Industry Legend Rupert Neve Turns 90 – 7-28-16

Sweetwater is delighted to celebrate the 90th birthday of Rupert Neve, a visionary music technology inventor whose genius has shaped audio production for well over half a century. In addition to countless innovations and accomplishments, Neve is considered by many to be the father of the modern recording console. In 1997, in recognition of his long list of revered designs, he was among the first people ever to be awarded a Technical Grammy Award for his lifetime accomplishments, but over the two decades since, Rupert Neve has shown the world that he was far from finished. His long career of audio innovation continues to this day under the Rupert Neve Designs banner, which offers some of his finest creations ever. Neve’s latest, and some say best, offerings range from best-selling 500 Series modules to the full-blown flagship 5088 recording console. Clearly his contributions to the recording industry are far from over.

Early Life

Rupert Neve was born on July 31, 1926, and though he was a British national, his father had relocated the family to Buenos Aires, Argentina, working as an agent for the British and Foreign Bible Society. By the time he was 13, Rupert’s interest in radio technology had already inspired him to build his own audio amplifiers and other radio components. As World War II broke out, he put his talent to work repairing radios and selling them to compatriots eager for news from home.

At 17, Rupert Neve enlisted in the Royal Signals to support the war effort, which ultimately brought him to England, where he remained after the war. There he purchased a disused US Army Dodge ambulance and turned it into a mobile recording and sound-reinforcement control room. His exploits during this period included recording choirs, opera, and music festivals on 78 rpm lacquer discs, as well as providing the PA system for Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) during the 1957 reopening of the Minster Church of St. Andrew in Plymouth, which had been badly damaged in the 1941 blitz.

Rupert Neve next took a position as chief engineer for the transformer manufacturer Rediffusion, which was on the leading edge of the cable TV systems boom. While the company also produced large loudspeakers, they were uninterested in a small bookcase speaker he created in his spare time, so when a client approached him with an order for 500 units, Rupert left Rediffusion to found CQ Audio. CQ Audio went on to develop several successful hi-fi speakers and amplifiers in its relatively short life.

First Console

Rupert Neve’s career took a sudden turn in the early ’60s, when Musique Concrete pioneer Desmond Leslie commissioned him to design a device that could combine the outputs of several tape machines. While Neve had founded Neve Electronics in 1961, he never could have imagined the impact this early custom mixer would have on the music industry as a whole. Within a few years, Leo Pollini of Recorded Sound in London hired Rupert Neve to build a pair of valve consoles, and Phillips Records commissioned a series of equalizers based on Neve’s cutting-edge transistor technology. Neve Electronics opened their first factory in 1969, and the business took off.

The Venerable 1073

The year 1970 marked the birth of Rupert Neve’s most iconic invention, the 1073 preamplifier module. Originally commissioned as an upgrade for Wessex Studio’s new A88 mixing console, the combination of its unique transformer-driven preamp and highly musical 3-band EQ made the 1073 the desert-island pre for generations of top-tier recording engineers. When the flagship 8048 console was introduced in 1973 with an updated version of this preamp design, called the 1081, the Neve name became an industry benchmark.

To keep up with the rapid growth and financial demands of Neve Electronics, Rupert Neve sold the company later in 1973. While he remained at the company, Rupert developed the NECAM (Neve Computer Assisted Mixdown) system, the first moving fader automation to reach the market, though it wasn’t released until 1977, two years after Rupert left Neve Electronics.

In 1975, Rupert and wife Evelyn set up ARN Consultants, which they still run today. Founded during a strict decade-long noncompete agreement with Neve Electronics, ARN Consultants focused on Rupert’s other interests and innovations in the wide world of audio technology. One of his accomplishments during this time was the foundation of the Cambridge Radio Course, a 4-week hands-on program for Christian workers interested in using broadcast to entertain and educate their communities.

Focusrite Limited

Rupert Neve got back into the music recording field in 1985 when he was commissioned by Sir George Martin to create a 16-channel sidecar fitted with custom-designed modules for the Neve console at Martin’s Air Montserrat studio in the Caribbean. Neve’s new company was named Focusrite and began producing console-mounted preamp/equalizer and high-performance dynamics processor modules reminiscent of Neve’s earlier work. The now-legendary ISA 110 preamp/equalizer and ISA 130 VCA compressor/limiter were released to the world in 1987. (ISA stands for Input Signal Amplifier.) The modules caught on quickly, and demand for a Focusrite mixing desk began to grow.

In 1988, Focusrite embarked on what may have been the most ambitious console design of its time. The series of eight Focusrite Forte mixing consoles were intended as no-expense-spared mixing desks, fully loaded with ISA modules and built for efficiency and high-performance sound quality. Unfortunately, delays in development for the digital control systems caused the project to fall behind schedule and over budget, and Rupert Neve sold off Focusrite’s assets in 1989. The consoles were eventually produced, and they are still considered some of the finest in the world.

Amek Years

The next chapter in Rupert Neve’s career began in 1989, when ARN Consultants began working with Amek Systems and designing new consoles and outboard equipment. Amek introduced popular models based on Neve’s designs, including the popular 9098 series.

The 2000s punctuated Rupert Neve’s career with a number of successful new projects. Taylor Guitars brought in ARN Consultants to develop a special pickup and preamplifier. These eventually became the original Taylor Expression System, a system considered by many to be the finest acoustic guitar electronics ever made. During this time, Rupert and his wife relocated to the United States, where he settled in Wimberley, Texas. Around that time, he collaborated on the design of the elaborate Masterpiece mastering processor with Legendary Audio’s Billy Stull.

RND-Rupert Neve Designs

Acknowledged by many as the “new Neve,” Rupert Neve Designs broke into the burgeoning high-end project studio market in 2005 with their Portico series, focusing on modular recording and mixing components ideal for studios in need of high quality and lower channel counts. Many RND designs have been welcomed by the recording industry, including the powerful Portico II Master Buss Processor. In the intervening years, the RND product line has expanded to include a full range of 500 Series processors, including the best-selling 511 mic pre, the 542 Tape Emulator with Silk/Texture circuitry, and the 517 mic pre with opto compressor. In addition to the incredibly popular RNDI, the only direct box Rupert ever designed, which has become an industry favorite since it was introduced in 2015, RND has also introduced the Shelford series mic pre and inductor EQ. And there’s the 5088, the console that is the culmination of Rupert’s decades of design expertise, which features 90V rails, Rupert’s trademark wide bandwidth designs, and those wonderful Neve transformers that have graced his designs all the way back to his beginnings. This may be his crowning achievement.

With products still in development today, these current designs have earned Rupert Neve Designs a total of 12 TEC awards, several PAR Excellence awards, Mix Certified Hit awards, and an MIPA award.

Microphone Designs

In 2008, at the age of 82, Rupert Neve entered into the field of microphone development, collaborating with sE Electronics founder Siwei Zou to develop an active ribbon mic with ultra-high-frequency sensitivity. This collaboration resulted in the RNR1, and the relationship has continued with the development of additional high-performance microphones utilizing Neve’s custom transformers and circuitry – the first and only microphones in the world to employ these elements.

While Rupert Neve’s various projects and companies have grown, thrived, and taken on lives of their own, his work with ARN Consultants and Rupert Neve Designs continues to this day, as does his indelible influence on the music technology industry. From the modern mixing console to the multitude of modular processors that fill today’s studio racks, it’s safe to say that the music production world as we know it wouldn’t be the same without the innovative brilliance of Rupert Neve.

By Sweetwater on Jul 28, 2:56 PM



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