Neve introduced the 1081 channel amplifier back in 1972. Its purpose was to provide the mic/line-amp and EQ sections in Series 80 Neve consoles such as the 8016, 8024, 8028, 8034, 8036, 8038, 8048 and 8078 split monitor consoles and the 8058, 8068 and 8088 in-line monitor consoles. Now, over thirty years later, projects that were partially or fully recorded through these modules continue to dominate Billboard’s charts. As the years pass by, the 1081’s availability continues to decrease as its price increases. A few years ago AMS/Neve thankfully resumed the production of the 1081 module, using the original components and construction methods.
Neve’s original 1972 sales brochure bragged that the 1081 “not only provides wide range control of sensitivity and effective high and low pass filters designed to separate unwanted signal outside the passband, but also gives the operator a flexible tool with which he can create new sounds and control any part of the audio spectrum. The curves and slopes have been carefully tailored to be musically related enabling the operator to exercise maximum technical and artistic skill. The unit is totally enclosed and fully screened with covers on both sides providing easy access. With the release of the Neve 1081 Classic, this world-class audio path is available to anyone supporting an adequate bank account.
The 1081 Classic is available as a stand-alone module, or in a choice of two rugged metal housings which provide power supply, phantom power switching and level controls for each module and connectors for balanced inputs (mic and line) and outputs: The AM3631 chassis houses two modules mounted horizontally in a 3U, 19-inch rackmounting unit. The AM3630 chassis houses 8 modules vertically in a 7U, 19″ rack-mounting frame. Both chassis options have rear panel mounted XLRs for transformer balanced I/O; a 25-pin D-sub connector for solo and spare switch contacts and unbalanced outputs; and an IEC connector for power. The 1081 Classic modules are priced at $4000/each, the AM3631 is $2,500 and the AM3630 is $4,200.
Like the original, the stand-alone 1081’s front panel is 1.8 inches x 12 inches. The modules are 12 inches deep and weigh 6.6 pounds. The two-module AM3631 chassis is 5 ? inches high (3U) and weighs 37 pounds when fully loaded. The eight-module AM3630 chassis is 12 ? inches high (7U) and weighs 101 pounds when fully loaded. The chassis’ power supply is a universal input type so no operating voltage setting is required.
The balanced 1081 Classic has a switchable microphone input impedance of 300 or 1200 ohms with an adjustable gain of +80 to +10 dB in 5 dB steps. The line input impedance is 10k ohms bridging, with an adjustable gain of +20 to -15 dB in 5 dB steps. The maximum output level is +26 dB into 600 ohms.
The EQ section has four bands and high and low pass filters. The high frequency band provides five switchable frequencies and provides a continuously variable 18 dB cut or boost. A switch selects either shelving or peaking curve. The high frequency presence band provides 10 switchable frequencies and provides a continuously variable 18 dB cut or boost. The HiQ switch alters the Q from a broad to a narrow band. The low frequency presence band provides 10 switchable frequencies and provides a continuously variable 18 dB cut or boost. As with the high frequency presence band, the HiQ switch alters the Q from a broad to a narrow band. The low frequency band provides five switchable frequencies and provides a continuously variable 18dB cut or boost. The filters each offer five switchable frequencies and a slope of 18dB per octave. The PH (phase) button provides a 180-degree phase change at the balanced output.
In addition to the module controls, each channel has an independent Output Level Control. The control is post-input, post-EQ and pre-output. This control allows the input and EQ to operate at a higher level and then for the signal to be returned to a normal operating level at the output.
My first opportunity to use the Neve 1081’s was tracking Nashville rockers, American Chills in Ocean Way’s A-Room. Ocean Way has one of the finest sounding Neve 8078 consoles in the nation so it was exciting to see how the 1081 Classic stood up and I was not disappointed. I used the 1081’s with a pair of Coles 4038’s and was blown away with the sound. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the mics sound better. The next week I put the preamps to use on kick drum and snare drum while recording a Neal McCoy concert in Longview, Texas. Once again, the box sounded fantastic. The kick drum was punchy and tight and the snare was big and full with a nice crack. In both instances I was impressed with the way the 1081 responded to the transients of the drums. They never sounded thin or edgy like many preamps sound when responding to extreme transients. I was able to use the 1081s on kick and snare for two other tracking sessions and both instances yielded similar results.
The ultimate test for a piece of reissued equipment is comparing it to the original. When I did this with the 1081 Classic, it passed with flying colors. Vocals and acoustic guitars sounded just like the original 1081 while bass and electric guitars actually sounded slightly better than the original primarily in the tightness of the bottom end. I suspect this is primarily due to the old components in the original that have probably begun to drift.
Over the next several weeks I put the 1081’s to use on everything I recorded and I was never dissatisfied. The box works wonders on electric guitars and on vocals and it really shines. The EQ controls are fairly limited in comparison to the fully parametric GML 8200 that I typically use for equalization but I never found myself wanting more options. The eq bands seem to be magical frequencies equipped to handle any situation and the HiQ switch provides either the perfect broad or narrow band. Simply put, the box is musical.
The Neve 1081 modules provide all of the benefits of recording through a killer-sounding Neve console without the maintenance issues associated with 30 year old equipment. With a price of $12,000 for the fully loaded two-module version it is beyond many studios but if you can afford it, the 1081 won’t disappoint.