There aren’t many people in the music scene that haven’t heard of the name Neve. It is quintessentially British. Like a thick, welcoming, rounded English accent. The company itself, born from the ideas and direction of Rupert Neve, has quite humble beginnings starting in a little Essex town east of London in 1961. From there Neve Electronics and its reputation rapidly grew with notable achievements including the first transistor based mixing console (created for Philips Studios, London in 1964) and Rupert Neve being herald the father of modern mixing consoles.
Beyond their well established reputation in music production, Neve Electronics made waves through the broadcast industry as well. Within the first decade of operation Neve Electronics had sold desks to broadcast companies including ABC UK, BBC, Granada Television, and TV Centre in Madrid. They were a match made in audio heaven; the vision & talent of Rupert Neve combined with the strict, high quality specification requirements of broadcast equipment resulted in designs like the Neve 2254 compressor. One of the nifty little pieces of kit that came to be as a result of the broadcast world is the Neve 542 mixer series – a compact mixing console available in a number of frame types and sizes largely for use in mobile and outside broadcast situations.
Produced from about 1978 to 1985, the 542 mixer consisted of four main frame types including a six channel rack mount unit, an 8 channel Neve 542 suitcase mixer complete with internal battery pack, an 8 channel “drop thru” desk design, and an 8 to 16 channel desktop mixer with polished wooden trim. While these little 54 series Neve units are a long way from the design and topology of the famous discrete designs of the 80 series consoles, they have earned a reputation of their own for their great sound.
The Neve 542 mixer series is made up of 3 possible channel combinations all of which utilise integrated circuits (IC’s). The Neve 34128 mono channel is the most coveted with a belclair transformer input feeding both line and microphone inputs, along with a 3 band equaliser featuring an inductor on the mid frequency. The Neve 34149 stereo line level channel contains a high and low shelving EQ as well as a high pass filter. While the Neve 34148 stereo line level channel is the simplest of the lot EQ-wise, featuring just a high pass filters. The larger desktop units were also available in two or four bus versions with simple meter bridges.
The mixing desks themselves can be quite handy for summing and basic mixing, but the lack of direct outputs on each channel makes them quite limited for tracking and recording. As a result, it is extremely common to see 34128 channels racked separately or 54 series desks modified with direct outputs. The channel strips use the same 15 pin EDAC edge connectors that API use in their 500 series equipment (with a different pinout, mind you). The desks run on a standard +/-15volt power supply as well, which makes racking these channels pretty straight forward.
The direct out signal can be taken between the output of the IC5 and the pan pot and run through a buffer/balancing amplifier. IC5 itself is not capable of driving the direct out by itself, so make sure you use a buffer/balancing amplifer. For a more comprehensive description of the modification – check out our Neve 34128 article. This is Geoff Tanner’s (former Neve engineer, owner of Aurora Audio’s) approach, but he uses THAT corp 1646 opamps rather than the JLM kit we use. Junction 22 on the 34128’s PCB is a good place to tap the signal. On the edge card connector pins C & D are ground and connector together via a large PCB trace. Using a dremel or similar tool it is easy to slice the trace between these two pins. Taking the signal from the pan pot wiper and connecting it to the newly isolated pin D of the edge connector means you can tap the direct out signal from pin D in the console frame. This will allow you to add direct outputs to the channels while maintaining the modular design of the desk. No extra connectors or hardwiring gets in the way! We used the JLM Audio Reguritator as the balancing amplifiers for our rack. Joe from JLM Audio will supply them in a bank of 8 channels for neat XLR mounting if you need it. The Reguritator will run of the +/-15volt of the console PSU as well.
Neve 542 series mixing desks appear on the used market and eBay from time to time. There have been a few we have noticed over the last few months. One of them fetched close to $7,000! Take a look to see if any are currently up for sale.
Neve 542 Mixer Manual
- Neve 542 Introduction
- Neve 542 General Description
- Neve 542 Stereo Channel Modules
- Neve 542 34128 Channel Module
- Neve 542 Output & Monitor Module
- Neve 542 Printed Circuit Boards
- Neve 542 Power Supplies
- Neve 542 Spares Kit & Test Report
- Neve 542 Parts List & Electrical Standards
- Geoff Tanner at Aurora Audio is an invaluable source of information on all things Neve
- The Hook Studios sells reproduction Neve knobs and caps suitable for the 542 series.
- The Group DIY forums have the collective brain power to solve any pro audio tech issue.
- JLM Audio offer superb, simple kits that make all those tricky little bits a piece of cake.