Monday, 28 June 2010

Neve DSP1

Alan found some pictures he took of the Neve DSP-1 console he helped build in the early 80s

The DSP1 was the first ever digital mixer. If you look at the picture of the monitor you can see a bit how the software side of the console worked; you could define each channel's functions, and the functions of the hardware pots and buttons with total abandon, effectively creating a giant digital FX processor. Amazing!

I could previously find very few pictures of the Neve DSP on the googlenet. I scanned these myself just now from Big Al's real non-digital 30 year old photographs

UPDATE: below is the beautiful Neve DSP1 brochure from 1983, and below that is the text from the article about the DSP1 over on the Institute of Broadcast Sound website

Neve DSP Desk Brochure 1983

"The Neve DSP-1 was the first commercially available digital audio mixer, and was described as the first multi-purpose console, with an assignable control surface which could easily be configured for any requirement from multi-track music recording and post-production to live broadcasting. See sales brochure (this is a large pdf file, approx 2.7MB). The DSP-1 was a staggering achievement, but it could not compete, either in operational flexibility or cost-effectiveness, with existing analogue mixers designed for specific market areas.
The original research into the application of DSP to audio mixers was carried out by Guy McNally and his colleagues at the BBC Research Dept. at Kingswood Warren in the late 1970s. McNally’s first paper, entitled “A computer-based mixing and filtering system for digital sound signals” was published in 1979 as BBC RD 1979/4.
The next report, 1981/10, delves deeply into the subject of “Recursive digital filtering for high quality audio signals”, and has an acknowledgement that “This work was carried out in collaboration with the Neve Group of Companies”.Report 1982/13 entitled “Digital Audio: COPAS-2. A Modular digital audio signal processor for use in a mixing desk” ends with the information that COPAS-2 is being applied in the design of a digital mixing desk being manufactured by the Neve group of companies.
The “Neve group of companies” was a rather grand name for what everyone knew simply as Neve. Arguably one of the most remarkable characters of the audio industry, Rupert Neve sold the company in 1973 to the Bonochord Group of companies, leaving the company in 1975.
Bonochord changed into ESE (Energy Services & Electronics, which also owned Livingston Hire and Redland building materials) and in the 1980s Neve’s financial position began to cause concern, due largely to its ambitious R & D programme which included not only the DSP project but also Necam moving faders and a digitally-controlled intercom system (which was eventually abandoned). Martin Jones, Neve’s Technical Director at the time, recalls "As is the way with these things, the actual costs of those deliverable consoles was very much higher than estimated, largely because they were much more complex than originally planned. Neve stumped up the bill internally thanks largely to the immense support from Patrick Robson, MD of Livingston Hire and board member of Neve's parent company Energy Services & Electronics (ESE). LIvingston Hire under Patrick's leadership was a hugely successful profit & cash generator at that time and the ESE Chairman Robin Rigby (and from 1983 Fred Rollason) decided to invest in the Neve DSP development as a long-term value creation for the ESE group. Looking back to the acquisition by Siemens, that seems with hindsight to have been a good business decision - it gave the Neve business a value which it would not have otherwise had.”
Another major factor in the DSP development was the availablility of government money via the Department for Trade and Industry (DTI). Martin Jones continued "The DTI support for the project was quite remarkable compared with today's government penny pinching on technology (in 2006). There's no doubt that it gave the UK a commanding world lead in digital professional audio processing at the time. The original development was part-financed by the DTI 'Product & Process Development Scheme" (PPDS), which paid 25% of the development costs, but this included generous overheads so paid a good chunk of the spend. It only got us as far as the prototype though (picture attached with a youthful yours truly demonstrating it in 1983 to Kenneth Baker, then Minister for Information Technology, now Lord Baker)."
"The actual deliverable consoles, CTS and the BBC, were made under another DTI scheme whereby, as far as I recall, the DTI paid most of the estimated costs of making a 'demonstrator' product. My rather distant recollection is that the customer then only paid back money to the DTI if the product was making them money as planned."
The CTS console was delivered to the CTS Wembley studios early in 1985, followed by the BBC console in September of that year. The consoles were similar in overall size and facilities, though not identical. Unfortunately both consoles suffered initially from reliability problems (which was hardly surprising given the complexity of the systems and the size and component density of the printed circuit boards), and it was conjectured that CTS suffered more thanthe BBC because they had put commercial pressure on Neve to deliver their console first.

Although the BBC placed the first order, CTS possibly had a stronger commercial case. It was believed that the BBC console was the more reliable of the two (being the second one produced) and that CTS suffered for their commercial pressure by getting the “prototype” console which should have gone to the BBC!

The Neve DSP concept was for a large “pool” of processing which could be configured as required, with the signal paths displayed on a colour VDU. Channel processing, including EQ and dynamics, was 24-bit and the mixing software used 32 bits, giving an overall dynamic range of 132dB – more than enough to avoid overload problems in what would have been the mix bus in a conventional analogue console. Four basic user-specified configurations were provided as standard, and each could be modified and stored on a removeable floppy disk. Stereo signal paths could be selected, controlled by a single fader and one set of channel controls, and a total of 2.6 seconds of delay was available for each 24-channel block of processing, selectable in variable steps starting at 20us (microseconds). Grouping could be achieved by the traditional mixing method, selecting any fader to be a group master with no added noise or distortion, by using the NECAM moving fader system or by using ‘VCA style’ grouping.

Each channel could have a four-band EQ plus two filters, and although in theory each band could be identical i.e. +/- 18dB at any frequency, it was decided to restrict the ranges to provide facilities similar to those of the highly-regarded Neve “Formant Spectrum” analogue equalisers. Thus the HF and LF bands were shelving and the lo- and high-mid bands were peaking, with variable ‘Q’. The high pass and low pass filters were 12dB per octave with adjustable –3db points. The dynamics section was a comprehensive limiter/compressor/expander/gate with a selectable signal delay for “zero overshoot” limiting.

The standard configuration for a DSP-1 included three remotely-sited stageboxes connected to the main processing racks via fibre optic cables which could be up to 1 Km long. Each stagebox – actually a 39U rack cabinet – housed 16 analogue microphone amplifiers and 4 analogue line outputs which could be used for talkback, foldback etc. as required. Each mic. amp had two inputs, each with independent remotely controlled gain, selectable from the console. The original A-D converters were 16-bit, giving an overall dynamic range which measured at 87dB. Later consoles (DSP-2) used 18-bit converters. Comprehensive talkback and mix-minus facilities were also standard. The stagebox pictured is by kind permission of the NMM.

Commercially, the DSP-1 design suffered from having an assignable control surface, which in theory could provide an appropriate set of controls for any requirement but which in practice did not. It is perhaps unfortunate that the design work did not appear to take into account the in-line concept for multi-track recording pioneered by MCI and Quad 8 and so successfully exploited by SSL, as Neve was, at the time, still committed to the output group concept with a separate monitoring section in its analogue consoles. Although the BBC console proved to be acceptable for broadcast work, the CTS console turned out to be unwieldy for music recording, and also the designers had not grasped the necessity for the operator to have simultaneous access to facilities on multiple channels, which in fact none of the early assignable models by various manufacturers could provide. It was not recognised that although digital technology made assignable control surfaces possible, it didn’t make them essential.

Nevertheless six more DSP-1s were eventually delivered – three to WDR and one to BR (Germany), one to ORF (Austria) and one to Gostelradio (USSR/Russia); some were upgraded with 18-bit converters (DSP-2). However, by 1985 ESE had decided that enough was enough, and instructed Neve Managing Director Laci Nester-Smith to find a buyer for the company. A large number of potential purchasers (up to 60, it was rumoured, including Mitsubishi) expressed interest, and in December 1985 Neve was purchased by Siemens Austria."

Taken from rom the IBS website

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