CLASSIC NEVE DESKS
Neve probably produced the first ‘modern’ recording consoles in the 1960s, which were then developed for multitrack recording in the 1970s. The last of these ‘classic’ desks was made in 1982, when Siemens bought Neve and started producing a different style of console.
What makes these earlier ‘classic’ Neves so special?
Firstly, the sound was fuller, better defined and more ‘audiophile’ than later desks. The construction was (by and large) discrete – individual transistors and components rather than ICs (integrated circuits). Discrete construction reduces current loss, thereby retaining more of the true signal (a simplification, I know).
These ‘classic’ desks used relatively expensive transformers on inputs and outputs, and much of the sound associated with these consoles is as a result of these transformers, which were large, heavy and generally expensive. Later consoles economised in this area.
The construction was fully modular, meaning desks could be made more easily to the client’s specification (and it is rare to find two Neves exactly the same, although certain ‘stock’ models were produced). This was an expensive way of making desks, as each section (eq, auxiliary, routing module, etc) is self contained rather than being accommodated in a single strip as in later desks. This meant that eq modules in particular were often stripped from desks and racked up separately, dramatically reducing the number of complete desks out there.
Power consumption is extremely modest in relation to later consoles. Facilities (and therefore user-friendliness) are relatively straightforward. From the early 1980s onwards, many console manufacturers incorporated dynamics, automation and sophisticated routing matrices into their designs, necessitating large, power-hungry power supplies requiring separate air conditioned machine rooms. These large lumps of heavy metal also run extremely hot, meaning 24/7 air con is required, an expensive necessity, and regular maintenance including time-consuming replacement of dried out capacitors (which make the signal ‘think’ and cause intermittency).
There are two main types of Neve desks (and equalisers):
The most hi-fi offering an ‘airy’ full-bodied sound (think Fleetwood Mac and most of the classic UK recordings of the 1970s). These are fantastic for acoustic, jazz, classical, ambience and rock but maybe a little sluggish for pop and R&B.
The most sought after Class A Neve consoles are: the 8058 (28/16) and the 8068 (32/16). Both desks also offer 16 simple monitors, so offer 44 and 48 tracks on mix respectively.
Punchier but still full and fat. Classic examples include the Neve 8048 (loaded with Neve 1081 four band eq) and the 8078 loaded with 31105 equivalents.
In the early 1970s, Neve started to manufacture the 53 series consoles, initially aimed at the broadcast market but later supplemented by a small number of recording versions. The last 53 series desk was made in 1982 just before Neve were bought by Siemens, I used to own this lovely desk and it is now making (better) records with one of our longstanding clients.
The mic pre/eq modules were class A/B, like the 1081, using the same input transformers and similar circuitry but more compact – the standard module with was 33 mm rather than 38mm wide. As with their larger brethren, most (but not all) these desks and modules were fully discrete, although the later production utilised ICs (and I defy anyone to notice a sonic difference on all but the most critical applications; indeed, if anything I prefer the IC based modules for drums and electric guitars as they are marginally punchier whereas the fully discrete versions are a tad softer at the top and maybe fuller at the bottom, though not to a noticeable extent).
I’ve owned several 53 series consoles and they remain my favourite generation of classic Neve as they combine the full bodied musicality of the 8078 with a more compact footprint that is perfect for today’s producer suites and smaller studios. Indeed, I still have a rare multitrack recording version in my award winning SNAP! Studios in North London and it is reliable, cost-effective and delivers stunning results week in, week out.
The most common mic pre/eq modules were and are the 33115 (three band with fixed top and selectable mid and low, a little like the 1073) and the 33114, offering more frequencies including selectable hi – pretty much a scaled down 1081. However, there were other modules with subtle differences, such as the 33118 but be careful – the 33122 and 33129 aren’t compatible.
The best known desk in the series is the Melbourne (pictured on the right), a 12-2 alternative to the BCM10.
These sound amazing and to my ears and much preferable as a compact stand alone front end or sidecar to the BCM. Larger consoles include a number of four, eight and sixteen buss desks, a few of which offer monitor sections (‘split’ rather than in-line). Beautiful sounding, reliable and cute, these consoles are finally beginning to gain the kudos they deserve.
Neve 5316 (at our Snap Studios)
All classic Neve desks are rare and going up in price/value. Quite simply, owners don’t want to part with them. Far from limited inputs being a problem, in the Protools age (where tracks can be and are merged and grouped in the box), these classic Neves offer the perfect combination of sufficient first class mic preamps to record the largest sessions and enough inputs to mix, while at the same time offering a relatively compact and attractive centrepiece for a control room, full monitor/2 track return facilities, automation (Flying Faders was often fitted and can be fitted to order), low running costs and high reliability.
More than anything, though, they sound spectacular compared to later desks; one client we supplied a refurbished 8068 to last year literally fell off his seat when he first heard it in action. The guy was a hifi fanatic with wide experience of audiophile recordings (his home hifi cost in excess of £100,000) but he was astonished at the full bodied warmth of the Neve. He loves it so much, he’s now considering buying another.
European Studios using classic Neve desks include:
SNAP Studios, London
Benny Anderson (Abba)
Michel Ilbert (Mix engineer – Max Martin, etc)