Professional Sound - June 2017 - Page 33

scratch, eliminating the transformers he was familiar with, and searched for newer trans- former designs that would allow for a quicker slew and better transient response that wasn’t available on his earlier desks.” In hunting for more information, they also learned that Neve would spend hours listening to the quality of the sound through the prototypes of the strips he was creating to determine which component/transformer combination worked best. “Then,” Sairan says, “I’m assuming, he would show George Martin.” Removing the transformers from the equa- tion means removing a stage of colouration, he adds: “One of the things that makes the SSL unique is that it’s basically colourless. There’s always been an unwritten rule that you record on a Neve, but mix on an SSL because all your colouration happens in the recording and when mixing, you don’t want to recolour it.” That said, at Subterranean Sound, Lake uses the Neve for tracking and mixing: “It’s a killer mixing desk. I started on a Neve 8028 and I’ve never understood the whole thing about wanting to mix on an SSL. I like the colouration of the Neve.” As for why only three of these boards were made, Sairan believes the cost of making them was simply too high. “One of the things I heard from folks who worked with Rupert back in the day was that whenever he built anything, he’d have at least double the amount of components necessary. If he needed 90 transformers for the output section of a con- sole, he’d need 180, because he actually tested each transformer by listening to make sure they were working and functioning properly, sonically, and throw away half the stuff he’d ordered.” What makes it truly special, though, isn’t just its design, its history, or its sound; it’s the fact that working on it is inspiring. Engineers, like musicians, approach each instrument, each tool, differently, and in some cases, depending on the gear, perhaps with a certain degree of reverence. That’s definitely the case here. (L-R) ELLIOTT SAIRAN & JAY YOUNG OF MOD MY GEAR & SUBTERRANEAN SOUND ENGINEER SCOTT LAKE WORKING ON THE NEVE NEVE NOTES Quick facts on the Air Montserrat Neve from AirStudios.com • 52 channels, 24 busses, 32 monitor channels, 8 cue sends & flying faders • first Neve designed around twin +-15-volt rails running TDA1034 operational amplifier (later called the NE5534A) • standard Neve transformers replaced with toroidally-wound construction • 31106 EQ module frequencies chosen by George Martin & Rupert Neve owing to their being “the most musically useful” • 40 unique 34427 remote mic pre- amps residing in the “studio live area” remote controlled via a “phan- tom” current signal • a design philosophy & implemen- tation that results in a frequency response ranging from 40 Hz-180 kHz, +-1dB • -+26dBu headroom with typical 0.003% THD in a given channel • noise floor of -80dBu and a resulting dynamic range of 106dB colouration of the audio path. The debate about which is ul- timately better, while subjective, is ongoing. “It’s almost as polarizing as whether or not digital sounds as good as an alog,” Sairan says. “When you start getting to the upper end of anything – using a 1959 Les Paul with PAF humbuckers and a Marshall amp from the 1960s, there’s a cer- tain sound quality to it, because the sound is the sum of all those parts. If you use an off-the-shelf 1980s Les Paul, there’s an audible difference. So when SSL was producing their 4000, 6000, and 8000 Series consoles in the 1980s, they chose to go without transformers. To the layman’s ears it would be akin to going from a tube amp to a solid-state amp in a way. One function of a transformer is it isolates the signal from the rest of the console, so if you have signal coming into one channel, the potential for that signal to get crosstalk informa- tion from adjacent channels, or gen- eral noise generated by the power supply, is high.” He continues: “Also, when you transfer signal from one section to another – even within the same channel strip – there’s going to be a certain amount of signal lost and a qualitative difference in the sound. By having a transformer at the end of one section and a transformer at the input of the next, Rupert was ef- fectively creating an impedance dif- ference that would allow the maxi- mum amount of signal to pass un- changed with the minimal amount of signal loss.” Neve had continued that mode of design in the Montser- rat, but as Sairan continues, “He had to completely start his designs from “You don’t want to fight the gear in order to get a good sound and that’s one reason why Jay and I started Mod My Gear,” Sairan says. “The unfortunate reality is that a lot of professional and semi-professional gear that’s out there for the professional and home enthusi- ast alike is created as cheaply as possible so companies can increase their profit. When you look at Rupert Neve, he went out of business twice. His Focusrite consoles were a million dollars back in the ‘80s. Today, that’s just shy of three million a console.” The process of restoration has also inspired Sairan and Young to consider designing and creating their own audio gear, Sairan says – “With the idea of standing on the shoulders of giants to see what we can do with today’s equip- ment to make it sound better.” Kevin Young is a Toronto-based musician and freelance writer. PROFESSIONAL SOUND • 33