Review: AMS-Neve 1073 DPX

If any one of us were the mythical “desert island engineer”— hypothetically limited to which gear we could have in our possession to practice our craft—how many would choose a pair of Neve 1073 for our stereo front-end?
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If any one of us were the mythical “desert island engineer”— hypothetically limited to which gear we could have in our possession to practice our craft—how many would choose a pair of Neve 1073 for our stereo front-end?

If any one of us were the mythical “desert island engineer”— hypothetically limited to which gear we could have in our possession to practice our craft—how many would choose a pair of Neve 1073 for our stereo front-end? Why not? With its beautiful top-end, rich lows and euphonically massaged low-mids, a pair of 1073s will flatter almost any stereo/dual-mono signal you can give them.

In the 1073 DPX, AMS-Neve’s design team reverentially pursued original 1073 performance and authenticity yet added a few modern conveniences to christen its flagship two-channel microphone preamplifier/EQ package (at $4,749 street). Its feature set is rather large (read about it here, at www.ams-neve.com/products/1073dpx) so allow me to focus on its obvious highlights.

Both mic and line inputs are conveniently accessible via both front and back connection points. The 1073 DPX’s large multi-function switch for switching inputs and gain is requisitely sturdy with confident-boosting “clicks” yet is silent in operation. A whopping +80 dB of gain is available at mic input, with 300- or 1200-ohm switchable impedances and a pad. New additions—British-made Marinair transformers—are found at both input and output stages. Output level control resides on each channel, allowing the all-too-important “hot input with cooled output for musical saturation”-type effect that brings so many of us to the Neve party.

The EQ section features a 12 kHz shelf, sweepable mid-peak (with six selectable points from 360 Hz - 7.2 kHz) and a low shelf with four options (35 - 220 Hz). The defeatable high pass filter is at 18 dB/oct. with four settings from 50 to 300 Hz. And yes, the EQ controls are upside down (at least in the mind of this Yank).

Some nice extras include insert points for your favorite compressor (pre- or post-EQ), headphone monitoring of each channel in mono (or both in stereo) and metering that indicates input, EQ section, or output level.

Right out of the box, my conservative sensibilities were bruised: the 1073 DPX has only a small coaxial connector for its external power supply. However, I believe that’s an understandable pet peeve on a unit this expensive (and otherwise absolutely top-shelf). Really, a 4-pin XLR or a twist-on Amphenol is called for. That said, at least the power supply’s cord has a strain relief.

In use, I started out with bass guitar DI and the results were predictably classic 1073. The high-impedance front-panel DI presented no load to my passive bass; the transformers provided that warm 1073 tone with pleasant plumpness; and the EQ went unused. An aggressive tone was easily accomplished with a few more clicks of gain and a little output attenuation with no amp necessary.

For my next session, I recorded a completely fleshed-out acoustic number with nothing but the 1073 DPX: cajón, bass guitar, multiple acoustic guitars, electric guitar and vocals. At our highest gain (of +55 dB on acoustic guitar) licks and leads noise was never a problem; the cajón benefitted from nice punch (and a little EQ) and everything politely worked together in the mix (without much more than some high pass filtering and compression, in most cases).

The 1073 DPX’s front panel line inputs sounded great with both synthesizers DI’d and my Roland TR-8 drum machine. The “tiny bit of pretty” that the DPX imparts onto audio signal seems to strengthen anemic mids and/or sweeten boring top-end subtly, yet importantly. Tracks of upright piano, percussion and wood flute threw multiple challenges at the DPX, which always excelled even if a little EQ or high-pass was called for.

Finally, a drum session allowed me to do some close comparison between the two-channel 1073 DPX, my AMS-Neve 4081 (four remote-controlled, transformerless 1081 preamps in a modern chassis), and my BAE 1073 MPL 500 Series Mic Preamp. On overheads (Blumlein-ed large diaphragm condensers) the 1073 DPX truly excelled with a large soundstage, strong imaging, ample bottom and a top end that sparkled flatteringly. In comparison, the 4081 was mighty nice though not quite as large, smooth or complete. On outside kick—via AKG D12VR and furry-beater on a big-bottomed drum—the 1073 DPX response was colorful and delightfully hyped, but not quite as fat as my BAE (with its authentic Carnhill transformers as found in vintage 1073s) but more interesting than the 4081 preamps. On snare (a big birch drum via SM57 up close) the 1073 DPX presented more brightness and less chestiness than the 73 MPL, but a little more punch than the 4081. All things considered, the 1073 DPX proved to be my overall favorite, even if the 73 MPL typically had more bottom end. My preference was largely due to the 1073 DPX’s super EQ circuit and the overall pleasure, ease and comfort of driving its luxurious, full-sized ergonomics. [Here’s a raw audio sample/webclip from the drum session: https://soundcloud.com/pro-audio-review-magazine/ams-neve-1073dpx-drumsEd.]

Such a gorgeous and useful design is not without limitations. If anything, those limitations are stylistic ones. I never did like the 1073 DPX’s sound across whole mixes, via line inputs; it was all a little too spongy and the EQ didn’t allow me the flexibility or purity needed for mastering or mix processing work. Hardware-wise, I’m just a little concerned with the feel of the output level controls and remain concerned about the flimsy power connection.

Beyond that, my only concern is price: $5,500 is a large sum by most anyone’s standards. Considering 1073 DPX’s rugged design, quality components, AMS-Neve’s well-earned reputation, and our industry’s endless love of 1073s, I’d say that it would be a wise, long-term investment. There are ways to approximate this tone—and arguably exceed it, in some cases—at a lower price point. But in all, this much prestige, flexibility and joy of use is most attainable via AMS Neve’s own 1073 DPX.

AMS-Neve

ams-neve.com