When a professional recording studio owns a half-century-old console that’s deemed “an endangered species” and “one of the best ever manufactured” by people in the business, you do everything possible to keep making music together with the treasured piece of audio equipment.
For Boston area-based Q Division Studios, restoring its circa 1970s Neve 8068 MKI recording console was a labor of love. A lot of labor, actually. Every switch and pot needed to be sonically bathed and re-lubricated, if not replaced, rebuilt or redesigned entirely. Faceplates required rescreening. Edge connectors were replaced and retentioned. Decaying plastic guide rails were sourced and replaced as were the power supplies and lamps. The patch bay was redesigned. Not stopping there, the person hired to oversee the project, Andrew Lypps, associate chief engineer at the revered Berklee College of Music, restored the Neve’s documentation, drawing up new schematics and block diagrams where they were damaged or missing.
“One of the trickiest parts of the incredibly thorough restoration process was converting all the old incandescent bulbs in the center section to LEDs,” said Q Division’s head engineer Rafi Sofer, adding that after some back and forth, the team went with UltraBright LED bulbs from Southern California-based LEDtronics. So radical was this component of the console’s renewal, some of the 55 bulbs were used to light up switches that weren’t originally illuminated.
“At the risk of sounding like a lighting geek, we first were considering a different product, but it didn’t look as good as the WF150-SIW-028V, which also fits great and works for all the units on this project,” Sofer said.
Q Division and its precious Neve 8068 recently relocated to larger environs in North Cambridge, just under a mile from the old place in Davis Square. The nucleus of the new facility is the 2,800-square-foot Studio A, Q’s largest recording room. The performance studio includes a large high-ceiling central space and two sizable isolation rooms.
“Now that our oldie, but goody Neve 8068 is spic and span inside and out, it’s ready to capture great performances at our great, new space,” said Sofer, who has recorded with such Boston-bred artists as six-time Grammy winner James Taylor and influential post-punk band Mission of Burma.
In a sense, Q Division built the new studios around the restoration of the Neve 8068.
“All recorded signal pretty much goes through the Neve,” Sofer said. “It really is the centerpiece of the facility from both a technical and sonic/vibe/workflow standpoint.”
The Neve 8068 is famous for its unique low mid-range response and balance of clarity. A keen ear will detect these and other characteristics in a multitude of music made on the console. Tracks include “Stacy’s Mom,” a Top 25 hit for Fountains of Wayne in 2003. Music by Yo Yo Ma, Wiz Khalifa, Aimee Mann and many other artists also has been engineered on the instrumental instrument.
The console’s resume factored in Q Division opting to restore rather than buy new – a decision the leaders knew would be wrought with challenges, but with high reward. By all accounts, ROI on the renovated 8068 has been immeasurable, not only from a business perspective, but in how beloved this console is to the recording industry. Gearspace, a website and forum dedicated to audio engineering, has said this to say: “Much like Fender guitars made before the company was sold to CBS, the Neve 80-series consoles, such as the 8068, became an endangered species when the Bonochord Group took the helm of Neve Electronics in 1973.” A review on Audiofanzine.com says, “There is nothing quite like the Neve 8068 as it is without a doubt one of the best consoles ever manufactured.”
With the Neve restoration in the rear-view mirror, Q Division is now looking to refurbish its 25-year-old Studer A820 analog tape machine. Step one will be to bring light to what is currently dark – as in all 24 channels on the device.
“We’re so happy with the performance of the bulbs from LEDtronics and how they modernized the 8068 that we’re ordering more for our follow-up restoration project,” Sofer said.
Making the Studer machine better than new will have its own challenges, but nothing in comparison to those of the “gargantuan, all-encompassing, wide-ranging Neve job,” to use Sofer’s words.
After what the folks at Q Division Studios just went through with the old 8068, the thought of a simpler restoration project is definitely music to their ears.
— By David Dickstein br>
Originally posted in Patch.com, Boston, MA, Tue, Jun 27, 2023
(Photos courtesy Q Division Studios)
The product used:
WF150-SIW-028V Miniature Wedge Ultrabright Bulbs