Neve 88M preamp and interface

Lyrics by Lewis Noke Edwards

Taking decades of innovation and refinement and concentrating them into the modest Neve 88M

It’s hard to fully encapsulate just how much the Neve brand means to Pro Studio’s culture.

It’s ubiquitous, a symbol of prestige, and in terms of day-to-day practicality, it’s still the yardstick against which all other mixing consoles/preamps/channel strips are measured, even over 60 years since the inception of the company.

Simply put, the Neve brand has become studio shorthand for quality and excellence in the field. It is phonetically imprinted in the very foundations of everything we know about the professional studio past and present, becoming one of the most defining sonic signatures in the history of recorded music.

Traditionally, when we think of Neve, we usually think of large-format consoles and high-end recording solutions, but the legendary brand has actually proven to be surprisingly nimble of late, having spent the last two years of decades of expanding into the world of stand-alone rack units and space-saving options, all with versatility and expandability in mind.

Check out more gear reviews here.

Until now, the lion’s share of these small Neve offerings have come in the form of isolated circuitry taken from the brand’s famous large-scale consoles – self-contained preamps, EQs and compressors for those of us who don’t. maybe didn’t have the space or the budget. for a full-fledged 32-channel Neve console. The new Neve 88M, on the other hand, is something completely different – a small-footprint, professional-grade recording interface with the modern recording climate in mind. Based on first looks, it’s more than worth getting excited about.

Given the recent successes of other high-profile studio manufacturers in the prosumer interface market (such as UA’s Apollo series and the SSL 2 and 2+), many of us were eagerly waiting to see if the producer of the greatest front-end in recorded history would arguably pair its matchless preamps with powerful digital converters and hit the market for interfaces, boots and all. Glad to say that day has arrived.

Using the same state-of-the-art Marinair preamps as Neve’s flagship 88RS console, the 88M is a high-end two-channel audio interface with the option of eight additional digital inputs via an ADAT optical connection, in turn allowing 10 channels of simultaneous audio, making it ideal for stand-alone use or integrating into a more complex recording chain.

Connected via USB 3.0, the 88M’s output/control path offers a wealth of options for the budding engineer, with great versatility. With two analog monitor sends and eight additional digital outputs (always via ADAT), the 88M is a natural choice for expandable monitoring situations or for providing additional cue sends to performers and connecting to different outboard gear on any line. You can monitor either from your DAW or completely zero latency, ideal for switching between recording on the fly or mixing.

Unassuming controls put everything at your fingertips, and independent headphone controls and monitoring potentiometer let you fine-tune what you hear after recording through these classic-sounding preamps.

While the various masterstrokes in routing and signal flow are sure to interest and excite the more seasoned engineers among us, for many it’s the affordability and ease of acquisition of these two high-end Neve preamps that are sure to take center stage in the eyes of budding engineers. worldwide.

Indeed, it is the quality and character of these preamps that have so influenced the legendary “Neve” sound and it is the presence of these high-end analog circuits in the context of a prosumer interface that makes the 88M a such revelation. It’s really the meeting of two worlds.

Born in the UK in 1926, the late Rupert Neve began his audio journey by moving between radio repair work before working his way into sound and television systems, gaining an intimate understanding of audio production. recordings of the highest quality possible with the relatively primitive equipment available to him at the time.

His experience in live situations with radio interference, crosstalk and distortion helped inform his early designs, before founding Neve Electronics in 1961.

While Neve designed his circuitry and gear to be as high fidelity as possible, it was his uncanny talent for producing clear yet characterful sound, a byproduct of the transformer and transistor-based circuitry used in his designs that made the deadly combination of rich harmonics, clean gain and isolated signals even with extended channels on a console that would make his consoles such a sought after product throughout the golden age of professional studio.

The Marinair specification in particular, a transformer-based preamp design pioneered by Neve and featured in the original 1964/1968/1969 designs, is the magic formula that helps produce the trusted sonic characteristics that define the Neve brand.

Often categorized as “fat”, “warm”, “rich” and especially “highly musical”, it is this harmonic richness and inherent character that makes Neve preamps so coveted.

Compare that with the broad lens and clinically transparent nature of the preamps found on your average over-the-counter interface and you’ll begin to see the appeal of the 88M. One is about manipulating a less than ideal sound after the fact, the other is about getting the most musical sound of the highest quality before the conversion and from there. You can probably imagine which gives the best results.

Suffice to say, when the quality of the onboard analog preamps is as high as what we’re dealing with here with the 88M, it makes sense to pair it with an equal quality digital conversion, which is precisely what the team at Neve opted. for reference-quality A/D conversion throughout the 88M’s signal path.

In terms of layout, the front panel features two premium Neve preamps with microphone, line, or DI options available via Neutrik ¼”/XLR combo jacks. LEDs mean the incoming signal is optimal, and the preamps have independent 48V power for the capacitors, as well as switching between listening to a direct, mixed, or DAW signal when monitoring. You can switch between stereo and mono modes and adjust the volume via a big red volume control on the front of the device. The rear features an ADAT input and output, allowing eight additional inputs or outputs, USB connections and ¼” monitor outputs.

The device itself weighs around 1.6kg and is around 20cm wide, so it fits easily into a case or bag of a traveling professional or anyone recording remotely. It’s a small unit, but it’s a powerhouse in terms of expandability and with the ability to pair it with an ADAT breakout box or other adjacent ADAT external preamp, that means there’s a lot more to it. to offer than its small size would suggest.

The chassis is ready for the road, and while the aesthetic is truly classic Neve, it’s functional and versatile, with potentiometers that switch between circuits for clean recording, and Marinair transformers to get your signal going before the converters. and to your DAW of choice via USB 3.0.

Another feature that helps the 88M stand out from the crowd, besides the obvious quality of the preamp, is the presence of an insert send and return for truer channel strip style functionality, something that one rarely sees larger interfaces on the market, but one that belies a classic console workflow. Singers who record themselves and acoustic guitarists in particular will no doubt delight in the ability to add compression or subtractive EQ along the way, optimizing their overdubs and layered parts before engagement.

If we’re being honest, there aren’t many who wouldn’t benefit from a little Neve in their lives, and the 88M now makes that possible for engineers of all backgrounds.

With its forward-thinking approach to routing, high level of expandability, reference-grade conversion and, of course, the presence of two of the best preamps money can buy, the 88M is sure to set a precedent in matter of small-scale interfaces. the kind of quality we can expect in space in the future.

Neve is a company steeped in a rich history of innovation, having been founded by one of the greatest audio minds of our time, with lifetime achievement awards, interviews and testimonials to prove it. The Neve 88M takes those decades of innovation and refinement and distills them into an unassuming little box, a product designed to help you make music, capture inspired performances, and hear it all with a little harmonic push from the analog magic they have. go in there.

Learn more about the Neve 88M here.