Review: Neve Genesys Black

Simon Allen test drives the console: 'The sky’s the limit with this console in terms of what you can do with it and the sound quality'.
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The Neve Genesys Black reworks the classic analogue Neve experience for today’s digital workflow, writes Simon Allen.

The industry today is demanding more and more efficiency from our workflows. Technology has kept up with this demand, driven from our customer’s needs. The need to quickly deliver results, collaborate on projects across time-zones, and switch between many different projects in one day, has never been so important. While content is king, we’re all slaves to fast turnaround.

New and improved software features as well as considerable improvements in quality have punished the hardware market in recent years. Mixing ‘in the box’ has moved on from being considered as acceptable, to becoming the norm. However, among these time-saving methods that the digital world has made possible, we all wish that analogue mixing could be as seamless. For those who want to integrate traditional analogue processing into their digital workflow, there are a number of products which try to make it happen while introducing some modern advantages. However, the Genesys Black has taken integration of the analogue sound into today’s digital studios to a whole new level.

I went up to see Neve at its life-long home in Burnley, UK and met up with David Walton, who was keen to show me the manufacturer’s one-stop solution for integrating the Neve analogue sound into today’s digital workflows.

Digitally controlled analogue mixer

While this console boasts digital integration as a DAW controller and with on-board computer management, at its heart it offers a true Neve analogue mixer. I use the prefix ‘Neve’-analogue mixer as we are all fully aware of the heritage involved here. Neve is as legendary as it gets when you want analogue processing.

What’s more, although this is a new design sitting in a new frame, the analogue circuitry is taken from some of Neve’s classic gear. In true Neve fashion, these circuits are exactly the same wiring and use the same components as the originals. Therefore if you want that classic ‘Neve sound’, then it’s safe to say this console has it covered.

Here’s the really exciting part, like the original Genesys console, a lot of the physical parameters are digitally controlled. There is an on-board PC-based computer, which is there for a number of configuration controls as well as facilitating the control of these analogue parameters. Editing these parameters is done in two ways. For example, the built-in preamps each have a rotary encoder, whereas the controls for each EQ and dynamics module are all edited from four encoders in the master section or on screen like a plug-in.

The mixer is laid out like a true in-line console. At first this seems a strange idea when Neve has aimed this product at the modern recording world, but you soon realise that this is a very smart move. While recording, the analogue section behaves just like any in-line desk. However, when you want to run a mix, the additional I/O gives you input points on both faders for each channel and both sets of faders can be routed to the mix bus. This doubles your channel count for mixing and summing.

The base configuration of the Genesys Black comes with eight in-line channels which have a single EQ, an optional dynamics module and two insert points per strip. These analogue signal processors and inserts can then be placed on either input point of each channel, and in any order. This can be done via soft buttons on the channels themselves or more conveniently via a drag and drop method with the console’s computer, which I loved.

So what ‘classic-gear’ from Neve does the Genesys Black utilise? Predictably, the mic preamps are the famous 1073. By default the EQs come as the 88R-style four-band EQ which can be swapped for the 1084 classic EQ. The dynamics modules are optional VCA-style dynamics. Both EQ and dynamics options can be changed in groups of eight via loading different cassettes at the rear. The analogue channel count can be scaled up in these groups of eight to a total of 32 channels, which would give you 64 tracks of analogue summing.

The bonuses of the digital control speak for themselves. Firstly, there’s the ability to totally recall the analogue mixing section almost instantaneously. With motorised faders, soft buttons, and some rotary encoders, most settings load with a mix file. For the non-motorised controls such as auxiliary sends, on-screen instructions help you set these back to their original position with accuracy and speed. I tried loading different mixes with David and it was very fast and painless.

With the analogue mixer state being saved as digital information to the built-in computer, the mix file can also be transferred to your host DAW machine via USB for convenient file organisation and archiving. Another, sometimes overlooked, benefit of the digital control is the considerable lack of physical controls and moving parts. This has kept the design of the console much simpler with fewer moving parts and switches that could run in to future problems. It also has allowed the console to occupy a much smaller footprint, which keeps the engineer in the sweet spot and will fit comfortably into the typical facility for which the console is aimed.

Complete integration

Just by having a large screen in the centre of the desk and a proper place for your keyboard to sit, demonstrates how Neve has respected the way we work today. No more awkward keyboard trays with the cable getting trapped in the faders. No more long distant viewing of your host computer screen where you actually spend most of your time, and no longer will the monitor positioning be affected by trying to fit in a large screen as well. In fact, there are available seats for near-field monitors to sit in the ideal location.

On top of the ergonomic layout comes the DAW controller section. It’s great that this too is laid out in the centre, directly underneath the host’s screen. DAW control is always there in front of you with 16 dedicated faders. With a simple button press, you can expand the DAW control across all available faders. Combine this with the touchscreen that’s compatible with PC and Mac operating systems and this gives you an enhanced experience of your DAW. I can see the likes of Avid and Apple developing our DAWs to utilise touchscreen technology further and we’ll soon be editing audio with easy iPhone-style gestures. 

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The Genesys Black also comes as standard with Neve’s sought after A-D/D-A converters built-in. From there access as a digital audio interface via one simple FireWire cable has been provided. While MADI and AES formats are also available for the likes of Pro Tools HD users, the FireWire option will interface with your DAW seamlessly. With one Ethernet cable for the DAW control and a FireWire cable for your audio, you’re ready for any project. Inputs to the channels on both parts of the in-line style mixer can be selected to monitor from these D to A converters for quick setup of a mixing session without a patchbay. However, my advice to potential buyers would be to go for the additional A-D/D-A option for the monitor section. If working, especially with the FireWire cable, then you’ll want to access the master bus outs for recording your analogue mixes.

Neve is continuing to develop the Genesys as it has been doing since its original release in 2007. I asked David what updates we’re likely to see and he mentioned a new Genesys Black control plug-in. This really would conclude the ‘total integration’ story. Currently to transfer data such as mix recall settings a USB flash drive is needed. With a plug-in that will sit inside your DAW session, this data could be transferred and saved directly with the project. Additionally, digitally controlled hardware parameters and console configurations could also be controlled from within your DAW, which I think would add a final enhancement to the Genesys Black experience.

One final point I’d like to make regarding the digital aspect of the console is a remote system that’s in place for maintenance testing. As the control for the console exists on an internal PC, this can be connected to the internet where Neve can log-in remotely and run diagnostic tests. If you’ve got a problem with a channel, for example, Neve will remotely find out what’s wrong, and if necessary send out replacement parts which can be user installed. This is great customer support and will ensure that if you do run into a problem, you’ll be up and running again very quickly.

Total studio control

This, being a Neve, is intended to be a fully-fledged centrepiece of any small to medium-sized studio. The master section offers comprehensive studio management and monitoring options. Here you will find everything any recording facility would need from two stereo cue mixes, powerful talkback functions, multiple monitor outputs with individual speaker controls, transport, red light control, and so on.

There are notable Neve features which they’ve included in the Genesys Black master section including; solo in front, which allows monitoring of solo to be brought out within the mix, and RTB talkback for solid studio talkback when overdubbing. The specification concludes with four stereo returns (which can also act as further analogue summing inputs), two cue mixes, and four mono auxiliaries. 

Then just as you thought a compact analogue console couldn’t be any more advanced there’s the eight track bus outputs which enable surround sound mixing and monitoring. Channel pans operate in stereo or true LCR panning modes. The master section can also generate the LFE channel with inbuilt bass management for a surround mix or you can mix the ‘point-one’ channel with an auxiliary. As the master busses consist of eight tracks, 5.1 mixes can be analogue summed for stereo mixdown versions at the same time, and to enable stereo compatibility checks.

Conclusion

Everything about the Genesys Black makes perfect sense. I can’t think of any stone that’s been left unturned, offering so much in one product. The sky’s the limit with this console in terms of what you can do with it and the sound quality. Some will look at the price tag that comes with a desired configuration of a Genesys Black and fall over backwards. However, if you were to buy all the elements inside this console as individual pieces of equipment, you’d quickly realise how much you’re getting for your money. Provided you can afford one, this is a safe investment with a lower depreciation rate than a car for similar cash – it will possibly even make you money straight away. Having the Neve name, especially with the classic gear selection will draw in certain clients, and then you have to factor in the time you’ll save per job if you are moving over from other analogue environments. You might even find you’ll sell loads of your existing equipment because it will become surplus to the Genesys Black’s available features and sonic quality.

Simon Allen is a freelance internationally recognised sound engineer and pro-audio professional with over a decade of experience. Working mostly in music, his reputation as a mix engineer continues to grow.

www.ams-neve.com

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