AMS Neve VX/VXS Review

AMS-Neve VX/VXS image

FIELD TEST:
AMS Neve VX/VXS Analog
Recording and
Production Console


Reviewed in
January 1997
by Mel Lambert


While digital rapidly eclipses analog as the technology of choice in an increasing number of facilities, it is inevitable that manufacturers look carefully at their existing product line and make difficult decisions: Upgrade, Update or Replace? With a large installed base of AMS Neve VR and Legend consoles around the world (close to 350, according to company sources), and continued interest in a design which, for many users, offers a number of outstanding sonic performance and operational features, conclusions being reached at the firm's UK headquarters must have been easy. Add some of the features that users have been asking for; spruce up the front-panel layout; adopt a revised color scheme; and, presto, The new VX Music Recording and VXS MultiFormat Production console.

   As I discovered during a hands-on session at Skywalker Sound's new Scoring Stage, which features a 72-input VXS with Flying Faders, this revitalized console series represents a significant improvement over its predecessors. In essence, AMS Neve has taken the basic VR/Legend topology, and added the following new capabilities:

  • Improved Metering- to maximize headroom, it is now possible to meter signal levels at the critical post-input trim point via the console's high-resolution bargraph meters. (Dynamics metering is now also a standard feature.)

  • An optional Direct-to-Fader Input Module bypasses the channel module's front-end/EQ section and provides, for example, direct from tape machine to fader connections during remix, and eliminates unwanted electronics from the signal path.

  • Both the VX and VXS can be supplied with Encore, AMS Neve's cross-platform moving-fader automation system that enables mix data to be transferred between various consoles.

  • Encore also provides optional automation of channel switches, and accommodates the new Recall system.

  • Automation Data is now displayed on a color TFT screen built into the meter bridge, eliminating the need for an external monitor often blocs sight lines in the control room.

The VXS MultiFormat version adds features for surround-sound mixing and music scoring, plus an independent mono or stereo dialog input. Also featured on the VXS are:

  • Up to eight discrete output busses; the enhanced flexibility handles SDDS and similar eight-way film formats. (The VRP panel for VR consoles offered access to only six busses.)

  • PEC/Direct paddle switches for monitor select and arming record modes for external audio/video transports.

  • Optional assignable joystick panners and dual-track faders for music and dialog returns.

During extended listening tests, the VX/VXS soon outshines its predecessor, particularly in such areas as sonic openness, high-frequency response, and general "punch" in lower frequency and mid ranges. Neve designers are said to have excluded further crosstalk, noise and errant RF signals. Overall signal-to-noise ratios are now said to be 8 dB quieter than the VR; 6 dB better that the VR Legend. Major signal-path enhancements have been focused on a substantial re-engineering of input racking and module interconnects. On the VR, twisted-pair cables up to two feet in length were used for line-level signals in the input module, bundled together and terminated with wire-wrapped connections. VX' connections are formed by short, interleaved signal and ground tracks that are hard soldered onto a multilayer PCB.

   Mic signals are now physically separated from the line-level signals of other channels. And external connections to this section are grouped by channel, not function. Power bussing within the VR Series was achieved via busbars; this functions has been retained in the VX Series, but with supply rails formed from strips of wider, 10-gauge conductors. The resultant DC impedance is reduced to 20% of that of the older model. (While I had no way of physically checking these mods, the end result was clear during listening test.)

In-line Monitor Design With Dual Signal Paths
Given its direct lineage from the popular VR Series, the new VX/S features an in-line monitor modular layout, with two distinct signal paths- an input source during recording/overdubs, and tape playback during remix- with separate faders on each path. The dedicated monitor path is used primarily for monitoring multitrack sends and playback during tracking, as effects sends/returns during remix, or to provide additional tape replay inputs for large mixdown dates. And by swapping small and large faders (along with companion solo/cut functions) either individually or globally, you are free to use whatever fader is more comfortable, or which offers the more comprehensive automation functions, for example.

   Versatile channel-input selection and output routing on the VX/S can be modified either by master status controls located within the center section, or on a channel-by-channel basis. Master switching lets the user quickly configure the console using status selectors, mic/line switching, fader swapping, track-laying/mixdown status and broadcast selection. Consoles can be set to one of three primary operational modes: Track laying; Mixdown; and Broadcast. Master switching operates over the entire console, or on the left- or right-hand sections. In this way, either conventional in-line topologies can be set up in the VX/S, or a split configuration, with an input bank and a separate monitor section on either the left/right of the center section. (Stereo input channel strips can also be supplied for video post applications, etc.)

   As will be appreciated, such freedom of front-panel layout greatly enhances the VX/S design's flexibility. The front-panel layout is very clean and easy to follow, with colored knob caps to aid in recognizing module sections, plus clear labeling of even the smallest buttons. In contrast to the gray color scheme used on the VR/Legend, the enhanced version from AMS Neve now features a high-contrast black background color, which makes it easier to read button and knob legends.

   During multitrack recording, mic or line signals are fed via the channel path and large fader to the routing matrix of 48 group busses, arranged in doubled pairs (1 and/or 25, 2 and/or 26, etc.). Panning is selectable between odd and even track sends. Inputs can be processed using a high and low pass filter, equalizer and dynamics unit. The channel path can be routed directly to the track send of the same number or designated as part of an audio subgroup; a useful trim control provides level adjustment for the track send. Simultaneous monitoring of either the multitrack sends/returns is possible either globally, or from each channel.

   A new design of mic amp is said to offer low noise and low distortion at all signal levels; during listening tests, it is was hard to detect any trace of overload or clipping, and noise seemed to be more a function of the mic/line source than the pre-amp. EQ and dynamics sections can be laid into the monitor path; similarly, aux sends can fed from the monitor path, either pre-fade/pre-cut for foldback cue sends and post-fade for reverb sends. Although the small channel fader is normally configured for setting control-room levels, this can be reversed with the large fader either globally or individually. Monitor signals can then be panned and bussed via a four-track routing matrix to one of the two stereo main outputs.

Flexible EQ Section and Filter, plus Dynamics Control
As with the majority of AMS Neve consoles, the VX/S' equalization is a marvel. Smooth and clean in operation, it is possible to reach for outrageous amounts of cut/boot without running into clipping nor other funnies. A pair of 12 dB/octave high and low pass filters are provided, running from 31.5 Hz to 315 Hz and 7.5 kHz to 18 kHz, respectively. Filters can be switched into the channel path independently. Neve's Formant Spectrum Equalizer section provides four bands of parametric EQ, with overlapping frequency ranges. The two mid-frequency bands feature center frequencies from 190 Hz to 2.0 kHz, and 800 Hz to 8.7 kHz. The high- and low-frequency controls provide +/-18 dB of cut/boost, switchable Q (0.7 or 1.2) and peak/shelf; ranges are 1.5-17 kHz, and 33-370 Hz.

   In addition, a Limiter/compressor and Gate/expander are available on each channel, with flexible side chain control. Gate/expander controls include a 50 dB gate range, 70 dB threshold (expansion ratio is 2:1), release time from 30 mS to 3s, with switchable attack time (1 mS or 100 microsecond) and variable hysteresis. (Hysteresis adjusts the threshold level for signals that are rising or falling in level, and enables precise triggering on the targeted signal while still allowing the correct amount of signal "tail" through the section. Very useful). External key input and invert (for ducking) are also provided.

   The Limiter/compressor features 30 mS to 3s release times, 50 dB threshold, ratios from 1:1 to limiting, plus 30 dB make-up gain. Attack time is program dependent, with a switch for fast impulse response. Release can be set to follow automatic program-dependent release. The EQ section can also be inserted into the side chain for de-essing, etc. All in all, the dynamics section is easy to set up and use, and provides an outstanding range of system control; sections can be linked for stereo operation. My only complain is that the knobs are a little too close together for my prehensile digits. But, given the limited amount of real estate available on the surface, it's a pretty minor hardship.

   Eight Aux Sends feature individual On/Off and Pre-fade/Post-fade switches, and can be configured as eight mono busses, with either the channel or monitor path as source. Pairs of sends can operate as a Stereo Aux with level/pan controls. Inserts can also be linked to either the channel or monitor path independently of the EQ section; pre-EQ/pre-dynamics topologies are also possible. Direct outputs are provided, bypassing the multitrack matrix.

   Fader automation on the VX/S is nothing less that comprehensive. Again, Touch Record/Lock Record modes are available for the fader. Match and Auto Match LEDs indicate which direction the fader needs to be moved to return to the Play Pass position in Group and Link modes. Global master fader controls are also provided for linking channel functions. While, for many users, Flying Faders represents the current paradigm for easy-to-use, intuitive yet comprehensive automation, the new Encore system adds enhanced functions such as Replace, Relative and Auto Match Modes.

   The Meter Bridge provides multitrack meters for each channel, and displays signal levels via VU or PPM scales. (A handy 6 dB Dump facility for the VUs decreases the sensitivity to allow metering of signals that peak above +3 dB.) Two small dynamics meters below the main bargraphs display the settings within the dynamics module. A Signal LED, with user-selectable threshold, lets you see if there is a signal present. Dedicated two-track meters follow selection of Mix 1-2, Mix 3-4 or an external monitor source.

Useful Options: Stereo and Fader Direct Input Modules
The optional Stereo Module fully utilizes both line-level signal paths, and features the same multitrack routing push buttons as mono units, with left outputs being routed to odd-numbered busses, and the rights to even. Phase of either channel can be inverted, and the two channels interchanged. Mono collapse and LR takeover are also featured, plus a built-in M-S (Mid/Side) decoder. Filters and insert points are essentially the same as those provided on the mono channel strips; as would be expected, EQ is dramatically simplified, and Aux sends feature a balance rather than pan control. The mono module's Dynamics section is replaced with a twin bargraph meter that can be switched to monitor levels at four points. A    Width control adjusts the width of the sonic image within a stereo sound field.

A standard Stereo module is equipped with a single L/R balance control that can be switched out. Optionally, the module can be fitted with a front/back balance control that pans the stereo signal between Stereo Pair #1/2 and #3/4. (With normal models, you need to make use of an aux bus or spare multitrack for surround-channel assignments.) A Skew control works much like balance, except that it provides a mono-compatible signal by introducing crosstalk.

   The optional Fader Direct Input Module provides a very useful Direct-to-Fader Input capability via the Channel Section. The entire front end of the console can now be bypassed, enabling an alternative front end- maybe an outboard mic pre-amp- or off-tape signals to be connected directly to the fader without passing through unnecessary electronics or switches. Control of Fader Direct Input is via a bank of push buttons within the Monitor section; input switching can also be controlled as an event by Encore/Flying Faders automation.

VXS: VX plus Surround Sound Monitoring/Recording Panel
The optional VXS panel provides surround-sound monitoring functions, and access to record modes via film-style PEC/Direct paddles. In standard mode, the console features either four, six or eight mixdown busses; in Post/Scoring Mode, a group of switches configures the mixdown bus format to provide either eight mixdown busses (assigned via the panpot as odd/even pairs), four stereo pairs (for, let's say, stereo dialog, effects, music and ambiance stems; a separate eight-into-two mixer creates the final stereo mix); or three stereo busses and one mono bus that serves as a hard center or dedicated mono surround. Each buss features both a pre- and post-fade insert, and individual trim controls.

   Three, eight-wide playback inputs enable monitoring of up to three recorders, while for post sessions, playback inputs can be used to return predubs into the mix busses, on into just the monitor. Usefully, VXS consoles can be supplied in one, two- or three-person configurations.

A comprehensive 8x8 matrix section selects which channels are sent to control room/dubbing stage loudspeaker sources. As is to be expected, Solo accesses individual speaker busses via the monitor path's final output and is not destructive to any two-track Mix selected. A dedicated button routes the return from a Dolby DS4 insert to the left-and right-surround speaker busses. A unique Dialog On mode selects monitoring of a dialog track to either center Summer (mono) or left+right channels. Other modes enable the bus-monitor signal to be heard regardless of the state of the Bus/Return paddles, for example.

In a Nutshell: Legendary Neve Sound and Comprehensive Production Facilities
The VX/VXS provides so many features that it is hard to summarize one's reactions. Suffice it so that the combination of Neve's legendary sonic performance- now enhanced with some non-trivial circuit changes and tidying up of module wiring- and AMS' new Encore automation with optional Recall capabilities, makes the VX Series a serious contender for facilities looking for no-comprise performance.

   My complains are very minor. The surface is a sea of knobs, with color coordination helping break up sections. However, some functions- particularly the dynamics section- are hard to implement, simply because knobs need to be squeezed so tightly together. In contrast, the track assignment, aux-send and EQ sections are less packed.

Fader and switch automation is blindingly fast, easy to master, and packs a lot of useful features. High tech with an open, clear sound: the AMS Neve VX/VXS is truly a revelation.

 

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Last revised: 03.29.17