Like the rest of the Portico series, this single-channel mic preamp and EQ is a half-width, 1RU-height unit that can be racked horizontally or vertically. The preamp section, with its 72 dB of gain, sweepable high-pass filter, and Silk switch, is identical to the 5012 (reviewed in Tape Op #49), so this review will focus more on the 5032's three-band EQ section, comprised of a low shelf fixed at 160 Hz, a high shelf switchable between 8 and 16 kHz, and a parametric mid band. The mid band is sweepable from 80 Hz to 800 Hz, or, through the use of the 10x frequency switch, from 800 Hz to 8 kHz. It has a continuously variable Q control ranging from 0.6 to 3.0. All three bands are capable of 15 dB boost or cut. And when using the 5032 at line level, you have access to the Silk switch and HPF in the mic
preamp section. How does it sound? The knee of the low shelf is a little
high for my taste. With larger boosts, frequencies above 160 Hz are affected as well, which starts to emphasize an area that can sound a little boxy. However, when I boosted while simultaneously cutting with the HPF from the preamp section, I was much happier achieving a low-end presence that was still tight. I liked the high shelf right away. It has a very open and airy feel. For the first 2-3 dB of boost, it doesn't sound like you're adding brightness-more like you're adding additional air and space around the sound. As you boost more than that, you can create a nice granular crunch-meaning there's still texture from the transient. A hi-hat will still have a "chick" as opposed to being flattened into "tsss", and an acoustic guitar will keep its attack rather than getting a little softened and sizzly as can sometimes happen with bigger boosts.
With midrange, the test for me is usually the sound of the cut. Cutting with the narrowest Q was almost inaudible, which is a good thing since it allows for transparent removal of problem frequencies. The frequency sweep knob is labeled only at its highest and lowest settings. Arguably, this is insignificant because your frequency choice should be made by how it sounds, but it would still be nice to have clearer indication of which frequency you're affecting. This is probably a result of the half-width design, as more labeling would make the front panel look a little cluttered and chaotic.
While it should be irrelevant how the 5032 sounds when compared to a 1073, it's natural to be curious about how a new unit stacks up against a classic from the same designer, so I took some time to A/B both. The 5032 was not intended to be a recreation in the slightest, but instead it's Rupert's take on what he's learned since. Regardless, the design differences between the two make a strict comparison impossible. But when comparing the two flat, the 5032 has a little more upper-mid presence, and it's clear from the low-end which has the much-revered transformer that defined the vintage Neve sound.
However, the 5032 does have its own identity. I think the best way to describe it is clean and effective, like a modern EQ should be. I liked using it to create sounds that had presence and a tight punch. I got some really great kick drum sounds that were very defined in the mix. I also liked it for opening the top of a sound, adding a little air and dimension rather than a cutting brightness-for instance on a vocal. Adding the preamp features in, I've found the HPF on the 5032 (and 5012) to be one of the best I've ever used, as there are few hardware versions that are continuously variable. I think that having very fine control in this area, and being able to remove unnecessary sound without accidentally hitting the body of the sound, is a key to getting an overall great tone. The Silk switch does a great job of bringing some extra second harmonics to the clean modern sound, giving it more of a vintage tone. However, the 5032's clarity is what sticks out to me, and that's why the 5032 comes to mind first when going for a tight, clear, present sound. ($1895 MSRP; www.rupertneve.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.