There are now several Neve 1073‑inspired preamps available — but they're not always 100 percent faithful to the original design. How close does this new contender from BAE come?
Brent Averill Enterprises — better known as BAE — are a Californian company who specialise in manufacturing accurate reproductions of various classic Neve console modules. The company's 1073 and 1084 modules, for example, look identical to the Neve originals and will happily retrofit in vintage Neve consoles because the entire product is engineered in exactly the same way as the originals: same chassis construction, same connectors, same printed circuit board layouts, same hand‑wired looms, same circuitry. The only (very minor) differences are where original 1970s components have become obsolete and modern high‑quality equivalents are employed instead — as in the case of some of the pots and rotary switches, for example.
Of course, there are those who would argue that a reproduction 1073 module isn't an original Neve 1073 module... and that is clearly true. But then Neve themselves rang the changes with the basic design, with production variations in transistor types and passive component values, so that not all 1073s are identical anyway — and even given a genuine vintage 'original Neve module', how much of it is still original? Most will have had their capacitors replaced (or be in desperate need of re‑capping), and some will have had replacement transistors, switches and pots at some point in their life — in which case they'll now be closer to a BAE reproduction than the original Neve module that left the factory anyway!
Obviously, lots of companies are producing 1073 preamp clones of one kind or another, but very few have gone to quite the level of accuracy in construction as BAE. Is that important? Well, many will argue that the physical circuit‑board layouts, the wiring looms, and even the mechanical construction all contribute in small but critical ways to the overall sound character and behaviour. I think the important point here is that BAE's reproductions are about as close as you can get to the originals with today's components — although many are still made by the original manufacturers, such as Carnhill transformers and Elna capacitors, for example.
Having said all that, the subject of this review isn't a complete 1073 module at all, but rather a slimmed-down, dual‑channel, rackmount preamp based on the 1073's input stage. The product is called the 1073 MPF, with MPF standing for 'Mic Pre with Filter' (there is also a 1073 MP version without the high‑pass filter stage). As you might anticipate, the 1073 MPF's claim to fame is primarily that it uses the same input and output transformers as the original Neve 1073 module, and very similar audio circuitry.
That last point is important, because although the 1073 MPF employs the same transistor‑based, BA283, class‑A preamp/output-stage circuitry and BA182 high‑pass filter circuitry, the original Neve 1073 module employs an extra preamp stage (BA284) to provide the additional gain required for the +50 to +80dB settings. In contrast, the 1073 MPF uses only the BA283 circuitry but with a cleverly modified gain structure, from the transformer network onwards, to provide up to +70dB of gain. The purists might not like the idea, but it does seem to work perfectly well.
Housed in a 1U, rackmounting chassis, the 1073 MPF's two independent preamps are each provided with an XLR input that can accept mic- or line-level signals, plus an XLR output on the rear panel. Both are transformer‑balanced. The rack chassis is powered from a chunky external supply unit that has two five‑pin XLR output sockets to drive up to two 1073MPF modules, although the literature claims facilities to power up to four modules.
The front‑panel layout has a nice vintage feel, thanks to the use of familiar‑looking white rectangular buttons and classic winged control knobs. Each channel is equipped with four buttons (each with a built‑in LED indicator) to select output polarity inversion (orange), phantom power (yellow), line mode (red), and the front‑panel DI input (green), which has been added to extend the usefulness of this preamp. That DI input has a moderately high input impedance of 100kΩ, and is accessed via a quarter‑inch socket, mounted between the four buttons and the rest of the preamp controls. The allocation of LED colours seems haphazard: personally, I'd have used red for phantom, to give a stronger warning, since the same socket is used for line inputs, and orange for line mode, to colour‑link it to the panel gain markings, but at least they ensure that the unit's status is very clear. It would also have been prudent to wire the phantom control through contacts on the LN (line) switch, so that phantom is automatically disabled when line input mode is selected.
A five‑position rotary switch controlled with a blue winged knob adjusts the inductor‑based high‑pass filter section. This has a usefully steep slope of 18dB/octave, with white legends for 50, 80, 160 and 300Hz. The panel markings are a little confusing here, because the filter also has an Off position, although this is actually unmarked to leave space for the preamp's 30dB gain legend — which is also in white and makes it look as though the filter has a 30Hz option. It would make more sense, perhaps, to mark the filter frequencies on the opposite side of the knob, where they wouldn't clash with the gain‑control markings.
Next comes the rotary gain switch, with the familiar red, winged control knob, which adjusts the gain in 5dB steps from +15 to +70dB in mic mode (white markings) and ‑20 to +30dB in line mode (orange markings). A miniature toggle switch to the right of the gain control allows the input impedance to be switched between 300Ω and 1200Ω, while a small, grey rotary control provides an output level trim and can be used as a fader or to ride levels continuously if necessary.
The 1073 MPF preamp has the characteristic larger‑than‑life sound that is generally associated with the classic Neve 1073 design and which I think is a reliable sign of a quality preamp. The bottom end seems slightly 'enhanced' from a harmonics point of view, adding a warm, musical richness, while the mid‑range is strong and confident and the top end has a lovely smooth silkiness to it: Mr Neve's infamous 'sheen'. Transients can get a little squashed‑sounding when driven hard, but that's an important part of the vintage character of the design, and can be musically useful in its own right anyway. So while this certainly isn't a clinically neutral or transparent preamp, the character it lends to the sound is very 'Neve', and very nice indeed. Despite the modified gain structure, there's plenty of gain on offer for normal applications, and the switchable input impedance (derived from the input transformer primary configuration) usefully varies the tonality of dynamic mics to provide additional 'colour' options if required.
In operation, everything feels very solid and reliable, although I noticed that the switches sometimes needed to be prodded twice to make them latch or unlatch, and the inclusion of LEDs in the selector buttons and the winged control knobs means that the unit's status is immediately obvious, even from a distance. The output trim control is handy, and allows convenient hand control of levels when tracking dynamic vocals, as well as fine-tuning of headroom margins when recording.
There's no doubting the sonic character on offer here, and the styling shouts vintage Neve too. As two-channel vintage preamps go, the 1073 MPF sits comfortably in terms of its pricing amongst peers like the Universal Audio 2 610S, the Chandler TG2, Focusrite Red 8, and even AMS Neve's own 1073 DPA. There's a good reason why the 1073 preamp remains as popular and revered as it is, and the BAE 1073 MPF delivers it all in a very practical package.
As mentioned in the main text, the most directly comparable product is the slightly more expensive (in the UK) AMS Neve 1073 DPA. While this lacks the flexibility of the BAE's DI inputs and high‑pass filters, it makes up for that to some extent with the full‑fat 80dB gain of the original 1073. The Focusrite Red 8 is a much later Rupert Neve design, but it shares many of the elements that shape the sound in such a recognisable way. Alternative classic vintage preamps at a similar price include Universal Audio's 2 610S, and the Chandler TG2 which is based on EMI's bespoke console designs from a similar period as the 1073.
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Audio files to accompany the article.
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