Whilst many in home-studios can only dream of a large 'name' console it is possible to assemble components of these classic signal paths to impart some flavour and character. The BAE1073mpf offers a classic, musical signal path with some tonal flexibility via the filter, impedance switch and use of gain. Whilst high in price (for the prosumer) it promises to be a good investment, both artistically and as a durable, serviceable piece of technology.
The BAE1073mpf is a solid steel-encased 1u rack unit and has a hand-wired modular construction based on the Class-A circuit in the 1073 module designed by Rupert Neve for the A88 console at Wessex Studios. Whilst many amplifier designs have progressed towards greater efficiency and tweakability, the BAE company ethos is to offer faithful reproductions of classic designs and with that circuitry the sound of classic audio equipment. Created in conjunction with Avedis Audio, the design and production of the BAE1073mpf involves using original (or reproduction of original) components with some having improved quality.
According to Hugh Robjohns SOS article, the circuitry differs physically in that the Neve 1073 uses an additional preamp stage whilst the BAE has an adapted gain structure. The similarities and differences in sound can be heard in Gearslutz audio tests: although both units sound rich, musical and add harmonic definition, the BAE sounds slightly 'darker' (or the Neve 'lighter'). Some users prefer the Neve on vocal and guitar and the BAE on bass but I'm sure that either unit would be outstanding on most sources. I've not physically compared 2 units but the build-quality on the BAE is excellent.
This review is based on the dual-channel 'mpf' unit. The rear panel has two XLR (mic/line] in and two transformer-balanced XLR (line) out (@ +4 dB) on top-quality connectors. Rear panel also has 5-pin XLR power lead to the power supply. The power supply is a solid, external unit with mains off-on switch and 'power on' light; it connects via IC lead to mains. It can power 2 BAE units (although there are facilities to supply 4 units).
On the front panel 4 LED-lit latching push-buttons select: phase; phantom power (48v to mic/line input); line pad; and DI. Next a solid 1/4" DI input. A 12-position red rotary switch controls the gain (from +15 to +70 dB); each step can be trimmed by a grey rotary dial. A 2-position toggle switch changes the impedance (1200/300 Ohms). The 18 dB/octave high-pass filter is controlled by a 5-position blue rotary swich (Off/50/80/160/300 Hz).
In my home studio the BAE1073mpf is mainly used for tracking (into line-in on a Sound Devices 702 A/D): one channel for DI guitar - electro-acoustic, electric and bass; the other channel for microphone. I warm the unit before use.
I'm limited in the range of comparisons I can draw having mainly used budget preamps (Yamaha MG & 01X, Saffire, US-122); however the Sound Devices preamps are first-class and clean - it's a straight representation of that microphones 'sound' - whereas the BAE imparts much more character and each microphone sounds smoother, warmer, more dimensional, more euphonic.
Microphones used are a Rode K2 variable-pattern tube, Rode NT1A and the Shure SM58 dynamic: the K2 has a rich bright tone and increasing the input gain adds warmth and harmonic 'fizz' whilst switching the impedance from 1200 to 300 Ohms makes the signal less present and adds definition to the mid-lows. Compared to use with budget preamps the SM58 is a new microphone - not high-fidelity but with plenty of character and definition...warm but not wooly. The Rode NT1A, usually quite sibilant and airy, was tamed and warmed well with excellent definition. The filter will gently lift a vocal and tame boominess.
Next up guitars - the humble Ovation Celebrity electro-acoustic is a great guitar although lacking the bottom-end of wooden guitars; when plugged into electronics it's character is superb but it's still light - the BAE DI changes this and the bottom-end is far more musically-pleasing...also gone is the slight scratchiness which the BAE smooths over without losing the articulation of the strings. The Taylor 414ce sounds very full and smooth through the BAE DI, less distant than with budget preamps but the new presence isn't peaky, it's warm and a more faithful reproduction of the original signal. The solid-body Fender FMT HH Telecaster benefits from the harmonic richness dialled in with lots of gain - it just makes the instrument sing.
The Ibanez SR500 bass guitar is active with 3 band fixed EQ and a variable dial to mix the two pick-ups; prior to the BAE I was having trouble with definition and tone - either too quiet or too boomy, and lacking in presence. Using the BAE DI I can hear the instrument as clearly defined in the mix and with a sweet musical tone; it's particularly good when digging in to the strings - no harshness, totally smooth. Finally, the Martin D15, a mahogany guitar without electronics which needs to be tracked using a microphone - so far I've used the K2 and this worked superbly capturing the Martin's deep, natural tone without hype.
So, with guitars it's safe to say that if I never had another preamp I would be happy with the BAE; again, the filter offers a range of tonality, taming boominess and clearing a space in the bass range. A major advantage is that I can hear the instruments/vocal more clearly when tracking; also they sit better in the mix. Whilst there is no stereo linking, each channel on the BAE1073mpf is manufactured within such a tolerance that any two channels are stereo compatible. This is great for running a stereo mix through. There is an example here: http://soundcloud.com/arthurstone/wha-time-is-it
The BAE 1073mpf is well-engineered, easy to operate and sounds great. It has a familiar, warm and friendly character - smooth and intimate for soft vocals yet able to add a harmonically-rich distortion to mixes or instruments/samples. The stand-out sales point is the build-component quality and musical timbre. It is available as a single- or dual-channel unit; BAE offer a one-year warranty.
Does it represent good value? Spread the cost over 2 or 3 decades...that's about 30p a day. Can you afford to not buy one?
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