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Emerson Swinford

Artist Spotlight: Emerson Swinford

Originally from the Chicago area, Emerson Swinford is a Los Angeles-based guitarist, composer/songwriter and producer. He is currently a touring and studio guitarist for Rod Stewart. His guitar work can be heard on much of the 2015 album release by Stewart, called Another Country on which he also has bass, vocals, and co-writing credit. It has achieved platinum sales status in the UK. He also played guitar and co-wrote on the 2013 album Time, which also went to number 1 on the UK Albums Chart and has reached Double Platinum sales status there. Time went to number 7 on the US Billboard chart. Emerson was also the musical director and touring guitarist for Tony award-winning actress and singer Idina Menzel, famous for her roles in Disney's Frozen, Broadway's Wicked, Rent and the TV show "Glee."

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Hot Fuzz 2017 WIHO Award
1023 Module

BAE is perhaps the best-known builder of Neve®-style preamps, and for good reason as their designs indeed capture the behavior, tone and appearance of Neve® preamps beautifully. For years I have used a pair of their 1073's, and they have performed flawlessly, providing that fat and warm, yet open and dynamic sound that has defined the vibe of countless records we hear every day. For those who aren't familiar, a Neve® 1073 module has a mic preamp, a line-amp (with it's own dedicated transformer) and an eq with a high shelf fixed at 12k, a variable mid bell-curve section with fixed q, a variable low-shelf section and a variable high-pass filter. They are classic modular preamps, first released in 1970 as part of the A88 mixing console, and the originals have gone on to become legendary, collectible and very expensive. To take on the task of recreating the sound of Neve's® classic 1073 preamps is always a bit of a tight-rope walk, but to try to expand on the design while maintaining the original vibe and sound is to walk without a net. That's what BAE has done with their new 1023 preamp/eq.

Like the original 1073, the 1023 is completely handwired using Carnhill (St. Ives) transformers. It has the exact same mic/line preamp as the 1073, but with significantly more frequencies in the mid and hi sections. Aside from simply offering more frequency settings to play with, these expanded eq sections also allow you to play the mid bell curve directly against the high and low shelves where they overlap. This capability opens the tone shaping possibilities in very interesting and musical ways.

On the middle section of the 1023 eq you'll find two additional lower frequency settings and three higher ones than you would on a 1073, which gives the 1023 the following mid eq points: 160Hz, 270, 360, 510, 700, 1K6, 3K2, 4K8, 7K2, 8K2, 10K. The two new low-mid points (160Hz and 270Hz) overlap with the low-shelf's frequencies, allowing for some fun tone carving in the warm region. For example, while boosting 160Hz with the mid band and cutting 220Hz on the low shelf you can achieve a very tight rise in the lows that doesn't overpower in the deeper frequencies or get too muddy up around 300Hz. The sound is quite different than simply boosting 160Hz. This particular eq setting is really fun for fattening up distorted electric guitars, warming up female vocals, or getting a floor tom to growl in a new way. The low end is always tight, punchy and satisfying.

On the high shelf, rather than the fixed 12kHz shelf of the 1073, you'll find settings at 10K, 12K, 16K, 20K and 24K. The expanded high frequencies in the mid-section start to make sense when you realize that you can really play the mid section against the high shelf, just as you can with the low. With drum overheads, for example, try boosting 10kHz on the mid section while cutting 20kHz on the high shelf and you'll get an increased sizzle with a decrease in the air region that is reminiscent of some vintage recordings. Or, do the opposite to control brash cymbals while adding some excitement in the air region. The possibilities are pretty limitless, and experimentation is fun and rewarding. As to be expected, the highs are smooth and musical, just as a Neve® should be, but the added frequencies on the high-shelf make the 1023 more versatile and fun to use.

The 24kHz setting is my favorite feature on the 1023. I want to deviate for a moment and discuss what it means to be working with a frequency that is, presumably, outside the audible range. First, the curve of a 24kHz shelf is going to reach down into the audible range, especially on a wide-q equalizer like a Neve®. As you turn it up or down, it will drag lower frequencies along with it. Second, inaudible frequencies will impact the character of audible ones by way of the harmonic relationship. What this means is that, while you might not hear what's happening at 24kHz in and of itself, you will easily hear the impact of 24kHz on the sound of your recordings. (To further deviate, it is interesting to consider that Sear Sound in NYC has a custom console with 30kHz shelves on every channel. Interestingly, Walter Sear stresses that the digital formats render frequencies in that region as noise, thus negatively altering the harmonic relationships. Analog tape, he argues, preserves those relationships accurately and therefore sounds better.) The practical reason Walter Sear or BAE would put such high bands on their eqs is that the impact on the recorded music is so satisfying to the human ear. A tiny boost of 24kHz on a female vocal brings out an ethereal quality; on acoustic guitar it helps rhythm parts occupy the realm of ride cymbals with less competition; on overheads it seems to lift a veil you may not have known was there; and on the whole mix 24kHz can bring a lot of energy and openness without harshness. Because the circuitry is characteristically smooth in handling high frequency boosts, playing with the 24kHz shelf on the 1023 is always satisfying, even when boosting at extreme levels.

With the eq disengaged, the 1023 is indistinguishable from the BAE 1073s I'm so used to. If you know what 1073s sound like, then you'll know what the 1023 mic preamps and line-amps sound like. (If you aren't familiar with the Neve® sound, expect to fall in love with the warm yet open and detailed sound.) These are first-rate preamps; they sound amazing and handled everything I ran through them beautifully.

One of my favorite applications of the 1023‚ and why I see an investment of this magnitude to be well worth it, is on an analog 2-buss chain while mixing in the box. Running mixes through the 1023 at unity without eq can add depth, punch and width to a mix that can give you a great deal of the sonic characteristic of mixing through an analog console. Switch in the eqs and open the top with a slight 24kHz boost, and things get really nice really quickly. Again, when you consider this application, it's easy to understand how the pair of 1023's I've had on hand have been in constant use since I got them, whether I'm tracking or mixing.

Even though the 1023 is neither phase linear nor surgically exact, I'd highly recommend that mastering engineers who are looking for a "color box" check out a pair of the 1023s, as I loved their impact on full mixes with and without the eq engaged. Mastering engineers will appreciate the added frequency settings in the mid and high eq sections, and that 24kHz setting might just be the fairy dust you're looking for in many cases. Combine that with the analog body and punch you get from the line-amp transformers, and it's clear that the 1023 can bring a lot to a mastering situation where the client is looking to you to warm up and enliven mixes that have yet to leave the digital realm. If I owned a 10-series console, I'd be looking to get at least two channels of the 1023 in there, as I know I'd reach for them all the time during tracking and mixing. If you can make the financial leap to get a pair, I know you'll find yourself using them constantly. I happily welcome the 1023 to the 10-series family.

Allen Farmelo | www.farmelo.com