Adventures in Analog

Where mods can make things better than new

An Analog Perspective

Richard doing final testing on a Neotek Elite at the Martinsound factory in Alhambra, CA.  

Martinsound was not my first job working in Pro Audio Electronics, but for almost ten years was an education for me in analog audio best practices and design.  I got a chance to work with Flying Faders automation and their high-end mic preamps, along with other products, but it was Neotek consoles that were by far the most fun to work with. 

In 1996 I was working for Soundcraft as a console technician when we were told that we would be leaving our digs in Canoga Park, CA and moving to Nashville.  Part of me wanted to go, but my wife Bonita would have none of it.  

It was just about this time that Martinsound was making a deal to purchase Neotek and move them from Chicago to the Martinsound facility in Alhambra.  Many of the Neotek staff had agreed to make the move to California, but there was still a need for personnel with console experience.  It seemed to be an ideal match for both of us, so I became a member of the team in September of 1996.

Unfortunately, Neotek was sold by Martinsound not many years later after large format consoles had become unprofitable to manufacture.  I actually ended up building the last Elite console all by myself after the entire crew dwindled due to attrition.  It seemed like I was the only one that was sad to see Neotek go, but it opened up many great opportunities for me to provide Neotek service independently in Southern California.


Why do we humans expend countless resources meticulously designing and building insanely complex electronic devices with such a short life span?  It’s probably because most of us are not very good at predicting the future.

However, sometimes it’s worth exploring the past to rediscover how so much was accomplished with what is now considered primitive technology.  So many great recordings were captured on tape with old tube microphones, and small mixers with barely any EQ, let alone mix automation.

I’m not one who believes that it was the equipment that put the groove into the Motown sound, or the magic eight channel mixers at Abbey Road Studios that gave the Beatles their mojo.  But at the same time, that early technology certainly didn’t hold them back either.

Rock It Science Audio Test Bench

With a well thought out custom-made harness, all module functions can be tested and measured for precise performance on the bench.

Cool Console Projects

These are projects from a few years back that are here as examples of what can be done with an old classic analog console.  There are companies that restore old consoles to close-to-original condition for $$$ (they’ll probably do your ’57 Chevy too).  Rock It Science Audio doesn’t do that.  However, we will make improvements over the original specs with the use of newer components and add modifications to expand the consoles capabilities.  If you have a realistic budget and would like to discuss what could be done to a particular console, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Neotek Film Console gets a Manley Master Section

The console that now resides in the project studio of Michael Fuller (removed in 2018), began life as an Encore film console designed to produce surround mixes on a dubbing stage. The original 80’s console technology, no longer suitable for modern film work was sold for what seemed like a bargain at only a fraction of the original cost. Forty channels of quality EQ, GML Automation and 80 inputs made the console quite attractive, along with the complex master section containing a dizzying array of knobs and switches that surely must provide unseen flexibility.

Unfortunately, pre-microprocessor 80’s style flexibility meant miles of wire, hundreds of optical relays and mechanical matrix switches that would have made Rube Goldberg proud. It is a testament to the Neotek design team that sonic integrity was maintained while routing the audio through such a maze of circuitry. However, for a music studio requiring stereo mixes, this presented a compromised audio path, not to mention the total lack of conventional monitoring functionality.

When I was first brought in to evaluate the console, I stared at the opened master section that had been abandoned by a previous technician who declared the project as hopeless. I was looking for quick easy fixes, just to make the console usable, but it soon became apparent that it would take some major re-engineering to accomplish the objective. As we continued to talk, Michael began showing me his collection of unique studio toys, and one of the pieces happened to be a Manley 16 channel rack-mount tube mixer. “Could this be used in any way”, Michael asked?

That question started the gears turning and by the end of the day I had tapped into the console busses so we could listen to the Neotek through the Manley. It might have been the nostalgia of the Led Zeppelin CD being played as a sound source, but in spite of an obvious power supply problem, Michael gave it the thumbs-up and said, “Yeah man, let’s go for it”. And so we did.

Neotek/Manley Console

This project took place in 2006, before it was commonplace to leave space in the console center section for computer peripherals.

Well-Equipped Studio

No shortage of very cool gear in this place.

What started out as a biopsy soon became major surgery as the function of every circuit and cable had to be evaluated as to its usefulness. Everything deemed unnecessary was removed from the console. This amounted to probably a hundred pounds of circuit boards, cable and metalwork, and when completed left a 4-foot-wide open gap in the center of the console. This actually made rewiring much easier having ready access to the ELCO panel that was mounted on the bottom in the center of the console.

The plan was to convert the console to a standard stereo mix bus format with 16 recording busses and 6 aux busses. The console was originally designed for 2-man operation (Music/FX & Dialog) and the buses from both sides would need to be joined as one. The Manley would provide the Monitor section functions plus the additional 16 line inputs could be used as effects returns. The mix summing amps would be derived from existing unused record bus summing amps on the Neotek input modules.

All Neotek input modules contain a recording bus amplifier that is assigned according to its sequential position in the console, which on this Encore are only the first 16 channels. The unused summing amps on modules 17 and 18 were commandeered to serve as the new L & R mix buses and the circuitry was upgraded with Burr-Brown opamps and Black Gate capacitors.

It would be too exhaustive to detail the entire process, but in short, rack-rails were installed to mount the Manley mixer, and blank rack panels were used to fill the vacant space. This provided an excellent surface for the Mackie controller that now resides there. Notice the fader bay space for mouse & keyboard…very cool.

A couple special items of interest that Michael requested were a Mix fader, pre-mix fader inserts in the patchbay, along with a solo-in-place and talkback function. The Manley mixer had to be modified to remove its 1k mix rotary fader and replace it with a P&G fader mounted in the console fader bay. The mix inserts were wired in with a bypass switch mounted on a custom panel that filled the remaining 5″ gap in the console surface area. Custom mods were done to existing switches and logic circuits to implement the solo and talkback functions.

Original Neotek Film Console

This is a picture of a single-section Encore for an idea of what the original Master Section looked like. I wish I had pictures of the console under construction with the center section removed and miles of cable hanging out.

A Hybrid Classic

As you can see, the end result is a unique one-of-a-kind world-class console.

Trident True

New Brooklyn Studio gets a Classic Console

Those familiar with Trident consoles made in England in the 70s and 80s, know how sought after they are for their colorful sonic character. This console predates the more famous 80B, but is actually considered by some to be even more prized because of some unconventional design quirks, which where later omitted when the volume of production increased.

I have been doing custom studio work for Adam Lasus at his Studio City based facility for many years, and he often talked about building an East Coast studio to remain connected to the NYC music scene where he started out before moving west. The opportunity materialized in 2012 when together with a couple of New York partners, a budget was laid out, a location was secured, and work began on Room 17, a new studio built from the ground up in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn.

The plan was to create a hybrid Pro Tools/Vintage Analog based studio that featured a classic console and 24 Track tape machine, along with all the modern software one expects to find in a new facility. This would make it possible for Adam to move sessions back and forth, from East to West. To record bands in New York and mix them in LA.

A Console is Found...

To keep the project within budget, the plan was to find an aging but classic console and totally restore it. Once the old Trident was purchased, I was hired to rebuild the master section here in LA, while a NYC based tech, Jeff DelBello, would handle restoration of the input section, tape return modules, and power supply on the his end. All the pieces of the console would be assembled and tested at Jeff’s location while the studio construction was being completed.

To complicate matters, hurricane Sandy tore up the east coast while all this was going on. Fortunately, the studio was spared, but things were understandably delayed during the aftermath.

Vintage late 70s Trident

The Trident at it’s previous location. Notice the 2 blank panels left of the Master Section. One panel would become a 3rd new master module containing added features designed by Rock It Science Audio.

Vintage with Modern Amenities

The new location at Room 17 Studios in Brooklyn, NY. It’s hard to see from this angle but the 3rd master module has a bunch of new knobs and switches.

What's old has become new

Adam had several special requests for features to be added to the console, some of which I had done to his Neotek Elan in his California studio. The new features included adding a buffered/balanced Mix Bus insert that could be switched to pre or post mix fader. A speaker switch that could accomodate 3 pairs of monitors. A rotary gain reduction switch for the Mix Bus Summing Amp and an additional balanced Mix Output to augment the original unbalanced sends. Of course the original electronics needed updating which included upgrading caps and opamps, along with rerouting some of the wiring to accomodate the new functions and to streamline the signal path.

In most cases, the original circuitry was left intact to maintain the sonic character. Components were upgraded as required to reduce the noise and distortion levels while providing a reliable piece of equipment to serve as the centerpiece for the studio.

Wierd Science

Some of the oddities of the old Trident included ±20V power rails where the opamps are only rated at ±18V. I guess this provides a little more headroom at the risk of a blowing a few opamps (the opamps have sockets after all). Every output on the console, including the aux sends, have extremely low impedence output circuitry making use of hefty power transistors. This must have been how noise levels were kept low back in the day before the use of balanced circuitry became common.

Of course, back then they didn’t have the luxury of the wide range of off-the-shelf components to pick from that we have today. However, with the quick pace of technology, the off-the-shelf discrete components that we’ve come to love may soon become extint. So it’s probably a good thing to restore the vintage equipment while we can, before much of it is lost forever.

New Rock It Science Master Module

There are four newly designed circuit boards contained in the module.

Notice the trim pots on the Gain Reduction board. These allow for precise calibration of left and right mix levels for up to 6 different attenuation levels. (See details below)

The 3-Way speaker board allows for the use of a heavy-duty rotary switch. The multiple sets of contacts are used to ground unused speaker outs while one of three is selected. (See details below)

Existing Mod Kits ala carte

Note: these are legacy products and are only available by special request.  These days every install is totally customized.

Stereo Insert Module

Upgrade for Vintage Consoles

This was the first product to be developed by Rock It Science Audio back in 2005 to fill a client request to add a balanced and buffered stereo insert module to the mix bus on their console. The concept was inspired by an upgrade that we made at Martinsound as an option for Neotek consoles.

The original one pictured to the right was hand wired on perf-board and was installed in Steven Slate’s Neotek Elite before being later replaced by one with a manufactured circuit board. Several of these units were installed in the Los Angeles area and a few others in various US locations. The new units feature professionally manufactured double-sided plate-through fiberglass printed circuit boards with silkscreen.

These units are relatively easy to install in any console with an empty fader slot. They are normally wired pre fader (some are pre-post fader switchable) and send a signal to the patchbay with a return coming back for each channel. The switch engages or bypasses the insert function. The type of switch is by user preference, and some include an active indicator LED.

We recommend that you send us a fader blank from your console that we can use to mount the module on.

Since these modules are custom designed for each particular console with many client options available, a consultation is necessary to work out the technical details. We can provide connectorized cables and installation instructions based on schematics for your console Master Section.

Field installations by Rock It Science Audio are only available in the immediate Los Angeles area, but we will happily work with a tech on your end.

Original Stereo Insert Module

New Version Stereo Insert Module

Stereo Summing Gain Module

Precision Calibrated Gain Control

Designed as a custom add-on for classic analog consoles, the Summing Gain Module is ideal for trimming back the gain of the mix bus summing amp when track levels begin to build up during the mixing process. When the bus meters are in the red, instead of adjusting the level of each channel, just turn one rotary switch and precisely reduce the summing gain level in increments of 3dB (or other user customized settings). This feature allows for added headroom at the most critical point in the signal chain.

Ever do a mix with a client group present, where everyone wants just a little more? You happily meet their requests, but notice the peak meters are working overtime. Instead of killing the vibe by mentioning that the levels are maxed and we’ve hit the limit, just grab the knob and dial back the summing gain 6dB, while simultaneously boosting the Monitor level without anyone even noticing, and just keep the party rolling.


Typical panel mount

Some classic consoles have a way of adjusting bus input level but do not have the ability to make precisely calibrated resettable gain adjustments that maintain left-right integrity. 

With technical support from Rock It Science Audio, this module can be prewired and installed in most consoles, including ones that presently have no summing gain control at all.

3-Way Speaker Switch Module

Upgrade for Vintage Consoles

Designed as a custom add-on for classic analog consoles, the 3-Way Speaker Switch Module provides the ability to switch between 3 pairs of monitor speakers, plus options including precise level trims for each speaker and subwoofer buffering and level setting for each speaker set.  Relays instead of mechanical switch is also an option.

Powered monitors and non-powered monitors have ways to adjust levels, and by walking back and forth from behind the console to the mix position enough times you can achieve an approximate balance between speaker sets. Now, imagine adjusting the levels from the mix position with a precision mic and SPL Meter, by inserting a small screwdriver into a hole in a module and tweaking a 20-turn pot to within a hundreth of a dB for each speaker. Forget about “close enough for Rock’n’Roll”… we’re talking close enough for NASA.

The 3-Way Speaker Module provides the basic functions of grounding the inputs of the unused amps while selecting the desired speaker pair, but also provides balanced impedance outputs to fully utilize the common mode noise rejection available from balanced amplifier inputs, but sadly lacking on many classic analog console speaker outputs.


Typical panel mount

Send us a blank panel and we’ll mount it or do it yourself if you choose.

Since these modules are custom designed for each particular console with many client options available, a consultation is necessary to work out the technical details. We can provide connectorized cables and installation instructions based on schematics for your console Master Section, or you can send the Master Section to us and let us do the modification on our bench.

Field installations by Rock It Science Audio are only available in the immediate Los Angeles area, but we will happily work with a tech on your end.