The reverence for these high end desks somewhat baffles me. Yes many years ago the preamps in these were state of the art. Since then high precision high slew rate low distortion ultra low noise opamps have become widely and cheaply available....... Now I get that transformers introduce distortion that some people find musically attractive but these desks used transformers at the time as the "least worst" solution to signal coupling challenges.
I think you're right, to a certain extent, technically there are more straight wire alternatives, but it is all about the sound that that topology gives you, especially when driven hard. You could argue that we should be buying the ISA (focusrite) systems which were commissioned by AIR Studios from Rupert Neve for their greater fidelity than previous Neve hardware. However there are many Neve consoles still in existence and there must be something to them to sustain that reverence. If it really was the Emperor's new clothes I think by now, fifty odd years later, someone would have shown the Neve consoles to be of their time and not worth maintaining, restoring etc and SSL would have completely taken over in the eighties and nineties.
I have got the ISA Two and the Brainworx Focusrite console software but I don't own any Neve 1073 hard or software to compare.
I like what I hear and I'm happy, but I do sometimes mix and match with UAD vintage (technically worse? valve) compressor plugins and by-pass the Focusrite compressor, and other times I use the UAD Neve 88RS or SSL 4000 console plugins and I'm tempted by the Helios Type 69, which is very characterful.
It's the same with analogue tape for some people, yes I've got plugin emulations and use them once in a while, technically they can't hold a candle to high end digital but some studios will track drums, in particular, through a real tape machine and then move over to digital for the remainder, Spitfire Audio track all their samples through tape first. I don't own any of their libraries so I can't comment on them but it's something they've always used as part of their USP.