Rupert Neve? Most known for his legendary consoles. However, most recently he, in conjunction with mastering engineer Billy Stull, created a mastering box called “Masterpiece”. The EQ? Has that classic Rupert Neve sound. If you don’t know what that is (who is reading this to you?), it’s an EQ that’s more on the transparent side, however it gently adds warmth to the signal. This is especially useful since most engineers record to hard drives these days. Closest to the Focusrite Red series EQ (also Rupert influenced), the Masterpiece gives a similar character as this EQ. A project encompassing three years of development (with more circuitry than in one of the old large Neve consoles), Neve’s Masterpiece is, well, if we had to guess: a masterpiece? EQ’s Glenn Bucci aims to find out.

EQ: OK. How’d you come up with the Masterpiece?

Billy Stull: After many years and tons of mastering projects, I wished for more capabilities to deal with a diversity of incoming quality. The Masterpiece is a realization of my wish list and I am still blown away at the fortunate circumstances that allowed me to work with Mr. Neve to create this mastering and mixing instrument. It started out as a custom box for my own use, so there was no cost compromise on components. It’s full of custom elements, hand work, old-school through-whole circuit assembly, and anything required for ultimate performance was designated. The only limitation was space, and the unit is jam-packed with circuits and components. Mr. Neve commented that there is more circuitry designed in the Masterpiece than his previous large consoles. All this is costly, but it’s what’s required for the performance level that we have achieved. It wasn’t a bunch of guys in a boardroom saying “What can we build cheaply and make a bunch of money on?” This is the best that can be designed and built today and is made to take music to the next level, not please the bean counters. Stringing a bunch of boxes together has been the format for mixing and mastering, but now there is a system with one common power supply and an integrated work flow. And, the Masterpiece is not restricted and does allow for expansion by a carefully designed interface to other outboard gear with the bonus of being able to use that gear in a multiband application. We do sell the unit short-loaded if not all of the modules are required or as a way to get into the unit and purchase additional modules at a later time. An easy lease/purchase program is available as well.

EQ: What is the difference in the EQ in the Masterpiece and your previous designs?

Rupert Neve: For many years I’ve designed and manufactured equipment using a large variety of circuits and each new product is gone through carefully, measuring and listening, to see if I can squeeze some small new advantage from a proven favorite. If I were to provide detailed circuits they would not necessarily sound like mine if built by others because, mainly, of the context in which they are used. I’ve seen more than one alleged “copy” that claims it sounds the same as or better. Well, this sounds trite, but I firmly believe that every designer is a creative artist and creates the best he can. Whether he acknowledges it or not, he has talent, like a painter or musician, that are gifts from his or her creator. His/her handwriting is on it. Indeed, the very personality of the designer is reflected in the design. If someone copies that design, it is a forgery. What does that reflect? To the bank manager looking at a forged check, it is easily recognized as such. To the normal person who trusted in the value of that check, it is real until he tries to cash it and the bank informs him otherwise.

However, in recent years I have had the privilege of knowing Billy Stull. Billy has the most amazing gift of sound perception. Not only can he tell the difference between two very similar circuits, transformers, or components, he can articulate the difference in terms that are meaningful to a circuit designer. When Billy describes what he hears, I return to the design bench to adjust anything of which he may have been critical. In a nutshell, differences between the new EQ and other circuits from my past are due to Billy’s special gift.