What it is: A big, full, thick modern sounding Neve.
Be forewarned. This is an entirely biased review because I own two 5024s and love the sound. It needs to be heard to be believed, just like all preamps...
The Rupert Neve Designs Portico 5024 is a quad channel preamplifier. It has Direct Injection inputs on the first two channels, with coinciding Thru outputs. Channel three and four can be used as an MS encoder, if that's your bag (It is not mine, really). Each channel has a High Pass at 30 or 90, phase, mute and Silk buttons. The DIs are super clean and are half-normaled. Plug a TRS in and it is a DI, unplug it and it reverts to the Mic Input on the back of the unit. Each DI also has a ground lift. It is all very straight forward and the buttons are all nicely spaced for easy access. All knobs and buttons feel rock solid.
While using the DI for bass, it is really all you could hope for without having a higher end single channel preamp costing twice the amount of the entire 5024. It has a big, thick, rounded feeling on the bass and very pleasing mids and highs.
While using it as a Microphone Preamp, anything you plug into it will be amped up in an inexplicable way. I think of it as a modern neve sound (because, well, that is what it is!). It is not instant vintage glory. It does not sound as big as the empire state building. But it is big and tasty. Anything you plug into it will benefit from the sound.
The control are straight forward. Personally, I love notched gain. Turn it a few clicks, leave the trim alone and you are in action. What could be better? In the digital domain, and in certain situations, positive trim can overload your converters if you are not careful. I always leave the trim set at -6.
I use the 5024 for external summing with two Roll Music Folcrom Summing Mixers and it sounds amazing. With the notched gain it is easy to match the L&R gain.
Lastly, the Silk button is amazing. I leave it on all the time. Truthfully, I have no idea what it does. RND describes it this way:
"Much could be written about this feature, suffice to say, that it gives a subtle option to enhance sound quality in the direction of vintage modules. The Silk button reduces negative feedback and adjusts the frequency spectrum to provide a very sweet and musical performance. We suggest you try it and make your own judgment."
That is cool and all. Whatever that description means... but what it does to the sound is inexplicably amazing. I was skeptical. I didn't think it would do much but show a nice blue light emanating from the 5024... but how it affects the sound is amazing. It does something subtle to all frequencies. It feels a little more vintage-y, but not 1073 vintage - just a little more vibey. It is not over the top at all. But it definitely affects the sonic character of the signal. Printing a mix with the Silk on versus off results in a noticeable difference in the mix. It has more life and vibe. It is more of a vibe switch than anything, but I guess Silk sounds cooler/more important.
If you are thinking about buying one, I would highly suggest the 5024 over the portico 500 series. This unit is built like a tank and all the knobs and buttons are very solid and well positioned. I have no doubt that I will buy at least two more in the future so I can have sixteen channels of this beautiful preamp.
Rupert Neve Designs knocked it out of the park with this one. I commend their achievement and thank the design team for such an incredible sound at the very-affordable price of less than $750 a channel.
Having used this pre for a month it is amazing how everything sounds big and beefy. I have used it for electric guitars with Cascade Fathead and Neumann TLM102. I have plugged my Moog Voyager and Dave Smith Prophet 08 into the DI's which sound better than any DI I have heard. The synths sound fuller and better than ever. The most critical test though was performed yesterday: adding jazz vocals to a recording made in Svenska Grammofonstudion in Gothenburg, Sweden. The console here is a (the!) Neve owned by Queen in the 70's. The result was amazing: it does not sound like the 1073's or 1081's of the desk, it's a more modern or up to date sound yet it blends perfectly. It just puts the vocal a bit more up front. There are no shortcomings soundwise I can think of.
How I use it: I use the gain to saturate the transformers a bit, try the silk mode for everything and usually leave it in for more natural sounding mics. The Fathead's special character was even more special without silk when used on guitars and vocals. For synths pretty much the same: set gain, try silk on or off, smile.
Before I got this pre I've been using the Neves mentioned, API's, UA 610, Grace, SSL VHD and Focusrite ISA. I was thinking of investing in an API 3024 but with the 5024 I have huge transformer sound and the best DI's you can get. I have not tried the M/S function yet but will eventually.
The RND pre is my desert island preamp. It's big and cleanish with lots of headroom. The hpf on the 5024 is set at logical frequencies. The DI sounds great. The silk feature lets you switch to a subtly more saturated vintage tone. And the MS decoder is just plain handy--a "must have" if you use mid-side micing.