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Arise Sir Rupert Neve!

Arise Sir Rupert Neve!


In the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, excellence in any sphere of public life is rewarded by the honours system, the ultimate honour being a Knighthood, which entitles the holder to be addressed as 'Sir'. However, there are no knights in sound engineering, not even one. Certainly there is Sir George Martin, but he is a musician rather than a sound engineer.

Rupert Neve, as you will know, virtually single-handedly invented the audio mixing console as we know it today. The Neve company defined what a mixing console should look like, work like, and most importantly sound like.

The first Neve console was custom-built for Desmond Lesley, a professional composer of Musique Concrete was using a room full of tape recorders (a new medium in those days). He needed a device, which would help him get these sounds 'mixed'. He had an EMI contract for the musical background to Shakespeare plays.

Neve designed a mixer and gave Desmond a price, which he agreed. But there was no money to pay for the parts. This was a unique custom designed piece of equipment and not saleable to anyone else. Neve decided to ask Desmond for one third of the price in advance. Desmond agreed at once.

One of Neve's very early clients was Leo Pollini of Recorded Sound in London for whom he designed and built two valve consoles. The first was for the studio. The design was based on the successful equipment Neve had built in the Plymouth days and included features that were innovative for that period.

Another was an outside broadcast console. Recorded Sound had a contract with Radio Luxembourg to broadcast a series of live Sunday afternoon concerts for which they needed a high quality reliable, transportable console with all the features of studio equipment and be capable of feeding music landlines. This console was based on the earlier studio console that had been working successfully at the Bryonstone Street Studio. Both these consoles were used by Mr. Pollini for many years who found them robust and very reliable – characteristics for which Neve equipment became renowned.

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By 1964, Neve had developed high performance transistor equipment that replaced the traditional valve designs. The first client for the new transistor equipment was Phillips Records Ltd. Rupert Neve was commissioned to design and build a series of equalizers to enable them to change the musical balance of material that had been previously recorded. This was before the days of multi-track tape machines. Rebalancing a 2-track recording usually meant a new session with artists, producers, and engineers re-convened at great expense. The success of these units led to orders from Phillips and other recording studios for mixing consoles. These attained a reputation for sonic clarity and excellent workmanship. Demand grew rapidly.

Early in 1969, the business moved into a purpose built factory. During the next five years, a satellite factory to manufacture modules was established in Scotland. Sales offices were opened in Toronto Canada, Bethel Connecticut, Hollywood California and Nashville Tennessee; and agents were appointed round the world. By 1973 the Neve team had grown to over 500 worldwide.

During this period Neve introduced 'Moving Fader Automation’. The idea of storing and recalling fader positions had been introduced by a Canadian Company using two tracks of a multi-track tape machine and VCA’s (Voltage Controlled Attenuators). Their long-promised console never appeared. Neve questioned many of the world’s leading studio owners and engineers about their “dream” wish list from which evolved the concept of NECAM, the first moving fader system.

By 1976, a Neve 16/4 console had been equipped with machine control and George Martin was invited to try out the new system at our studio. He spent a day remixing masters at the end of which his comment was, “How soon can I have one?”

In 1985 The Neve Group was sold to the Siemens Corporation of Austria. In 1992 Siemens closed down the Neve Group and it was incorporated into another Siemens subsidiary, AMS Ltd., who were very successful in the field of digital audio designs. Rupert has no connection with AMS/Neve beyond friendly personal relations with Mark Crabtree – one of the AMS co-founders – and several of the original Neve staff who work for AMS/Neve.

In 1985 Rupert Neve incorporated a new company called Focusrite Ltd. A new modern range of outboard equipment was launched to meet the demands of the studios such as rack mounted Equalizers and Dynamics processors, microphone and line driving amplifiers.

Under enormous pressure to go into mixing consoles again and with many promises of support and investment from friends in the industry, Focusrite Ltd. accepted orders for eight monster sound control consoles. Though the audio part of the design was complete and proven, the digital control side of the design (outside Neve's field of expertise) ran into delays. The company ran out of time and money that resulted in liquidation in January 1989.

In 1989 ARN Consultants (Neve's new company) entered into a consultancy agreement with Graham Langley and Nick Franks, owners of Amek Systems and Controls Ltd of Manchester England to design a new range of consoles and outboard equipment.

Although Rupert Neve certainly deserves to become Sir Rupert, in recognition not only of his achievements but the achievements of the sound engineering industry in its entirety, there is one snag – Rupert Neve is now a US citizen. However, it is still possible for him to receive an honourary knighthood. Officially he would not be Sir Rupert, but unofficially, why not?

So let's get this campaign moving, for the first sound engineering Knight of the Realm – arise Sir Rupert Neve!

[parts of this article are sourced from previously published biographical information]

David Mellor

Acoustics & Studio Design

Acoustics & Studio Design

The NLE AudioPedia series, our video-based audio encyclopedia, is an invaluable resource for sound engineers, musicians, students, educators and all audio enthusiasts. This second installment is about Acoustics & Studio Design.

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David Mellor