The Legacy of the 88 Series Neve Console
UPDATE: With the release of the new and improved Neve 88RS Channel Strip Collection, we thought it would be cool to take a look back. When UA first embarked on modeling the 88RS console, we visited Skywalker Sound to get up-close-and-personal with Neve's "ultimate analog console."
Primarily designed for the rigors of film scoring and surround mixing, the AMS-Neve 88R/RS (the 'S' indicates improved scoring capabilities) recording console debuted at the 109th AES convention in Los Angeles and began appearing in studios in 2001. It was the first new Neve console design available in over twenty years. Considered the ultimate console for modern features and reliability, the 88 Series is also heralded as one of the best-sounding large format consoles ever built —not only by the film community, but by audio veterans as well. During the development of the Neve® 88RS Channel Strip Plug-In, I was able to view the actual 88RS in action at Skywalker Sound in Marin.
Large Format Fever
Around the late 1970s, the large format console as we know it began to appear. With the advent of the Integrated Circuit, channel count and routing flexibility were much improved over designs of the past and automation was finally a reality. Companies like SSL, Harrison, and Trident were common names in the major studios. SSL arguably dominated the large format console market for well over a decade with a line of highly intuitive, reliable, and full-featured designs that set the bar for every other company.
In the late '90s, AMS-Neve’s Robin Porter and his team were carefully designing the company’s return to the top of the console market. Neve conceived a large-format desk that claimed superiority in every way to the competition, and even harkened back sonically to the beloved designs of the early Neve company. The highly popular 88RS was the result.
The 88 Series has found a home in some of the finest rooms and scoring stages around the world, including Ocean Way, Abbey Road, AIR, The Village, Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox and Skywalker Sound studios. The 88 series is the tool that the big boys have always wanted, as proven by its success. Granted, the 88R/RS is something mere mortals like you and I will probably never have in our project studios. However, it should be noted that the Neve 8801 is a current Neve channel strip product that has the same key features and sound as its big brother with an acceptable footprint on the rack and on the wallet.
The 88RS was built with surround recording and mixing in mind and its routing and automation features are excellent. While we could spend pages focusing on the endless features of the 88R/RS, the scope of this article is on the EQ and dynamics sections of the recording/mix channels. Spending some time with the console with Leslie Ann Jones at Skywalker, it was clear to me that Neve’s emphasis was on sonic performance and flexibility. In some respects, the 88 series borrows from its earlier predecessor, the Neve V Series consoles, in terms of features and layout of the EQ and dynamics.
Working your way down the signal chain of the channel, the first section found is filtering. The cut filters are 12dB octave lowpass and highpass filters, and are engaged by pulling the knob out.
Next, the VCA-based dynamics section provides a gate/expander as well as a limiter/compressor, each with its own dedicated enable/disable switching. This section is internally side-chainable to the EQ section to allow de-essing or similar side chaining techniques with the “SC-EQ” button.
Standard gate controls such as threshold and release are there, with a broad range of settings. “Range” controls the gain difference between the gated and non-gated signal, while “Hysteresis” makes the gate less susceptible to “motorboating” by making the threshold change depending on whether the gate is off or on. For expander capabilities, the user turns the threshold fully counter-clockwise for a fixed 2:1 expander. Pulling out the release knob to “INV” (invert) allows keying from an external source.
The limit/compress section also has standard threshold and release controls with a broad range of settings, including a very pleasing auto release, accessible by turning the release control fully clockwise. The ratio knob has a range of 1:1 to infinity, and a pull control that allows a faster attack time. Lastly, the 30dB makeup gain knob features a pull control, which engages a hard knee setting.
The EQ section of the 88RS provides 4-band parametric equalization, with overlapping frequency ranges (LF 33-370 Hz, LMF 190 Hz-2 kHz, HMF 0.8-8.7 kHz, HF 1.5-17 kHz). The LF and HF bands are switchable peak or shelf filters, while the LMF and HMF bands add a flexible Q control. The equalizer section can be switched before or after the dynamics section.
With its endless list of features and the renowned Neve sound, the 88 Series has made its mark on music professionals throughout the world, and has certainly made remarkable advances on previous large-format consoles.
Here are some choice quotes from users:
“The 88RS is truly the next level of aural quality and console flexibility. … The sonic quality of the console is unbelievable.” – Leslie Ann Jones, Skywalker Sound.
“I sat down and mixed on the 88RS and I just fell in love with it. I can say without reservation that the 88RS is the finest sounding analog console made today.” — Allen Sides, Ocean Way.
“Neve consoles are the Rolls Royce of the industry. … When it comes down to it, the Neve has the edge on any other.” – Sir George Martin.