Wednesday, June 30, 2021

IS THE AMS NEVE 1073SPX GOOD? WHAT IS THE AMS NEVE 1073 SPX

NEVE 1073 SPX

When it comes to microphone preamplifiers the Neve 1073 is up at the top with legendary status for it’s classic sound and tone. Original 1073 console preamps can sell for $10,000 or more in todays vintage-equipment market. 

The recording studio industry has moved away from big consoles and sadly many classic Neve consoles were gutted and parted out with the most cherished prizes being the original 1073 preamp cartridges. In order to make these into functioning standalone gadgets they had to be mounted into fancy metal work with custom power supplies and wiring. It’s not cheap or easy because the original 1073 was a plug-in cartridge which received input, output and power from the console it was plugged into. The original 1073 was part of a bigger mixing system and was never designed to be a standalone piece of equipment.

1073 EQ CARTRIDGES INSTALLED IN VINTAGE NEVE CONSOLE

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The Neve 1073 is one of the most copied designs of all time. Boutique companies such as Vintech and BAE have staked their fortunes on building excellent 1073 style clones. Warm Audio produced their own 1073 clone which is called the WA-73. The clone manufacturers even spawned new models which deliver the 1073 microphone preamp circuit without the EQ section. The concentric EQ controls on a 1073 are not easy to wire nor are they inexpensive like the rotary switches used by many contemporary manufactuers. 

ENTER THE MODERN 1073 SPX FROM AMS-NEVE

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AMS-Neve has created a modern 1073 preamp in a standard single-space rack mount chassis. This modern version eschews the plugin cartridge design of the original. Instead of the cumbersome packaging of the vintage design the modern version is designed to be a standalone preamp and equalizer in an industry standard package. It has metering, master volume and digital converter options not available on vintage repackaged units. Most important in the features list is the sound, the AMS-Neve 1073 has got the classic high headroom sound with the distinctive inductor-EQ tone intact.

I have not owned a vintage 1073 since 1999 when I purchased an original module for $1500 (I should have kept it lol). I mounted it in a rack mount chassis, added my own custom built power supply and was feeling pretty proud when it was complete. Unfortunately the rotary switches in the EQ section were basically worn out, the rotary gain switch was very noisy and there was nobody in St Louis who had a clue about rebuilding a 1073. I sold it because after 50 years of design and installation work for my job I decided I like using recording gear a lot more than repairing it.

THE MODERN NEVE 1073

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The modern 1073 SPX is a real joy to use. All the switches feel nice and solid. The EQ controls are mounted and labeled in a similar manner to the vintage layout. There is a microphone input jack and D.I. instrument input on the front panel. An output level indicator lets you know how loud the output signal is. The output fader has an internal pushbutton switch function. Repeatedly pressing this steps through three sources, input, EQ or output which are displayed on the LED level indicator.

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On the rear is another microphone input jack which is controlled by a front panel switch so you can select front or rear input. A line input jack on the rear allows line-level signals to be processed through the EQ section. Additionally on the rear is a set of insert send and return jacks which can be switched from pre-EQ to post-EQ for use with external signal processing. 

Modern AMS-Neve equipment still features the high headroom which made the originals such a joy to use. The inputs on your DAW will overload before the output section of this preamp starts to distort. Of course you can reduce the output level with the rotary fader control, then crank the preamp gain and get some classic console-like crunch. The maximum output level is listed as “greater than” +26 dBu with a 600 ohm load attached. One big benefit of all this output-level is low noise. When you turn the output fader down to prevent overloading the input on your DAW you’re also turning down the noise to a lower level.

While most popular preamp designs have 60-65 dB of gain the Neve 1073 has 80 dB of gain on tap. Even the weakest output ribbon microphones are brought up to proper level with 80 dB of gain available.

TRANSFORMERS, TRANSFORMERS, TRANSFORMERS

One of the magic ingredients in Neve mixing consoles was the use of transformer coupling between the various electronic stages. Rupert Neve, the man behind the design of Neve mixers was a life-long advocate of transformer coupling. Neve worked with a transformer manufacturer in England who built the transformers to Neve specifications. The proprietary specifications have been kept secret although several transformer manufactuers have unwound original Neve parts and reverse engineered them so they could manufacture clones. 

Unlike more simple audio transformer designs the Neve transformers use “gapped” metal parts in their core. This is to prevent the iron core from becoming magnetized due to the class A circuit design. When the core of a transformer becomes magnetized the transformer becomes dramatically less efficient and does not sound right. 

EQ MAGIC

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The AMS Neve 1073 SPX uses an inductor EQ circuit. This type of resonant equalizer has a unique sound compared to other modern EQ designs. Inductor/capacitor EQ circuits “ring” and have a “hook” in the upper frequencies. These tones are difficult to describe with words but you’ll know when you hear them. You’ve heard them on records and recordings for over 40 years.

The high-frequency tone control is very responsive, if you boost it you’ll hear some serious boost. The midrange-frequency tone control is also very powerful and can really make a vocal step out in a mix. The bass control is very active and easy to over-do, you need monitors with accurate bass to monitor the 1073SPX. 

INSTRUMENT PREAMP

As a “Direct Interface, DI” the 1073 SPX does not disappoint. My first recording outing was my Gibson SG short scale bass plugged in direct. In seconds I had a big fat direct-bass tone that was a joy to record with. 

With a Variax plugged into the 1073 SPX the alnico 5 passive pickups had awesome ping and classic Strat-style tone. Switching to Variax modeling the acoustic guitar tones were just awesome and the EQ controls allowed me to dial in a very sweet acoustic tone. 

WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE?

The 1073 SPX is really an awesome studio tool but there are a couple of things I’m not crazy about.

First of all the color of the paint has changed. I have a Neve 8816 mixer (serial number 67) which more authentially reflects the original RAF color. The modern 1073 SPX has more green in the paint color mix. My partner, Mary King, who creates oil and water color paintings confirmed what I saw when comparing the painted color of the 1073 to the 8816 mixer.

External 1073 SPX Power Supply

My second gripe is the external power supply. A DC barrel connector plugs into the rear of the 1073 SPX and it connects to the “line-lump” power supply through a very short and light gauge cable, more like something you’d find on a pedalboard. The power supply came with a nice long IEC power cable to plug into the wall but if you rack mount the 1073 SPX where do you mount that little digital line-lump box which is on such a short fixed cable length? For a professional preamp that costs over $1600 the power supply seems a bit dodgy although electronically it all functions correctly. My whole career was spent mounting equipment in racks so when a pro piece like this one presents you with cumbersome AC power input I take notice and a small amount of offense. At this price point I fail to see why AMS-Neve could not include an inbuilt universal power supply.

LOWER PRICE

If you’ve followed the evolution of Neve 1073 products then you’ll be especially excited by the price of the modern unit. Four years ago a modern single channel AMS-Neve 1073 retailed for around $3000. The current 1073 SPX sells for $1645. This new lower price on the 1073 SPX makes owning a real Neve preamp a much easier purchase decision. I’m certain a lot of the clone manufacturer’s whos units are priced from $2200 to $3500 each are experiencing reduced sales numbers as a result of the competition from the company that originally created the product. Which would you rather have, a clone or a real Neve?

EPILOGUE

Is the AMS-Neve 1073 SPX just like the old ones? Heck no, it’s a lot better. It’s easier to rack mount, it’s got all the modern controls recording engineers need, it’s very low noise and it sounds absolutely fantastic. If you buy one of these you’ll receive years of reliable service, great tone and excellent resale value if you decide to sell it. Overall I think the latest 1073 SPX outboard from AMS-Neve is a real winner.

Thanks for reading High on Technology.

Good music to you!

©June 2021 by Mark King. It’s not ok to quote or copy without written permission.

Rotary Controls, L to R, Gain, Treble, Midrange, Bass, Low Pass Filter

AMS NEVE 1073 SPX SPECIFICATIONS

Packaging: 1.75” standard rack mount

Depth: 13” behind front panel not including audio connectors

48 volt phantom power: yes

XLR input jacks front and rear

XLR line input jack on rear

Line Input Impedance 10kΩ bridging

1/4” balanced line-level send and balanced line-level return inserts

Insert point is switchable to pre or post EQ

Lo Z microphone impedance button: high = 1200Ω, low = 300Ω

Front panel 1/4” instrument input

LIFT button: Provides ground lift on DI input

-20 dB selectable attenuator on D.I. input

Line/Microphone level control with 80 dB of gain available

Transformer coupled input and output

High Frequency EQ +/- 16dB @ 12k

Mid Frequency EQ +/- 18dB @ .36k, .7k, 1.6k, 3.2k, 4.8k, 7.2k

Low Frequency EQ +/- 16 dB @ 35Hz, 60Hz, 110Hz, 220Hz

High Pass Filter: 18 dB/octave slope at 50Hz, 80Hz, 160Hz, 300Hz

Approximate Weight: 11 pounds

Frequency Response: +/-.05 dB 20-20kHz, -3dB at 40kHz

Distortion: Not more than .07% from 50Hz to 10kHz at +20dBu ouput into 600Ω

Noise: not more than -82dBu at all line gain settings

EIN better than -125dBu @ 60dB gain

NEVE 1073 SPX SCHEMATIC