The Portico line from Rupert Neve Designs continues to grow in size and stature with the release of its “smallest” product to date — the Portico 5017 portable mic pre/DI/compressor, the successor to the 5016. Designed for both studio and live use, the 5017 incorporates some interesting, unique features that increase its utility in clever ways.
The 5017 utilizes a solid-state preamp with 66 dB of gain in six dB steps, but also has quarter-inch in and thru jacks for direct injection straight from an instrument. This DI input has 30 dB of gain available and can be used in addition to the mic preamp, with a Blend control to balance the two sources at the main output (plus some additional routing options).
The defeatable Variphase circuit allows the precise phase alignment of the DI input with the mic input and an overall polarity flip is offered, too (it effects only the mic input). A new feature not found on the 5016 is the LDR (light dependent resistor) compressor, which is of the simple “one knob” variety, with variable threshold and a fixed ratio of 2:1. The compressor can be switched from normal to fast time constants and can be switched into the mic path or the blend path, all via internal jumpers.
The 5017 also offers an 80 Hz HPF (-12 dB per octave) and the Silk circuit. This defeatable mode allows decreasing the amount of negative feedback at the output transformer, gently modifying tone into a more “vintage” character.
I started out all “plain vanilla,” with the 5017 simply tracking some vocals. With the Lauten Audio Oceanus large-diaphragm condenser microphone and a male rock vocalist, I dialed in a good, solid vocal sound. While it was nothing to write home about, but it sounded pretty close to my usual vocal sound; considering my frame of reference is along the lines of Manley, Earthworks and AMS-Neve, this is a compliment to the 5017. In fact, it runs side by side with my Manley TNT preamp (the solid-state side, with a Manley MicMaid to quickly/accurately do switching and comparison) the 5017 compared favorably, with a little less top-end sparkle, very smooth low-mids and no audible negatives at all.
I employed the compressor and found it to be useful, if not at all versatile. Without time to switch internal jumpers, the 5017 performed well in normal time-mode, with nice clean reaction at high thresholds and a largely neutral color (unless you’ve severely lowered threshold and are forcing it into muddiness).
Here, I found Silk to be a matter of taste. The effect is subtle, but profound enough to force you to stop and consider its usage. There seemed to be a very slight midrange increase with Silk, coupled with a certain glassiness to the high end and what sounded like just a touch of extra second order harmonics — likable and slightly more “oldschool,” to use a familiar cliché.
I tracked some acoustic guitar with the 5017 and tried the two input method, simulating some of the 5017’s live applications. With that Oceanus miking the neck/body juncture and the guitar’s output hitting the DI, I blended the mic and DI about 50/50, engaged the compressor (jumpered into affecting both signals), engaged Variphase, added Silk and bypassed the HPF. The sound was clear, focused and musical with Variphase making a positive, if only slight improvement in punch and clarity. (Webclip #1)
Similarly, I tried both inputs with a singer/songwriter, this time with his vocal in the mic input. Blend allowed me to get a good guitar/voice balance, and Variphase was helpful in getting the guitar bleed to be coherent with the DI (Webclip #2). This arrangement would work well with traveling singer/songwriters, allowing them to give FOH one ready-to-go, all-inclusive input; or, you could flip that internal jumper (compressing only the vocal), run the dedicated mic output to FOH along with the DI signal derived from the main output. It’s a handy solution for SS’s desiring studio quality onstage, with the requisite portability.
I did similar tests with bass guitar and was convinced that the 5017 was legit, so it was time for some left-field fun. I ran a plastic 1960’s “tape recorder” mic into a Boss Turbo Distortion pedal and hit the quarter-inch input. I taped an old EV news-gathering mic to the plastic mic and hit the 5017 mic pre. I slammed the living hell out of the mix with the compressor, kicked in Silk, engaged the HPF, dialed in a little Variphase alignment and hit tape. Gnarly, aggressive, squashed, oddly musical and chewy like hot caramel spiked with sand, the 5017’s sound delighted my hard rockin’ client.
Frankly, the 5017 surprised me in its abilities to be a competitive choice around the studio. Sure, the compressor isn’t full featured or terribly flexible, but it does good old gentle peak tapping or smoothing just fine (and better than many a “budget” compressor). Beyond the bread and butter of the basics, it’s the additional features of the 5017 that make it so widely useful.
Despite this praise, the 5017 is not beyond some constructive criticism. Most of all, I’d love to have a master output level control; those six dB mic pre steps sometimes find me needing one last gain stage to hit the recorder just right. The 5107 could really use some more metering, too. A tri-color LED on the compressor, a short stack of LEDs indicating output level — heck, I’ll take a simple power-on indicator — just give my eyes more to work with. I’m concerned with durability too, as the 5017 chassis is all good, but the switches and pots seem a little loose and a little sloppy.
Considering the fact that the 5017 is $1,045 street, one must consider its limitations and applications. For high-fidelity loving, traveling musician/self-recordists, the 5017 is a must have. For traveling FOH engineers who need a “money channel” and have cartage limits, the 5017 is a fine solution. For studio engineers with an arsenal of choice gear, the 5017 doesn’t do anything you can’t already do, but it does many useful things all in one box and that just might speed up your workflow. For novices seeking their first quality piece, I recommend this little, humble utilitarian over a rack full of brittle mic pres and mushy compressors.
Price: $1,195 list
Contact: Rupert Neve Designs | rupertneve.com
Rob Tavaglione has owned and operated Catalyst Recording in Charlotte, NC since 1995.