AMS Neve has revisited the venerable 1073 preamp and EQ design once more. Mike Hillier charts the changes in this review of the 1073N
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To the layman it may only be a four-digit number, but mutter ‘ten-seventy-three’ to a sound engineer and you’ll get a knowing response. The Neve 1073 preamp has achieved such legendary status that even now, 43 years after its launch in 1970, it remains in production and is the first-choice preamp for many recording engineers. The transformer-balanced inputs and outputs, discrete Class-A circuitry, high-pass filter and musical three-band EQ work together to create a rich, larger-than-life sound.
It would take a keener eye than ours to spot the differences between the 1073N and an original by looking at the front panel alone. However, peek around the back and anyone familiar with the original unit is in for a surprise. The original 1073 had an Amphenol connector on the rear that provided power, audio and control connections when plugged into a console or rack chassis. The 1073N still has this connector, but breaks all of the connections out to their own ports and has switches to replace controls that would otherwise be built-in to the console or chassis. This means that the 1073N can be used in existing compatible Neve consoles and rack chassis, but can also be taken out on the road or installed in a studio without a compatible chassis just like any other piece of rack gear.
In order to accommodate these additional connections AMS Neve has had to shrink the 1073 circuit considerably. This is of course possible with integrated circuits, but the folks at AMS Neve weren’t going to sully the 1073 design with anything but discrete circuitry. To shrink the circuit, therefore, AMS Neve moved from through-hole components to smaller surface-mount components. This enables the circuit to remain otherwise identical and fully discrete, while creating enough room for the additional connectors.
We tested the 1073N on an indie rock song we were recording, shooting it out against a Neve 1081 and a Classic API VP28 on kick drum via an Electro-Voice RE-20 mic. Although very similar-sounding, the 1073N had a stronger low end than the 1081, with plenty of sub-frequencies as well as more definition in the upper mids, making for a stronger, punchier kick. Against the VP28 the Neves demonstrated a brighter top end and the low-mids were cleaner. However, it was in the sub-frequencies where they really stood out, producing a weightier bottom end than the tighter-sounding VP28.
To ensure a test fair we kept the output stages of both the 1081 and VP28 at unity. However, it is worth noting that both these preamps could be driven harder to get preamp saturation and then attenuated to prevent them from overdriving the A/D converter, which gives them a slight advantage if that’s the sound you’re after. The 1073N would have to be used with a rack chassis or console to gain the passive attenuation stage, as including this in the standalone mode would have meant altering the 1073 circuit – something AMS Neve was unwilling to do.
On male vocals, through a Neumann U87, the 1073N again sounded stunning, and by engaging the EQ we were able to radically shape the vocal without the EQ sounding forced. It isn’t as flexible as the four-band 1081 but it sounds glorious. Not everyone likes to EQ on the way in, so the 1073 also accepts line-level signals, which enables you to use the EQ as a standalone unit, making the 1073N doubly useful in the studio.
For our final test we plugged our bass into the DI input on the rear of the 1073N. This isn’t an option on original 1073s or our other preamps, and is one of the few changes to the original 1073 circuit. The hefty low end and larger-than-life sound of the Neve again shone. The bass sounded big, clean and punchy, a perfect starting point for almost any situation.
The 1073 circuit is famous for a reason: it sounds great on everything you throw at it. The new 1073N variant brings greater flexibility and is sure to see the preamp appear in even more studios than before. If you’re looking for a ‘desert island’ preamp, this has to be on your shortlist.
+ Larger-than-life sound
+ Incredibly musical EQ
+ Includes DI input
– No output attenuation
The 1073N brings portability and extended flexibility to the legendary 1073 design.