The Legendary Helios Olympic EQ.
In the 60’s a
gentleman called Dick Swettenham worked as an Service/ Design Engineer
for Abbey Road Studios!
In the early 70’s he moved to work for the Legendary Olympic
Studios, where he controlled Design and Maintenance. He approached the owners of Olympic, stating, that if they allowed him to order
the necessary parts, He could build a
desk that was far more musical than anything built at that time. They gave him
When the desk was completed and commissioned most of the
great legendary musicians which included the famous “Jimi Hendrix Masters” started to book time at Olympic. Most British and some American recording
artists were now using Olympic Studios so Chris Blackwell of Island Records
decided that if he built a studio around a Helios Console he would save money
and also have his own studio busy with artists wanting to record on the Helios.
But he was a client of Olympic, it would be impossible for him to request
that Dick Swettenham of Olympic to build a consul that would be in direct
competition with Olympic, so he put up the finance for Dick to go into business, And so Helios was born,
seven Console’s were built for Island which included Mobile Studios.
At this time Mike Oldfield’s
“Tubular Bells” was selling well
for Virgin Records, so Richard Branson had Helios build three Console’s, 1 for The Manor Studios, one for the Manor
Mobil, and one for Townhouse Studios.
The “Who” built
Ramport Studios, around the Helios, The Rolling Stones built the legendary
10cc Built Strawberry Studios and so the story goes on, even
the Beatles built “Apple Studios” around a green Helios Consul, The Helios
became known as the Musicians Choice of Recording Consuls.
Here is only part of the huge list of other famous owners.
Apple Records X 2,-------Basing Street Studios X
2,-------Berwick Street Studios,-------Dawnbreaker Studios, Los Angeles, USA, John
Entwistle,------Funky Features, San Francisco, USA,------Hansa Tonstudio
Berlin, W.Germany,------LaMaisonRouge,------Alvin Lee, HarryJ.Records, Kingston, Jamaica,------IslandRecords, Ronnie Lane,------Ronnie Lane's Mobile
Studio,------Paul McCartney, Magritte Studios,------The Manor X 2,------Steve
Marriott,------Steve Miller,------San Francisco, USA,------Musicland,
Munich,W.Germany, Olympic Sound Studios,------Ramport Studios,------Rolling
Stones Mobile,------Eric Clapton,------Leon Russell, Los Angeles, USA, 10cc
Montreal, Canada,------Topic Records,------Universal Sound,------Steve
Winwood, Ron Wood,------Townhouse
In 1988, I purchased my first Helios, it was the last one
that Helios Built in 1979, I purchased
it from “Townhouse Studios,”.
Later I purchased the “Manor Mobile” and the Eric Clapton Console, I ended up with
seven Helios’s in my workshop, including the “Stones Mobile” that belonged to
Tony Larking of Larking Audio.
With all these Helios Console’s to hand I set about finding
which was the most musical sounding, I discovered there were roughly four
different types of design, dating from the first one built at Olympic Studios.
Dick Swettenham had heard that I had all of these Helios’s
here and telephoned me, to ask if he could visit, We had so much in common as to what the sound of a Console
should have, we both agreed that the
most versatile EQ was the last one that
he built for Townhouse Studios, = Type 78 Active.
Dick was very pleasantly surprised by my knowledge of his
Console’s, the amount of schematics and information that I had collected over
the years, he endorsed me to service
Helios, as he had never ever found the
time, he had also lost most of the schematics and information when Helios
Electronics Ltd closed down in 1979, , but he left me what remaining files that
In 1994 I loaned him a Type 78 to clone, while I continued
to maintain and support those that were still in use throughout the world,
later he returned my Type 78, complete
with drawings for the first prototype, in the meantime I had contacted various
respected Engineers/ Producers, they felt
that the best sounding Mic/ EQ was the ones that he first built using a
Lustraphone Input Transformer which utilised the Centre Tap as a 20dB pad, this was the main Type 69
Mic/ Pre plus Passive EQ, although not as versatile as the Type 78 they all felt
the Type 69 was without doubt the best sounding.
April 1997, I
approached Dick to clone the Type 69, but he stressed that due to unforeseen
circumstances he had not had time to complete the type 78, and also to
find the finance and the time involved
to work on both Types was impossible, we agreed that I should clone the Type
69, 3 months later, we sent Dick a Type
69, he agreed that it was such a perfect
clone, it had even inherited the problems of the original.
i.e. 1 Db 100 Hz
boost, with its EQ switched out, the unit ran at . 775 as opposed to today’s
standard of plus 4dB, it also oscillated when on full Mic Gain, but the sound was identical.
We solved these inherited problems one at a time, by making
comparison checks with the originals at each stage of the modifications.
In September 1997, I
had to visit Helioscentric Studios, to diagnose problems in the Helios Console
It was a real mess, an engineer had tried to interface one
of the early Island Desks with the Ex Alvin Lee Console. It was tragic, we
managed to get the desk working, to enable track laying, but it still
had many problems, time was
booked for us to return to complete the work, but before we left I took
the opportunity to fit two of the new
Type 69 alongside 18 of the originals, this would give every engineer/producer using the Helios the
opportunity to compare the old with the new.
When we returned some weeks later, we were asked could we completely
re-build the desk with all of our New Mic/ EQ’s, plus new Grouper/ Aux Modules
and a complete new 48 Channel Monitor Section.
The original Mic/ EQ’s
that came from the Desk went to collectors in the USA, they were sold
within one week.
Dick was ill at this time, but was very anxious to see the
first new Helios Consul since 1979, but sadly Dick Swettenham passed away in
the April of that year, the Industry
owes him a gratitude for his contributions, he did everything he could to
improve the quality of music recording, he never wished for financial gain,
neither did he have any ego problems, he was a modest man, with a love for
music, he had two assets, one was a technicians brain the other a musicians
mind, I have met many Technical Designers in my 50 years in the Music
Business, most have had that image that
I have learnt to expect, but when Dick Swettenham walked into my workshop he looked more like a Rock
Musician than a technician, but when we got talking I immediately understood
why his Console’s were desired by musicians all over the world. Having now purchased the original registered
company, Helios Electronics Ltd, I only hope that I can continue his work as
well as he did.
We are at this moment doing the final tests, to come up with
the full Technical Specifications on our new product the Helios 1U Twin Type 69
I have also enclosed a Web-Link to helioscentric studios,
the Studio using one of our refurbished original Helios Desks, but utilising
our own new type 69 EQ’s and Grouper Module’s
as well as two of our 24 Channel Monitor Desks.
This desk was purposely re-built for Elvis Costello, and Paul Weller named an album after it
(Director Helios Electronics Ltd)