How To Get The Classic Studio Sound: 80s Rock, Pop and Hip-Hop

Hairspray that could punch a hole in the ozone layer, mobile phones the size of a brick and shoulder pads that would get you stuck in a door… welcome to the 80s! It’s the decade when electronics shrank, memory became cheaper and ways to manipulate audio became more extreme. Harrison 32C Channel EQ Universal Audio […]

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Hairspray that could punch a hole in the ozone layer, mobile phones the size of a brick and shoulder pads that would get you stuck in a door… welcome to the 80s! It’s the decade when electronics shrank, memory became cheaper and ways to manipulate audio became more extreme.


Harrison 32C Channel EQ

Universal Audio

It almost makes me cry with delight that in 1982, Michael Jackson’s Thriller was mixed on this unbelievable desk – and that now we can use it to mix our own tracks. With its colourful, smooth high-end response, this channel EQ is hands-on fun. The interface is so playful, you’ll have a great time being super-creative with it.

Eventide H3000 Factory


The H3000 Factory combines the pitch, delay, modulation and filtering FX that made the original H3000 Ultra-Harmonizer one of the most groundbreaking and coveted studio units of all time. The FX options here go from sublime micro-pitch chorus to crazy alien mayhem! Used in virtually every major studio around the world since 1986, this is the classic experimental-modulation sound heard on many records. You only need to flick through the patches to hear what this legendary piece of kit has inspired.

Tutorial: 80s Drums

To achieve that classic 80s drum sound, I’ve used the Cubase drum machine Groove Agent to make an acoustic drum groove. I added a Gate effect to take out the room reverb tails from the samples, and then sent a Send to the AMS RMX16 digital reverb. Selecting NONLIN 2 mode is the way to authentic 80s glory! I increased the Decay time to 5.0. Look carefully to spot the mixdown on the second track for the punchy Non-Linear reverb, famous on so many hit tracks.

SSL 4000 G Bus

Universal Audio

You want the famous glue to make your mixes bigger, more powerful and punchy? Look no further than the SSL 4000 G Bus. More platinum records than can be listed have been mixed through a SSL 4000 G Bus, and Universal Audio says that its engineers “meticulously remodelled every nuance of the in-console and FX G384 rackmount specimens, including their unique CV (control voltage) summing”. The plug-in also includes presets from famous producers.

Tube-Tech PE 1C and ME 1B

Universal Audio

Danish company Tube-Tech has been crafting ultra-boutique hardware for over 30 years. The PE 1C and ME 1B EQs are based on vintage Pultec EQs – they’re iconic and found in high-end studios worldwide. Particularly renowned for their ability to sculpt the tone of guitars, they also work wonders on a range of instruments, busses and mixes. UA’s authentic emulations of Tube-Tech’s valve-driven EQs bring this classic sound to your studio in software.

Tutorial: Effects Chains

1. Classic vocal sound

This is the type of vocal chain that Jackson Studios was using back in the day to record Lemmy from Motörhead. For recording/tracking:

Neumann U 47 Mic > LA-2A Compressor > Neve 1073 preamp (to Insert) > Studer A800 tape machine

2. And then for playback and mix down…

Studer A800 tape machine > Neve 1073 channel strip > Reverb send to an EMT140 > Ampex ATR-102 tape machine

I’ve emphasised the highs on the Neve 1073. This chain really brings warmth to the vocal, with beautiful analogue saturation and crystal-clear ambience. Just a note – the original signal would have come back from the tape machine into the 1073 into an Insert point, so there would have only been one instance of the 1073 in the original chain.

But in the digital domain, we can have as many as we like. I’m saving this off as a future preset! For a Motown-type sound, use the 1176 or LA-2A to compress anywhere from 3:1 to 8:1, and the EMT140 reverb. For a vintage sound, try putting your vocal bus into the Fairchild 670.

3. Modern vocal sound with micro pitch-shift

Here, I’ve used the Tube-Tech CL 1B and SSL E Channel for compression and EQ, then the Dual Micro Pitch Shift preset on the Eventide H3000 Factory to get that classic chorusing vocal sound. Finally, I’ve added some shimmering clear reverb using the Lexicon 224.

SSL 4000 E Channel Strip Collection

Universal Audio

Since 1979, the British-designed SSL 4000 E has been extensively used on 80s records, bringing a modern sound while lending its bold and punchy character to a ridiculous number of platinum-selling records. With its creative EQ, filtering and dynamics, and characteristic ‘Jensen’ transformer-based preamps, it’s an industry standard.

AMS RMX16 Digital Reverb

Universal Audio

In 1981, something extraordinary happened. The AMS RMX16 was released, changing the way tracks sounded forever. That classic, huge 1980s drums sound that characterised the era… that’s the Non Lin preset on this unit! The RMX16 was the first microprocessor-controlled, full bandwidth, digital reverberator. From U2, Peter Gabriel, Radiohead and Rhianna to hundreds of 1980s hits, this is a classic reverb.

Neve 31102 Classic Console EQ

Universal Audio

This classic was used to mix Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite For Destruction – need we say more? With more bite than a hungry shark, this is a killer EQ.

SPL Transient Designer

Universal Audio

A secret weapon for mix engineers, the SPL Transient Designer enables you to emphasise or smooth the attack and sustain of a signal. Use it to slam or soften percussion, reduce or increase room-mic ambience and add punch and smack to overheads and snares; it’s a hardware staple of pro studios.


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