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Chameleon Labs 7603
5 5 out of 5, based on 2 Reviews

Solid, heavy, pre-amp that's full of color with a killer EQ and major bang-for-buck!


1st March 2019

Chameleon Labs 7603 by Dgr

  • Sound Quality 5 out of 5
  • Ease of use 5 out of 5
  • Features 5 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 5 out of 5
  • Overall: 5
Chameleon Labs 7603

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.

Last edited by Dgr; 2nd March 2019 at 01:07 AM..

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5th January 2021

Chameleon Labs 7603 by fadercreep

  • Sound Quality 5 out of 5
  • Ease of use 5 out of 5
  • Features 5 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 5 out of 5
  • Overall: 5
Chameleon Labs 7603

Like a lot of other recordists, I have been researching the Neve sound for a while, to understand if has a place in the music I'm working on, which ranges from folk-ish Neil Young to edgier stuff like Foo Fighters and even R&B and LoFi. I watched and listened to reviews of different clones and comparisons, and decided on the 7603 XMOD.

Sound Quality:
The Neve 1073 sound has been described many ways, but what I hear is a thick, girthy preamp that sounds great when overdriven. This unit has that sound in spades. Need a killer rock snare? Angry bass or vocals? I've used it on everything from harmonica to snare to sax to guitar with great results. Aside from adding edginess, dialing up preamp gain gives a certain focus and dimensionality to the sound that makes it stand out in a mix. Awesome.

I agree that the EQ is probably the best feature. Engaging the circuit, even with the EQ flat, adds mojo to the signal. I keep it on all the time. The EQ is super smooth. For me, I can add or boost to sculpt the sound as much as I want with the 7603 without it sounding EQ'd, which for me is the mark of a good equalizer. The 16k on the high shelf is instant "air", and worthy of special mention, as it really opens up and adds definition to a sound.

Ease of use:
Yep, easy to use. I have big hands, and the knobs are spaced far enough apart to not be a problem. The toggles are small, but solid. Meter is small but well lit. Couldn't really see it from across the room though. Silk screening is sufficient, but again kind of small.

Features:
Tons of gain - 70dB of preamp gain, another 20 dB of output gain. Quiet. Very solid build quality. Mic/Line/DI selection - all on separate inputs. Because I do a lot of reamping, this feature for me is critical and allows me to keep it patched in for better workflow. Separate mic/line inputs are not available on many Neve flavored preamps. The EQ points (although only shelving for the low and high end), are chosen well. I haven't really had a need for more or different frequencies. It does shaping, not precision.

Bang for the Buck:
Great value. Aside from the "Neve" sound it has, it can be nice and clean (not sterile) and well-behaved for softer sounds like acoustic instruments. It is built very well, and should outlast me. I don't really care if it sounds like a real 1073 or not. The sound it has is killer, and certainly fits into the music I make.

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