Chameleon Labs 7603 by Dgr
I try to support smaller manufacturers like Chameleon and while I have a few Neve-sish preamps and after seeing some great reviews I figured I’d give their 7603 XMOD a try. Full disclosure: that first experience with Chameleon wasn’t what I wanted it to be. And it wasn’t what Chameleon wanted it to be, either. When I got the Chameleon 7603 XMOD, the preamp was shipped with the knobs off and some internal screws were loose. The knobs were impossible to get on. I was frustrated. I was really eager to try it but I had to send it back. I suspected that this wasn’t the way the unit was supposed to arrive, that something had gone wrong.
And I was right. Some time after I had posted about that experience here on Gearslutz, Chameleon reached out to me. They explained that they had had a problem with a manufacturer and were experiencing some issues, and apparently I had received one of the affected units. They sincerely apologized for the letdown and assured me that to ensure top-flight quality they were now manufacturing the 7603 in the U.S., in their own facility in Washington. To me, honesty and integrity in business is everything, especially for a smaller manufacturer of high end products. I was very happy and impressed that Chameleon took the issue so seriously.
So I decided to give the 7603 XMOD another try. It came well packaged, box in a box, with all knobs installed, no loose screws. This thing is HEAVY and it’s bulletproof. I like gear that looks good – it’s not critical, but it’s a plus - and the 7603’s unique color palette and overall design does not disappoint.
In use, I put the 7603 XMOD through its paces with a Mojave 301 on vocals and a Sennheiser e906 (flat) guitar for a classic-ish rock track I’m recording. I have to say I was quite happy. I put it right up there with my Vintech X73 (and as the 7603 XMOD is $650 less than an X73, that makes it a pretty damn good value to me). The XMOD definitely edged out my WARM and Heritage Elite Neve pre clones (both with the EQ and both of which are pretty kick ass IMO) and blew away the GAP EQ-73. I’m not sure if this is by design but costwise in the market of Neve pre clones the 7603 XMOD sits nicely between the more widely available clones and the super-ultra-high cost stuff. Soundwise however it swings hard and well above its price point.
I will say also that while I’ve not heard a standard 7603 except on Youtube (so take this for what it’s worth), from what I can tell the XMOD version most definitely yields a more coloured, more deeply Neve-ish vibe, which I favour. Especially when you push it. I hesitate to comment much on the standard 7603 but my XMOD had more dimension and zing. Had I a standard 7603 to compare, I am pretty sure that I would have thought the delta between the two, though noticeable, is narrower.
What I love most about the 7603 XMOD is the EQ. Sweet and smooth like buttered Jersey corn (that’s New Jersey corn for you Brits). IMO the inductor EQ is key to the Neve pre sound. On their site they say they’re using an op amp to drive signal through new custom inductors, and I’d say the nailed it. I understand the same EQ is on the standard 7603 and at $900 the EQ alone is probably worth the price of admission on the standard, it’s that good.
Anyway, that’s my review. I’d like to see more products from these guys. I don’t review much gear but I felt compelled to do a write up on the 7603 XMOD first because I really dig it but also because the guys at Chameleon had the stones to identify and correct the earlier issue and be honest about it, and one good turn deserves another. That kind of integrity is often lacking in business and is to be commended.