One of the most legendary names in audio consoles is Neve. Generations of engineers and producers have relied on these consoles to help create the tone of countless classic recordings. From humble origins in the south of England in the 1960s, the Neve brand rose to a position of dominance that has been challenged by few others in the field of audio recording. And that dominance has always been founded on excellence.

The Neve consoles of the classic era were hand built and hand-wired from the finest mil-spec components to last a lifetime, and they are still in service all over the world—a continuing testament to the incredible talent of the people and the designs assembled by the genius of Mr. Rupert Neve. And that genius started at an early age.

Rupert's Early Years

As a boy, young Rupert was fascinated by radios and learned to repair and build them, along with amplifiers. When the war called, he joined the Royal Corps of Signals and honed his skills further. In the post-war era, he continued working on building PA systems, hi-fi speakers, and his own mobile recording studio.

A key development came in the mid-'50s when he was commissioned to build his first console by the avant-garde composer Desmond Leslie, (a console which still exists). This was a simple tube mixer, used by Leslie for combining his musique concrete sounds from tape recorders into a finished recording. And although the mixer was a simple one, its success spurred Rupert to continue building mixing consoles.

In the early years, these were all tube-based designs, with the first one that contained mic preamps made in 1961 for Recorded Sound Studio in London. This was the contract that caused him to start his own company—Rupert Neve Electronics—and begin building tube-based electronic components in his garage in the ‘new town’ of Harlow, Essex.

In 1964, Rupert and his wife Evelyn moved their company to a church rectory in Little Shelford, near Cambridge. There they built one of the world’s first solid-state recording consoles, based on germanium transistors, for the Philips Recording Studio in London. Right from the start, the idea of ‘modular’ construction was incorporated, so that the console could be updated as needed with new modules.

Neve's Rapid Success

Success and progress were both rapid for the Neve company, and in 1968 they shipped their first consoles to the United States, with Sound Studios in Chicago and Vanguard Recording in New York the happy recipients. The look of the boards had also changed: the color of the console faceplates went from black to ‘RAF blue-grey’, and that became the standard color of Neve consoles throughout the classic era. But aesthetics were not the only things changing for Neve.

The key component in any mixing console is the microphone preamp, and Neve had been continually redesigning and updating their mic pres, from the earliest model 1053 made in 1966 for Philips to the 1062 model in 1968, also made for Philips. Each one built on the success of the previous design, but the biggest change came in 1968 with the 1063 mic pre, which represented many firsts: the first all-silicon transistor model, the first to have stepped controls, the first to have pushbuttons for EQ and Phase, the first to have no separate line input, and the first to integrate the transformer inside the module. This was a dramatically new module produced by a collaboration between the designers at Neve and Marinair, the manufacturer of the transformers.

Much is written about the transformers in Neve modules, and how important they are to the overall tone. In the early days, Neve relied on octal transformers made by Gardners, and Rupert designed his own output transformer, the famous LO1166, which he wound in his garage in Harlow. But just around the corner was a company called Marinair Radar, and their stock transformers were modified for use as mic and line transformers in the ever-changing designs of the Neve mic preamps. Neve continued to use Marinairs until the company folded, at which time the design was produced by St Ives Windings, which was later bought out by Carnhill, who continued to build to the same Neve specs during the 1980s.

But the first mic pre to hide this transformer inside the module was the 1063, first installed in a desk for Thames TV in early 1969, just as two other important developments took place. One was a new home, the other a new module. The dramatic growth in sales had forced Neve to move to bigger quarters in a purpose-built factory in the town of Melbourn, which later gave its name to one of their console designs. In 1969 production began at Melbourn and Neve never looked back. 

Around the same time, the legendary 2254 compressor/limiter began rolling out of the factory, an upgrade from the now-beloved 2252, and the 2253 designed by David Rees for British TV. The 2254 was an all-silicon affair with an added compressor sidechain and laid the groundwork for the great compressor designs that appeared later as the model 2262, its more common variant, the 2264, and the classic 32264.

On The Cusp Of Greatness

With the new console look, the new compressor and preamp designs, the new Penny and Giles faders, and the new factory to build it all in, the Neve company was poised on the cusp of greatness in 1969. Orders had been flowing in, mostly from the television broadcast world, with each console being custom-made to order. Each successful install propelled the company forward, as word got around about the build quality and reliability. But the next step was the most decisive for the history of the company in terms of the music world.

Neve consoles had been used in a few music studios, but in 1970 things went into high gear, and Neve entered its golden age. It was a momentous year for music history, as two announcements were made on May 10—that the Beatles had broken up, and the Neve 1073 microphone preamp was unveiled. This mic pre was to become the gold standard against which all other preamps are measured. This was an advance on the 1066 preamp that featured in the BCM10 broadcast console, also unveiled in 1970. The BCM10 was the natural response to market demand for a basic 10-into-2 mixer for broadcast use, with little to no customization, and it followed on the earlier Kelso board, also a small but potent all-Class-A affair.

At the same time, the custom boards continued to flow from the factory, and George Martin bought a couple for AIR Studios in London, which opened in the fall of 1970. This was the beginning of Neve consoles going into major music studios to track and mix albums, rather than the broadcast studios that had been their main market. It wasn’t long before Pink Floyd came to AIR, to take advantage of the 16-tack recorders and the Neve console, and continue work on their epic song ‘Echoes’ for the Meddle album.

Introducing 80 Series Consoles

The 1970s saw the rise of the premier line of Neve consoles, the ‘80’ series. First begun in 1969 with the 8014 model, the success of these boards spawned many further innovations, each one completely hand-wired by Neve technicians to the most exacting standards, and realizing the pinnacle of analog console design.

At the simpler end of the 80 Series were split consoles: the 8014 with 4 buses, 16 channels, and 8 track monitoring, and the 8034 with 4 buses, 20 channels, and 16 track monitoring. Both were Class A and populated with the likes of 1073 pres, 1272 line amps, and 2254 compressor/limiters. These were designed for studios that did not need a lot of customization, and as a result, they could be built and delivered quickly. The other model in this line was the 8024, with 24 ins, 24 outs, and 24 track monitoring. 

Doubling the buses to 8 moves into the 80x6 split console models, all of which use a complement of 1272 line amps and 2254 compressors. The 8016 has 16 inputs, 16 track monitoring, and 12” tall preamp modules like the 1064 or 1081; (the 8016A uses 8.75” modules like the 1073). The 8026 has 24 inputs, 16 track monitoring, and 1073 or 1084 preamps. The 8036 model has 24 inputs, 32 track monitoring, and the taller 1064 or 1081 pre’s.  Any of these with a 1073, 1084, or 1064 are Class A; those with 1081’s are Class A/B.

Doubling the buses again to 16 brings us to the 80x8 consoles. In this group are the 8028, 8038, 8048, 8058, 8068, and 8088.

The 8028, the simplest of the group, is also the only one that is pure Class A circuitry (including the routers), with 24 channels of 1073 or 1084 preamps, 16 buses, and 24 channel monitoring, along with the usual suspects: 1272 line amps and 2254 compressors. Only five 8028 boards were ever made; the most famous of them was immortalized by Dave Grohl in the film “Sound City”. The next step up is the 8038, which utilizes the taller 1064 or 1081 preamps with either 28 or 32 channels, while the 8048 has 32 channels of 1081 pre’s standard. Each of these has 24 or 32-track monitoring, and all were split-console designs. 

Moving into the 8058, 8068, and 8088, the design changed to a Class A/B inline console with the ‘New Appearance Design’ change to the lighter paint scheme and different knob selection. These are the creme de la creme, the ne plus ultra, the most sophisticated and musical of all Neve analog consoles. They all have 16 buses, and the number of input channels matches the number of monitor channels. Thus the 8058 has 28 channels of 31102 (or 31099) mic pre’s, and 24 channels of monitoring. The 8068 has 32 channels of 31102 pres and 32 channels of monitoring. The 8088 has 40 channels of the 31102 (or 31099) mic pre’s, and 40 channels of monitoring. 

The 24-bus 8078 was similar in most respects to the 8088, (40/16/40), but it was a split monitor design instead of inline. The 8078 could be discrete (with BA440 amplifiers) or not (with BA640s). And like the 8088, it was loaded with the 31105 preamp, using the same mic and line transformers as the 1073. All the 80x8 consoles could be loaded with 32264 compressors, but more importantly, all of them are modular, so many of them were customized to have different channel counts and routing options.

There was also an 8098, but you only got one of those if you were George Martin, and your studio was called AIR.

Studios that are lucky enough to own a Neve console of the 80 Series generally have them as the centerpiece of their room—and for good reason. Along with the prestige of owning one of the finest consoles ever made comes the thrill of running music through the hand-wired glory and dozens of transformers that impart the Neve sound to any audio signal. The 80 Series immediately classes up anything put into it, imparting a warmth and full-bodied tone unavailable in any other desk. A surprising number of consoles remain from those glory days, finding daily use in studios worldwide, and ensuring that Neve consoles remain one of the cornerstones of music production over a half-century after they were first made.

A Legacy That Speaks For Itself

In that time span, there have been more amazing records done on Neve consoles than anyone could count. Even a short list reminds you of how ubiquitous the Neve sound has become with all or parts of these records done on a classic Neve: Bruce Springsteen - Born in the U.S.A; Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms; Bob Dylan – Time Out of Mind and “Love and Theft”; Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Damn the Torpedoes; Johnny Cash – Unchained; Nirvana – Nevermind; David Bowie - Let’s Dance; Chic – Le Freak; Yes – Going for the One; Madonna – Like a Virgin; The Police – Synchronicity; Steely Dan – Aja; John Lennon – Double Fantasy; Robbie Robertson – Self-titled; The Who – Who Are You, and countless others; the list is endless. And that’s not even counting the numerous live and soundtrack albums, including the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970, and the blockbuster Star Wars. Neve was very popular in the tight confines of the mobile recording truck and the open spaces of film scoring studios. 

When engineers and producers talk about the Neve sound, one of the words used most often is ‘musical’. The circuitry of the board imparts a certain kind of sonic ‘glue’ that holds the tracks together in a way that complements the music, bringing an overall tone that has its own unique character. Indeed, some users talk about their boards having a ‘personality’, and they treat them as another musical instrument in their toolkit. A Neve console has a spirit that meshes with the music in a way that no other board can do, creating a tonal palette that invites the listener to engage with the music on a visceral level. In a word, Neve creates Involvement.

And musicians, engineers, and producers will be involved with Neve boards for as long as there are instruments to play and electric current to run through some of the finest recording consoles ever made.

Joe DickinsonIf you'd like to purchase any Neve recording gear, we're here to help! Please contact a Vintage King Audio Consultant via email or by phone at 866.644.0160.