British Sound

I’m making some tweaks to my Music Technology in the Marketplace class and found this page and video from Cambridge Audio, in which they try to give some context to “the British Sound.”

Curious what folks think about this. What does the British Sound mean to you?


I get the feeling the ‘British Sound’ is more of a sentiment than a particular sound, sure some great bands & some great recordings over the years and in a world of ‘make america great again’ & ‘rule britannia’ it’s probably the most positive thing you can do to look at a countries artistic output.

Cambridge Audio is part owned by [Julian Richer (Julian Richer - Wikipedia) who’s passionate about music & certainly has a lot to be proud of in terms of running a business.

Regarding your class, it would be interesting to know their views on how a business is perceived & whether that is important (I don’t want to drag up the old Uli Behringer themed post) but I’d say that 99% of my friends who are passionate about music would’ve gone into a branch of Richer Sounds at some point & bought a bit of kit. His shops were always tiny & stacked high but they’d always offer you a coffee, were extremely friendly, you knew you’d get a great deal & you never once felt like you were being sold anything.


It’s really a confounding question. Not that I’m suggesting that the OP isn’t asking a good question—it’s a perfectly fine question—but there’s so little agreement on the answer.

For a while, it was asserted that the sound of the Neve consoles was the British sound. Or the sound of Tridents. But Neves don’t sound like Tridents (and there were/are other console makers that sound different still). Then there was the whole “British EQ” thing, again stemming from these console companies. Good luck trying to figure out who actually designed the Trident EQ, there’s 4 people all claiming this title, and they seem to not like each other very much. This leads me to the obvious hypothesis #1 that “the British sound” is the sound of factious EQ designers who don’t like each other very much.

But I digress. Then of course there’s the whole EMI/Abbey Road studio-centric variant of the story, which Chandler and many other companies milk with their clones or replicas of the custom gear designed for that legendary studio. Which would be fine, except that the considerable majority of albums made in Britain were not recorded at EMI/Abbey Road, and even when considering the ones that were, it’s not exactly as if Abbey Road used the same console over multiple decades.

None of the gear I mentioned above was designed to have a sound at all: it was designed to meet certain noise and crosstalk and THD specs, to be neutral and transparent.

Another hypothesis, I’m not sure if Richard Burgess or Simon Zagorski-Thomas came up with it first or someone else but both of them talk about it, is that since UK studios were a bit behind US ones in terms of the number of tracks for multitrack tape recorders (e.g. when major LA-NY studios had 8 tracks the UK was still on 4) it led to different working methods. That could explain a few years of recorded music history, perhaps? But then again, many other countries were faced with the same technical problem, and they didn’t all develop the “British sound” now did they? (technological determinism rears its head again)

There’s even the 50hz hypothesis—but, but… why then do French albums not sound like British ones?

I’ve concluded, with practically zero evidence, it must, in the end, come down to the lukewarm tea and mushy peas.


I’ll chip in to say that lukewarm tea is no go area for most Brits :wink:


Thanks, the insights are much appreciated.

More research to come when time permits.


And mushy peas are more of a Northern England delicacy than in the rest of the Kingdom. :grinning:


Anything written about by Mark Fisher - but mainly that continuum having Ghost Box on one end and Burial on the other end. Oh, and Nick Drake.


Yep, soundcraft desk :slight_smile:


Immediately shared! (plus 20 characters)

1 Like

I don’t believe this could’ve been produced anywhere other than britain & this was long after the introduction of DnB to the world.

Digital & Spirit


I’ve seen the term ‘British’ vs ‘USA’ sound used quite regularly for guitar amps.

I think it perhaps goes back to the valves and (limited) components that were available here in the 50’s and 60’s vs over in the USA.

Guitar amps were designed using EL34, EL84 power valves, vs the 6V6, 6L6 etc.

The transistors (which would have been germanium) available over here were also different to what was available in the USA.

Many of the circuits/designs used were based on similar principles and reference designs (found in the old RCA/Mullard Technical reference books etc.), but due to the components used, produced very different sounding circuits.

A lot of the British early guitar amp designs etc. were based around US designs and schematics (one of Marshall’s early amps is pretty much a Fender Tweed Bassman clone with some component and valve changes).

When Rock N Roll came along, everyone wanted to sound like the USA artists that were around (Elvis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry etc. etc.). The Beatles changed all that of course when they came on the scene (though I don’t think they changed the popularity or aspiration to own American musical equipment over here).

My Dad played in bands in the late 50’s (inc. a Shadows cover band :grimacing: :grinning:) and he said that everyone wanted the USA stuff, particularly Fender, but nobody could either afford or get hold of it (certainly not in Sheffield . :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:).

Most of the UK and EU stuff was considered (perhaps wrongly) as being inferior.

Having a Fender or Gibson guitar or amp back then was very rare.

So they had to make do with what they could get hold of.

I think a lot of the UK/EU musical equipment manufacturers picked up on the American Rock N Roll boom and tried to cater with their own clones, or at least designs heavily influenced by the American manufacturers, using the components that were available to them.

Through these different components, design changes etc. came a lot of equipment had it’s own character and sound.

I think this is partly what then lead to the ‘British Sound’. … ironically a lot of equipment that was heavily influenced by American designs!


It seems like the “British Sound” is specifically tied to the output of the Beat groups of the 60s, where the recordings certainly seem to be rather warm even though the instrumentation tended towards the brighter end of the sonic spectrum. The jangles aren’t as jangly as I think they would sound in a live setting.

What I find interesting is seeing how artists from different countries who were directly inspired by The Beatles et al tried to emulate the sound, yet invariably failed to. Case in point:

Japan’s closest approximation to The Beatles, The Tigers. Wonderful music, but hews way closer to the US garage rock sound with that full-on treble.


Taking a less silly tone (five years working in the midlands, truth be told, always placed me within arm’s reach of milky PG Tips and 4-5 varieties of mushy peas), the sense I got talking with lesser known professional, semi-professional and amateur musicians was that there was a culture of local cover bands, who would often obsess over one style of music—skiffle in the 50s, blues in the 60s, and those plus motown (“Northern soul”) free jazz and disco in the 70s—performing it out quite intensively for some time before putting their own new material out there. Of course The Beatles are especially famous for this, but Black Sabbath began that way. Sara Cohen and Ruth Finnegan write about this in their excellent ethnographic books on Liverpool and Milton Keynes, respectively. Finding one’s “individual sound” from obsessive mimicry of very specific foreign musics isn’t only found in the UK, but does convey something about a number of bands who might not timbrally or stylistically sound like each other but have a shared practice of sorts.


tis the sound of colonialism! …what did i win? :yum:
oh sorry, not a trick question then?? :sweat_smile: (:rofl:)
in that case, i respectfully rant:
with all due respect to the Brits, most of the ‘sound’ that comes from British ‘people’ i respect, has nothing to do with gear/equipment, nor even whether the artists themselves cared to an audiophile degree about ‘sound’ in general to cater to a certain quality of recording or transmission… it’s more to do with how those geniuses like Brian Eno, David Bowie, Daphne Oram, and so many countless others i respect, looked beyond what’s only available there in Britain, both culturally and technologically(also, to be fair: there’s no such thing as Britain without other countries such as Jamaica, India, Ireland, Scotland, etc. that lay under their rule at some point; these countries gave to the cultural interplay that defines anything British today… the smartest over there recognize this, too: it’s like a decentralizing cultural diffusion, perfect for these times, people don’t want to centralize their focus and power, we want to intermingle now - in fact, the discussion above shows the British sound and the American sound are intertwined not just by the competition between each other but also by the inspiration from each other - there’s no American sound without every other sound… there’s no British sound without that either…)
this CambridgeAudio, all respect due to the ‘individuals’ involved, as a company, are just taking egregious license to an unfounded nationalism over audio. I call bullshit! (not about what others have said in this thread, tho… just to CambridgeAudio’s marketing ploy here)
FUCK Nationalism: Miscegenation is the ONLY evolution!

sad news, the synthesizers were in fact stolen after that show:


Yep, have to agree.
Cambridge Audio seem to pride themselves on the ‘perfect’ reproduction of sound, to then bang on about the ‘British Sound’ does seem a bit nationalistic but I suppose you need to sell amps & speakers in a crowded market place so an angle is all you’ve got. The Made in Britain/America angle has always been a good marketing ploy, now everything is made in China, including fancy British amps.

My previous link to the Digital & Spirit track highlights my feelings on ‘British Sound’, no drum & bass without Jungle, no Jungle without The Winstons but it’s deeper than that, no Digital & Spirit without 1st generation West Indians raising families in British cities. There is some excellent ‘white’ drum & bass, Dom & Roland for one but without the imprint of a mixed culture and influence it would’ve lost vitality. It goes both ways, without Rob Playford we wouldn’t have really good Goldie. I love early Rolling Stones for that reason, the influence of the Blues is all over it, so much so that I can’t really listen to anything past the first few albums & of course I listen to a lot of Muddy Waters.