This is a product that now seems obvious, and although there have been board room and financial shenanigans, one might wonder why it has taken Neve so long to produce it. The 8801 takes Neve’s wonderful heritage and highly regarded 88R console technology and stuffs it neatly into a jam-packed 1U case. The exceptionally busy front panel includes 22 vintage style rotary knobs, many of which also hide a push-click function, plus 11 illuminating soft-buttons and a combo input socket. There is an awful lot going on here, it initially looks rather daunting. And if you want discrete circuitry, best look elsewhere or at Neve’s vintage reissues. But Neve feels confident enough to produce high quality audio using surface-mount components and ICs, making this cheaper to build, even though it’s not particularly cheap to buy.
The front panel is divided left-to-right into logical sections thus: Input, Filters, Dynamics, Audio Router, EQ, and Output. On the rear are separate Line (combo jack), Mic (XLR) and DI (jack), the latter two doubled with a combo jack on the front. Input gain is served by one knob, pushing it selects between these three and a fourth option, the Digital (Genie) which requires an additional card to be installed – not present on the review unit. There is therefore also a redundant Digital Output select button with associated indicator LEDs.
Power comes in via the DIN plug-equipped lead coming from the lump-in-the-line transformer. Surely by now flimsy DIN plugs should be banned for anything but MIDI! Buttons are provided for Pad, Phase and 48V. Mic gain goes up to an indicated +70dB so there is plenty of level boost available – furthermore, the output knob is a fader which goes from off to +10dB (although there is no clue as to where zero might be!) Even more boost is available at the Dynamics section’s Gain Make-Up. Knobs are closely spaced, but thankfully the important Input and Output gain pots are in clear space, making it easier to ride the recording levels on the fly.
The mic preamp quality is excellent, based on those in the 88R console. It manages to sound clean and crystal clear without being weak and characterless, although there is little apparent colouration, just a maturity of tone.
The Filters comprise two 12dB per octave continuously variable knobs with ample range, separately activated (again by knob push) and accompanied by a "Filters to Sidechain" button which acts on both simultaneously.
The Dynamics section comprises four knobs for the Compressor/Limiter across the top for Gain Makeup, Threshold, Ratio and Release, with four knobs along the bottom dedicated to the operation of the Gate/Expander, comprising Hysteresis, Threshold, Range and Release. All eight knobs include push functions for additional control: the Compressors knobs also control Hard/Soft Knee selection, Compressor Sidechain Link, Normal/Fast Attack and Auto-Release mode – a triple time-constant program dependent release time for extra smooth release with definitely no pumping.
On the Expander Gate one can switch between Gate and a 2:1 Expander, Key Input, Normal/Fast Attack and usefully one can also set it to ‘Invert’, i.e. Ducking mode. An overall Dynamics bypass button is provided; each of the two sections can be separately bypassed by setting their Threshold and Ratio or Range appropriately. The Dynamics section is extremely well featured and flexible. Internal jumpers change the two Attack settings to faster times, but one does wish they had put these on the front panel! There is an Auto Release setting for the Compressor/Limiter, but for vocals it seems best with a fixed setting somewhere towards the faster side of the knob’s range. It sounds good on vocals in Soft Knee mode, especially female singers, although one needs to set it bravely with a high ratio and lots of gain reduction LEDs showing to really control singers who have a wide dynamic range.
The EQ section is four-band, with two fully parametric overlapping mid-bands, and sweeping high and low bands with switchable peak/shelf modes, with a push-button Hi-Q setting available in peak mode. As well as a bypass button, there is an EQ to Sidechain function which does what it says and removes the EQ from the main signal path. The EQ is very useable and controls most situations effortlessly and musically, with a sweet top-end and powerful lows, with less midrange aggression than, say, an SSL ‘E’.
The Audio Router is a clever little logic controlled switching circuit to change the order of processing of the Dynamics, EQ and Insert (balanced, accommodated by a pair of dedicated XLRs on the rear). Changing the order is as simple as holding the button to enter programming mode, then pressing the main buttons in the order desired. A brief press of the AR button interrogates, and the order is displayed by flashing the buttons.
The Output section comprises the aforementioned Gain knob, pushing it changes the LED metering between Input and Output. Along with the XLR Line Output, a headphone output is provided on the rear, and using an internal jumper the level of this can be bumped up if so desired. Also on the rear panel is a 9-pin D-Type connector allowing for linking of the Key Input and Dynamics Links (two are provided) to enable daisy-chaining of units.
And finally on the rear is a Type B USB socket for recall. The software is included on the Manual CD (there is no printed manual) and operation is straightforward and slick, with smart graphics for matching settings with a seemingly high degree of accuracy – buttons are set automatically, although infuriatingly their status is lost on power down.
The main criticism of this unit is that it really should have been a 2U affair, just so one could get fingers around knobs and see the legending properly. It would also have allowed jumper settings to be available on knobs instead of taking the top off and fiddling around – you can’t do that while the talent is waiting! And it might have allowed for a decent meter, and probably would have looked very impressive. I’d have also liked a separate limiter section, and perhaps a separate de-esser. But that said, a 2U box would have been undoubtedly rather more expensive, so a prudent Brown-ite philosophy has been employed here… It’s still a terrific bit of kit, the mic amp and EQ particularly sweet – it all sounds bigger than it looks, and this is a great way for, well, anyone to employ some genuine Neve hardware when recording and mixing.
Pros: Jam-packed feature-rich recording channel
Cons: Fiddly, crammed front panel; Buttons lose status on power-down; No printed manual
Reproduced with kind permission from www.georgeshilling.com. Copyright ©