What is the Neve sound? (Using the Slate Digital FG-73)

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Record-Producer.com.

Tuesday December 31, 2019

In this video we try to hear the Neve sound, as emulated by the Slate Digital FG-73. By subtracting the processed file from the original we can clearly hear the extent of the difference, and then try to hear the difference in the music itself.

In this video we try to hear the Neve sound, as emulated by the Slate Digital FG-73. By subtracting the processed file from the original we can clearly hear the extent of the difference, and then try to hear the difference in the music itself.


I'm going to have a little investigation of the Neve sound here's some music...

OK, I've chosen this music because it's a fairly consistent level all the way through.

In here I'm going to insert a plug-in and it's going to be the Slate Digital Virtual Mix Rack.

So it comes up with all those kinds of things there and I don't want any of them so I'll just get rid of that and that and that and that and that and that so there's nothing in the mix rack.

And here if I scroll down I'll find this FG-73 which is Slate Digital's emulation of a Neve preamp. As you can see it says 'Brit' which I presume means British and 'N' which I presume means Neve and 'Pre' which I presume means preamp.

So we've got a virtual drive here what this does is it it pushes more signal into the preamp but it also compensates on the output so it doesn't actually make the level any louder so that makes it very convenient just to push this preamp as much as you want to. I'm just going to use this control today and we'll look at this lamp here in the process.

So let's start with the virtual drive on its minimum setting and we'll see what we get. So I'll use the bypass control here for comparison.

Well I'm not sure I'm hearing anything at all so I need to make a comparison. So what I'm going to do is I'm going to bounce the signal through the VMR. So there's various ways I can do this but I'm going to use the method that's the most similar in the most digital audio workstation softwares. This is Pro Tools but you can do this test in any digital workstation software and that's important.

So this is all correct WAV, we'll have that interleaved stereo, sample rates good, import after bouncing is good and I'm going to call that Neve for clarity and I've got the offline button checked there so that it doesn't take too long to bounce. So here we go with the bounce...

And import it to a new track so I've got both of my tracks there and I'll just make them both the same size.

On the original track I'm going to deactivate the VMR and I don't need to see that and on this new track that I've created I'm going to invert it so we use this plug-in here invert and render.

So if I focus in on it let's focus in on that peak there just here will be fine. So if I put a cursor in there and in there what we can see is that here we've got a peak and here we've got a trough so they're exactly the opposite of each other so in effect what we're doing is subtracting one track from the other and if they were completely the same we should hear nothing.

But let's just have a listen. We'll go to the mix screen.

Let's just have a listen and see whether we do indeed hear nothing. Here we go...

Well I can hear something - it's mostly bass so I'm thinking that's some kind of a phase shift in the Neve emulation so we're not going to worry about that too much. We're just going to have to ignore it.

I'm just going to tweak the level just a little bit just to see if I can get a better cancellation. No that's the best I can get and it seems to be incrementing in 0.1decibel steps so I can't get any finer resolution than that.

So what we hear in this situation is that apart from that phase shift there isn't really a great deal of difference between the two signals. So on its lowest setting the Neve emulation really isn't doing very much so let's take it to another level.

So I'll delete this track. I don't want it anymore. And I'll bring the VMR back so there we've got it. So this time I'm going to raise it up to I think about 40 but I'll play the track...

OK that sounds good to me. Let's do the bypass test...

I'm still not hearing very much of a difference but I'll do the same thing as I did before and bounce it. So there we go it's re-imported it. I'll make them both the same size because that's the way that I like it and I'll deactivate the VMR.

So now I can invert this version. Oh I'm on invert already, sorry it's just down here, and render it. So now let's see what we get I might have to tweak the level this time.

No it's pretty much the same. I will tweak it just in case I can get a better cancellation. No, no I can't get any better cancellation than that so there we go that's the Neve sound once again and to be honest I'm not hearing very much of it.

I'm going to let you into a little secret here that I did once interview Rupert Neve himself when he was the boss of Focusrite, which has now changed ownership, and I asked him about the Neve sound and he said there isn't a Neve sound. He said he designed his equipment not to have a sound. He actually did say that to me so that must mean something mustn't it?

Let's delete this and we'll try again. This time what I'm going to do is I'm going to increase the drive until I really do hear something happening and we'll see it on this little lamp here. So let's play the music...

It looks like a lovely little traditional filament lamp and to hell with global warming. So we could see this is just glimmering it's just glimmering so we should have just a trace of that Neve sound.

Actually I'll just make it too much because you can hear when it's too much...

Okay that is too much so you'd only want that for a special distortion effect. I'll back it off again.


I can hear something this time but it might just be a change in level so let's do the same comparison again. I'll bounce the track and re-import it. Take out the VMR, make them both the same size for neatness and tidiness, and invert the copy. So now let's play...

So now we are hearing something. Those crackles that you can hear - I'm not going to say that's the Neve sound. It's the Neve sound being subtracted from the original and that's what's left but it is giving you an indication of how much the plug-in is doing and that it really does sound different.

So let me just try and balance it again just to make sure that I've got the best cancellation.

Okay in this case it has boosted the level slightly so we've got 0.4 dB, minus 0.4 dB on the fader and that gets us the best cancellation. And we hear those crackles which represent the difference between the original signal and the Neve sound. Let's listen to that again...

And we're just getting it on the peaks.

Let me just go back to the original track again so I'll delete this one and I'll just bring the VMR back online again and I don't need that so.. So what I'm going to do here to make a comparison because we have got that 0.4 decibel level difference.

I'm going to duplicate this track so duplicate and I duplicate it without the insert so it's got everything else but not the insert and the VMR version was 0.4 decibels louder so I'm going to make that 0.4 decibels quieter.

So that's about as close as I can get to matching these two so in here we can see we've got the VMR and here you can see we've got - sorry - Here we can see in this space we've got nothing so we're comparing the original track with the VMR version so I'll use the solo buttons to do that...

What I'm hearing just as a sort of hint to what you might listen out for is I'm hearing a little bit slightly duller sound I'm not going to say it's dull as such, we're just slightly less bright than the original but at the same time it seems to have more of a solidity to how it seems to bind the instruments together a little bit better than the original so I'll say on balance I do prefer this Neve sound.

But to be honest if I heard them just separately and I wasn't just flicking back from one to the other, would I know the difference then? Would I be able to spot the difference in a double-blind test?

I'm not so sure that I would.

So that'll do for today I think and I'm just going to leave you with the same comparison I'm just going to click backwards and forwards between the two for the rest of the duration of this clip of music. Here we go...

I'm David Mellor, Course Director of Audio Masterclass. Thank you for listening.

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