Recording equipment manufacturers, as in any other product segment, fall into trends. When something sells, everyone wants to jump on the boat, and it's easy to write off late-comers in the competition. This applies to Neve clones and 500-series modules, but even while falling into both categories, the AML ez1073-500 should not be written off.
The ez1073-500 started out as a project over on the GroupDIY.com forums. Audio Maintenance Limited runs an online store providing hard-to-find parts for repairs as well as for the DIY community at large. The recording public's lust for an affordable Neve clone seems insatiable, and there was a large immediate reaction, enough of one that AML decided to offer the modules as a finished product.
Aesthetically, the AML module leaves a bit to be desired. The front panel is simple and the layout seems almost random, until you take a look inside and realize what it's taken to fit the design into the 500-series format without using any surface-mount devices (SMDs). While arguments on the pros and cons of SMD technology are still on the table in the audio world, AML played it safe by sticking with traditional through-hole components. The transformers and inductors are all Carnhills, including separate mic and line input transformers just like the original Neve modules, as well as the huge 1166-style output transformer. This transformer alone has been a blockage for people attempting to build Neve designs into the 500-series, as it's too large to fit in a single space. Two-space 500-series modules have always seemed like a waste of real-estate and a good power supply to me, but this one makes use of the two separate inputs by having completely separate mic and line inputs, which is an important part of the design of a real 1073 as well as most other 1080-series Neve modules.
Upon receiving the unit, Daniel Schlett and myself threw it directly into our Purple Audio Sweet Ten rack and gave it a listen against our Neve 1070L, 1064, and 1081 preamp/EQs, as well as a pair of Avedis 1064 units (the prototype for the BAE 1023) and a Vintech 273. The Neve modules themselves are a bit different sounding, with the 1070L having the most bottom end, which I believe puts them closest to a 1073. While doing blind tests didn't bring out any clear favorites, we found the ez1073-500 to be indistinguishable from our Neve 1070Ls. It was far closer in sound than even our Neve 1064s, which was a shock to say the least.
The next day, Daniel had an opportunity to use the module with the band Total Slacker. Here's what he had to say: "I decided to really put the ez1073-500 up to the test and record all the guitars for the day with it. All tracks were recorded with an RCA BK-5A ribbon mic into a Hairball Audio 1176 Rev D (Tape Op #84). First, I noticed that the mic preamp section of the unit was massive, just like a real Neve. I ended up using the low-cut to clean up some unnecessary subs but also used the low-frequency boost to keep the guitars heavy and thick. When it came time to cut the solo, the fixed high-shelf was perfect for taming the harsh top-end coming out of our Fender Dual Showman. I would definitely recommend this piece to anyone in the market for a Neve clone. I shouldn't even call it a clone. This thing is real!"
I don't think I could have said it better myself. The ez1073-500 stands right up there with actual Neve modules and at the price point is an unbelievable steal. If you're in the market for a Neve clone, and you're more concerned about the sound than the look, you owe it to yourself to give this one a listen. (££695.00 GBP direct; www.audiomaintenance.com)