Top producer / engineer, George Shilling, also takes time out to review interesting audio equipmentGeorge Shilling reviews:

Rupert Neve Designs Portico 5043 Compressor/Limiter Duo

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Industry legend Rupert Neve adds a compressor to the Portico series, George Shilling finds the way in.

Rupert Neve Designs Portico 5043 Compressor/Limiter Duo

 

Rupert Neve founded the famous Neve console company many decades ago, and it is many years since connections were severed with what is now AMS-Neve. He also founded Focusrite, who, following a relaunch, still market some of his designs. Following his separation from that company, he then designed products for Amek which bore his name. Now living in Texas, he has again formed his own company (RND), and units are built in the USA. Previously released Portico boxes comprise a dual mic preamp, a version with EQ, and the unusual tape emulating 5042; other modules are in the pipeline.

 

This compressor follows a similar physical format to previous Portico units. It is a 1U half-rack width box, deeper than we imagined from the pictures, and also considerably heavier, with a very thick front panel. Front panel legending is embedded in a plasticky surface, similar to Rupert’s Amek designs like the Channel In A Box (CIB). Two Portico units can be mounted as a full width configuration using a kit, or one unit can be rack mounted with a blanking panel kit, both use a block onto which one screws the central rack ears. Rubber feet are already attached to encourage desktop mounting, but units may also be mounted in an optional vertical-mounting case; alternative ‘sideways’ front panels can be fitted so you don’t have to strain your neck to see the settings.

 

The half-rack format results in closely-spaced, fairly small knobs. These are pleasantly damped and smooth, but there are no détentes or clicks, so unfortunately no easy recall of settings. Usual controls are provided, Threshold, Ratio, Attack, Release and Gain. The two channels are arranged side-by-side, but the two meters are shared – these always show Output Level on the left, and Gain Reduction on the right, with a central button to select the displayed channel – a compromise due to space. Small buttons illuminate when pressed in – one of these was a bit sticky, irritating enough that any purchaser would have sent the unit back for a replacement. Power is supplied via an external inline transformer. Nothing on it identifies it as having associations with the Portico box, so a label would be useful. Sensibly, a cable clip is supplied for the rear of the unit, and it is claimed the 5043 will happily run on a fairly wide tolerance of supply voltages (so no worries if the supplied PSU eventually melts) or even a 12V car battery. There is a power pushbutton next to the DC input, but no power on indication on the front unless a button is pressed in to light up.

 

The rear of the unit is crammed due to the small physical dimensions, with closely spcaed properly latching XLR connectors for the main transformer-balanced audio connections, and also two jack socket Buss inputs, selectable from the front panel. These are designed for use with other Portico units which feature ‘To Buss’ switches, and are intended to provide subgroup mixing in a console configuration, but these are of little benefit in isolation, as they appear to add about 30dB of gain compared to the normal inputs. This is an odd feature, but as further units become available, all will no doubt become clearer as to the uses of this system. Also on the rear are separate Link jacks for each channel, these work with the front panel Link buttons (which must both be pressed for stereo link) and enable multichannel operation when using multiple units. This only links the signal voltages, so all controls must be set similarly – proper control linking would have been preferable, as this is fiddly and not so easy to set up accurately.

 

There are two modes of operation, Feed-back or Feed-forwards. In Feed-back mode, a control signal from the output feeds the VCA, this is the method used by vintage Neve models such as the 2254 and the 33609 so beloved by broadcast engineers as a buss compressor. More recent designs by Mr Neve use the Feed-forwards method, which allows more accurate and faster attack times. Having both is definitely an advantage, but we generally preferred the Feed-back mode, which is much more forgiving, warm and juicy. It gels a mix beautifully, making everything sound coherent. The Feed-forwards mode can sound a bit rubbery with some pumping. However, with really fast settings, this mode generally preserves more clarity of transients - attack times are more snappy and this is more akin to an SSL buss compressor. However, in Feed-back mode, vocals and instruments like acoustic and bass guitar sound wonderfully solid.

 

The unit certainly sounds bigger than it looks, it imparts a ‘proper record’ sound to the mix. This is probably a lot to do with the new Rupert-designed input and output transformers, which seem to glue the sound nicely. Attack and Release settings are fairly wide-ranging, perhaps even faster release might be useful for really crunchy drums, but the 100ms fastest setting is what we mostly preferred for mixes. The Ratio control ranges from 1:1, which is useful if you want to impart some of the subtle transformer tone without compressing. Ratio goes all the way up to a Limit setting, which is 40:1, but the half-way setting is 2.5:1, so it is easy to fine-tune more gentle ratios.

 

Rupert Neve has arguably improved on his ancient designs – this shouldn’t be a surprise, but in this retro-obsessed age there is often an assumption that older is better, and sometimes this is true. However, Rupert isn’t resting on his laurels, and this is a worthy contender – not the only compressor you’ll ever need, but extremely flexible. The small case dimensions might cause some slight irritations, but sonically the 5043 is big.

 

Details


Product: Portico 5043 Compressor/Limiter Duo
Manufacturer: Rupert Neve Designs
Price: £1245 + VAT
Distributor Name: Sonic Distribution
Distributor Phone Number: +44 (0)1582 470 260
Manufacturer’s website: http://www.rupertneve.com

 

Key Features


Two Full-Featured Compressors
Transformer balanced line input
All-new Rupert-designed transformers
Continuously variable Ratio from 1:1 to Limit (40:1)
Continuously variable Attack, Release and Threshold
Meter output and gain reduction
Feed-back and Feed-forwards modes
Compact unit
Optional kits for single or dual 19” rackmounting
Optional Vertical Frame kit for 8 modules
All discrete circuitry
Secondary input for use as Portico Bussing System Input
Link connections for multichannel work

 

Measuring Up


The 5043 certainly beats Neve’s expensive 33609 reissue; for a modular system try the API 500 series with legendary mic preamps, although the 525 compressor isn’t ideal for mix buss use. API’s standalone 2500 buss compressor is one of the best, also try the Drawmer 1968ME or Thermionic Culture Phoenix.

 

Why Buy


The designer’s name
Arguably better than vintage Neves
Sounds wonderfully vintage in Feed-back mode
Sounds truly modern in Feed-forwards mode
A great mix buss compressor
Adds depth, warmth and ‘glue’
Solidly built (despite sticky button)

 

Walk On By


Small format makes operation slightly fiddly
Metering not great
No Auto-release setting
Link mode doesn’t link controls
Buss Input of limited use
A waste of space to rack-mount a single unit
Sticky button on review model

 

Verdict


Looks can be deceptive and despite the diminutive format, this is one of the best compressors we have heard.

Score: 9

 

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Reproduced with kind permission from Geoerge Shilling. Copyright George Shilling.

 

 

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