Claiming to offer ‘the best sounding mic preamplifier unit with convenient extra features at an unbeatable price’, does this prime piece of kit deliver on what it promises? Stephen Bennett is on the case.
I’ve been enjoying Howard Massey’s The Great British Recording Studios, which contains a sufficient amount of technical information to keep the geek inside happy for hours. One of the innovators that crops up again and again in the development of the recording studio is, of course, Rupert Neve. The book has inspired me to try out some of the techniques described – a desire that coincided with the arrival of the subject of this review: the latest development of AMS Neve’s classic 1970s preamp and EQ, the 1073DPX.
The trend to repackage classic equipment that was formerly only to be found in expensive consoles has allowed more musicians and engineers to take advantage of these seminal processors in a modern recording context and the 1073 and a myriad of clones has appeared in various guises over the years. So what does the 1073DPX bring to the table?
The 1073DPX is a beautifully built, 2U-high, 19in rack-mountable device containing two independent Neve 1073 Marinair transformer-coupled microphone preamplifiers and EQs. First, I’d better get out of the way something that may prove controversial – the unit is powered by a separate 48V Power Supply Unit (PSU) more commonly known, rather disparagingly, as a ‘wall wart’. These are universally unpopular with studio owners and musicians but make a lot of sense for manufacturers as the suppliers of the power units become responsible for conformity to electrical regulations and the products are more easily convertible for different markets. In the studio, a power supply like this should be of little consequence, but if you are dragging the unit around for location recording, worrying about loss or breakage of the supply could be an issue as you can’t get one down the local hardware store unlike an IEC cable.
The rear of the unit features microphone and line input and line output all on XLRs, signal send and return via 0.25in jack sockets and the power input for the external PSU. An optional digital input and module is also available, which is useable in parallel with the analogue connections, but was not supplied for review. The front panel’s two ‘lines’ of controls should present no issues for those used to the 1073 in all its hardware and virtual versions, though the front panel microphone/line combination input is a useful addition and is switchable from a panel button. The two units can be powered individually while 48V of phantom power is also switchable for each unit. The impedance of the microphone inputs can be changed from 1,200 ohms to 300 ohms and there is also a separate Direct Injection (DI) input for guitars and basses, along with a ground lift button for those of you who insist on playing the Fender Stratocaster.
The 20dB pad for the DI also changes the impedance of the input from around 1 mega-ohm to approximately 10 kilo-ohm when engaged. Gain is controlled by Neve’s traditional stepped dual-purpose potentiometer – turn one way to control the mic gain (and DI) levels, the other way to control the level of the line inputs.
One of the lovely things about the 1073 channel is that the EQ settings are somewhat restricted, yet designed to be musically useful. For example, the mid frequency controls feature fixed, detented frequencies of 0.36kHz, 0.7kHz, 1.6kHz, 3.2kHz, 4.8Kh, 7.2kHz with a 18dB fixed ‘Q’ boost or cut, on dual-ganged Grayhill potentiometers. For those used to the flexibility of digital EQs, this may look like a compromise, but in reality, the settings almost always produce useful sonic results. Similarly, the low frequency section enables the user to apply 16dB of boost or cut at 35Hz, 60Hz, 10Hz and 220Hz. The high pass filter features an 18dB per octave slope – switchable between 50Hz, 80Hz, 160Hz, 300Hz – and there’s a shelving filter that operates at 12kHz. The rear panel insert points can be used pre and post EQ in the signal chain and the 1073DPX has a phase reversal switch. The level control is in charge of the post EQ output gain, but pressing it selects which part of the signal path the seven-LED level meter reads from – pre-EQ, post-EQ, or post output stage, with a red LED indicating clipping at each point. The unit has a headphone output that can monitor both channels or Channel 1 or 2 only – all useful stuff!
I’ve recorded through 1073-type units in many guises over the years and also have access to UA’s emulations, so I decided to record some drums, brass, vocals and acoustic guitars with the DPX for comparison. The preamplifiers in my Metric Halo ULN-2 interface are superb, but extremely clean, so it was nice to hear that the Neve added that expected lovely sonic ‘colour’ to the proceedings and, with my ‘80s Neumann U87s, the results using the review unit were very similar to those made with more vintage Neve units. Predictably, pushing the gain on both microphone and DI inputs produced a useful distortion, while being able to EQ ‘on the way in’ reminded me that with a great microphone, channel strip and musician, you can capture a great recording without having to ‘fix it in the mix’. Having said that, the 1073DPX worked perfectly as outboard hardware using a DAW, and was especially useful with a bus compressor patched into the insert points – the stepped controls being something of a godsend when matching channels. The 1073DPX is actually pretty competitively priced compared to the many alternatives on the market and is a perfect companion for those of us who like to get out of the studio every now and again – if you can cope with the external power supply that is!
- Two independent, genuine Neve 1073 mic preamp circuits in one 2U 19in enclosure
- Exclusive Neve Marinair transformers on each input and output stage
- Connections for mic, line and DI inputs on front
- Switchable mic/line input connections at the back
- Independent channel output level controls
Stephen Bennett has been involved in music production for over 30 years. Based in Norwich he splits his time between writing books and articles on music technology, recording and touring, and lecturing at the University of East Anglia.