Field Test: Rupert Neve Designs Portico 5014 Field EditorLINE-LEVEL, MID-SIDE PROCESSOR ENTERS UNCROWDED MARKET 8/01/2007 8:00 AM Eastern
Mid-Side (M-S) processing gives you unrivaled control over stereo program material by allowing independent treatment of its sum and difference components. One basic application of M-S processing is the ability to adjust the level of a mix's stereo effects, natural ambience and hard-panned tracks (the Side, or difference signal) with respect to center-panned elements such as kick, snare, bass and lead vocals (the Mid, or sum signal). More advanced treatments involve applying compression, EQ and/or other signal processing independently to sum and difference channels before recombining them back into a conventional stereo channel.
M-S processing can also be used during mixdown to dry up individual stereo tracks that are drowning in embedded reverb or increase the amount of ambience in, for example, drum room mics. Yet for all of its tremendous power and flexibility, there are few line-level M-S processors on the market. The Rupert Neve Designs Portico 5014 stereo field editor is designed to fill that gap.
The half-rackspace 5014 is part of Rupert Neve Designs' Portico line of analog processors, which can be interconnected via ¼-inch bus jacks on each unit's rear panel to form a system with many of the same capabilities of a modular production console. Portico gear can run on AC power or an external 9 to 18VDC source.
Rotary front panel trim pots provide -6 to +12 dB of left- or right-level adjustment. Each channel also has a polarity-inversion switch and 8-segment LED meters, which are globally switchable to show input or output levels.
Width, depth and EQ facilities feature continuously variable controls and can be individually bypassed. The width control adjusts the stereo image's width — from mono to potentially much wider than it was originally — by manipulating phase. Depth changes the phase relationship between left and right channels to move center-panned elements forward or backward in the mix. A single-band bell-curve equalizer serves the difference channel only, providing up to 15 dB of boost/cut at a continuously variable center frequency of 120 to 2.4k Hz, and offers a choice of two Q values (0.7 and 5).
TRS insert jacks can be switched into the difference channel for connecting to outboard signal processors. Another switch selects between the XLR I/Os and the ¼-inch bus jacks for L/R inputs. The XLRs are balanced using proprietary transformers. The rear panel also has a co-ax connector for the 5014's lump-in-the-line power supply.
The 5014's biggest omission is a lack of inserts for the sum (Mid) channel, precluding independent treatment of center-panned elements in stereo material. Also, the lack of detents and dearth of screened values for intermediate settings on control knobs complicate the 5014's use in mastering apps.
Nevertheless, I gave the unit a shot in mastering a problematic pop mix in which the engineer had rolled off the bottom end on drums and bass while tracking. Many stereo-miked tracks and regular use of compression and brickwall limiting on both vocals and instruments contributed to a crowded, midrange-y mix that lacked punch and detail, which was exacerbated by the drums being mixed too low.
A typical approach here would include boosting the low end and level on the Mid channel to restore punch. The 5014 does not provide onboard EQ or inserts for the Mid channel, so I had to work in reverse: boosting the low end before input to the 5014 and then EQ'ing out the resulting mud in the 5014's difference channel. The 5014's onboard EQ wasn't exacting enough for EQ'ing the difference channel in this instance, so I used a Rupert Neve Designs 5033 equalizer that was patched to the 5014's inserts. Using the 5014's width control to widen the mix compensated for my upstream bass boost, which pulled the image toward center. Setting the depth control to the 10 o'clock position brought the vocal forward and further increased clarity. The result was a beefier, yet reasonably clear master. On another mix, I successfully used the 5014's width control to boost the level of hard-panned electric guitars and drum overhead and room mics.
I also tried treating only the stereo room mics for a drum kit with the 5014. Raising the width control made the cymbals louder and spread the room tone within the stereo field for a wider-sounding effect. The depth control (whose action is highly source-dependent) had only a subtle effect here, making the sound slightly more ghostlike as the knob was turned counterclockwise. I got similar results using the 5014 on stereo-miked piano and Sonic Implants Symphonic Strings tracks. In most cases where the difference signal needed EQ, I found myself wishing the 5014's filter type was low-shelving or highpass instead of bell-curve, and ended up using an outboard equalizer instead.
The best I can say about the 5014 is that it performs well in getting half the job done. The lack of control over the Mid channel seriously limits the unit's usefulness. For what the 5014 does, the $1,795 list is a bit pricey. My search for an affordable yet full-function line-level M-S processor continues.
Rupert Neve Designs, 512/847-3013, www.rupertneve.com.
Mix contributing editor Michael Cooper is the owner of Michael Cooper Recording in Sisters, Ore. Visit him at www.myspace.com/michaelcooperrecording.