Vintech Model 473
The Vintech Model 473 is a four channel preamp based off the legendary Neve 1073, which I'm assuming needs no introduction or explanation. Not exactly the most original idea in the world even at the time of its introduction, but given the used price of a vintage 1073, or ridiculously insane amounts AMS-Neve want for a reproduction, I suppose it's a good thing to have more choices in the preamp market. Of course, part of me wonders about the wisdom where--thanks to myth, hype and legions of marketing weenies spinning off ridiculous ad copy--half the market consists of 1073 clones, 1073 wannabe's, 1073 improvements resulting in having a silly standard by which all preamps seemed to be judged: "how's it compare to a Neve?" Sigh.
Anyways, the 473 is a fairly worthy contender. Ad propaganda aside, this is a very good preamp all things considered; however, for the die-hard purists and 1073 worshipping zealots this is not a replica. It doesn't sound exactly the same as a 1073, it doesn't respond like one, its EQ (a big part of the "magic" of the 1073) is wholly dissimilar.... it's just not quite the same, as has been duly recorded ad nauseam by the pundits, the experts, the opinionated and mobs of the clueless that have never been in the same session with a real 1073, much less compared to the two units side-by-side.
So what do you get for you not-too-inconsiderable sum? Well, each preamp features 5db stepped gain controls, including three gains stages as found on the original, as well as an output attenuator. You've got mic/line inputs... which in this day and age you'd better have for a new design. There's a choice between two different impedances: 1.2 and 300 as well, so consider that a minor bonus. There's an EQ as well: two band shelving, both high and low with up to 15db of cut/boost each; options here are limited to 3.2khz and 12khz on the top band, 60hz/200hz on the low band. Off to the side switches for phase and enabling the EQ are standing by. It's a neat, tight arrangement that nobody can get lost on, especially considering the gain knob is bright red. All good stuff, nice spec...
I've had the opportunity to work with five different 473 units across three separate recording studios, for over a period of six years. I'd like to think I'm fairly experienced with these units, and have used them in many different applications. That being said, I'm always happy to see these units racked up when starting a new session--not only do I know what to expect, but they are quite frankly better than 90% of the "other options" you tend to see in midrange studios.
In action the 473 certainly is "Neve-ish" and imparts size and crunch to a signal. While I'd argue the top end of the 473 is a bit higher than the original it's pretty close, which is to say the classic mild compression of the treble frequencies considered to be a big part of the magic of the 1073 is pretty much a given. Neither the original nor the 473 are going to be mistaken for a bright preamp, nor crystal clear. Put it this way, you'll never mistake this breed of preamp for a Millenia or GML... which is part of the appeal. Generally speaking the 473 performed well and delivered results I'd expect from an early Neve, with two notable exceptions: first, the 473 seemed a shade grainier than most 473's, which imparts a slightly lower quality than the real thing; secondly, when the 473 is pushed it seems to have a smaller "sweet spot" than the 1073--signals can push "through" the zone into some rather hairy THD a lot faster than the real unit. This is a shame, because that mild wooliness is ultimately what makes people ravage their bank accounts to get ahold of racks of the original. Instead, the 473 seemed to jump to straight up SPANK! on highly transient sources like snare. At least the quality of the overdrive was pleasing, but just too much and too soon.
The DI is a bit too dirty for my tastes, which is the nature of the beast with this type of preamp. Keep in mind I'd say the same thing for a Great River as well. I'm more of a clean DI guy: Demeter Tube DI, Manley Tube Di... those are my top choices when I have 'em. However, this beats the pants off those preamps on your C24. Sometimes you have to pick quality over character, you know? The EQ's are semi-usable.... which is to say they are decent sounding, but only for the most broad strokes--adding a little top end, brightening a dull signal with a 3.2khz shelf... adding a little overall oomph, or fattening up the sub frequencies on a bass guitar or something. Granted, implementing a full 1073 preamp would surely have almost doubled the MSRP on this preamp... and I used it so infrequently that I'd rather they just not stuck it in there and lowered the cost. This is probably why their 500 series 573 preamp appears to be so popular because it gives you what you want, the preamp, and at a reasonable cost. No wasted bucks on EQ's that, while nice, just aren't that useful in the real world.
Bottom Line: while probably not the "real deal" (hey, your results may vary... some people really love these preamps) the Model 473 is a professional preamp allowing you to deliver the goods in a session. As good as the real thing? Nope... but you're better off with as many high quality channels as possible versus maybe one or two "awesome, man!" channels when it comes to real sessions. Home and project studios should be proud to have some of these around. The EQ isn't much of a high point as stated and its presence hurts the 'bang for buck' ratio in my eyes. Just be careful with gain staging--this thing's overdrive can come up from behind and bushwhack 'ya! Certainly worthy of your attention and rack if you're looking for an affordable RAWK preamp.