First Listen: A Review of the UK Sound 1173

BAE recently announced that they would be releasing a new product line under the banner of UK Sound. The brand’s first product, the UK Sound 1173, is the combination of a Neve 1073 style preamp and Universal Audio/Urei 1176 style compressor in a single space rack module.

For the design, world-renowned tracking and mix engineer Warren Huart (The Fray, Aerosmith, Korn) teamed up with BAE and gear designer Michael Stucker to help bring the best of both worlds into a single piece of hardware.

Watch our demo video of the UK Sound 1173 and continue reading below to see a full review of this mic pre and compressor combo.

Studio Staples
If you were to ask a handful of tracking engineers for a list of their favorite preamps, I think it’s safe to say that the Neve 1073 would be close to the top on all of them. There’s something special that happens when you use them on drums or guitars. They have a way of making the source sound “smooth” and “creamy,” yet have great amounts of punch and attitude. Overdriving the preamp to just the right spot can help fatten up the sound, even at the most extreme points of saturation the overdrive has a “round” sound to it that doesn’t attack your ears.

The 1073 also works wonders on many other instruments including vocals, acoustic guitar, strings instruments, brass, piano, percussion and bass. The Class-A, solid state preamp is known for capturing a detailed transient response, making whatever source seem as if it’s right up front in the mix. The way it captures the small nuances in a vocal has made it one of the go-to preamps for pop, rock, hip-hop, country and rap music for decades. Recording percussive instruments such as acoustic guitar or a live piano with a 1073 can make you feel as if your in the room with the player, every strum, pick, finger movement and hammer strike seem more exposed and upfront in the mix.

Every preamp has a few different compressors that compliment it’s signature sound, whether it’s to smooth out those detailed peaks or crush the source to add excitement. The Urei/Universal Audio 1176 paired with a Neve 1073 can do it all. An 1176 can sound transparent using less gain reduction, lower ratios and the slowest attack with the fastest release. These settings are commonly used for creating a natural sounding vocal perforce that sits just right in the track, smoothing out the attack of a snare drum while extending the decay and gluing together all the mics on a drum kit.

If you want something such as a drum room microphone to sound larger than life, the higher ratios with extreme amounts of gain reduction can add unlimited amounts of attitude by increasing the perceived size of a room. Using these compression settings on a room mic can make a basement sound like a concert venue. Used in parallel, the lower ratios with gain reduction around -7dB and -15dB help fill in the low end and mid-range of the source, making it more dominant in the mix. When you use higher ratios or the all buttons in function in parallel, the 1176 is known for adding that “in your face” mid range and creating excitement in the source.

UK Sound 1173 on Clean Electric Guitar
I wanted to hear how the 1173 sounded on a clean guitar with a couple different kinds of microphones, so I threw up a Sennheiser MD421 right up on the speaker cab and an AT4050 a couple feet away from the amp.

Starting with the AT4050 going into the 1173 and compressor bypassed, I had the -10 dB pad on the mic engaged with the amp about a quarter of the way up. With a couple clicks of gain it had a nice full sound, but was on the line of overdriving. Switching between the high and low Mic Z made a drastic change in character, Low Z is much smoother and warmer so more gain could be added before breaking up. On High Z, I was starting to get saturation just a couple clicks up. The saturation is very similar to a Neve 1073.

I ended up using the Low Z setting and a couple clicks of gain. With the pad engaged and the placement of the microphone, I wasn’t getting any breakup from the preamp. It had a nice warm low end and transient response similar to a 1073, really easy to dial in a good tone.

Now that I had that dialed in I wanted to hear how the 1176 held up. I set the Preamp Out to 0 and engaged the compressor, at first nothing was happening. I had the ratio set to 4:1, attack at the slowest and release at the fastest setting possible. 

I turned the “Preamp Out” all the way up, then reversed the attack and release settings before getting an average amount of gain reduction. Once the compression kicked in, I thought it was sounding good.

UK Sound 1173 On Overdriven Electric Guitar
I cranked the amp up a bit and used the MD421. I was playing a Telecaster straight through a ’65 Ampeg Gemini I. That combo gets some of the best natural overdrive I’ve ever heard, but sometimes I like pushing it a little father with a mic pre. So for this setup I was using the High Z input, the amp was much louder and a couple more clicks on the preamp gain. The 421 was able to handle much more gain.

When I engaged the compressor I had much more control. At my standard setting of slow attack and fast release it had quite a bit of grab, and was able to crush it by using a faster attack. This felt and sounded much closer to the 1073/1176 combo I’m used to. The HPF and S/C filter made quite a difference with this much input gain. Engaging the HPF cleared out the mud in the low end but didn’t make the guitar sound thin, I’m not sure exactly what frequency it’s set to, but it worked well in this instance. With the HPF engaged, then followed by the S/C filter, the amount of compression was greatly reduced.

UK Sound 1173 On Electric Guitar - 45 Factory Setup
I wanted to hear an electric guitar set-up again in a different environment. This time I used a Les Paul Standard plugged straight into a vintage Fender Super Reverb. I cranked up the amp quite a bit to get some natural overdrive, but still clean enough to hear the chords ring though. I mic’d up with the ole trusty Shure SM57.

I had it set around the same settings as the Tele and Gemini, but I think the humbuckers in the Les Paul were pushing the signal a little too much, so I did a little adjusting. After tweaking the input gain, preamp out and output, I came up with a solid rock guitar tone.

UK Sound 1173 On Vocals
When I took the 1173 to the 45 Factory, I had to try it on vocals with a big dog microphone. I had my good friend Olivia Millerschin come in and sing through a Neumann U47 straight into the 1173. Olivia has an incredible voice, very controlled technique and knows how to work a microphone, so it’s always easy to record her.

I barely had to do anything and came up with an amazing vocal tone. Couple clicks up and down on the preamp until it was in the sweet spot, then I popped in the compressor. After making a few small tweaks I was ready to roll. I didn’t engage the HPF or S/C Filter, her voice doesn’t go that low too often. I ended up using the 4:1 ratio with the slowest attack and fastest release. The compressor was responding and sounding very similar to an 1176.

Recording the vocal is where I think the 1173 shined the most, and was by far the closest sound to the classic 1073 and 1176 modules. The preamp did a great job capturing the low end, you could feel the air moving around the microphone. For not adding any EQ, the performance had a full bottom and airy top end. The compressor did a great job of smoothing out the peaks without hearing the pumping effect kick in. This combination made the 1173 a total winner in my book, although it’s hard to go wrong with a great singer into a U47.

UK Sound 1173 On Bass
I had to try the 1173 on some electric bass. The DI sound of a bass through a classic 1073 is killer, it captures all that mid range bark and finger attack on the strings. I switched over to DI mode and plugged my ’78 P Bass directly into the front panel input. I was going straight out of the 1173 into our Burl B80 Mothership with BAD4 Converters, which was then feeding the line input of the Tree Audio Roots console. Same deal as the vocal, couple clicks here and there and I had a great bass tone with a smooth low end and defined mid range. It had an Americana vibe to it with the tone all the way up, or R&B/Motown feel with the tone rolled down a bit.

The preamp had that same snarl that a Neve has on a DI bass. It reacts to the dynamic of your playing. Lightly playing will give a smooth, rich, full tone. Digging into the strings will bring out the mid range bark and presence. Even the higher strings had some sort of low end, the tone remained balanced even when playing in different areas of the neck.

The compressor was feeling just like an 1176 to me on this one. I use a UA 6176 at my house all the time, I’m very familiar with how my bass responds dynamically to a compressor. From the moment I got the tone dialed in, I was feeling right at home.

As a Bass DI, I think it holds up to some of the big dogs like the API Tranzformer LX, ACME Audio Motown DI and REDDI box. For all the bass enthusiast out there, this would be a great addition to help add more flavors while recording.

In the end, I think the 1173 comes pretty darn close to the sound of a Neve 1073 and UA 1176. You can pick one up from Vintage King for only $1,200, which is a fraction of what you would spend on the big boys. Although I don’t think the sound is exactly the same as the classic hardware, it has a similar vibe, easy to use controls and its own unique spin on a couple old classics.

I think this would be a great piece of gear for someone building their first rig with high quality in mind. I also think it would be a great addition to a larger facility loaded with 1073s and 1176s, since adding another spice to the rack is never a bad thing.

If you have any further questions or would like to pick up an 1173 for yourself, be sure to contact your Audio Consultant at Vintage King via  email or by phone at 855.614.7315. 

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