Prior to the proliferation of independent recording studios that seem so familiar to us today, studios were owned by labels. EMI artists would record at EMI studios using equipment designed and manufactured privately by EMI engineers. The same went for Motown artists, Capitol records artists and so on. Some incredible equipment was designed this way (EMI TG consoles, Coles 4038s, Fairchild compressors, etc.) but as time progressed this vertically-integrated model began to make less sense. Recording artists were working stranger hours and desired more control over their recordings (old hat studios like EMI had strict rules for engineers). Independent studios began to pop up to fill this need.
Some of them (like London’s Trident Studios) had the budget and manpower to design their own equipment while others had to contract out to specialized engineers.
Like so many things in history, the legendary Neve 1073 preamp owes much of its fame to being in the right place at the right time. It was introduced in 1970 as a module in a console custom built for Wessex studios. In these days Rupert Neve ran around the independent studios of the world designing equipment for them on request. When Wessex was looking for a new console to satisfy it’s varied client’s needs, Mr Neve was asked to design what became the A88 console.
Rupert Neve designed a solid-state preamp with transformer balanced inputs and outputs (somewhat of a rarity for the time). This was done due to Neve’s history in broadcast and radio electronics where protecting the signal from degradation was critical. Also, because this was a console pre, the amp could not be source selective. It had to sound good on everything.
Wessex Studios was more than satisfied and news began to spread through the independent engineering world. Neve had developed a versatile console that was (brace yourself) affordable. The combination of versatile and cost-efficient resulted in Rupert Neve being a very busy man, installing consoles in virtually all of the independent studios. People began to connect the great sound they were hearing on records to the equipment that recorded them, and the 1073′s infamy grew.
Eventually Neve sold his company (which later merged with AMS) and started Focusrite (where he designed the ISA preamp). He seems to have settled for now at his own Rupert Neve Designs where he still designs extremely professional preamps. None of the amplifiers he has designed since the 1073 have been reached as much fame, except for maybe the 1081, which is a similar preamp to the 1073 with a more involved EQ section.
Recently Golden Age has issued a clone of the 1073 sans EQ (the PRE-73) which it sells for $299USD. Chameleon Labs makes a clone (7602) for it selling for $799USD. Brent Averill makes a clone for $3025USD (the 1028), while what became of the original Neve company (AMS-Neve) sells theirs for around $3000USD. Original Neve modules can cost upwards of $5000USD.
Even though they aren’t so inexpensive anymore, very few people will deny that Neve made an incredible pre that has outlasted its peers of the same era. The 1073 can usually be assumed to be apart of at least one vocal chain on any major label release. Worth $5000 or more? It’s debatable, but it’s legacy is undeniable.