The Helios Type 69 is a preamp and EQ module adapted from the infamous Helios consoles of the 1970s. While perhaps not quite the household name of Neve or API, the Helios sound is an entity unto itself and is peppered across some of rock music’s most iconic moments, with The Who, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones all cutting records on these legendary desks.
As with much of the world’s now-celebrated recording equipment, the Helios story starts in the 1960s with a technical engineer cultivating a design to fit the needs of a particular recording studio. Dick Swettenham, who began his career servicing and designing equipment for Abbey Road, did just this for Olympic Studios, where the first Helios console was born. With a sound not quite like anything else, notoriety spread and musicians began to flock to Olympic. As such, more were commissioned, including some for iconic locations like The Beatles’ Apple Studios, the Rolling Stones’ ‘Stones Mobile’ and The Who’s Studios.
Decades on, Helios was reborn with the Type 69 (deemed to be the best version of all of the Helios input modules) in a standalone format, built by the now-owner of Helios Electronics, Tony Arnold. Many years of discussions with the original designer, analysis and testing produced an almost identical sounding reissue of the preamp and equaliser combo. Praised for its incredible musical presentation of anything that goes through it, the preamp has an openness without being at all hyped. True to the original design, the circuit introduces a slight bump at 100Hz, even with the EQ disengaged. While not sounding bad, the reissue features the ability to switch this out for a flatter response. The EQ section sounds quite unlike anything else out there. It’s three bands feature an addictively pleasant fixed 10kHz shelf, a mid band with selectable centre points ranging from 700Hz to 16kHz and a low band that boosts between 30Hz and 400Hz or filters under 70Hz in varying degrees of steepness. Additionally, there is a separate, quite severe filter that can be set at 40Hz or 80Hz. The EQ, like the preamp, has a very musical quality to it. Unlike some EQs, it sounds great throughout the whole range of its cutting or boosting and the particular frequency points chosen work well for just about anything. Different settings on this EQ tend just sound different, rather than better or worst.
One of the unsung heroes of the recording world, the Helios Type 69 tends to win the hearts of most engineers that get the chance to use them. For capturing vocals, electric guitars and just about any natural acoustic sound, it delivers honestly and with plenty of vibe.
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