Great River MEQ-1NV Preamp / EQ Review

Brandon Drury —  November 25, 2009


The Great River MEQ-1NV it a single channel preamp with a 4 band parametric EQ. You can tell the second you take it out of the box that there is some serious stuff happening here just by looking through the ventilated top. We are dealing with a beast.

The MEQ-1NV has the usual required features I’d expect from a high end preamp:
Phantom power
Hi-Z Input
2 different input impedances
bla bla bla

Just go to the Great River website and get all that type of info.

The impedance button was a huge help any time I wanted to bring out a bit more upper midrange / top end on a track as it allows a selection between 300 ohms and 1,200 ohms. The effects of impedance switch vary depending on the output impedance of the microphone but overall I was very happy with this option. If a tone was a bit too aggressive, switching to the lower impedance helped solved the problem. If I wanted more upper midrange cut, the higher impedance often delivered it.

The loading button was quite a bit more subtle and really has more with the output impedance of the unit (which isn’t that big of deal to most of us home recording types.). The only time I really noticed a clear difference with it was on one bass track. The low end seemed to tighten up a bit. I may be crazy.

Hi-Z Input
It’s not secret that I’m a big fan of reamping these days. I record quite a few of my electric guitar tracks DI and then run them back through an amp. There is something I really like about this Hi-Z input. Great River runs the Hi-Z input through an input transformer. Apparently this isn’t all that common. All I know is I like it. The top end just sounds sweeter to my ears. Very cool!

I had a session using DI electric guitar the day after I sent back the MEQ-1NV and I have to say that it was disappointing going back to the M-Audio Octane Hi-Z input.

Pushing The Preamp
Just as I like transformers, the only thing better is pushing a transformer harder. I like harmonic content. That’s why I chose the Distressor EL-8X. I think there are serious benefits to squeezing a little extra juice out of my gear. That’s why most of us like tube microphones so much. I love the fact that the MEQ-1NV has separate input and output metering. This is fairly unique for a preamp. Why did they do that? So retards like me and cram in more signal than I probably should, get a little bit of saturation going, and then back off the output gain. It’s subtle, but it’s cool.

Of course, if a person REALLY wanted to drive under the speed limit, the opposite is true. You could crank up the output gain all the way up to +10dB and then back off on the input gain. I found myself doing that 0% of the time, but it certainly gave slightly different results.

The Sound
When conducting the Interrogations for Killer Home Recording each and every time I switched from X preamp to the Great River MEQ-1NV I immediately heard sweet aggression in the upper midrange and high end. I think many of you would call this “clarity without a hint of harshness”. I don’t use that “c” word often, but I think it fits in this case. Maybe “alive” is a better adjective. One thing I liked about the Great River MEQ-1NV was it performed extremely well on every source. I had my preferences for this instrument and my preferences for that instrument, but the Great River was consistently towards the top on all of them.

The Great River MEQ-1NV has a certain character to it. It sounds “richer” in the upper midrange and high end than all the other preamps in the shootout. I guess a person could say the Great River preamp is brighter than the others, but I don’t think “brighter” is the right word here. It implies some kind of frequency response kind of thing. I don’t think this is it, necessarily. It sounds more like a harmonic content thing or something. I’m not sure how to describe it necessarily, but it’s simply something you can’t EQ into a track if you didn’t have it in the first place. It has a way of tucking the boxy 400Hz junk a bit too which I consider to be a necessity for the kind of work I do.

The combination of a “sweet” top end and a way of keeping 400Hz a little more tucked than other preamps ends up sounding like what I can only describe in one single word. EXCITING!

More Than Rock Music
I hear a lot of talk about the aggressive Neve-style sound being ideal for rock music. I can’t deny that, but I recorded a number of acoustic songs with the Great River MEQ-1NV and I’m very, very happy with it. So I think the Great River is an outstanding preamp for just about any source and any kind of music.

The EQ
I have to admit that I have never used a serious hardware EQ before. I’ve used EQ plugins each and every day since I opened this Pandora’s box of recording back in 2001, but I’ve never got to play with the real deal analog EQ.

The long story short is I feel I need – or at least could greatly benefit from – a kick ass hardware EQ like this. I found that when I heard something in tracking I didn’t like or I heard something I did like and I wanted to enhance it, it was awesome solving that problem before it even started. I loved the convenience of never having to deal with that issue again. My tracks were practically finished before I even started mixing. I really liked that.

I found that MEQ-1NV was not my first choice for precise surgery. I don’t think it was meant to be. One one acoustic guitar track, there was this “thingy” that kept leaping out at 234Hz. I know it was 234Hz, not because I can hear that well, but because I highlighted that one single note in Cubase and ran a spectrum analysis on it. Something was spiking in that region and I had no idea why. The MEQ-1NV is not the kind of EQ where you can dial in to 234Hz, use a Q of 10,000 and make a cut that removes 234Hz but leaves 230Hz and 238Hz in tact.

The MEQ-1NV, however is the kind of preamp that makes stuff simply sound better. I looked at it more as a space-aged tone control than as problem solver, necessarily.

MEQ-1NV vs Oxford EQ On Distorted Guitar
I played with the MEQ-1NV for some time on an electric guitar. I have to admit that no angels came down from heaven when I was twisting knobs on the EQ. I didn’t even hear the movie-style scary choir sound. However, there was something that felt better that I can’t really explain. I did my best to knock out the frequencies that were bothering me on these high gain guitars. (Note: I could have lived with these guitars with zero EQ!) I was happy with what I had going into my converter.

Then I recorded the tracks again (via reamping) with no EQ. The plan was to take 8 seconds, use the Oxford EQ to match the tone and write the MEQ-1NV off as overpriced hunk of iron and transistors. Then something happened.

8 seconds later, I wasn’t able to match the tone.

6 seconds later, the same thing. I kept thinking “hmmm. Why can’t I match these?”.

I kept on and kept on and kept on. After 30 minutes I finally threw my hands in the air. Something was going on in this damn Great River EQ that I simply could not match with a respected plugin.

The guitar track with the Great River had more 3D depth, sounded smoother, and yet still sounded brighter and more aggressive at the same time. With the Oxford, the end result was flatter, seemed to have less harmonic content, and when I did add top end it just sorta brought out the fizz. The Great River MEQ-1NV sounded exciting in comparison.

It’s clear I need a hardware EQ this good. Anyone need an inexperienced bank robber?

Does a Great River MEQ-1NV Belong In a Bedroom Studio?
The Great River is good as high end gear gets. It’s a bold sound. It doesn’t take long to hear what makes this thing so expensive. It SOUNDS expensive! With that said, it’s not going to make up for other weak links in the chain. The preamp is just one of many links in the chain. This is a professional piece of gear and it requires an engineer with a professional-like attention to detail to make full use of it.

Does it belong in a home recording studio? If you have some experience under your belt, and your kids have more than enough cash in their college funds to experiment with their sexuality AND still get good grades, I think the Great River can make life much easier. If you haven’t lossed your hair dealing with idiots (some of you refer to them as “musicians” there may be bigger fish you need to fry).

The Great River MEQ-1NV is a winner. It really is a high end piece of gear that delivers high end results. It’s the kind of thing that is just as necessary on a folk song as it is on a death metal song. You can simply hear more excitement in the tracks without ever sounding harsh or fizzy.

It’s the kind of thing that if home recording is more than a hobby, you can certainly gain something extra with high end preamps. Is it an instant and automatic Engineering Grammy? Definitely not. You still got to work hard to get the sounds you are after, but I found that doing just that was easier with a preamp the caliber of the Great River MEQ-1NV.

I just need to figure out where I can steal the $,$$$ to buy it!

Brandon Drury

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Brandon Drury quit counting at 1,200 recorded songs in his busy home recording studio. He is the creator of and is the author of the Killer Home Recording series.

4 responses to Great River MEQ-1NV Preamp / EQ Review

  1. Brandon – Your assessment of the Great River is spot on. I used it when I recorded the group Take 6 and A-B’d it to several others and it clearly sounded the best to my ears.

    It has a “quality” about it that is indescribable, but very apparent when compared to others.


  2. Recording Questions December 8, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    I love the review. I’m really hoping to get a chance to play with this in the next few months. You can never have too many analog EQ’s.

  3. Brandon, following your post I’ve started working with the MEQ-1NV and it is professional. I can get some nasty sounds out of it, but have to tweak it for a while to get good results. And as for its purpose, i would go with the “death metal song” :-)

  4. And as for its purpose, i would go with the “death metal song”

    Really? Have you heard in on a soft chick vocal with acoustic guitar? It’s bad ass!