“Don’t worry, she’ll hold together… You hear me, baby? Hold together!”
―Han Solo, talking about the Millennium Falcon, or me, talking to my Neve V3 console.
I love my Neve desk. The V series is a fat sounding desk with all the functionality of a modern recording console; dynamics and EQ’s on each channel and flexible inline routing. It’s a great mix console; punchy enough for my pop and rock projects and yet musical enough for the orchestra recordings I do. But heat and age dry out capacitors, a crucial component in all audio recording equipment. Dust and dirt render switches and pots useless. A 60 channel console, built in 1989, has plenty of both heat and age. With 223 electrolytic capacitors, 89 switches and countless IC’s per channel, regular maintenance is a must for keeping this console fully reliable and sounding it’s best (and it’s best is wonderful.) Unfortunately, regular maintenance isn’t always possible in a busy production studio…. after all, I’m the producer, engineer AND the tech.
And so it came time for a major renovation of my console. Most all of the channels worked but many had intermittent problems associated with bad caps and dirty switches, so we decided to attack the problem with a total re-cap and clean.
Using a disassembled channel strip and schematics, my friend and assistant Mikey Allred compiled a list of all needed capacitors. After we increased most of the voltage ratings of the caps, we sourced 105 degree versions (for longer life) of them all from Digi-key and Mouser. I bought a Hakko desoldering station. We then took all of the old 3’x 4′ console Schematics to a blueprint shop and had them scanned to pdf’s for easy use. It was surprisingly affordable, saves wear on the old paper ones and more than one person could use them at a time.
Right about this time, a number of projects came in and I knew that if this renovation was ever going to happen I needed to call for help. I reached out to Chad Clark, a great tech who spent many years on staff at The Sound Kitchen and was responsible for as many as 4 V series consoles at a time. Chad agreed to the job (don’t worry, we’re still friends.)
Chad took the first few channels home and re-capped them. To his credit, without having a test jig at home, we put those channels back in the console and they all worked. It was quickly obvious that the sound of these channels was so much better that it was ridiculous. It was also obvious that we needed to come up with a method of cleaning the switches and pots better while the modules were disassembled. Chad began using a 3 part process for cleaning the switches that was so effective, when all was said and done we’d replaced fewer than a dozen switches.
The biggest sonic differences in the renovated console were in the EQ’s, Mic Pre’s and Aux sends. I had really stopped using the console pre’s because they’d become so unreliable and even when they did work they were pretty blah sounding. But a couple of days ago I tracked a big band session and ran all of the brass through the console pres. Every channel worked perfectly. To illustrate how good the board sounded; this was a song we were adding to a record we’d recorded last month (see this post) using the SSL 9k console at The Tracking Room. I was really happy with the 9k tracks, but to my ear, the V sounded fatter and punchier… better. Success.
Of course there were speed bumps. Many of the modules in each channel have paper encased flat ribbon cables called FSP’s that, if flexed one too many times, tend to break inside the paper (making the breaks hard to detect.) And a certain number of solder traces are bound to get mangled in a job this big, causing difficult to locate logic and audio problems. Also, not all of the pc boards in the modules were the same version, making diagnosis even trickier from one channel to the next. But all were eventually scoped out and repaired. Interestingly, all of the bus gains needed to be re-aligned as the re-capped modules tended to have higher output than before. One of the biggest trouble shooting challenges on this console comes from the way the schematics are laid out: signal flow is not always obvious because of all the logic controlled switching, solder transitions and connectors between boards. It’s not wrong per-se, just dizzying.
Mods? Now that the console sounds so good, I’m planning to try a mod to remove the small DC bias that leaks onto some of the pots in the EQ’s. It seems to be a design issue that might be helped by some higher precision IC’s. We’ll see.
It’s been well worth the time, money and effort to restore this console to better than factory condition. It wouldn’t have happened without the expertise and efforts of Chad Clark.You can reach Chad here. A full set of Neve V3 schematics and drawings are available on my Schematic Vault