Picking the right preamp and EQ is a bit like wine tasting. Some might love the sound, others might not. It's personal and all about your own taste. But if you're still confused by what separates Neve, Api and SSL apart this article might prove very useful. Until you've made a decision on the style and context of an element in the recording and mixing process, all of these descriptions are quite general. With that said, let's dive in!
General overview of characteristics
- Neve 1073: Full warm and rich, good low end, very 'rock n' roll'
- AP 550A I: Almost a cleaner less lo-fi version of the Neve. Great top end and modern punch.
- SSL E/G: Clean, with a renown punchy midrange and advanced surgical controls.
Neve preamps have a soft distortion/saturation in the upper ranges which is referred to as "gluey" for lack of a better description. The Neve 1073 and 1084 are the holy grail of the line but understand, a lot of the sound is actually the EQ which is built into these. If you're looking for a classic rock, lo-fi sound then this is your best bet.
API sound snappy and are therefore used a lot on metal and modern rock. Excellent for punch drums. When pushed they have a nice "edge" which is also great for guitars in this genre and also vocals. I see them used most often on drums particularly snare. They are clearer and have slightly more top end than Neve preamps and EQ's.
SSL are more neutral in nature and are probably the most versatile of the three, due to their advanced parameter controls. Chris Lord Alge uses the SSL preamp and EQ exclusively for tracking and mixing. SSL EQ's also have control over the Q bandwidth, making it great for surgical decisions and not just for additive enhancements.
Below is a good overview of the type of artists matched with their brand of preamp and EQ.
"If you were doing a James Taylor album you might opt for all Neve or at least on the vocals. If it was Pink, it would be SSL or API all the way. If you were doing metal or rock, it would be API for the most part with maybe a Neve on the vocal depending on what you're going after."