If you’re an audio professional, it’s likely you know the simple number “73” means only one of two things: It’s either a reference to the revered Neve 1073 mic pre/EQ, or a clone of one. One could argue it is the most famous and most widely imitated mic pre/EQ design that exists. Why? The original Neve 1073 imparted a special sound, tone, vibe, magic, and personality – call it whatever you want. They simply worked and were famous for their musical harmonic distortion. Most elite studios these days have at least a couple of channels of the originals (or something close, like the equally stellar-sounding Neve 1081). If all one had were 1073s they’d be well-equipped to record any source – and there may not be a better choice for electric guitars. I am sure some naysayers can report of a time where it didn’t fit the bill, but I have yet to find a better style preamp for making rock more rock.

I do not own an original Neve 1073, but have used them countless times, and have recorded with/reviewed recreations of the originals from AMS Neve, Rupert Neve Designs, BAE, and numerous other manufacturers. Direct side-by-side comparisons are fine, but often there is variance – module to module – in the originals, so I always try to get a sense of how the audio through these newer modules makes me feel, their ease of use, and how quickly I can get to what I am searching for tone-wise instead of direct comparisons with original models.

The Heritage Audio 73JRIIs are 500 Series preamps with no equalizer section. The “II” model includes a few noteworthy updates to the already solid 3-stage Class A design, discrete circuitry, Styroflex, and tantalum (electrolytic) capacitors throughout as found on the original 73JR. The hi-pass filter has been updated to be sweepable from 20 to 220 Hz. Line mode allows for re-amping, and the unit automatically switches to from mic to DI mode when a 1/4-inch mono jack is inserted. Like the original 73JR, this unit also incorporates a “slow turn on” power feature – over a period of 20 seconds – “a life saver for your lunchbox.” The hand built 73JRII has +80 dB of gain with -125 dBu EIN (equivalent input noise) and uses only discrete, through-hole traditional components. Output and input transformers are Carnhills, manufactured at the company’s St. Ives and Oxford factories respectively.

The front panel is a familiar RAF blue/grey color and has (from top to bottom): an input gain knob, buttons for selection of low impedance, pad, line input, phantom power, polarity, and hi-pass filter engagement. Below are the concentric output attenuator and frequency point selection for the hi-pass filter. Finally, at the bottom is a 1/4-inch DI input jack.

This is a beautiful build – I love the way these modules look and feel. The click and resistance from the familiar-looking Marconi knobs are tight and satisfying to use. It can suck when an excellent-sounding piece of gear has cheap, wiggly controls; but this is not the case with the Heritage. The 73JRIIs are fully encased and shielded modules – not naked cards with a faceplate – and they were easy to seat into both my Cranborne Audio 500R8 [Tape Op #135] and API 500 Series racks.

As much as I love this style of preamp on guitars, the first thing I needed to record was bass, so I plugged my Jerry Jones Guitars Longhorn bass into the front of the module, grabbed the felt pick, and got to work. Here’s the thing: There was no fussing around to get a vibey fat bass sound. I simply set the level and never thought about it again – getting a rich, creamy low end with a bit of pleasing distortion when I pushed the input, with plenty of nice focused midrange “notes.” When I sent the track back to the client, they immediately commented on the bass sound. The same thing happened on another track for a different client; “What a cool bass sound.” The 73JRII isn’t going to make you a better bass player, but it sure helps sell the idea.

Also on the list were some background vocals. For this, I rolled off some low end with the high-pass filter and ran some parts with a few different condenser mics (Bock 195 [#84], JZ BB29 [#141], and a vintage Neumann U 67) with beautiful results. There was plenty of air around the tracks, and with the high-pass filter engaged during tracking, it saved the need for EQ’ing out unwanted lows later when mixing. I have been trying to commit to choices before mixing, and to use minimal EQ in the mix stage if I missed something. It’s an ongoing pursuit, but having a simple tool like the variable high-pass makes this effort easier. I love the sound of the 73JRII, and was wishing I had a rack-mount version with EQ or an EQJR 500 Series module partner with this preamp.

These Heritage Audio modules sounded quite impressive on electric guitars of several varieties with different amp choices. It’s what I would expect from a vintage 1073, but despite its familiar sound, it was still exciting and inspiring. The bottom end is notable for its thick roundness and warmth, without being flabby or unfocused, plus there was a nice harmonic glow to the mids and highs. I like the way tracks recorded with the 73JRII units worked in the mix and interplayed with other instruments – especially those recorded with the same pre. It was not much work to get a compelling sound right away, and honestly, that’s the highest praise I can offer. Sounds sensational and was easy to use. I’d be thrilled to have these at my disposal for constant on the go use for any project, and although I was not able to track drums in the review timeframe, I know these will sound outstanding on kick and snare!

Another thing I like to do when mixing at home (as opposed to the studio, where I mix on a large format console) is to pass the mix through a stereo pair of outboard analog modules. By running your mix through the Heritage modules (then back into your DAW), you can put a classic 2-bus style “color stamp” that I feel is more interesting than most plug-in simulations or a straight in the box bounce.

If you are just getting into recording, you should consider at least one high-quality and simple-to-use preamp like the 73JRII. Sure, you could get one with EQ, but then you’d be tempted to overuse it and possibly ruin what was otherwise better left alone if you don’t yet understand EQ and how to use it. Sorry if this sounds harsh, but it’s true; too many new recordists try to do too much and find themselves deep in the weeds. Get some solid simple tools that will last, some decent monitors, and have fun making music.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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