Golden Age Project Pre-73 Premier Test

Golden Age Project Pre-73 Premier Review

Neve 1073 style microphone preamp

Uncle Rupert sends greetings!

It’s no surprise that we’re testing the Golden Age Audio Pre-73 Premier: which recording enthusiast does not dream of one or even a whole rack of original Neve 1073 preamps? In terms of iconic status, the time-honored preamp is hard to beat, and since the 1970s models are neither easy to find nor particularly affordable, the remakes have sprouted like mushrooms for years. Some are very close to the vintage-era role model, and the AMS Neve 1073SPX in particular is one of themas a new edition of the original (now merged) manufacturer called himself. Some others take some liberty in interpreting the circuits designed by Rupert Neve, and of course there are huge differences in price.

The GAP Pre-73 Premier is one of the 1073 clones that interpret the model a bit more freely, dispensing with the associated 3-band EQ and in return offers some viable extras. He is one of the first descendants of a new product line called Golden Age Premier, which aims to set itself apart from the standard executions of the small Swedish company Golden Age Project by superior quality. The Pre-73 Premier tested here is thus a kind of noble version of the still available GAP Pre-73 MK III – and a significant difference lies in the use of the also built by AMS Neve Carnhill transformers, which is attributed to a significant sounding part. The street price remains below the 500 euro mark and is thus still pleasingly humane. In the review we find out how the part is doing.

GAP Pre-73 Premier: Stylish look and excellent workmanship

The GAP Pre-73 Premier plays open with some typical key stimuli of the original 1073 and whispers to me at the first sight a seductive “Neeeve” in the ear. The distinctive greyish-blue tint of the front panel, the white push buttons and especially the left center positioned, red, rasterized gain control with its distinctive shape – all these are impressions that respond to many sound engineers as the Pavlovian dog on the chime in front of the Feeding. And fortunately, this is not just a simple charade that collapses the first time you touch the controls. The workmanship of the Pre-73 Premier has been exceptionally well done, and the fact that you’re dealing with a comparatively cheap replica is absolutely unremarkable.

The GAP Pre-73 Premier plays with key stimuli and is extremely well processed.

The case is 9.5-inch and can be rack-mountable (not included) in a 19-inch rack. In this case, of course, there is room for another piece of outboard equipment with the same dimensions. That the power supply was not installed, but connected externally, I personally do not consider tragic. Especially in a small case such as the Pre-73 Premier, it can effectively avoid interference and, in addition, reduces overall costs and helps keep prices low. If you have a growing collection of external power supplies behind your rack and use several units of GAP, you might be thinking about purchasing the associated quad PSAP.

Golden Age Project Pre-73 Premier: Powerful preamp with 80 dB gain

With its ports and switchable features, the Golden Age Project Pre-73 Premier is largely equivalent to the lower-priced Pre-73 MK III. Let’s take a look at this good piece from the beginning: On the left side, a power switch and a DI socket are followed by the four white pushbuttons already mentioned. Both the 48V phantom power and the line or DI mode are activated here, and in addition, in low-Z mode, the input impedance of the mic input can be lowered from 1200 to 300 ohms, as Neve typically does. If this circuit is activated, the two coils of the input transformer will not pass through in series, but in parallel, and depending on the microphone connected, this may cause slight to clear sound differences.

In view of the controls on the front, there are many similarities with the cheaper GAP Pre-73 MK III despite the visual differences.

Right next to the four press studs sits the 11-level rasterized gain control. In the lower control range between 20 and 40 dB, the screening is subdivided into 10dB steps, whereupon it continues in 5dB increments up to the powerful maximum gain of 80 dB. As with the original 1073 takes a second amplifier stage from 50 dB on their work. When raising a signal to line level, there should be no problems even with quiet sound sources and microphones with low output (such as dynamic microphones). In line mode, a 30dB pad is placed in front of it and the impedance is increased to the standard 10k ohms nowadays. In contrast, the impedance at the front DI socket is 100 kOhm.

GAP Pre-73 Premier: Two-stage high pass, rudimentary air EQ and internal gain staging

If you follow the front panel, you will come across a high-pass filter that accesses a smooth filter quality of 6 dB / octave at 80 or rather high 200 Hz, and the rudimentary circuit of the Air-EQ. In fact, this is not a typical high-frequency filter that would raise the frequency range above a certain vertex, but a broad-filter bell filter whose center frequency is around 30 kHz. You can choose between 3 or 6 dB. If you want even more control over the frequency image, you might want to take a look at the PreQ-73 Premier GAP, which features a 3-band EQ similar to the 1073 and is slightly more expensive in return.

A variable high-pass filter, a rudimentary Air EQ to boost treble, and an Output Pad that works with the adjacent trim pot to work with saturation.

The next output pad is the only difference to the Pre-73 MK III in terms of the switchable functions of the Pre-73 Premier. In contrast to a classic pre-attenuation known from many preamplifiers, the signal is not lowered before the input stage, but behind the output stage – by 14 dB. So the purpose is not to protect the preamp from over-hot signals and overdriving, but the opposite is the case: An activated output pad ensures that higher amplification is required and therefore the output transformer is hit harder, which in turn causes more coloration / Saturation brings into play. For even more precise and continuous control of the output level, this is followed by a trim pot, and in all these ways, Of course, a simple LED meter should not be missing to influence the internal gain structure of the preamplifier. A switch to reverse the polarity is also included.

Connectors on the back of the Pre-73 Premier

On the back of the Pre-73 Premier are the inputs and outputs in the form of two securely screwed to the housing XLR sockets, where the input is a combo jack. As an alternative output there is an additional balanced jack. It is very welcome that there is also an insert socket, via which further outboard (for example, compressor or EQ) can be looped into the signal flow.

Back of the Pre-73 Premier

A not unimportant point is that the connections on the back can be maintained when the preamp is operated in DI mode and the corresponding input on the front is used. This is not a matter of course for all preamps. As a difference to the simpler GAP Pre-73 MK III, it is also noticeable that all contacts are gold-plated. discreet

Construction: Puristic signal path at the GAP Pre-73 Premier

So far, the differences between the Pre-73 Premier and the Pre-73 MK III are still quite manageable. Of course, there’s the prettier look, the really great workmanship, the output pad, and some gold-plated contacts on the Premier version. The really significant differences only become apparent when you open the case.

An eye-catcher inside the Pre-73 Premier: an output transformer from the House of Carnhill

The input transformer – so Carnhill

The gain control is the only component internally connected via a plug connection.

The first eye-catchers are of course the Carnhill transformers also used by AMS Neve. But also in general it can be seen that in the development emphasis was placed on keeping the signal path as puristic and clean as possible. The design is completely discrete and uses only traditional technology consisting of capacitors, transistors and resistors. Most connections are based on classic old good solder and the only internal connector is found on the gain control. As a small extra, there is an internal jumper that adjusts the output impedance to allow the connection of vintage equipment with the formerly standard input impedance of 600 ohms as ideally as possible.

Classic Neve sound with metered drive!

Even with standard operation, the sound characteristics of the GAP Pre-73 Premier can be clearly recognized. The appropriate adjectives would be diverse: fat, soft, tall, warm, weighty and with a noble patina in the heights – the preamp sounds in fact very much what you generally associate with the classic Neve sound. However, the tonal flexibility that comes with the combination of the output pad and the trim pot opens up another dimension, and that should make many a passionate sound engineer’s heart beat faster!

The GAP Pre-73 Premier was connected to a Universal Audio Apollo Twin for the test recordings.

The use of the output pad alone, with a corresponding increase in the gain, ensures a clearly enriched sound image. In addition, there is a slight compression, which is also in a vocal recording with the Lewitt LCT 540 S.Large-diaphragm noticeable, but even more clearly in a mono-Drumroom is felt, which was recorded with the ribbon Micro Audio Technica AT4080. If more intense saturation is desired, then another touch to the trim poti will help. In this way, the Pre-73 Premier can elicit results that are already in the direction of effect editing and, of course, do not always make sense. Especially with the drums recording I feel the possibility of starting the output transformer even hotter, but as very sexy! Even though there is a natural limit here, as it is too much of a good thing, the preamp is relatively meek and musically with oversteer. And of course you can also disable the output pad and work exclusively with the trim pot,

Interesting is the comparison with the plug-in version of the Neve 1073 offered by Universal Audio, which communicates via the Unison technology with the preamplifiers of the in-house Apollo audio interfaces. This hybrid version of hardware and software was significantly more transparent in the test and is closer to the neutral sound of the Apollo without additional plug-in than the character-sound of the Pre-73 Premier both in vocals and percussion. Even though it was possible to achieve comparable effects in combination with the Drumroom at higher speeds, in my opinion this round clearly goes to the hardware of GAP.

Sound shaping of the GAP Pre-73 Premier

The internal Air EQ is quite practical despite its rudimentary design. If you want to miss a bit more of the beautiful Neve highs while recording with the wide brush, then the two options given here to boost 3 or 6 dB are enough in my opinion. Not to forget is that an exact recall of the settings by the few given options is quite straightforward.

Generally speaking, Air EQ lives up to its name. It gives the recorded signals a breezy superstructure and works quite far down to the mid-range without excessively blurring potentially sharp signal components. In my opinion, this is definitely more than just a nice extra.

Low Z mode: further shading on the palette of the GAP Pre-73 Premier

That a change in the input impedance to a preamp depending on the microphone used can have very different effects, some of which are difficult to predict, is well known – and this was confirmed in the test with the Lewitt LCT 540 S and the Audio Technica AT4080 again. It’s a bit like the sound of the microphones being turned on by an arbitrary frequency noise, and that can certainly lead to great results in some situations. The only common feature in the reaction of the two microphones was an increased level, which was compensated for the comparisons but in retrospect again.

The Pre-73 Premier in DI mode

To test the DI function of the Pre-73 Premier, a Fender Rhodes was connected directly to the front input jack. And in this case, the possibilities for sound shaping proved helpful. It is noteworthy that the Air-EQ with its center frequency of 30 kHz, which is already beyond the audible range, still has a clear effect even on such a medium-heavy instrument, which was also operated in a lower range. So the filter curve is indeed very broad, and that’s fine for use in recording.

Conclusion (5/5)

The Golden Age Project Pre-73 Premier is a preamp with strong gain reserves that definitely does not keep its character behind the mountain. Already in the standard mode, he calls clear reminiscences of the circuits of Rupert Neve, which is not least attributed to the installed Carnhill transformers. The fact that the impedance circuit at the entrance was taken over relatively true to original by the model, provides for tonal margin. But with the ability to make the output stage hotter, the preamp becomes even more interesting than a simple 1073 clone, opening a door to truly creative recording. The rudimentary Air-EQ, with its wide filter curve, is more than a nice touch and, if needed, additional outboard equipment can be looped in via the insert path. Finally, the workmanship is absolutely high quality. So what do you want more?

To summarize again: The GAP Pre-73 Premier scores in the test across the board and is also highly recommended thanks to its price attractiveness!

Pro

  • sound quality
  • powerful preamp with 80 dB gain
  • Carnhill transformers
  • Output pad and trim pot to control saturation
  • functional Air EQ
  • Impedance circuit on the mic input
  • Insert loop
  • discrete construction
  • high quality
  • Good Price-performance ratio

Contra

  • no

Features and specifications

  • Microphone preamplifier modeled after the Neve 1073
  • 80 dB gain (control range 20 to 80 dB, 30 dB pad in line mode)
  • Air EQ (+3 dB / + 6 dB @ 30 kHz)
  • Output pad (14 dB) for hotter starting of the output stage
  • Output trim for fine adjustment
  • Impedance circuit on the mic input (1200 ohms / 300 ohms)
  • Phantom power and phase inversion
  • DI jack
  • Insert path
  • LED meter (4 LEDs)
  • Input: XLR / jack combo jack
  • Output: XLR and jack separately
  • 600 ohm output adaptation via internal jumper possible
  • discrete construction
  • Carnhill transformer (input and output)
  • external power supply
  • Price: € 489


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