Vance Powell The Blackbird Neve 8078

 

 

 

Large-format, outboard mixing consoles are elaborate devices housing complex conglomerations of buttons, knobs, faders and components. One classic example is the Neve 8078, a 1970s-era hand-wired desk produced in small quantities and now only in use in a handful of studios.

One of those locations is Studio A at Blackbird Studios in Nashville. In this excerpt from Start to Finish: Vance Powell - Episode 1 - Blackbird Studio A Tour & Setup, Powell describes the modifications made at Blackbird to the 8078’s stock feature set and signal flow. (Note: When you read the terms “to tape” or “tape returns” in this article, it refers to the audio going to or from Pro Tools.)

The Studio A Neve 8078 as shown on the Blackbird website).

Which Way Did it Go?

The Neve 8078 in Studio A was initially built for Motown Los Angeles and later owned by Donald Fagen of Steely Dan, who recorded his 1982 classic solo album The Nightfly on it. Blackbird purchased the console in 2001.

Vance explains that in its stock configuration, the 8078 was a split console. That means it had separate channels for input and monitoring. The output of mics and DIs from the session were patched to the input channels, and the faders on the 8078 controlled the levels sent to tape. When the tape machine’s tracks were playing back or in record, their audio was sent to the corresponding return channels in the monitor section, which had their own faders.

Vance says one of the aspects of the stock 8078 people liked was that there weren’t a lot of electronics in the return channels. As a result, “it sounded great,” he says.

The basic signal flow of a split console.

Mods and Rockers

At some point, Blackbird’s ownership decided to modify the 8078 to suit their needs. They most notably converted it from a split console to an in-line one. The channels in an in-line console combine both the input and monitoring functions. As a result of Blackbird’s modifications of the 8078, the main faders no longer control the levels to the multitrack. Instead, they govern the volume of the channels returning from the multitrack.

With the modification, the channel faders on the 8078 now control levels coming from the multitrack.

A knob above the fader controls the level to tape for each channel. Vance explains that those knobs were originally front-to-rear panners for Quadraphonic mixes. “Quad,” as it was mainly referred to, was an early surround sound format from the 1970s that never caught on. Since the panners were unused on the 8078, they were easily adaptable as tape sends.

Vance points to the row of knobs converted to control individual channel levels to tape.

A Touch of Class A

The mic inputs on the 8078 channels have two modes: Mic and Line. Vance explains that the way they were initially wired created a potential problem if you were sending a channel to tape and inadvertently flipped the switch to line. “It would feedback, and you’d blow up the speakers,” he says.

To prevent that unhappy scenario, the mod included the creation of a separate Class-A signal path that bypassed the channel preamps altogether. Now, if you flip a channel from mic to line, you can send its signal through the new signal path to an outboard mic pre (Blackbird Studio A has plenty), and the feedback issue has been eliminated.

Bus Pass

Yet another feature of the 8078 that was changed was each channel’s Direct button. Originally, pressing it would send the signal from that channel to its direct out, routing it into the multitrack. In the modification, fixed direct outs were added to each channel, which are normalled on the patch bay to the corresponding bus output.

Now, you can use the Direct button to route a channel’s output to a bus before it gets recorded to the multitrack. Vance likes that feature because he often will premix a source with more than one mic, like a kick or snare to a single track to control the overall sound he wants. “Two snare mics, two channels,” Vance says, “I don’t ever do that. I don’t like to do that. So we’re going to use the busses.”

Movable EQ

Vance also describes another helpful feature in the 8078, which switches the channel EQs from the input to the tape return path. That makes it easy to use the EQs when recording and then change them to be active during mixdown.

The EQ section (highlighted in red) can be switched between the input and tape return paths.

Two custom stereo buses were also added to the console during the modification. “One is the Neve,” Vance says, “and one of them is a custom Jensen 990, like an API stereo bus.”

Vance finds most of the modifications to be beneficial to his workflow. But there’s one change he’s not crazy about. He can no longer use the main channel faders for sending to tape. He’d prefer to use them when premixing inputs to Pro Tools, but it’s not worth the complex setup required on the modded 8078. “If you mod things, sometimes you lose things,” he points out.

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