Time, Money and Sweat


“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.

A sea of caps and IC’s on every board


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

11 Responses to “This Old Console: Renovating a Neve V3”

  1. Found your page whilst researching neve v3 upgrades.
    Congrats on your re cap!!!
    I’m about to take delivery of a V3 with Martin flying faders. No recal.
    I want to go through the process of re capping entire console.
    Repairing switches. And thank u so much for scanning all schematics!!! :).
    I was wondering about your 3 step switch and pot cleaning procedure as that I think that will be part of my step 1 plan to getting console functioning.
    I then plan to research ICs that will reduce heat on console that will in turn give more life to the 108 degree caps.
    I was wondering if you have tried any ic upgrades to this effect.
    Finally if you had to do this over again, what would you have done differently.
    Thank you
    Paul.

  2. Dan Rudin says:

    Hi Paul,

    Thanks for your kind words! The re-cap was worth the effort and our next step is the re-chipping (though I’m staying so busy I have no idea when it’ll get done :-). No matter how clean your pots and switches are, the eq circuits and aux sends both leak some DC bias at the op amp inputs which makes for noisy operation. Ocean Way Nashville replaced the 5532’s in both the EQ’s and Pre’s in their VR desk with some OPA (like the 2604) alternatives and it greatly cleaned up the board (and improved the headroom of the pre’s.) I have experimented with this in one module, but not enough to claim to have an expert opinion about which chips sound/function best at this point.

    As for heat, I assume you’ve read through this prosoundweb forum thread http://repforums.prosoundweb.com/index.php?topic=36153.0 I plan to implement a draw fan system myself but cannot attest to the actual temp drop from re-chipping (I’d love to see a real world comparison between a bucket with 5532’s and one with OPA 1662’s!)

    For switch repair and pot cleaning advice/technique, I’ll refer you to Chad Clark. Since he came up with the technique, I feel I should let him share it as he see’s fit! wcclark23@comcast.net

    All the best with your console!

    Dan

  3. […] at my studio, The Tracking Room, and Ocean Way Nashville and mixing was done at my studio (that console re-furb was money well spent!!) Noteworthy mics for the sessions were the c-12′s and U47′s on […]

  4. liangping says:

    Hello
    I hope you can help me,
    i’m looking for a Neve VR Schematics,
    ev11403, ev11496, ev11498, ev11499 and neve vr of all modules Schematics

  5. Dan Rudin says:

    So sorry, we only have the V3 in our schematic library http://schematic.danrudin.com/

  6. liangping says:

    Thank you very much for your reply
    Will the V3 and VR any different, that their voices which better

  7. Hi there chaps,

    We are from the UK and deal in all kinds of vintage and classic equipment.
    We have 4 Neve V3 modules for sale at the moment and wondered if that would interest you. They have been checked out by a Neve tech and are in perfect working order. We are in the UK.
    Kind regards

    Malcollm

  8. Steve says:

    Hi, I’m getting involved in doing some work on a 1989 V3/60 console and was wondering if you had any insight on the bargraph meters. We have 5 that are not working. Are they repairable? Replaceable? or should I just juggle them around to not frequently used channels? Any information would be greatly appreciated.

  9. Dan Rudin says:

    Hi Steve,

    I have 6 out myself! It’s usually just the meter driver amp, either a cap or opamp on the board located behind the meters. The reason mine are still out and not repairs is that it is a bit of work to get to the boards. First, you remove the back console panels, unhook the connectors (make sure the power is off) to the meter boards, then you unscrew the 6 screws on the front plastic meter panels. Next you unscrew and pull the meter assembly out the front and repair. It’s tricky because there is no easy way to jump so you have to repair/test/repeat. Good luck! Dan

  10. Ron Fairbairn says:

    Just found this and you’ve taken me back to the time I was employed by Neve . I spent 28 of the happiest years of my working life with the company which was one huge family. Starting off when all switches had to be hand assembled and progressed to audit then finishing when the company was bought over . One of my tasks was to inspect the very boards that you have in your photos – all PCBs were 100% audited after assembly, no mean feat when the boards were so densely packed . A Few years later a major refurbishment took place of all channel strips when it was found that the original caps fitted had started to leak causing devastation to some PCBs . This program was still on-going when Neve was taken over.
    A great time was had working on the ‘Rolls Royce’ of mixing desks . Would I do it again ? You bet ! Wishing you well , good to see these desks still operational . Best of luck with the desk !

  11. Hello people.
    I own a V3 . I ended up in moding every channel to replace the small-fader section (the most packed and heating) with a bypass circuit. Much better sound and 95% troubles are gone. The pres and EQs are easy to fix compared to the small-fader section.

    I’m now working on a mod that turns the necam (obsolete fader recal system) Into a modern MIDI control surface that controls Cubase / protools, and my RME AD/DA. It’s now working on 3 channels, need to find the time to spread it all over the 48 channels.

    If anyone interested in my work, feel free to look at my website to find my contact info: oreillegauche.com

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