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Neve Portico 5012 Duo Mic Pre
Reviewed by Dan Richards

When I heard Rupert Neve was going to start cranking out his own line of projects I, like many people, was naturally excited. It seems as though everyone but Mr. Neve has been making money off his name, and with the recent proliferation of Neve copies, it's good to see Mr. Neve himself back in the saddle making products under his own name again.

In some conversations I've had with Rupert Neve at AES shows, he's said he considers that there are two types of audio devices that are either an "effect" or are "accurate". For those of you who may have followed Mr. Neve's "sonic career", he has always been striving for accurate. The Portico range is a decided return to the "classic Neve" sound — full, bigger-than-life, colored, silky.

The Portico 5012 Duo Mic Pre is the first offering in a series of products that are being introduced in the Portico range, which also include the Portico 5042 Two-Channel "True Tape" Emulation and Line Driver, Portico 5032 Single Channel MIC PRE and EQUALIZER, 5014 MS-Stereo Buss Mix and Stereofield Module, 5043 Stereo Compressor/Limiter, and Two channel Instrument (DI) box.

The Portico 5012 is a half-rack unit comprised of two microphone preamplifiers that can operate as a stand-alone unit, paired and linked with another Portico range unit in a single-space 19" rack kit, or housed in an optional Vertical Rack Kit that holds eight Portico range units. The front panel of the Portico 5012 includes LED metering, +48V phantom power back-lit LED switch, output trim knob from -6dB to +6dB, Mic Gain knob [with 6dB step gain increments], phase reverse switch, mute switch, To A [ or B for the B channel] Buss switch [ for use with the Portico 5014 MS-Stereo Buss Mix and Stereofield Module ], back-lit High Pass Filter LED switch to engage or disengage a variable high pass filter having a range of 20 Hz to 250 Hz, and a back-lit "Silk" LED switch that is shared with both channels A and B.

The rear panel of the Portico 5012 includes a 5.5mm X 2.1mm DC jack, power switch, 1/4" jacks for A and B buss [ for use with the Portico 5014 MS-Stereo Buss Mix and Stereofield Module ], and XLR inputs and outputs for channels A and B.

The front-panel display of the 5012 is well laid-out and easy to read and reference during a session and in relatively low lighting. The back-lit LED's are a nice touch, and the various colors certainly add to a "cool" look. The first place I always interact with a preamp is by turning the knobs. I find the tactile experience important, and often an indication of the overall quality of the unit. Turning the knobs on the 5012 was not one of the best experiences I've had with products in this price range. I found the feel of the potentiometer ("pots") behind the knobs when dialing in the Mic Gain, Trim and High-Pass Filter to be grainy, uneven and have a cheap feel. I also confirmed this with some designers I know who'd checked out some of the RND gear at an AES show, and they also felt the knobs had a cheap feel to them. I think at this level, and this kind of money, and with Rupert Neve's name on it, that RND needs to step up and address the quality [ or lack thereof ] and tactile experience of the knobs. When I spoke with RND they seemed to feel that the knobs were fine, and easily on the level of some of the Amek gear that Rupert Neve had designed.

API preamps, we felt, were a good comparison with this new "Neve" preamp, because API are a long-proven workhorse preamps, and often complementary to Neve and Neve-style preamps. While the API "sound" is characteristically forward in the upper mids with a tight low-end, the Neve sound tends to be much rounder and even lose in the low-end, with an overall "big" sound and a silky, velvety "sheen" across the upper-mids.

The Listening Sessions is working on an in-progess graph to describe the sonic characteristics of preamplifiers, and in our tests and comparisons with other mic preamps, the 5012 Duo Mic Pre is decidely in the "colored" camp. Mic preamps with the amount of coloration found in the 5012 have some distinct advantages as well as disadvantges for recording, depending on the sound desired. What coloration — which is essenitally distortion can add to a recorded sound is a sense of what might be called "energy" — some might calls it "balls", as well as a type of glue effect so that the collection of sounds within the mix seem to congele together — rather than sounding as a collection of separate sounds. The transformers often used in more colored preamps also tend to slow the signal down, resulting in a slower slew rate. The advantage of a slower slew rate is that, among other things, the sound of the room [ acoustic space ] where the source is recorded is deemphasized. And while getting the acoustics to at least a workable level is always a high priority, the fact is we all record in various spaces. And in spaces with less than ideal acoustic conditions, the ability to reemphasize the sound of the room can be a big plus, and in many cases go a long way towards making more professional-sounding recordings.

The disadvantage of using slower, more colored preamps is that much of the resolution, imagery and detail can be lost from the source. In the case of music that is largely acoustic-based, it's often preferable to have a more "natural" sound, which includes the space as well as the imagery afforded by stereo miking techniques.

Where the Portico 5012 mic pre excels is rock and heavy music. It can also be used as well on Pop, R&B, Hip-Hop and Electronic music where a thicker, more colored sound is desired. Where I would caution users in the market for mic preamps for more acoustic-based and "classical" recordings, is that the Portico 5012 will not yeild the resolution or imagery afforded by cleaner and more transparent mic preamps, such as the John Hardy M-1, Millennia, HV-3 or any of the other preamps listed on the mic preamp chart with a rating from the 1 value at "transparent" to about the 7 value of "color".

I wouldn't necessarily recommend the Portico 5012 as a first and only pre unless you know what you're getting into with the "Neve" sound. If you've already got some preamps and are looking for something with a bigger and more colored sound, the Portico 5012 will easily get you there. And this is real "Neve" sound made by Rupert Neve for an affordable price.

More info on the Neve Portico 5012 and other products by Rupert Neve Designs at www.rupertneve.com/




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