As I began writing my review for Neve’s 88M – the company’s first step into the world of USB-powered desktop interfaces – I struggled to find words to describe Neve that hadn’t been used many times before. Adjectives such as “iconic” and “timeless” were earned over six decades of experimentation, design, and performance. Succinctly labeled on the backplate as "Neve 2ch Mic Box," the 88M Neve now answers the question, "What would Neve bring to the USB-powered interface world?"
It arrived in a larger-than-expected box, and my first thought was how much it weighed. Neve took their proprietary “big iron” Marinair transformer (found inside their flagship 88R consoles) and packed it into this lunchbox-sized case. Unboxing the 88M, I was immediately struck by the design; it feels rugged and durable. The compact, intuitive look of the faceplate (from the input labeling to the placement and color of the LEDs and knobs) tells us that the 88M was carefully developed. The rear panel includes a balanced insert loop for connection to external effects or processors, as well as a pair of ADAT optical ports allowing for eight more channels of I/O via an outboard interface.
Getting started was straightforward. Included with the 88M are two connectors (one for the older USB-A/2.0 and another for USB-C) and a QR code that leads to the Neve product registration page. For PC/Windows users only, this does require a visit to Neve to download drivers. I use a PC, but this was easy to install and get working.
Setting up tracking and monitoring is simple. To switch between mic, line, and DI (or between stereo/mono monitoring options), simply push the corresponding button – a touch that comes with a satisfying, tactile click. The headphone and monitor levels have an indent at the twelve o’clock position that I found useful when moving between the two during mixing.
I created and recorded the spine of a song using drum loops, recording acoustic and electric guitar and bass into my current trusted interface while making notes on instrument choice, attack, and approach for reference when duplicating the tracks in the Neve. This process highlighted the feature that excited me most in the 88M, the built-in mic preamp. A single source of boost was appealing. The first tracks I recorded for comparison were on acoustic guitar. The 88M delivered a round, punchy, full-range tone through the mic input using just cable and mic. I was able to achieve a similar tone previously, but it required the use of an inline booster, a separate mic preamp, and some additional (sometimes bottomless) patience finding the sweet spot. Conversely, some of my best takes on the Neve were when I eyeballed the level and let it fly. I’m not saying they weren’t lucky takes, but when you have that kind of leeway with your equipment, it makes for more relaxing performances.
The standout from my time with the 88M was recording a bass with passive pickups through the DI channel. I cranked the gain and my Fender Jazz bass generated tone with tremendous grit and beefiness. After adding the smallest bit of EQ, the result was so beyond ordinary that I set a loop and listened to it on repeat. I’m so accustomed to spending hours searching out a worthwhile timbre that this discovery made me feel as if I had stumbled upon a cheat code.
A downside I discovered with the 88M is that it struggles when recording high-output instruments (such as a bass with active pickups or a synth) through the DI input, as there is no pad on the input. The workaround is to run these into the line input, but I missed the coloration of the mic and DI input when doing that. [All 88Ms since January 2023 have added a -6 dB switchable pad on the DI input to address this issue. -Ed.]
Who is this designed for? Professionals on the move that need to record in a host of surroundings, sure, but the 88M is a great fit for the burgeoning recordist looking to take the next step in their growth. A person that is looking to invest some additional dollars to improve their equipment will net exponentially higher-caliber results with the 88M. Sometimes a piece of gear is only good for a limited timeframe and then becomes obsolete. However, with the 88M you can build around it and the product you have invested in will maintain its relevance. I suppose this type of foresight shouldn’t be surprising, coming from a company that has impacted our shared musical history the way Neve has.