Where Art Intersects Science

This month’s issue focuses on preamps and channel strips, on those first-stage devices that couple microphones to the rest of the signal chain, selected for the character that they bring to a recording.
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This month’s issue focuses on preamps and channel strips, on those first-stage devices that couple microphones to the rest of the signal chain, selected for the character that they bring to a recording. No name is more synonymous with such devices than Neve.

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I had the great pleasure recently of sitting with living legend Rupert Neve for a couple of hours, discussing the past, present and future of circuit design and the audio business. The location was Wimberley, Texas, the rural town where this still vital octogenarian has made his home and founded his latest company, Rupert Neve Designs. While general manager Josh Thomas manages the daily business of RND, Mr. Neve is actively involved, including strategic planning and business direction. While surrounded by a talented and experienced design team, Mr. Neve is also hands-on in conceptual product development, eyes- and ears-on in listening and measuring and advising the R&D staff, mind-on in refining circuit topologies down to the component level.

A number of design fundamentals that shape the renowned character of his designs came forth in my conversation with Mr. Neve. The first is wide-frequency bandwidth, extending the frequency response well beyond the accepted limits of human hearing —something Mr. Neve has long championed. Another is the use of transformers for interface with microphones and between hardware devices. The science of inductive coupling is well documented; in application, a few designers including Mr. Neve take transformer specification and application into the realm of art. Though his resumé includes the development of gear that measures spectacularly, with vanishing levels of distortion and pristine frequency response, Mr. Neve now develops circuits that deliberately introduce certain harmonics, at controlled levels and balance, to light up the neurons in the sweet spot in our brains.

Mr. Neve has developed a keen interest in learning what he can about how the human brain interacts with sound, as sound is not merely the disturbance of air molecules, not merely an electrical signal for linear processing once past the transducer of our ears. As you instinctively know from your own thoughts, our brains do not process input in the orderly, sequential process of computers, but in a big wonderful mess of cognition that mixes sound with all the other stimuli around us, stimulates pleasure centers, activates pain centers, ties with memory, resolves focus between the foreground and background.

This is where experience comes to play, blending science and intuition. There is an art to circuit design, and Mr. Neve is one of our industry’s greatest practitioners. Would that we all should have such long and rich careers.