, or API console of today, it might surprise you that the A-Range has a much smoother, creamier, and more musical and robust sonic signature than any of the console models from those manufacturers on the market today. Having also heard vintage consoles from each of the major manufacturers— all of which, are excellent desks— it is intriguing to describe how they sound compared to the Trident A-Range. The Trident A-Range has a very musical quality to it, and a special smoothness to its sonic signature. It’s not as clear or as bright as an API console, it’s not as punchy as an SSL, nor is it quite as rich or larger-than-life sounding in its sonic signature as a vintage Neve. It sounded just about right— and much like its younger sibling, the Trident 80B, it is unique to hear one, much less to be able to record through one in your studio, or to be fortunate enough to have one in the hands of a great engineer on your next project. As of this writing, I have found that only six of the original thirteen Trident A-Range consoles still remain fully active in recording studios around the world. According to my research, the following studio facilities still have a fully-functioning Trident A-Range console— EastWest Studios (the historic and world famous- Studio 3) in Hollywood, California; New Monkey Studio in Van Nuys, California;  Control Room A in Studio Bell of the National Music Center in Calgary, Canada; Cherokee Studios in Los Angeles, California; The Bombfactory Recording Studios in Los Angeles, California; and Studio A in the studios of the Avast Recording Company in Seattle, Washington.

For those of you who have not had the great fortune to have worked in a recording studio that has a Trident A-Range console, in my experience, it was perhaps one of the easiest desks to learn to use. It was built by recording engineers for the express purpose of recording popular music. By design, the Trident A-Range was a split console which is a bit of a different animal compared to the inline console designs that most engineers and their teams find themselves sitting behind in recording studio facilities today. Instead of sending a signal to a DAW, or to tape and having that signal return to you on the same channel, a split console had a different workflow— it also made them behemoths in the studio, too, as the A-Range was an incredibly large console in its physical footprint. A split console, like the Trident A-Range, had three sections— a master section which controlled the volume of summed signals; a section which sent signals to tape, and a return, or mix section where you could hear your signals coming back from your recording device— which is how the console would be operated during a tracking session. We have to keep in mind that the Trident A-Range was one of the very first large-format consoles to be produced with the idea of working with first sixteen-track and then later, twenty-four track analog recording in mind in 1971. In a mixing session, the A-Range was perhaps one of the easiest consoles to use and you had on each channel (at your complete disposal) perhaps one of the most beautiful, intuitive, and powerful equalization sections to use in the history of professional audio. 

One of the true hallmarks of the Trident A-Range was its powerful and extremely musical equalization section that was featured on each of its channels. When you sit in front of a Trident A-Range console, a channel strip would have the following functions and features from top to bottom. Just below the bussing matrix, the Trident A-Range featured an extremely musical and classic microphone pre-amp. Below the pre-amp, was the classical Trident A-Range equalization section, which was unique in how it both worked and of course, sounded. At the top of the equalization section, was a series of low pass filters (which featured the following thresholds— 9K, 12K, and 15K). Below the high pass filter, was the first section of the powerful equalizer— the high frequency section—which featured two pots with detents that allowed you to be able to select frequencies from 3,5,7, and 9K on the right-hand side, and to select frequencies from 8,10,12, and 15K on the left-hand side. Below the pots, you used faders to boost or cut your selected frequencies. Of course, the lower section worked in exactly the same fashion, in that you used two pots with detents to select your frequencies— the one on the left allowed you to select from 50Hz, 80Hz, 100Hz, and 150Hz, while the one on the right allowed you to select from 250Hz, 500Hz, 1K, and 2K. And again, you used faders to boost or cut your selected frequencies. Below the low frequency section, was a series of high pass filters (which featured the following thresholds— 25Hz, 50Hz, and 100Hz). At the bottom of the equalization section, there were switches which allowed you to cut the equalization section, or see the after fader level, plus, there was a mute switch and a yellow overload light. It was incredibly easy and intuitive to use, plus, it sounded incredible and was extremely powerful and responsive. While it sounded great on just about any source, I have always thought that it was probably one of the best equalization sections for rock music, in particular, because it sounded so good on the following sources: drums, bass, and electric guitars. The equalization section was an important component of the magic of the Trident A-Range sound. Below the equalization section was a large pot with detents,  for panning the channel signal in the stereo field and then the echo, or aux send matrix— which featured a fader which allowed you to determine the amount of signal that you might send to a reverb unit after selecting which send to use, for example, and it also had a pre or post fader switch. At the bottom of the channel strip, of course, was the channel fader which controlled the channel volume. As a system, it was incredibly easy and intuitive to use— just like any component of the design of the Trident A-Range console. It was built and designed to record great music.


 

Below: Trident Audio Developments has kept a crucial part of the Trident A-Range console alive with its dual-channel preamp and equalization unit. Image courtesy of the PMI Audio Group.

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Above: Trident Audio Developments has kept an important component of the Trident A-Range console alive with its 500-series equalization unit. Image courtesy of the PMI Audio Group.

The Trident A-Range was among the first consoles to be produced for sale and while there were some customizable features— such as the colors of the frames, for the most part, each of the consoles were similar and easily recognizable in both design and function. As I noted a bit earlier in the essay, the concept of producing consoles for music production was a relatively new one and it established Trident Audio Developments as a venerable audio production company that from 1971-1994, was a major competitor in the large-format console design business along with Neve, MCI, Helios, SSL, and API. The A-Range gave way to console designs that were smaller in footprint from the company, including, the also legendary, Trident 80B. Always on the cutting-edge, Trident even began to foray into designing an early digital consoles, known as the DI-AN, in 1986. However, by the mid-1990s, Trident had begun to cease production on its line of consoles and the company went through a very turbulent period, until it was purchased, along with the intellectual property rights— by the PMI Audio Group in 2010. In 2015, the new Trident Audio Developments, now a part of PMI Audio Group, launched a new line-up of consoles— the Trident 88, a desk for large recording studio facilities; the Trident 78, a desk that is aimed at the small commercial studio market; and the Trident 68, a desk that is targeted at the home recording studio market. Each of the new consoles feature the legendary Trident sound and powerful equalization sections which have largely been derived from the 80-series consoles. Each of the new consoles have also been designed by Taz Bhogul, who had been a member of the engineering team which designed the celebrated Trident 80C console in 1986. But, at Trident Audio Developments, the Trident A-Range lives on, as the company also produces a fabulous Trident A-Range Module— a two-channel rack mount unit which features two A-Range preamps and equalization sections, and also, a sweet-sounding, Trident A-Range 500-series equalization module. The company produces 500-series racks, plus, both 500-series equalization and filter modules that are derived from the Trident 80B console. The company produces a rack mount version of the Trident 80B channel strip, as well, which also contains two 80B preamps and equalization sections. It also produces a series of digital software plug-ins, including a Trident 80B equalization plug-in.

Since 2015, Trident Audio Developments has been back in the game and is now once again, competing at center stage— but, the legendary Trident name all began with the historic studio facility and the Trident A-Range console that it produced during the twilight of the Golden Age of Music. It is a classic console from the Golden Age of Music, and it gave us the legendary sounds of the period— it is the Trident A-Range console.

Special Note--

If you would like to learn more about the product offerings from Trident Audio Developments, please visit their website at www.tridentaudiodevelopments.com. Trident Audio Developments is a part of the PMI Audio Group. You can visit their website at www.pmiaudio.com.

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One of the final remaining Trident A-Range consoles. This legendary console is located at Studio Bell of the National Music Centre of Canada. This image appears through the courtesy of Studio Bell of the National Music Centre of Canada. This photograph was taken by and is credited to Mr. Brandon Wallis.

If you wish to listen to a Trident A-Range 500-Series EQ module in action, click the link the button to watch the video on YouTube. This link is external and in not affiliated with this website.

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Special Thanks and Acknowledgement

I would like to take a moment to thank the following individuals for their time, energy and important contributions to the development of the article about the Trident A-Range console in the Recording Session Vault educational website project.

Mr. Malcolm Toft of MPower Systems

Mr. Justin Hyatt of the PMI Audio Group

Ms. Julijana Capone of Studio Bell of the National Music Centre of Canada