Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Neve 1073 LB

The Neve 1073 LB is a new 500-series “reissue” of the classic and revered microphone preamp originally designed by Rupert Neve in the 1960s.  The classic Neve 1073 has been used on countless albums and, based on my experience, leaves very little to be desired. So the question is…does this latest addition to the gamut of “new vintage” preamps hold up to the original?
The Neve 1073LB, a 100% discrete 500 Series mic pre
As with most vintage gear “reissues” there is always question of whether it actually does the same thing as its namesake, or if it is just another pretty box with a cool logo.
To me, the best way to ascertain the quality of a mic pre is to AB it with its kin. Seeing as I am not a gear “addict” who has blown my entire life savings on numerous studio bits, I needed to enlist the help of a friend.
I went to Bushwick Studio, where owner/engineer Josh Kessler was happy to geek-out over a mic preamp…oh, and provide some amazing guitar and vocal stylings (apply sarcastic tone) to test it on.
I figured this Neve should be tested against one of its contemporaries. I chose a mic pre that I have loved for a while — the Vintech X81. So for the first test I had Josh play some of his best guitar riffs through an Oahu amp (made by Oliver Archut of Tab-Funkenwerk), miked with a [Sennheiser] 409 and straight into the Neve 1073 LB, then to “tape.[1]
At first the differences were barely noticeable, in fact the Neve sounded more solid and thumpy than the Vintech in the extreme low end[2].  Subtle… definitely nothing to write home about, yet.
Switching to vocals, Josh’s “golden voice” ringing through a U47 with an original Berlin PVC m7 capsule provided a little more apparent difference between the two.  The Neve seemed less aggressive around 6k. Just a C.H[3]. smoother than the X81.
All in all the difference between these two was minor.  Certainly not make or break.  If anything I preferred the Neve.  It was all a little bit boring actually.  So, I thought that I should really put them through the ringer and that is when I discovered a real difference.
Now, some of the recording purists and those who love pristine may want to not read any further.  For those who enjoy grit and edge this is where the two preamps were noticeably different.
Switching back to the 409 on the guitar amp, I wound the preamps up to 65db of gain and ran them through an SR-71 Blackbird to bring the gain into the converters down, no real compression happening. Fuzzthick, blistering, chunky, wonderful fuzz. The Neve sounded great. 100% useable, fuzzed-out guitar. Even at 70db gain it held together and was exciting!
At 65db the X81 was dramatically thinner — most of the bottom end seemed to vanish and at 70db was buckling and choking. Now that may not mean much to some people, but to me it does.
Alright, so we’ve seen the 1073 LB up against something similar…however I was not entirely satisfied that I had put it through its paces, so I phoned up Oliver at Mission Sound[4] in Brooklyn, who has a whole console full of original 1073s!
This time around the difference was a bit more dramatic.  Again, using nice gainy guitars as source we flipped back and fourth between the LB and the original.  The LB was definitely brighter and sharper, but unfortunately not as beefy or pleasant to listen to as the original 1073.  Same on vocals, the overall sound of the Neve LB was not as “creamy,” there was a pleasing sparkle to the top end on the original.
Again cranking up the preamps to 65 / 70db of gain (using a distressor to bring it down) the difference was similar to the difference between the X81 and the 1073 LB except this time it was the 1073 LB that was not as good.  The Original 1073 cranked up even at 70db sounded f+*^))ing awesome!!  I would track guitars like that all day long.  The breakup and fuzz was beautiful. Still good on the LB, but not quite as good.
Neve 1073LBs filling out an API Lunchbox
At the end of the day the 1073 LB surpassed my expectations. I did not think it would out perform the X81, of which I have been a big supporter. I would happily track an entire record using the 1073 LB feeling certain that I would get a damn good result.
The Neve 1073 LB 100% discrete 500 Series mic pre is available via Vintage King Audio for $995.Contact any of Vintage King’s reps at 248-591-9276 to arrange a demo or purchase.

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