This month, we’re revisiting a couple of old favorites: the Helios Type 69 EQ and UA’s own LA-3A compressor. Entire albums have been mixed with just a Helios console and a couple of compressors, typically one optical (like the LA-3A or LA-2A), and one FET (like an 1176LN). The optical compressors were typically used for vocals, guitars, and bass. The faster FET compressors were used on sources like drums and percussion, or any instrument that had ever-changing dynamics that needed the attack and release tailored to the source.
While the EQ may seem limited at first glance, it has been used by The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, The Who, Roxy Music, Queen, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley, just to name a few. Moreover, many great musicians of the era purchased Helios consoles for their personal use. Of all the Helios consoles produced between 1969 and 1979, the original "Type 69" is considered the most musical, and that’s the one we based our model on.
The Helios is definitely quirky, but very useful. It tends to be used on guitars because of its midrange control coupled with the high frequency shelf. The midrange band is semi-parametric, and like the Harrison and Pultec EQs, the Q (or bandwidth) gets sharper as you increase the gain. One nice trick to fatten up guitars and get them to poke out of the mix is to crank up the gain on the midrange band at 2.8 or 3.5 kHz (or whatever frequency gets the guitar to stick out), then tame the high frequencies by setting the high shelf at -3 or -6 dB. Then, depending on the situation with the bass, you can roll off a little low end with the low shelf, or give it a boost.
A guitar with a decent midrange boost will most likely need a compressor to follow it, and a nice example of a compressor for guitar is the LA-3A. When first introduced, the solid-state LA-3A offered a new sound in optical gain reduction, with faster attack and release characteristics that were noticeably different from its predecessor, the LA-2A. Its unique compression characteristics make it a favorite for upper-midrange heavy sources like male vocal and electric guitar.
The Helios is definitely quirky, but very useful.
The fast attack and release and two controls make it very easy to set up and a great-sounding compressor on drum overheads, bringing out the ambience of a room very well.
Experimenting with the Limit switch brings out a very different sound at higher compression settings. For example, you can use the LA-3A on a snare in Limit mode, getting a lot of gain reduction, but then mix that underneath a dry version of the snare to create a very punchy and full-sounding snare. This is a good trick on drum overheads as well.
Check out the videos to see and hear examples of the Helios EQ and LA-3A in action!