Gear spotlight: the Trident Series 80 console

Below, recording and mixing engineer Taylor Tatsch offers some background history and personal perspective on his prized console, a Trident Series 80. 

Debate rages among engineers and producers of all levels of experience about whether a dedicated recording console is needed, desirable, or just plain outdated. While I appreciate aspects of all three arguments, my particular console has been with me in one way or another for the past 15 years and I consider it an indispensable component of my process.

A brief history of Trident consoles

Trident Studios in London was at the forefront of technology in the late Sixties, sporting one of England’s first 16 track tape machines and later boasting the new 24 track machines. These groundbreaking capabilities attracted the Beatles, both pre- and post-breakup. The technical challenges of managing the inputs and outputs of multi-track tape machines and manipulating the sound on both ends led to Trident beginning to build their own consoles. The celebrated A range, of which there are only a handful of surviving examples, were ahead of their time and incorporated many features unheard of among console builders. The channel EQs were particularly amazing, and the subsequent versions of Trident consoles bear excellent EQ modules as well. Artists who recorded at Trident on their consoles included Elton John, George Harrison, Queen, Lou Reed and David Bowie. During this time, Trident came out with the Series B, Fleximix (Queen’s live consoles), TSM and finally, in the late Seventies, the popular and revered Series 80. The 80 combined ease of use, amazing EQ, seemingly unlimited routing, massive sound and unfailing reliability.

Sometimes Trident doesn’t get lumped in with the other more recognizable names such as Neve, API, or SSL, but Trident Series 80 consoles are responsible for much of the rock ‘n’ roll you hear today. They are known for possessing a fat bottom end, clear highs, gorgeous tone-shaping EQs and, when pushed, pleasing distortion.

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The cornerstone of my studio

My console was bought by Bass Propulsion Labs in Dallas, TX while I was freelancing out of that studio. Great DFW bands recorded on it during this era, including Calhoun, Polyphonic Spree, Coma Rally, Five Times August, Maren Morris, The Burden Brothers, Little Black Dress and Forever the Sickest Kids, among others. While the complete roster of former owners is unknown, the console was in incredibly good condition when acquired from Pro Audio Design, and it included all new Mogami cabling. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. This Series 80 is how I learned my way around a console. The layout is logical, with all the necessary options at your fingertips but none of the frivolous bells and whistles that tend to become a liability on more complex desks.

When BPL closed in 2012, I pleaded with the owners to keep the console for me as I was saving and getting ready to open a place of my own. I had a Toft console in my home studio at the time, a cheaper version of a Trident that is laid out in a similar manner. When I built AudioStyles in Dripping Springs in 2016, I was ready to buy the Series 80 and I couldn’t wait to get to work.

This particular Series 80 is an early one, before the 80B moniker. It’s a rare 40 channel bucket with two rack spaces over to the left and a patch bay on the right. It’s over 11 feet long, which dictated the dimensions of the studio I designed. It takes at least five strong people to maneuver into place and is quite cumbersome even with the legs off. It has been well maintained, with the only modification being an updated Master section that gives it massive amounts of clean headroom. I’ve been testing its limits over the years and I’ve found I can bury the meters without getting any unpleasant clipping. The sound just glues itself together a bit more.

The channels, however, get nice and dirty if used correctly. One of my favorite sounds is an AKG 414 on vocals, distorting the preamp and into an 1176. Bass also sounds brilliant when distorted through the console preamps.

The EQS are the best I’ve ever used. They are 4-band, with overlapping mid frequencies, high and low shelf at two different frequencies apiece, and a global high pass at 50hz that is super useful in a pinch. Guitar days are extremely fun. I know it’s vital to ensure the source instrument sounds great, but I feel confident knowing that I can fully manipulate the sound in the control room to get it the rest of the way there.

This is a lot of technical mumbo-jumbo, and none of it really matters. What matters is the song, and how it’s recorded. What matters is that the session goes the way it should with the console providing a helping hand every step of the way. I’m not a gear snob. It’s too big of an arms race for me to keep up with. What I want is gear that works and sounds incredible. This is it.

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The right tool for the job

Some people say that a console is necessary for a good studio or a good session. I have read interviews with engineers who like to have entire sets of instruments recorded on a particular brand (all drum tracks on Neve, all guitars on Trident, etc.) I tend to enjoy all the different kinds of flavors of preamps, and I don’t mind swapping out an API preamp if I need, say, more gain before distortion. I rarely find myself looking for other options when using this desk, however. The overall format of a console, and this one in particular, lets you set the preamp as gritty as you need, all while keeping your levels in check.

Inserting compressors is a breeze. Setting up headphone mixes, soloing tracks without affecting headphone mixes, setting up a quick talkback, bussing together two kick drum signals, or setting up a parallel compression buss during tracking are effortless tasks on the console. If you are tracking anything on tape, a console is vital since you don’t have a DAW mixer to use. The Series 80 was designed specifically for integration with a 24-track machine, but those same features make digital recording even easier.

However, I have done many sessions and records without a console at my disposal. If a console is just there for show or if it doesn’t work or it’s noisy, I’d rather not have one. This particular desk fits me like a glove. It has everything I need and nothing I don’t. I definitely don’t mind having 32 channels of the same preamp and EQ because the quality is so good and I feel confident I can get any sound the artist or I require.

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