1073 SPX pre versus Shelford Channel pre?

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1073 SPX pre versus Shelford Channel pre?

Post by gravitychapters » Mon Dec 28, 2020 11:17 am

Hello, friends. It’s been a long time. I used to hang out here a lot. Even wrote a couple of pieces for the magazine. Then life got weird. But, hey, it’s good to be back.

I have a story and then, ultimately, a question. I’m looking for some pretty straightforward gear advice, but also some not-at-all straightforward psychological help. Therapy, basically.

I’m making a new record. Haven’t been able to say that in at least 10 years. I record myself at home. I’d like to think my vibe is more complex and interesting than what I’m about to say, but if I had to boil it down in simple terms I’d say it’s somewhere between Tame Impala and War on Drugs and maybe Califone with as much Laughing Stock mixed in as possible. (Actually, that sounds pretty bonkers now that I write it down!)

I’m recording into Ableton Live on a Mac.

For Christmas I got a 1073 SPX. (Yes, I am a lucky man. And a grateful one, too.) I couldn’t believe I was opening a Neve box; I thought that day would never come. I also recently acquired a Soyuz Bomblet and an Audient iD44. Feeling pretty good about my gear.

And then I started second guessing myself. Does the SPX really sound good? Am I just over the moon because I finally own something that says Neve?

Then I really made a mistake: I started reading reviews. Our very own TO review was a bit lukewarm on the unit.

And then…cue the Jaws music…I read a thread about the SPX on that other notable gear forum. Needless to say, they ripped it apart like so many hungry sharks.

Suddenly I was feeling bad about my Neve. It looked cheap and sad and dismal, as though I were back in 2006 in the land of pro-sumer gear.

Add to this that what I had initially wanted was the Shelford Channel.

Now. I could return the 1073 SPX. I could get the Shelford Channel instead (for, ahem, twice the price, but whatever).

The most straightforward part of my question is simply this: Does anyone have experience with both the SPX and the Shelford Channel? If so, can you speak to the differences between the pre and the EQ?

The more complicated question is something like: When does this madness stop? Should I never read a gear review again? Am I really that impressionable?

I’m eager to get some opinions on both matters, from some people I admire and trust. Thanks, and, again, good to be back.

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Re: 1073 SPX pre versus Shelford Channel pre?

Post by kslight » Mon Dec 28, 2020 11:35 am

Second question - I wouldn’t overthink it. We are spoilt by choices today, with a million neve clones at every price point...one could and often does debate the merit of each one to death. When we are talking about clones, there must be a lot of similarities under the hood, but presumedly there are differences, though in some cases perhaps none greater than price tag... Reviews of all kind are sort of tough to take with 100% faith. Some people just like what they’ve got because they bought it (or indeed, because they didn’t). And some make quantifiable justifications one way or another.

If it were me, I’d try out what you’ve got. If you’re happy with the results, then leave it at that. I think spending double to get something that is probably (?) not twice as good would be a bit tough to swallow, but a preamp that costs as much as a used car would probably be wasted on my home studio so take with a grain..

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Re: 1073 SPX pre versus Shelford Channel pre?

Post by The Scum » Mon Dec 28, 2020 12:23 pm

There are so many preamps that it's easy to second guess, especially if you've got money burning a hole in your pocket.

There are also decades worth of music that was made with the console preamps, which are frequently not "cadillac" circuits. It doesn't take much to make a moderately functional preamp...which, of course, opens us up to the rise of the outboard preamp.

There are a couple things I'd expect from a really fancy preamp - more than 60 dB gain, and extremely low noise, even at the highest gain. Are you encountering issues in either of those neighborhoods? If so, find something that addresses them, otherwise, carry on. Buy things that meet needs & solve problems.

Or maybe you want/need other features? The Shelford adds the compressor...and it's got the Silk control. I almost never track with the EQ or Compressor engaged (I'm likely to shoot myself in the foot...I save that stuff for the mix). Silk is kinda neat, though...and available on much less expensive devices.

My experience tells me that except for certain extreme circumstances, mic preamps don't make a huge difference. Microphone selection and placement (and tape vs digital) are usually a bigger factor in the results. The extreme factors being the gain/noise issues stated above, or preamps that behave well when pushed/overdriven/abused, or are intentionally designed to be a bit off....The Chandler Germanium pre (designed for abuse), or a Shure M67 (about as few components as you can have and still have any sort of preamp) as two examples.
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Re: 1073 SPX pre versus Shelford Channel pre?

Post by Scodiddly » Mon Dec 28, 2020 1:42 pm

Don't let perfect be the enemy of good. Your SPX should be a nice step up, or at least a different color, from what you have in your interface. If you can plug in a dynamic and get a little different sound than you get from the sort of competent preamp that seemingly everything is equipped with, then it's a win.

Most people posting negative opinions on audio gear are doing it to bolster their sad little egos and put some meaning in their pathetic lives by pretending they're an expert. Write your own review. Seriously, plug the thing in, try some stuff. Abuse the gain, let it distort. Then write down how it sounded to you, and if it seems like something that'll help you record your music the way you want to hear it.

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Re: 1073 SPX pre versus Shelford Channel pre?

Post by Nick Sevilla » Mon Dec 28, 2020 4:33 pm

"Never read the reviews" - Every successful famous person I have ever met.

I would kill to have this unit.

The 1073 circuit is one that has been used on so many countless recordings, I cannot even begin to tell you.

Stop second guessing yourself. Stop allowing the "engineer" side of your brain interfere with your creative process.

Go forth, and make music. That is a direct order.

:)
Howling at the neighbors. Hoping they have more mic cables.

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Re: 1073 SPX pre versus Shelford Channel pre?

Post by A.David.MacKinnon » Mon Dec 28, 2020 5:01 pm

Agreed with everybody else. Let your ears guide you. This seems to be the only place in the web where the advice is "use what you've got". Over at that other place (you know the one) there is usually a lot of praise and hype for whatever has just come out followed by the same people shitting on it 6 months to a year later when the next thing comes out. I'd be happy with most of the pieces that fall out of favour.
We are spoiled for quality, affordable gear these days. When I started out I had an A&H System 8, a tascam 38, one DBX 163x and a small handful of mics. The System 8 was filthy and intermittent. If it got turned off it would take a full day before it stabilized and was "usable" again. I listen to the records I made back then and have no idea how I did it.
Honestly, if you can't get something great out of the 1073 the pre-amp isn't the issue.

Don't sweat it. Just make music.

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Re: 1073 SPX pre versus Shelford Channel pre?

Post by gravitychapters » Mon Dec 28, 2020 10:20 pm

Thank you all for the helpful and sobering replies. I've been stuck in some kind of gear fever dream. It sucks. I need to make some sounds.

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Re: 1073 SPX pre versus Shelford Channel pre?

Post by Scodiddly » Tue Dec 29, 2020 6:22 am

Maybe this is a delaying tactic because it's hard to start a project? That's one of my own worst habits.

Likely you're worried about making a decision about whether you want to keep it or not. So I'd recommend recording something just as a test, see if you like it. Don't worry about recording something that you would keep, just record something for the sake of trying out your new gear. Fool around with different mics, see how they behave with the 1073. This summer I built a Hamptone JFET preamp and now I'm using my dynamic mics a lot more than I used to.

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Re: 1073 SPX pre versus Shelford Channel pre?

Post by gravitychapters » Tue Dec 29, 2020 8:45 am

Oh yeah, I've been there for sure. But in this particular case, that's not the issue; I'm in the middle of mixing a song that I'm really happy with, and I've been using the 1073 quite a bit, have gotten some really nice results with it. (One thing it did that I loved: I ran in-the-box kick and snare out to the 1073 and back into Ableton, and they suddenly sounded...real. It was so cool. They had more transients, more air, more life. They literally sound real now.)

But I've also had some results I wasn't immediately in love with. My vocals seemed more strident than I had expected. The high shelf EQ feels a bit hissy, not as musical as I'd hoped. And that stupid Shelford thing keeps haunting me. And then I'm just way too impressionable when it comes to people saying negative stuff on other forums. Suddenly it's like AMS Neve is the devil and the only thing that's valid is Rupert Neve Designs or whatever.

I'm obsessing.

But yeah, I'm actually in the middle of mixing a song I'm super into. So at least that's happening.


Scodiddly wrote:
Tue Dec 29, 2020 6:22 am
Maybe this is a delaying tactic because it's hard to start a project? That's one of my own worst habits.

Likely you're worried about making a decision about whether you want to keep it or not. So I'd recommend recording something just as a test, see if you like it. Don't worry about recording something that you would keep, just record something for the sake of trying out your new gear. Fool around with different mics, see how they behave with the 1073. This summer I built a Hamptone JFET preamp and now I'm using my dynamic mics a lot more than I used to.

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Re: 1073 SPX pre versus Shelford Channel pre?

Post by Nick Sevilla » Tue Dec 29, 2020 3:18 pm

gravitychapters wrote:
Tue Dec 29, 2020 8:45 am
And then I'm just way too impressionable when it comes to people saying negative stuff on other forums. Suddenly it's like AMS Neve is the devil and the only thing that's valid is Rupert Neve Designs or whatever.

I'm obsessing.

But yeah, I'm actually in the middle of mixing a song I'm super into. So at least that's happening.
I met Mr. Neve once. At an AES convention. I got to ask him two questions:

1. What would your ideal signal chain be? Something pure and clean, with absolutely no artifacts nor distortions of any kind.

2. What was his favorite hardware design so far? The AMEK 9098 console and outboard.

To Mr. Neve, his quest has always been CLEAN signal paths. Above all else. He laughs when people tell him they love his early stuff. The reason everyone loves these, is because they add pleasing harmonic distortions. And you have got to remember, this was the late 1960s thru 1976 or so. He does not love them, other than because they helped create the sound of so many albums of that era. It was never actually his intention to make them like that, it was what he knew then, and the available equipment as well.

This is why many hate his new consoles. They are CLEAN. The Shelford stuff is a return of sorts, to older designs, which have more harmonic distortion.

But, you already have that 1073, which is what you want from ANY Neve design: Clean enough to do clean recordings, but HAIRY when needed.

As to your vocals being "strident", well without listening to a sample, I have no idea what that word means to you. If the high shelf seems "hissy", maybe you are just using too much of it. So, instead, use a brighter microphone to begin with. That should stop you from having to add any top frequencies at all.

Cheers
Howling at the neighbors. Hoping they have more mic cables.

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Re: 1073 SPX pre versus Shelford Channel pre?

Post by vvv » Tue Dec 29, 2020 7:42 pm

I read about R. Neve's preference for "clean, no distortion" and I harken back to L. Fender sayin' the same thing.

And yet, despite their best intentions/capabilities, we got the 1073, etc., and the tweed, etc.
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Re: 1073 SPX pre versus Shelford Channel pre?

Post by alexdingley » Tue Dec 29, 2020 10:29 pm

As someone who opened his first Neve box, a Shelford Channel, this year... I can say — I get the feeling you had. I also TOTALLY get the back-of-the-head worry that "oh no! Am I just imagining that it sounds this good because it's got that snazzy label on it?".

I read those other reviews, in which the 1073spx is ripped apart. They really gave me a bad impression of the modern 1073 stuff. But then I went back to a session that I tracked on a newer AMS Neve Gensys Black — (from what I believe I read) it's got the same 1073s that are in the unit you have. That session sounds fucking incredible.

I'm not someone who's got years of experience living (and making my living) on vintage 1073s, so I can't pretend that I'd really be able to hear the subtle differences that those other guys were making such a big deal out of (on the other forum)... but I will go back to the old adage: "if it sounds good, it is good"... and your ears are probably not fooling you; your Neve 1073SPX probably sounds fucking awesome; leaps above some of the other pre's you may have previously owned.

I know the Shelford has blown my mind... and I spent the first two weeks tracking my vocals on it, and sending .wav files (of just raw vocal tracks) to studio friends, going "holy shit — are you hearing this the way that I am???". So, if your Neve gave you that same "wow!" factor, then take that excitement and let it help you build momentum and go get some shit done. <he writes as he's quitting PT for the night and spending time on the web, instead of finishing a mix>

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Re: 1073 SPX pre versus Shelford Channel pre?

Post by alexdingley » Tue Dec 29, 2020 10:34 pm

Oh... and just something that I think might be true, and it would be helpful to remember:

All of those great recordings, we all love... the ones made on the fancy-ass Neve desks in the 70's/80's/etc...

(a lot of the time, the following statements would have been true)
  • That artist could have sang/played into a tin-can and It would have rocked
  • The performance could have been recorded in a high-school cafeteria and still felt/sounded magical
  • That engineer could have been working on a much-less sophisticated console and gotten a great record
So often... we've been told to hold "the gear" up as "the answer" to how we'll get those sounds. And the reality is: we're probably NEVER gonna get those sounds. But if we stop worrying about our gear and listen, maybe we'll make some records that future gear-fiends will drool over.

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Re: 1073 SPX pre versus Shelford Channel pre?

Post by Theo_Karon » Wed Dec 30, 2020 9:12 am

I have used both and prefer the Shelford channel (which shouldn't be a surprise considering the difference in price). But I'd like to qualify that a bit - all of this crap is so goddamned psychosomatic, and the real head-twister is that it can be actual and psychosomatic at the same time. I have tracked vocals through the AMS and been perfectly happy with them. Does it sound the same as a vintage 1073 in an 80XX console? Do I care? Does the console preamp just sound different because some of the components are out of spec? Is that good or bad? It's certainly a similar flavor, and it certainly sounds good. It also falls into the trap of vanishingly small iterative cost-cuts in recapitulations of 'classic' equipment, and me wondering how much that actually matters. Can I really hear it if I squint intently at the knob while I've got nothing better to do? Probably. Do I care in the middle of a session? Not really. Is this whole pursuit a game of tiny increments that add up to something noticeable? Definitely, and that's the context in which this dilemma can be debated productively. As far as it causes that gut-churning anxiety that maybe you're sabotaging your entire project before it even begins by recording one second more of audio through this piece of junk, I think that all can be comfortably left behind. This preamp is perfectly adequate and then some.

Both make use of surface-mount components, a conversation which should have been packed in ages ago but still rises howlingly from the dead at every misbegotten opportunity. I know that the RND units make intelligent, well-considered use of SMD and I assume the same is true of AMS. The only difference you will experience there is that if you are a less-proficient tech (like me), simple repairs will be harder to perform yourself - any competent full-time tech will have no problem. It would be advisable to keep a stock of spares on hand, and future-proofing is another matter, but I struggle to imagine a world in which suitable replacements are truly impossible to find over time, barring a nuclear holocaust or some other unforseen disaster that handily obviates the need for any concern at all about the THD spec or headroom of vintage mic preamp clones. I will say that a modern design that seeks to incorporate some of the sonic signature of its designer's legacy while opening the door to a realm of shockingly modern, flattering fidelity sits better with me than yet another 'almost but not quite' vintage clone, but again, there's that price tag. The RND will probably hold more value over time than an nth-iteration 'budget' (speaking relatively here) clone, so that's also something to consider.

I fear I may only have added to your discomfort here! I hope that's not the case. Make something cool.

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Re: 1073 SPX pre versus Shelford Channel pre?

Post by drumsound » Wed Dec 30, 2020 7:14 pm

I'm sure you would be fine sticking with what you have. It's already there, and paid for and that is also a bonus. The thing about the Shelford channel, from my point of view is the diode bridge compressor. I would rather have compression for tracking than EQ. I wish more makers made mic pre/comp channels instead of EQ, but that's me.

I do think it's amusing that Mr. Neve prefers his cleaner designs. I have a friend who works for RND and they had to really had to "convince" him to make some gear that is a nod to the classic Neve designs. He's 94, and still designs and comes to the office, which is super cool.

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