The Neve 1073 is arguably the most famous and cherished preamp/EQ channel strip of all time. It has been endlessly cloned, copied, updated, and tweaked by countless manufacturers trying to cash in on the mythological status of this piece of recording gear. There is good reason for all the hype, as there seems to be some magic in the original, now vintage modules. You will find them a favorite for kick, snare, and of course guitars. Oh, did I mention they are lovely on vocals, piano, and horns? What did I miss? Unfortunately, a single channel in good shape will set you back a pretty penny.
The 1073LB EQ is a great option for those that want some of that magic from the 1073’s EQ — without the vintage price tag. The 500-series form factor makes this module compact, but this fantastic EQ offers full functionality, and a pair of them found themselves strapped across all sorts of things during my review period.
I have always liked the design of the 1073’s three-band EQ for its simplicity and ease of use. The 1073LB EQ is laid out similarly. There are three rings that turn stepped switches for choosing frequency points. The top one sets the 18 dB/octave high-pass filter (50, 80, 160, 300 Hz). The middle selects the center frequency of the fixed-Q midrange band (360 Hz, 700 Hz, 1.6 kHz, 3.2 kHz, 4.8 kHz, 7.2 kHz). And the bottom is for the low shelf (35 Hz, 60 Hz, 110 Hz, 220 Hz).
Within the three rings are concentric potentiometers for cut/boost. The top provides ±16 dB of adjustment for the high shelf, which is fixed at 12 kHz. The middle offers ±18 dB of range for the midrange. And the bottom is ±16 dB for the low shelf.
Additionally, the module has a two-color LED that lights green when signal is present (−25 dB), and turns red during peaks (+24 dB). A latching pushbutton, with a corresponding LED indicator, engages or bypasses the EQ. In use, all of the 1073LB EQ’s controls felt solid, with the exception of one of the rings being loose (a manufacturing anomaly, I suspect) on one of the units I was sent.
Installation into my 500-series rack was no fuss. The 1073LB EQ module is factory configured to work in the standard manner, taking I/O from the 500-series rack that it’s housed in. Or, this EQ module can be quickly reconfigured to operate as an insert EQ for the 1073LB mic preamp module [Tape Op #82], to recreate the classic 1073 signal path so many of us love. To implement this routing, each module has DIP switches, and a cable is included with the 1073LB EQ.
There is a Neve BCM10 sidecar at Studio Litho here in Seattle that I just love to use for tracking everything. Sculpting tones with its musical EQs, before they are committed to tracks in the DAW, makes the mixing job so much easier for me, or whoever else may be mixing. And that’s the goal right? Get it right the first time!
In no time, I was using the pair of 1073LB EQ modules in the same way as the BCM10. The module’s top end is sweet and not harsh. Its bottom is big, round, and warm. And its midrange has character that is useful in so many places — from bringing out some life in a snare drum, to giving the bass a bit of “nose” to help the notes poke through. And just think, with its limited frequency choices, and a little common sense on the part of its operator, the 1073LB EQ offers fewer ways to screw up what you are recording, especially since the choices you are given all sound so musical!
With the 1073LB EQ paired to a Burl B1D mic preamp [Tape Op #111], I used a Schoeps CMC 6 condenser with a cardioid capsule to record acoustic guitar. I set the high-pass filter at 80 Hz, gave a little bump at 4.8 kHz, and brought up the highs, just so. The result was a nice balanced tone, and I felt that this same setup would work for electric guitar and vocal as well.
To open up a little more space for other elements in the dense mix, I moved the high-pass to 160 Hz and kept recording. In general, I found the high-pass filter simple to use, but very effective at cutting the mud or unwanted lows from a source.
Vocals sounded great with a Mojave MA-200 condenser mic [#55] feeding the Burl preamp and 1073LB EQ combination; I was able to get rid of unnecessary lows, give a little presence boost, and add a touch of air. For Bass DI, I used the 1073LB EQ to add some weight at 60 Hz, and a sprinkle of 1.6 kHz brought the note nicely forward.
I loved the high-frequency shelf, both on individual instruments as well as across the whole mix. It opened the top of the mix up nicely, and gave it a touch of sparkle. When cranked, it was still very musical, and it didn’t break up. It was too easy to go too far here, because the high shelf sounded pleasant to the ear even at its extremes, so I would always take it a step or two back after pushing it too far. But, if you were dealing with a really murky mix situation, you could really go for it and have it sound great.
The 1073LB EQ may not be the EQ for you if you want to do fine-tuned surgery to a source or stereo mix. But for broad-stroke and color-shading applications, it is a real beauty of a tool. And, that is the real beauty of this device. Clearly, its fixed-frequency selections were chosen for their musicality and usability. Once you start experimenting and applying, you will start to understand the power of the 1073 design.
The more you use this EQ, the more you will find yourself finding specific frequencies that work on specific instruments — and going back to these settings repeatedly. This approach limits time futzing about, and gets you closer to the actual task at hand — making music!
For fun, I revisited some tracks I had produced and mixed years ago. For this project, I had wanted to take a more aggressive approach to the drum sounds, but we ultimately landed on something that was more on the “traditional” side of the fence. But, what I do on my own time, in the privacy of my own studio, is my business!
With a drum machine as the propelling force in the drum tracks, I distorted the toms with Soundtoys Decapitator [Tape Op #105] and did some radical EQ’ng to add life to the otherwise simple drum machine performances. I was able to sculpt some fun new sounds with the 1073LB EQ by pushing the midrange around on some of the distorted tracks, and boosting lows and cutting highs on others. Some of these new tones I liked as standalone parts, and others were great as secondary parts in the arrangements. In all cases, the 1073LB EQ remained musical and generally forgiving, and it added something special to the sounds that went through it.
As with any recreation or updated version of a classic, you will get dissenters saying it’s not as good as this or that. Look, examples of vintage gear are all a tad different in their sound, due to age, and the 1073 is no exception. Although the 1073LB EQ may not be a 100% replica of its ancestor, it is sonically very close, and it retains the mojo of the original. And regardless, the 1073LB EQ is a useful EQ for just about any non-surgical tracking or mixing application.
Maybe if you let this module age in a cigarette-smoke-filled room for a few decades or so, it will sound (and smell) just like the original 1073. For me, having the same circuit design and same fixed EQ points, in a reasonably affordable, portable package, is more than good enough.
The 1073LB EQ sounds great. It is simple enough to be used effectively by a bag of hammers. And it can impart a sound that we’ve all heard and loved on countless recordings. The 1073LB EQ should be a welcome addition to any studio.