Review: Heritage Audio ’73 JR & ’73EQ JR
These baby 1073 clones from Heritage Audio might not have all the right cards, but they’ve got all the right sound.
It’s a weird feeling squeezing a 1073, clone or not, into a 500 series rack. Over the years, clones have popped up in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but the recognisable ‘look’ of the 1073 is still the 80 series console-format version, with red to grey to blue Marconi knobs stacked one on top of the other, and its long body requiring custom rack mounting.
When Heritage Audio — a company dedicated to cloning the original Neve modules the equal of anybody — first turned its hand to cloning the 1073 for the 500 series form factor, it took up a total of three spaces. Forget double wide, this was half a lunchbox for just one module; exactly the sort of unwieldy presence the 1073 deserved.
The portly stature of Heritage’s lunchbox edition can be attributed to accuracy. Like most gear built in the ’70s, 1073s were made to be easily serviceable. The 1073 has five individually-populated cards onboard, so if a module goes down, the offending card can relatively easily be swapped out. And when purists are measuring the width of solder trace with a micrometer, replicating the card structure is the only way to satisfy Neve die-hards.
Heritage Audio’s chief engineer, Peter Rodriguez, is a stickler for details when it comes to his clones. So after tracing the transformer windings back to Carnhill, sourcing Marconi-style knobs, and matching the colour code for Neve grey, he knocked out his own PCBs to match the vintage cards, solder trace for solder trace.
The resulting clone looked the part, had everything in its proper place, and sounded as good as AMS Neve and BAE could do, all at a cheaper price. So when Peter first reformatted the 1073 for the 500 series layout, he was loath to change any internals — he wanted it to be the purest purist conversion. He kept all the original cards, transformers, knob and button sizes, and rearranged them into a 500 series chassis. Having purposefully not redesigned the cards to fit into the form factor, it naturally ate up more space than it would if he’d rejigged it. But the message was clear, it was the 1073 rearranged in a 500 series rack, not a redesign.
While Heritage Audio mostly designs accurate clones, Rodriguez is partial to the odd mod. The custom 6673 module is a combination of a 1073 with three more notches on its EQ, and the mid-band of the 1066 added for extra control. Then there’s the 8173, which mashes up the four-band EQ of the 1081, with the Class A output stage of the 1073.
His latest mod does what he never dared do before; abandon the 1073’s standard card design, and split it in half — separating the preamp from the EQ and creating two new single-space 500 series units called the ’73 Jr (preamp) and ’73EQ Jr.
While it means these can’t be retrofitted with 1073 cards, it’s still essentially the same stuff — same transformers, same components, and importantly, the same specs — just rearranged to fit more neatly into 500 series chassis.
Given he’d already jumped away from the form factor both externally and internally, Peter took the chance to add a few mods of his own. First, let’s look at what’s dropped out on the preamp side. When AMS Neve released its lunchbox 1073 preamp, it just ported a single channel of its 1073DPA. When you compare it with Heritage’s offering, AMS misses the boat a little when it comes to the flexibility of the 500 series format.
The extras on Heritage’s ’73 Jr include an ultra-high impedance, class A J-FET DI on its front panel, with an auto-sensing input and a green LED indicator to let you know it’s taken over the input stage. The input is placed before the input transformer, so you’re not missing out on anything in the preamp chain.
The ’73 Jr also includes one of the hi-pass filters from the 1073 — an 18dB/octave filter at 80Hz — it’s the most common sense, useful option, with the others being at 50, 160 and 300Hz. I like this move, it means Heritage’s ’73 Jr side is a fully usable preamp, without having to add the EQ section to get the filter.
The other common features of 1073 products are all there too: A switchable input impedance — 300Ω or 1200Ω — with an increase in impedance at higher gains, a phase flip, a line input selector, and a +48V phantom switch.
NEED TO KNOW
One important difference between this model and most other 1073 versions — vintage or modern — is the way the gain is set out. It still has a full 80dB of gain, just like a normal 1073, it’s just arranged in a slightly different way. On a standard 1073, mic and line levels are on the same knob; 80dB of mic gain at the top end, back through to Off, then a range of +10dB to -20dB line level gain below that.
On the ’73 Jr, the gain knob goes from +25dB to +80dB, and there’s a 20dB pad to drop the input level before it hits the transformer, which makes the unit even more flexible, and cleaner on loud sources. On the flipside, when combined with the output level, you can essentially choose how hard you want to drive the transformers with a wider range of input sources. You can pad down the input and drive the gain to add that little bit extra harmonic content on the way in.
The line level gain has also received a boost, with up to 50dB of gain. Just don’t click past 50dB. It’s tempting to think you can add harmonics and roll off the level using the output control, but it just clips.
Speaking of the output control, it has no markings, but it goes from 0dB, when fully clockwise, to -∞ at its opposite position. What does all this amount to? Well, you can pretty much drive this mini-1073 in even more flexible ways than the original — from super clean to the maximum saturation allowable.
THE DOWN LOW
While the preamp side gained a hi-pass filter, the ’73EQ Jr lost it. It’s a bit of a shame, because the low-cut filter combined with a low boost can provide some really outstanding results for bringing out the body of instruments without the boom.
But as a standalone EQ, in my mind it makes more sense to have a flexible three-band EQ anyway, than include filters if they don’t fit. The EQ features the same smooth Baxandall high shelving, with added 10, 16, and 20kHz options around the previously fixed frequency of 12kHz. The 1073 EQ low shelf and dual inductor mid band are also there.
Probably the key point to note is it has the same type of transformer-coupled line level preamp with the same Class A transformer-balanced output stage as the 1073, with a range of -20dB to +6dB. So you don’t have to buy the ’73 Jr to get the full 1073 tone if you’re just after the EQ.
I put both units into an SM Pro Juicerack 8, and fired it up. They both only use less than 90mA at ±16VDC, which is well within the VPR alliance spec. The Juicerack makes hooking up units designed to flow together simple. You just choose the two slots you want to link and Feed one into the other.
The first thing I plugged in was a Fender Precision bass straight into the DI input. I’d been using a DI into another Neve pre, but the EQ on the way in really helped immediately dial in the sound I was after. Once we hit on the sound, the bass player stayed around longer than he’d planned to make sure we’d finished the last track because he liked it so much. I wasn’t losing anything in the DI stage, there was plenty of low end. And even though boosting at either end of the spectrum is more-ish, a couple of dB at 110Hz and some high-mid boost was all that was required. You can definitely overcook things with too much bass — a good problem to have.
On electric guitar, the ’73 Jr delivered a confidence in the lower mids and balance up high that just represented the Vox/Tele lightly crunchy combination really well.
My impression of the Heritage ’73 Jr, and just in general, 1073 preamps, is they’re not necessarily the premier choice for every source. But that they do sound the best or equal to the best on a lot of them, and never sound bad. Most noticeably the way it treats the high end; I wouldn’t say it’s the breathiest preamp going, but it doesn’t round off highs or give vocals a hyped edge. A bit of high-shelf boost of the ’73EQ Jr gave a broad airiness to the take, and cutting some lower mids showed how powerful the EQ can be, just a little scoop was all it took to clear out the mud.
On snare, it was the perfect match with the standard SM57. Knocking the impedance back down to 300Ω, the snare had plenty of body and you could hear both the crack and snare wires come through in good balance.
Build quality is pretty special on these. Internally, you can see the Carnhill transformers in a neat, condensed layout, and all the switches feel like they’re built to last. The only issue I have is the frequency readings below the knobs are so close to the knobs’ perimeter, they’re almost hidden. But you tend to work by feel after a while anyway, just listening to the results. The knobs on the EQ are also mounted to a board, so there’s a tiny bit of wiggle room, and they all wiggle together. Knob markings all line up though, and you get a nice solid click on the outer concentric frequency selectors and preamp input gain pot. However, there’s no centre detent at 0dB on the line level input control on the EQ, which would have been nice.
SPLITTING THE DIFFERENCE
It’s hard to compare the ’73 Jr and ’73EQ Jr to the 1073, because by splitting the two, you’re creating two distinct beasts. Here’s my logic on it: If you’ve got a 500 series rack and you want the 1073 sound, the Heritage Audio 1073/500 is the most accurate 1073 clone you’re going to get for the format. It’s got all the sound, including the combination of high-pass filter and low shelf, which is a handy tonal device. If however you’re after the most versatile 1073-inspired preamp for your 500 series rack without the EQ, the ’73 Jr with the addition of its DI input and hi-pass filter is the best one out there. And for those that just want really sweet, simple three-band EQ for broad but effective tonal shaping, the ’73EQ Jr will give you that control without sacrificing the 1073 signal path.
These two little junior boxes are a worthy addition to the broad 1073 lineage, giving more people, and perhaps younger, junior generations, access to a classic sound. It’s still not cheap, but worthwhile.