Friday, January 17, 2014

Geek Alert

I am a geek. It’s official. Not that there was ever any doubt.This is a post for geeky folk. If you are not one, I will write one next week that is way more sexy. Promise.
I am, and always have been, very into groovy audio gear. I had no difficulty memorizing microphone models- and can still identify almost anything. I got practice and a young nipper with all the audio equipment I bought in the 70’s. Ask me anything about the SX-series Pioneer receivers. I spent hours reading and memorizing the specs.
Part of being into audio and recording is gear. Toys. Anyone into it is automatically a gear slut. It's inevitable. You take great delight in discussing microphone pre-amps and compressors. It’s very tedious for the non-audio-inclined. But to the audio geek, it’s like porn. Better, even. And being old enough to remember the good ol' days, I can even go on about Old Gear. Tape machines. Tape. Dolby-A units, which I am sure I could still align. If there is a more useless skill to have, I'd like to know what it is.
Anyway, I was discussing such matters with my friend and colleague Tony Murphy, who had just bought himself  a groovy new pre-amp for Christmas. It’s a Chinese-made version of the delicious, vintage Neve 1073. If you have ever used one of those, it’s hard to forget the experience. Sort of like your first government audit. There are software emulations like the one made by UA (I have that, naturally) but the Neve hardware is hard to come by. And if you do, you’ll need a 2nd mortgage on the house to buy it. But it's worth it. I know your wife will agree.
Tony’s new toy piece of equipment was about $300. The price was still on the box. Not bad. Amid much tire- kicking, he asked me if I wanted to take it home and give it a spin. After careful deliberation about 1 second I said, “Ya. Sure.”
I compared it briefly with my Focusrite 428 and my tube-driven Drawmer 1960. The mic: a Neumann TLM- 103. Not getting to use it in a full session, I still tried the combinations recording some caterwauling vocals and some staggeringly inept guitar.
The results? Well, as I said to Tony, the Focusrite was more transparent. So was the Drawmer. But the 1073 knockoff was not bad either- “record-y”, as you might say. A little furry, but plenty of gain and remarkably low noise. Sometime you want a little “warmth”. Wish I could have used it on a snare drum. And doesn't every studio need some variety and choice in equipment? Of course it does.
Considering the price differential (The Focusrite and Drawmer are both about 11 times the price…) it stood up quite well. The same guy who designed this is also putting out a U67 knockoff (yes, I know there are a bunch of those already…but this might be a good one) also for about $300. I will be making room on my corporate Visa for it. You can never have too many microphones. Or compressors. Or signal processors. Or software.
Here is a picture of the beast in question. It’s pretty:

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