Neve 1073LB & 1073LB EQ

500-series Microphone Preamplifier & Equaliser

Published in SOS December 2011
Bookmark and Share

Reviews : Preamp

Neve's venerable 1073 preamp and equaliser are both now available in API's popular 'Lunchbox' format. Were they worth waiting for?

Hugh Robjohns

Neve 1073LB & 1073LB EQ

The Neve 1073 channel module, designed back in the early 1970s, is probably the most revered and most copied preamp design on the planet, with countless replicas, 'homages' and repackaged versions to choose from. Its popularity is not lost on the current AMS Neve company, of course, and the same core design is still manufactured in four different formats, including the retrofit 1073 preamp/equaliser module, the 1073 DPD and 1073 DPA rackmount dual preamp, and the subject of this review — the new 1073LB version, intended for use in a 500-series 'Lunchbox' chassis, which provides the housing, power supply and I/O connectivity.

If you've ever seen inside an original 1073 channel module, you'll know that squeezing all that circuitry and the large transformers and inductors into an API 500-series Lunchbox module format just isn't physically possible. Consequently, AMS Neve has split the 1073's preamp and EQ sections into two separate but related Lunchbox modules. The 1073LB is the preamp proper, accommodating the transformer input and output stages into one unit, while the 1073LB EQ contains the separated equaliser section. These two Lunchbox modules are designed to be used together via a bespoke 'insert mode' configuration, which recreates the original signal path from the preamp's input stage, through the EQ and back to the preamp's output stage. Alternatively, each unit can be used entirely independently, and to that end the EQ module is equipped with its own electronically balanced I/O stages. I'll discuss the EQ section more in a moment, but first let's look more closely at the 1073LB.

1073LB Mic Preamp

Both modules — the preamp with chunky transformers, and the EQ without — are built to a high standard.Both modules — the preamp with chunky transformers, and the EQ without — are built to a high standard.

This module is based very closely indeed on the original 1073 microphone preamplifier design, using exactly the same architecture, the same class-A circuitry, and even the same hand-wound input and output transformers. However, the method of construction is obviously very different, simply in order to fit everything into the constrictive Lunchbox module format. For example, the original expensive and bulky multi-level gain switch has been replaced with a simpler one controlling relays to provide the functions instead. Some might argue that this re-engineering has an audible effect on the sound character that was undoubtedly influenced in part by the hand-wired looms and plug-in amplifier circuit board arrangements of the original units. While this may be true in a strict A-B comparison, it wasn't something that I noticed or was concerned about. To my ears, the character that shouts '1073' is still there, loud and clear!

The original module's rotary gain control and output polarity inversion button have been retained in their original form, and have been supplemented with a front-panel microphone input impedance button (this facility was always present in original 1073 modules, but required the appropriate chassis connector wiring). Another divergence from the original design is the addition of a useful +5/-10dB rotary Trim control. This serves much like the fader of a console-mounted unit and is a facility that has proven very useful in the 1073DPA and DPD rackmount versions. To assist in optimising signal levels, AMS Neve have also fitted a 'signal presence' LED (green above -25dBu and red over +26dBu), and another push-button selects the front panel 'combi' XLR input connector instead of the Lunchbox's chassis' rear-panel input. Thanks to the transformers, both mic and line inputs, and the line output, are all fully balanced and floating (earth free), and phantom power is automatically disabled when the gain control is rotated to a line-input position. Phantom power is available when the gain switch is at any of the microphone settings, toggled on and off by pressing the Trim control.

Neve 1073LB & 1073LB EQAs anyone familiar with the original 1073 will know, the rotary gain switch is more complicated than most, but the same functionality has been retained on the 1073LB. The microphone side of the switch is calibrated in input signal levels from -80 to -20dB, in 14 steps of roughly 5dB, with an 'off' position between the 50 and 55 dB marks. The review model measured 79dB with the Trim at its centre detent position, and an astonishing 84dB with the Trim control fully clockwise. The minimum gain in microphone mode measured 18dB, and the 'off' position provided just 7dB of gain.

Moving around to the line-input side of the rotary switch, which is separated from the mic side with another 'off' position, the scale is again marked with input signal levels from -20 to +10dB, again switching in 5dB increments. The input impedances are relatively low for all inputs, being just 4kΩ for the line input and either 1200Ω or 300Ω for the mic input, depending on the front-panel switch setting. There is no dedicated instrument input facility.

A two-way DIP switch on the rear panel provides an alternative module-earthing mode (necessary to enable phantom power in some non-API Lunchbox chassis designs), and to enable the 'insert mode' when integrating a 1073LB with a 1073LB EQ module. When the insert mode is enabled, the audio signal from the 1073LB's input stage is routed via a socket on the module's rear panel, through a supplied link cable to the EQ module, and then returned via the same cable to the preamp module's output stage. This same insert facility will be compatible with other modules, including the 2264 ALB compressor, announced shortly before we went to press.

Despite its diminutive size, the 1073LB packs the full punch — both sonically and electronically — of the original 1073 module, and in use the 1073LB did all that was expected of it. There is no doubting the pedigree in its distinctive sound character and the slightly quirky operational controls. The control knobs and buttons match the original styling very closely and work in exactly the same way. However, I was a little frustrated by the method used to enable phantom power: in reaching for and rotating this control, I often found I inadvertently toggled the phantom power supply off or on, with all the attendant bangs and thumps! Clearly, space for switches is severely restricted, but perhaps a more benign function should have been allocated to the Trim switch, such as the output polarity inversion?

As you'd expect, the module's test measurements are all very good, with distortion coming out well below 0.07 percent, even when driving the output to +20dBu. The dominant distortion character is almost equal amounts of second and third harmonic, with the latter being slightly greater. The frequency response is easily within ±0.5dB between 20Hz and 20kHz, falling to -3dB at about 8Hz and 40kHz when working at full gain. At low gain settings there is a very subtle LF bloom, and at high gain settings the extreme HF is very slightly subdued. Whatever the gain setting, the preamp always delivered a full and rich bottom end, a detailed and present mid-range, and a smooth, silky sheen at the top end. Plenty of modern preamps are quieter, but I never found input noise to be an issue, even at high gain settings.

1073LB EQ

The preamp and EQ modules can be linked via a single send and return cable. This enables you to patch the EQ into the preamp as an insert processor, between the preamp's input and output transformers.The preamp and EQ modules can be linked via a single send and return cable. This enables you to patch the EQ into the preamp as an insert processor, between the preamp's input and output transformers.

The 1073LB EQ is the partnering four-band equaliser for the 1073 preamp module, and is designed to fit a single Lunchbox module width. As shipped from the factory, the equaliser module is configured as a stand-alone unit, with its I/O accessed through the Lunchbox chassis connectors in the usual way. However, it can also be user-configured to operate as an insert within the signal path of a 1073LB module, so that a conventional 1073 module audio path is properly replicated, and this configuration is called the 'insert mode' (see below).

The 1073LB EQ replicates exactly the same EQ functionality as the 1970s original 1073 module, with a fixed-frequency high-shelf section, adjustable-frequency mid and LF sections, and an adjustable high-pass filter. In stand-alone mode, the line input and output stages are modern, electronically balanced affairs, which allow the pure character of the inductor-based equaliser circuitry to shine through without the subtle transformer-thickened veiling that is inherent in a conventional 1073 channel module. To help minimise any problems associated with stray magnetic fields from other modules or the Lunchbox power supply affecting the EQ's inductors, the 1073LB EQ is protected in a mu-metal case.

As with the original console module, the EQ section is equipped with a global on-off button, although the low-shelf, mid-band and high-pass sections all have their own independent 'off' modes too. To assist with level management, an LED provides an indication of signal amplitude, illuminating green above -25dBu and red above +24dBu.

The LF-shelf section is operated with the traditional dual-concentric rotary control comprising a continuous boost/cut level knob mounted above a rotary switch to set the turnover frequency. The gain range is ±16dB, with turnover frequencies of 35, 60, 110 and 220 Hz, and Off — all the same as the original. The mid-range bell section also employs a dual-concentric control, providing a slightly wider gain range (±18dB) and centre frequencies of 0.36, 0.7, 1.6, 3.2, 4.8 and 7.2 kHz, and Off. Again, these are exactly the same options as the original.

However, in a slightly confusing departure from the original design, the high-shelf section is also provided with a dual-concentric control. In this arrangement, the upper knob provides up to 16dB of boost or cut with a fixed 12kHz turnover — the same as the original fixed HF shelf — while the lower rotary switch section is used to control the high-pass filter turnover frequency. The 18dB/octave high-pass filter frequency options are the same as the original 1073, of course, offering 50, 80, 160 and 300 Hz, and Off.

This non-standard arrangement is a little confusing for anyone who is familiar with traditional Neve modules — not least because it looks very similar to the later 1084 module arrangement, which introduced switchable HF-shelf turnover frequencies. Of course, the reason for this variation of control format is simply because the size of the Lunchbox module precludes the original arrangement. While possibly offending Neve purists, I have to say that this configuration is quickly assimilated and certainly works well enough in practice.

My bench tests revealed that the EQ module performed precisely as specified, achieving a signal-to-noise ratio of 105dB (with a +20dBu input) and a THD+N figure of an impressive 0.002 percent. There is a mild tendency towards third-harmonic distortion when the input level is pushed hard, but the tonality is otherwise very neutral. The EQ curves produce text-book plots, with well-proven and musical results.

Conversion to insert-mode operation involves changing a rear-panel DIP-switch setting, just as on the preamp module, and connecting the supplied link cable between the bespoke sockets just below the main edge connectors on each module. The cable can be arranged to sit neatly under the Lunchbox backplane circuit board in most cases. When configured for insert-mode operation, the EQ module's Lunchbox chassis input XLR becomes redundant, but the corresponding output connector still carries the EQ'ed output signal via the electronically balanced output stage. The processed signal is also available via the preamp module's output XLR, of course, and comes via the preamp's transformer output stage. It's interesting to compare directly the quality of the EQ section with and without the coloration associated with the preamp's transformer I/O stages, simply by swapping the output cable between the preamp and EQ module output XLRs.

Impressions

The Lunchbox provides a very popular means of allowing users to build up a varied collection of signal processors in a cost-effective and manageable way. Third party replicas of and homages to the 1073 have been available for some time, but to have an official product built to the original technical standards, and especially one which can be used so flexibly, with the original EQ design intact, holds a very strong appeal indeed. It's all good, and I want some... .

Alternatives

There are plenty of high-end 'character' preamps and EQs around these days, and that applies as much to the API Lunchbox format as to the more traditional 19-inch rack units. API themselves, for example, offer both preamps and EQs, and there are many boutique manufacturers offering a different take on the general 'character' theme. For a distinctly 1073-like character, though, there are a few Neve imitators around. Sound Skulptor, for example, offer the MP573 preamp and EQ573 EQ — and if you're looking to save money, these can be bought as DIY kits. Rupert Neve Designs offer the RND517 preamp, which is a more recent design by Rupert Neve, but at the time of going to press they didn't have a 500-series EQ available. There are also plenty of non-500-series designs around, from Neve themselves, and various others such as Brent Averill Engineering.

Neve 1073LB & 1073LB EQ £834/£1074$995/$1295
pros
Genuine original circuit designs re-engineered to fit the Lunchbox format.
Classic, big-bottomed Neve sound.
Front-panel input option on preamp.
The traditional control-knob style and layout has been retained.
Insert mode for adjacent preamp and EQ modules allows proper signal path through input, EQ and output stages.
EQ module can be used in stand-alone mode if required.
cons
A little too easy to toggle phantom power accidentally when adjusting the Trim control.
Non-standard dual-concentric switch for the high-shelf control might confuse Neve purists!
summary
It's about time there was an official Neve 1073 module for the LunchBox format, but the wait has been well worth it! The new AMS Neve 1073LB and 1073LB EQ modules are beautifully engineered and boast the brilliant bonus of being able to configure adjacent preamp and EQ modules with the correct signal path.
information
1073LB £834; 1073LB EQ £1074. Prices include VAT.
AMS Neve +44 (0)1282 457011.
1073LB $995; 1073LB EQ $1295.
AMS Neve +44 (0)1282 457 011.

SOS Readers Ads
GRAB A BARGAIN

£471,594

of Second-User Gear for sale now — don't miss out!

Neve 1073LB & 1073LB EQ

500-series Microphone Preamplifier & Equaliser

Thumbnail for article: Neve 1073LB & 1073LB EQ

Neve’s venerable 1073 preamp and equaliser are both now available in API’s popular ‘Lunchbox’ format. Were they worth waiting for?

Cloud Microphones Cloudlifters

In-line Microphone Preamplifiers

Thumbnail for article: Cloud Microphones Cloudlifters

Do these in-line mic preamplifiers mean you can use a passive ribbon mic with any preamp?

Slate Pro Audio Fox | Media

Dual-channel Microphone Preamplifier

Thumbnail for article: Slate Pro Audio Fox | Media

Test plots to accompany the article.

Cloud Microphones Cloudlifter

Audio Examples

Audio files to accompany the article.

Slate Pro Audio Fox

Dual-channel Microphone Preamplifier

Thumbnail for article: Slate Pro Audio Fox

With two channels and four ‘flavours’ on offer, Slate’s mic preamp promises plenty of flexibility. Does it also deliver on quality?

Neve 4081

Four-channel Microphone Preamplifier

Thumbnail for article: Neve 4081

Neve believe that there’s scope to bring classic designs up to date — and that’s exactly what they’ve done here, taking their revered 1081 mic preamplifier as the starting point.

Radial Tonebone PZ Pre

Acoustic Instrument Preamp

Thumbnail for article: Radial Tonebone PZ Pre

James Dunkley is on the case of the Radial Tonebone PZ Preamp.

Drawmer HQ

Preamplifier & D‑A Converter

Thumbnail for article: Drawmer HQ

Can a preamp and D‑A converter successfully straddle the pro-audio and hi‑fi markets? Drawmer believe it can...

Studio Projects VTB1

Microphone Preamplifier

Thumbnail for article: Studio Projects VTB1

This hybrid mic preamp can go from solid‑state clean to valve warmth — and for a surprisingly low price, too. Is there a catch?

Dave Hill Designs Europa 1

Microphone Preamp

Thumbnail for article: Dave Hill Designs Europa 1

This novel preamp design features a variable impedance and slew rate — which opens up a whole new world of possibilities from your mic locker...

MC AudioLab TP1tp

Valve Microphone Preamp

Thumbnail for article: MC AudioLab TP1tp

Can Sicilian manufacturers MC AudioLab bring a touch of Mediterranean magic to your recordings with their new boutique preamp?

Manley MicMAID

Mic & Preamp Switcher

Thumbnail for article: Manley MicMAID

The patchbay remains the cornerstone of most commercial studios, but using one to patch mics into different preamps can be risky — which is where the MicMAID comes in...

T-Rex SpinDoctor

Valve Preamplifier

Thumbnail for article: T-Rex SpinDoctor

Is a high-quality valve preamp in a programmable pedal just what the SpinDoctor ordered?

BAE 1073 MPF

Dual Solid-state Preamp

Thumbnail for article: BAE 1073 MPF

There are now several Neve 1073-inspired preamps available — but theyre not always 100 percent faithful to the original design. How close does this new contender from BAE come?

Focusrite Octopre MkII & MkII Dynamic

Eight-channel Microphone Preamps

Thumbnail for article: Focusrite Octopre MkII &  MkII  Dynamic

With upgraded mic amps and A-D conversion in their MkII versions, do Focusrites latest eight-channel preamps still lead the way at this price point?

Empirical Labs EL9 Mike-E

Microphone Preamplifier & Compressor

Thumbnail for article: Empirical Labs EL9 Mike-E

Empirical Labs, purveyors of some of the most versatile compressors around, apply their dynamics expertise to a mic preamp.

Benchmark MPA1

Dual-channel Microphone Preamplifier

Thumbnail for article: Benchmark MPA1

Benchmark strive to make their products exactly that: something against which the competition should be judged. So how does their new preamp measure up?

AEA RPQ

Dual-channel Microphone Preamplifier

Thumbnail for article: AEA RPQ

AEA have tweaked the design of their TRP ribbon-mic preamp, already something of a favourite, to create a device thats much more versatile — and without compromising on quality.

A-Designs Pacifica

Two-channel Microphone Preamplifier

Thumbnail for article: A-Designs Pacifica

Striking a useful balance between the transparent and the characterful, this high-quality, US-made preamp design brings versatility to the studio and some colour to the rack...

PreSonus DigiMax D8

Eight-channel Mic Pre & A-D Converter

Thumbnail for article: PreSonus DigiMax D8

Presonus combine their respected analogue and digital technology in this affordable ADAT-equipped preamp.

SPL Rackpack

Modular Preamp & Processor System

Thumbnail for article: SPL Rackpack

Sound Performance Lab have developed an enviable reputation for their hardware products, and now you can buy more for less with their modular rack system.

Audient Mico

Dual Microphone Preamplifier

Thumbnail for article: Audient Mico

With two channels of mic preamp, a phase-alignment control, digital outputs and clean signal path, the Mico offers you an awful lot of Audient for the money.

Universal Audio Twin-finity 710

Hybrid Microphone Preamplifier

Thumbnail for article: Universal Audio Twin-finity 710

Which is best, tube or solid state? When it comes to investing in a preamp, thats a question you may no longer need to ask...

Golden Age Project Pre 73

Microphone Preamplifier

Thumbnail for article: Golden Age Project Pre 73

This highly affordable device is based on the circuitry used in Neves legendary 1073. So can you really get a classic vintage preamp sound on a budget?

Arsenal Audio R20 & R24

Microphone Preamplifier & EQ

Thumbnail for article: Arsenal Audio R20 & R24

This new brand by revered high-end equipment manufacturers API is much more affordable than their established lines. So there must be a catch, right?

Grace Design M201

Microphone Preamplifier

Thumbnail for article: Grace Design M201

Regular readers will know that our Technical Editor isn't prone to excessive use of hyperbole — so when he calls a product "awesome", "stunning" and "sublime", it's probably time to sit up and take notice...

Thermionic Culture Rooster

Valve Microphone Preamp & EQ

Thumbnail for article: Thermionic Culture RoosterIs this latest addition to the Thermionic Culture flock something for the company to crow about?

Focusrite ISA One

Mic Preamp

Thumbnail for article: Focusrite ISA OneThe ISA preamp range has graced professional recording facilities the world over — but this classy single-channel model is within reach of the home and project studio.

Synchronia Sound Skulptor

DIY Mic Preamp System

The DIY approach to audio equipment needn't mean bargain basement, and if you apply this principle to high-end vintage gear it might just save you a small fortune — without compromising on quality.

Sebatron VMP 2000eVU

Valve Mic Preamp

Thumbnail for article: Sebatron VMP 2000eVUAustralian company Sebatron aim to start building their brand in the UK with this 'character' preamp.

WIN Great Prizes in SOS Competitions!

 

Home | Search | News | Current Issue | Tablet Mag | Articles | Forum | Subscribe | Shop | Readers Ads

Advertise | Information | Privacy Policy | Support | Login Help

 

Email: Contact SOS

Telephone: +44 (0)1954 789888

Fax: +44 (0)1954 789895

Registered Office: Media House, Trafalgar Way, Bar Hill, Cambridge, CB23 8SQ, United Kingdom.

Sound On Sound Ltd is registered in England and Wales.

Company number: 3015516 VAT number: GB 638 5307 26

         

All contents copyright © SOS Publications Group and/or its licensors, 1985-2014. All rights reserved.
The contents of this article are subject to worldwide copyright protection and reproduction in whole or part, whether mechanical or electronic, is expressly forbidden without the prior written consent of the Publishers. Great care has been taken to ensure accuracy in the preparation of this article but neither Sound On Sound Limited nor the publishers can be held responsible for its contents. The views expressed are those of the contributors and not necessarily those of the publishers.

Web site designed & maintained by PB Associates | SOS | Relative Media