Though based on Mr Neve’s historic designs, the Newton offers something a little different — for a little less money!
When the definitive history of the audio recording industry is finally written, the name of the late Rupert Neve (1926‑2021) will feature very prominently. At the present time, Mr Neve’s stellar reputation rests primarily on the products he developed during his 10 years at the head of Neve Electronics, the company that he founded in 1965. But much as I love and fondly recall the Neve consoles I’ve worked on over the years, I’d argue that the crowning achievement of his long career is the Rupert Neve Designs Shelford series. Taken together with the company’s 5088 mixing console and all the other products developed under Mr Neve’s stewardship of Rupert Neve Designs (RND), this forms a legacy the like of which we will probably never see again.
Fortunately, for musicians and audio engineers alike, Mr Neve’s philosophies, techniques and methodologies live on in the engineering and design team, who he trained and mentored and are now, in the words of his obituary on the RND website, the “caretakers of the theories, practices and ideologies that truly constitute a Rupert Neve Design”. This rich heritage is exemplified in the new Newton Channel, a combination of mic preamp, three‑band EQ and compressor whose design and published specifications exhibit all the characteristics of a Rupert Neve Designs product. Deriving its name from Newton Abbot, the town of Rupert Neve’s birth, the Newton Channel may not be inexpensive in absolute terms — quality like this costs — but it is RND’s most accessibly-priced rackmount channel strip to date. It was conceived for use in project studios, commercial studios and live sound applications, as well as in the home setups of those podcasters, voiceover artists and musicians who wish to invest in an easy to use but high‑quality recording front end.
With its dark grey fascia, red, black and silver control knobs, illuminated buttons and white legends, the Newton Channel apes the cosmetic appearance of the Shelford Channel, and would not look out of place sitting in a rack next to its more expensive stablemate. The mic/line preamp section’s layout is similar to that the RND 511 500‑series mic preamp. A 12‑position rotary switch selects the amount of microphone gain in 6dB steps between 0dB and +66dB, an arrangement that avoids the ‘gain bunching’ at higher gain levels often exhibited by cheaper pot‑based designs. A 31‑position detented potentiometer then allows the selected gain level to be trimmed by ±6dB. This results in a total possible gain of +72dB, but also the ability to match very precisely the signal levels across two units for stereo operation. The 48V phantom power, polarity reverse and continuously variable Sallen‑Key (20Hz‑250Hz, 12dB/octave) high‑pass filter are, like other front‑panel relay‑switched functions, activated by LED‑lit buttons.
Unlike other current RND equalisers, the Newton’s three‑band EQ contains no inductors, featuring instead an updated version of the state‑variable filter topology found in legacy Portico series products such as the 5032 and 5033. It can be switched in/out of circuit, and 31‑position detented potentiometers provide ±12dB of gain in each band. The corner frequency of the low‑frequency shelf can be switched between 60 and 150 Hz, and that of the high‑frequency shelf between 8 and 16 kHz. In between these shelves is the mid band, which has a peaking response and can be swept at a constant Q between 220Hz and 7kHz using yet another 31‑position detented pot.
The VCA compressor can be placed pre or post the equaliser. Its modest control setup consists of a trio of (you’ve guessed it) 31‑position detented pots, the first of which sets the compressor’s RMS detector threshold (+20dBu to ‑30dBu). The compression is of the soft‑knee variety, with has a fixed ratio of 2:1, and, interestingly, a fixed 20ms attack time; more on that later. The second potentiometer selects the release time, within a range of Fast (50ms) to Slow (500ms), and the third controls the make‑up gain (‑6 to +20 dB). A rear‑panel quarter‑inch TRS jack socket allows the compressors of two Newton Channels to be linked for stereo operation.
The final front‑panel control section carries RND’s signature Silk Texture control, again on a 31‑position detented potentiometer. This is scaled from Min to Max and enables you to adjust the contribution of the button‑selectable Red Silk or Blue Silk circuits, which add second‑ and third‑harmonic transformer‑based distortion to the signal leaving the Newton Channel. Sitting next to this section are two horizontally mounted eight‑segment LED displays, the upper of which displays gain reduction (0 to 14 dB) and the lower the output signal level (‑10dBu to +22dBu).
The rear panel carries a balanced XLR/TRS combi input connector to the mic preamp, the aforementioned TRS link jack, two transformer‑balanced XLR output connectors (one of which puts out a 6dB lower level than the other), a ground‑lift switch and a switched IEC mains socket.
Internally, the Newton Channel is a thing of beauty, with high‑quality components and a superb PCB layout. Components are through‑hole types where that’s sonically important, and surface‑mounted where not. As in several other RND products, the Newton is fitted with a pair of high‑quality, Japanese‑manufactured, switch‑mode power supplies, configured to create the necessary bipolar power‑supply voltages. As with other RND devices, the Class A amplification stages are used throughout the signal path.
The custom‑designed RND‑2042 output transformer features twin taps, one of which supplies the main output (max +23.6dBu at 1kHz) whilst the other delivers the lower ‑6dB output (max +17.6dBu at 1kHz). Although these numbers equate, more or less, to standard operating levels in the US and Europe respectively, the main purpose of the dual outputs is not to simplify the lining up of hybrid analogue/digital signal chains on either side of the Atlantic! Rather, the lower‑level output allows you to ‘push’ the Newton’s Class A amplification stages and output transformer harder, in order to obtain the much‑loved second‑ and third‑harmonic distortion that such actions (in concert with the Texture/Silk functionality) can deliver, without your enthusiasm leading you to clip the input stage of the next unit in your recording chain.
As I noted above, the Newton Channel is RND’s most accessible channel strip in terms of its price, and it is arguably also their most accessible and intuitive in terms of operation. Although I record in the digital domain, I tend to use a lot of analogue hardware in preference to plug‑ins — so I spend a lot of time looking at VU meters. I run the digital side of my studio at the European standard of +18dBu = 0dBFS and line up at +4dBu = 0VU, which leaves me 14dB of headroom below 0dBFS. With the Newton, lining up at that level leaves me with limited meter resolution of signals below +4dBu. However, if I switch over to the secondary ‑6dB output I can line up the Newton so that +10dBu = 0VU, thereby increasing the meter resolution available for lower level signals so it’s on a par with that available for higher level signals. This still leaves me approximately 14dB of headroom within the Newton before hitting 0dBFS.
To my ears, the transformerless mic preamp delivers a clean, neutral and inherently modern‑sounding performance. Its high input impedance (8.9kΩ) minimises the load on the microphone, and helps to preserve transients and deliver a flatter frequency response. The result is that the Newton places the sonic character of the connected microphone very firmly front and centre. Actually, I should say ‘connected source’ because, with 72dB of gain available and an ability to handle input levels of up to +23.6dBu, both microphones and line‑level devices can be used with this preamp. Inevitably, given that the Newton’s low‑frequency response extends to below 5Hz, the high‑pass filter will routinely be used to keep handling noise and other unwanted low‑frequency sounds out of the sonic picture. One final point worth noting about the preamp is that the 48V phantom power supply can, depending on the connected microphone, take a few seconds to come online after switch‑on.
With no inductors anywhere to be seen, the three‑band EQ also displays a definite air of modernity. There’s ±12dB gain for each band, two available corner frequencies (an octave apart) for both the treble and bass shelving bands, and a five‑octave peak‑response midrange sweep. This all combines to create a musical‑sounding EQ that I found to be easy on the ear and intuitive in use. Changing the switched corner frequency combinations changes the areas where the shelving filters overlap with the peak response midrange, of course, creating four subtly different equalisation profiles that add to this equaliser’s flexibility. Once I became familiar with this, I found that I could achieve the results I wanted quite quickly and intuitively. The ability to switch the EQ in and out to check that I was enhancing rather than destroying a source is another extremely useful feature.
This is an easy‑to‑use compressor that allows fast transients to pass through unsullied, while delivering natural and smooth‑sounding compression..
With its fixed 20ms attack time and 2:1 ratio, the Newton’s feedback VCA compressor may theoretically be somewhat limited in terms of the facilities offered, but the practical reality is that this is an easy‑to‑use compressor that allows fast transients to pass through unsullied, while delivering natural and smooth‑sounding dynamic control. Operation quickly becomes intuitive: you can think of it as being much like a ‘one knob’ compressor, but with the added benefit of a variable release. Once you have a feel for how the controls react, it’s very easy to dial in the amount of gain reduction you wish to hear: adjust the release time to suit the source, match the compressed and uncompressed signal levels, and switch the compressor in and out to compare the result with the uncompressed original.
Until you’ve actually used Rupert Neve Designs’ Silk function, it’s easy to underestimate just how effective and addictive it can be! With a development history that stretches back to the Warmth, Glow and Sheen controls that Mr Neve developed during his time working for console manufacturers Amek, Silk is an ingenious means of adding character to a signal. They’ve asked that I don’t give the finer details away but, essentially, it allows for flexible manipulation and filtering of the custom transformer’s pleasing harmonic content. The result is an emulation of the sonic character of Mr Neve’s early Class A, transformer‑coupled designs, and it allows you to add either warmth and weight in the low/low‑mid frequencies, or a sheen and sparkle in the higher frequencies — it’s all achieved simply by turning the Texture control and switching between the Red and Blue Silk modes.
The Newton Channel is an interesting move for Rupert Neve Designs. Its overall sonic performance is impressive and it displays all the quality and characteristics you’d expect of an RND design. It also allows you, quickly and intuitively, to achieve great‑sounding results. This, together with the Texture/Silk combination, distinguishes the Newton Channel from its obvious competitors and, to my way of thinking, more than justifies its price. It may not be what most readers would call inexpensive but it is, as I mentioned earlier, the most affordable complete channel strip RND have produced. So if you have the budget available and are in the market for a high‑quality, versatile, mic/line channel strip that is easy to use and can add warmth, colour, sheen and sparkle to taste, I would strongly recommend that you take a closer look at the Newton Channel.
The specifications in the Newton Channel’s rather impressive listing are accompanied by the conditions under which they were measured, a trait that I wish that all manufacturers of audio equipment would follow, as it makes comparisons between competing products both easier, and more meaningful. Given that these measurements are freely available on the RND website I won’t repeat them all here, but highlights include (input to output, unweighted and without EQ, compressor or Silk in circuit) an EIN of ‑125dBu, a frequency response that is within ‑3dB from below 5Hz to 140kHz and, more relevant in terms of human hearing, within ±0.1dB from 10Hz to 30kHz; and a THD+N (<10Hz to 22kHz) of 0.0013% (1kHz, 0dBu).
To my mind, the Newton Channel’s closest, but not directly comparable, competitors are the slightly more expensive Manley Core Reference and Gainlab Bishop channel strips, and the slightly more affordable Tegeler Audio VTRC.
- Sounds as good as the specs suggest.
- Intuitive controls.
- Output transformer and Silk function sound seductive.
- Good price:performance ratio.
An interesting channel strip that delivers ease of use and impressive performance at a lower price point than might be anticipated.