The 1073® preamplifier/EQ celebrates its 50th Anniversary this year. In the fast-paced world of technology, there are few pieces of outboard that have remained as relevant, or as desirable, as the 1073® over such a long period.
AMS Neve's Joe Heaton explains the history and development of this iconic processor...
50 years is a long time! What do you think lies behind the 1073®'s longevity?
It takes time to create a legend - over the past 50 years, the 1073® has helped artists produce some of the finest music and will no doubt continue to do so for another fifty years. Back in the early days of recording there were a handful of top-quality recording studios and Neve® had a presence in many of them. In 1970, Wessex Studios commissioned Rupert Neve to build the A88 console, the first to feature 1073® preamps. Rupert Neve had a history of producing high-quality broadcast consoles, and in broadcast, signal isolation is key. The 1073® modules mounted into the A88 had input and output transformers to keep the signal source pure and free from any degradation. Of course, since the 1073® modules were mounted into a console, they had to produce great results on every signal source, which the 1073®’s excelled at. The sound quality of the A88 console led to the Neve company’s early popularity and demand for new Neve consoles increased, leading to the creation of the 8014 and 8028 which were fitted with 1073® modules. This design developed into the 8068 console, whose 31102 module was a 4-band evolution of the 1073® with a variation on the input arrangement. The 1073® gained legendary status through the late 70s and 80s as engineers began taking the 1073® modules out of old consoles housed in disused studios in order to create their own Neve preamp racks. These early outboard units would accompany the engineer throughout their recording career as they travelled to various studios around the world. Once respected engineers swear by a certain piece of equipment, others quickly follow suit. The demand for the 1073® modules increased rapidly, but the units were so rare that they quickly became valuable and highly sought after in the industry. Of course, none of that matters unless the 1073® sounds good, which it does... and then some! The subtle harmonic distortion that is generated when the gain is cranked is musical to the ear, and perhaps it is the human perception of this subtle harmonic distortion that drives the 1073®’s success to this day. It may not be the most transparent sounding preamp out there, but it is certainly one of the most ‘musical’ and at the end of the day, that musicality is what artists across all genres are trying to achieve in their work. The dedication and pride we take as a company, our commitment to sourcing only the highest quality parts from the UK and maintaining the spine of our engineering team from the 1960’s - has helped keep the 1073® the most desirable preamp on the market. Not only that, we have continued to advance - taking the 1073® technology and adapting it to meet the needs of the modern workflow, which is constantly changing. The 1073® is synonymous with Neve and quality sound – they are iconic and always will be.
How close is the current 1073® Classic hand-wired module to the original design launched back in 1970?
Being the successor in title of the Neve business, we (and only we) use original drawings of the 1073® design – including some pencil-on-paper details never published, and the re-released classic 1073® modules do not deviate from these blueprints. The 1073® classic modules built today in Burnley, UK, use the original boards, original fibreglass tracking, connectors, and switches used in the 1970s models. We continue to use thru-hole components and point-to-point wiring to maintain the ‘hand-crafted’ feel for each unit we produce. Although labour intensive, this allows us to keep the classic 1073® craftsmanship true to those 1970s blueprints. There are a few advancements, such as updating the pots to SFER conductive plastic pots which have a much better feel than the old E-series pots (which were carbon and weak) but these are very minor changes that improve on build quality and feel. The 1073® classic is still very much in demand and we continue to produce and manufacture them in-house for our worldwide clientele. And of course, we rigorously audition every unit before shipment from the hands of the Neve assembly engineers.
There seems to be a certain amount of confusion regarding the transformers used in the 1073®. Can you clarify how Marinair, Carnhill and St. Ives fit into the picture?
This is the question we get asked most often at trade shows and events. Audio engineers seem to obsess over components, particularly transformers, so let me clear this up with a bit of history... The transformers used in our modern preamplifiers are manufactured to the exact specification of the original Neve transformers, used in early Neve consoles and in the first 1073® modules. We own and follow the original, incredibly detailed pencil-on-paper designs created by Rupert himself and his team of engineers in the late 1960s (a few of those engineers still work at Neve to this day!). The 1073®’s LO1166 gapped Output Transformer was designed entirely by Rupert Neve in or around 1964 for use in his first transistorised console, designed for Phillips Records Ltd. In the early days, Rupert Neve and Colin Morton hand-wound and wax-dipped the output transformers themselves at the Neve factory based in Harlow, Essex. Just around the corner from the Neve factory was a company called Marinair Radar, which designed and manufactured precision radar equipment for the aerospace industry. Radar equipment required highly specialised, precision transformers so Marinair Radar manufactured their transformers in-house. Rupert’s local connection to the Marinair company enabled him to take their stock transformers - The 10468 (TF10003) Microphone Transformer, and 31267 (TF10005) Line Transformer - and enhance them for use in early Neve consoles and preamps. Before the use of Marinair transformers, Neve used round octal transformers manufactured by Gardners.
In late 1964, Neve moved operations from Harlow to the Priesthaus facility in Little Shelford, Cambridge. In 1966, Rupert’s LO1166 output transformer design was handed to Marinair so that they could manufacture transformers for use in the early Neve consoles. In 1967 and 1968, Rupert Neve directed one of his engineers, David Reese, to interface with Marinair employee Peter Hurst to develop and improve the performance of the Marinair 10468 and 31267 input transformers. Rupert made a deal with Marinair Radar to produce these customised transformers for use in the early Neve transistor consoles. The result of this collaboration was the original Neve input transformer design and specification which we own and use to this day. With ultimate quality now assured by the Marinair® name and trademark, these transformers became an integral part of early Neve console design and continued to be manufactured for Neve by Marinair Radar for many years. Neve then moved their operation from the Priesthaus to Melbourn near Royston, Hertfordshire. It was at the Melbourn factory that the Marinair® specification input and output stage transformers were installed in the first 1073® modules ever created. These modules were mounted into the legendary A88 console which was installed into Wessex Studios, London. When the Marinair Radar company ceased trading, the Neve input and output transformer designs were given to a company called St Ives Windings which then manufactured transformers for Neve. Some years later St Ives Windings was acquired by Carnhill and manufacturing of the Neve input and output transformers continued under the Carnhill name throughout the 1980s. It should be noted that other companies also manufactured the LO1066 output transformer, namely the Moorite company. In order to assure ultimate quality and performance completely faithful to the original, our transformers are now manufactured once again in the UK under the Marinair® trade mark and are exclusive to Neve. This ensures that every transformer used in all of our Neve products meets the specifications laid out in Rupert Neve’s original 1964/1968/1969 designs. Our chain of provenance to the original specifications of the transformer design, production, and quality control ensures that the transformers used in our 1073® preamps achieve the trusted Neve sonic characteristics that our discerning customers demand. Relax, it’s a Neve – so you can focus 100% on your creativity.
How difficult was it to design the 1073LB lunchbox module without compromising the integrity of the original design? Is it essentially a 1290 (EQ-less version of the full 1073® module)?
The 1073LB was difficult to package as there is a lot of hardware in a 1073® module, even without the EQ. The 1290 is very similar to a 1073® without the EQ, however, to get the LB design to work in such a small chassis, there are some small changes such as the use of relays to change the gain as opposed to using the 3 bank Elma switch. This maintains the signal path faithfully but allows us to package the circuitry into a single slot 500 series unit.
Is there much difference between a pair of 1073LBs and a 1073DPA rack - does the different power supply make a significant difference?
There is very little difference between a 1073LB and a DPA. Both use our Marinair® transformers and in-house SMT technology. Of course, the DPA comes with its own internal power supply and since this is manufactured in the factory alongside the rest of the preamp design, we can ensure that the PSU meets the exact specification required to power the unit. 500 series rack PSUs can vary widely, from linear to switch-mode and internal to external. There have been some interesting tests performed on 500 racks featuring internal switch-mode PSUs which showed that when units are placed in the slot closest to the PSU there was induced noise at 60Hz and 200Hz which would definitely cause issues when recording. The shielding on a 500 rack can also be a factor to consider as Class-A discrete circuitry needs to be isolated properly. We do strongly recommend that when using our 1073LB in a 500 rack, always choose quality over cost and ensure that the 500 rack complies with the VPR alliance specification. Overall, I would say a good PSU will help to get the best out of the 1073® circuit irrespective of the unit being a 1073LB or a DPA.
What led AMS Neve to develop plug-ins for the UAD format and how has this affected hardware sales?
UA approached us in the early 2000s with the idea to develop under licence a faithful plugin emulation of our 1073® preamp and EQ for their upcoming UAD-2 platform. At first, we were unsure about partnering up on plugin emulations of our hardware because we pride ourselves in producing the highest quality audio equipment, and in the early days, plugins simply could not emulate analogue hardware accurately. However, Universal Audio did a fantastic job with the 1073® plugin and later incorporated the 1073® preamp emulation into their Unison software. Now bedroom producers, students, and artists who work in-the-box and mostly for their own enjoyment have access to emulated Neve gear through the world-leading Universal Audio platform. This gives them the chance to explore that world-famous Neve sound. Ultimately this helps outboard sales as it gives us great visibility to the younger generation and once these artists and producers achieve success in their careers, they can upgrade to a real hardware unit to experience how the genuine analogue gear sounds.
The new 1073OPX was recently launched to a LOT of interest from our customers! It’s got some really nice features new to the 1073® format - 1dB gain steps, the ability to use it as a primary audio interface over USB and the 2-way remote control app. What led AMS Neve to bring out this 8ch configuration?
Primarily demand and innovation. Our sales and marketing team listen to our customers and pass their feedback on to our R&D team in order to develop products for the modern studio environment. The 1073OPX is designed to fit these needs by packing eight 1073® preamps into one 2u rack, enabling any level of studio to expand their recording setup and add that Neve front end to their recording process. We wanted to offer as many possibilities as we could with the 1073OPX. Studios with small consoles can now have eight channels of 1073®s by hooking up an OPX to their console line inputs. Home studio users can connect this directly to their computers and be ready to create instantly, and live audio engineers can make use of the remote-control features and Dante® connection when using the 1073OPX for live performances. The 1073OPX is an evolution of our 1073® specification and design. Our R&D team, who have worked on the development of our 1073® products for the past 40/50 years have made some clever design choices, while ensuring that the 1073® sonic character was retained. Having gain increments of 1dB steps allows for greater accuracy across stereo pairs of groups of preamps; this is a must-have feature on a remote-controlled preamp that can save and load settings automatically. In addition, the new USB/Dante digital option opens the door for many more possibilities, as engineers, artists and producers can now connect the 1073OPX as a primary audio interface with eight preamp outputs and two monitor returns into any connected computer or Dante network without using any additional equipment.
What was the reason for including Dante rather than a more conventional multi-channel digital format such as AES/EBU or ADAT?
AMS Neve has a long history with developing digital conversion options for our analogue equipment and we also co-developed the MADI digital audio interface and transfer protocol. Most of our outboard range offers a digital conversion card giving AES/EBU & DSD outputs for any studio and broadcast application. This conversion quality is revered and our pro-level digital options reflect our place in the industry. We followed the development of AES67 for many years and it became clear that Audinate’s Dante platform had the advantage in providing audio-over-IP networking. Our team has been developing Dante digital options for some time as a way to push our digital options for outboard products forward. The 1073OPX is the first Neve outboard unit to including this digital card which future proofs the 1073OPX as Dante networked audio becomes widely adopted in the years to come.
This really seems to be a forward-thinking product - combining the advantages of classic analogue sonics with the convenience of digital control. Is this hybrid type product something we can expect to see more of from Neve?
It’s something that we’ve been doing for many years. The fast-paced workflow of modern studios who must deal with multiple clients and several mix revisions in a single day means that digital control becomes essential to avoid wasting precious studio time, just take a look at the Genesys and Genesys Black consoles – analogue circuits with clever digital control. These consoles are unparalleled in the studio console market as they are 100% recallable in a very short time frame. A huge amount of technology is used to produce a Large-Format Analogue Console in a small footprint, this retains the true analogue signal path but adds a level of control that cannot be achieved with manual pots and switches. With the Neve outboard range, we developed the 1081R and 4081 units which use digital control to allow them to be connected to a computer and be remotely controlled. We are always looking into the future to see how modern workflows are developing and we design solutions for people that will last way into the future. Neve products are workhorses – designed to produce the best sonic results while being easy to use and built to last. What comes next? Watch this space...
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(Neve®, 1073® and Marinair® are registered trade marks of AMS Neve Ltd. All other trade marks are the property of their respective owners.)