500 under £500...Ok, so it's not actually 500 products under £500, it's 500 Series modules under £500..... With so many designs being available in the popular 500 Series format, it's not always necessary to 'break the bank' to achieve extremely flexible and high-quality recordings. The ability to swap modules or update your units gradually allows for various sonic choices, experimentation or just general 'messing about with audio', whatever your budget. Here are a few of my favourites, and some you may not be so familiar with, each under £500...
The Singer Songwriter : Mic Pre-Amp & DIFirst up, the Mic Pre-amp side of things. You can't go wrong with any of the following designs, some have a built in D.I (Direct Input for instruments) others may require a separate unit.
Mick Hinton, the man behind D.A.V Electronics, was previously a Design and Maintenance engineer at DECCA Studios. Mick has taken those Decca sonics and created a range of 'Broadhurst Gardens' (BG) products designed with quality signal paths, clean pre-amps, low distortion but plenty of gain and punch. There are quite a few studios I know that use the D.I on this unit (on Bass especially), in preference to rather larger format 'traditional' console preamps. A great product.
Rupert Neve Designs have many Portico modules available in the 500 Series, but the 511 provides a high quality mic preamp, adjustable high pass filter and the famous Red Silk Texture, which is controlled by a Texture Dial. If you want a 'Neve' sound, this is a good place to start.A perfect partner would be the Rupert Neve Designs Active Transformer Direct Interface : £225 inc vat Alternatively, there is the DAV Electronics passive DI & Re-Amp : £120 inc vat
Renowned for their pristine and musical preamps, Grace Design have built a solid reputation on providing timeless high fidelity products, which are now available in the 500 Series. The m501 provides a mic preamp, high pass filter, instrument DI, enough gain for many sources and a NEW Ribbon Mic mode. Quality.Warm Audio ToneBeast 12 500 Series : £425 inc vat Warm Audio have created a preamp based on the classic 312 type design, but with different op-amps and transformers providing a variety of tone, hence the name 'Tone-Beast'. With 3 Cinemag Transformers in total, mic/line input, Instrument input, Tone switch and gain control dial, this is more of a character preamp should you wish to drive your signals a little more, with the added Clean or Vintage mode to boot. Tonelux MP5A : £475 inc vat The Tonelux MP5A is a 500 series design based on the original classic by Paul Wolff which features the unique 'Tilt EQ'. The Tilt EQ is a Baxendall boost / cut filter, when you boost the highs it cuts the lows, turning the dial to the right, and the opposite when you turn it to the left (boosting the lows and cutting the highs). There are two gain controls, one for the mic preamp and one for the output, and a high-quality instrument DI on the front.
The Tracking Engineer : CompressionCompression and EQ in the 500 Series are probably the most frequently chosen option when it comes to module choice. Many units are totally awesome for mixing duties and here are a few useful compressors that may be suitable to add some analogue mojo. You may require two of these units for mix duties or just single use for those channels that deserve some 500 love... FMR Audio RNC 500 : £240 inc vat and FMR Audio RNLA 500 : £199 inc vat Two 500 Series designs from FMR Audio, one which is based upon the very popular ' Really Nice Compressor' (RNC) and a new take on this called the 'Really Nice Levelling Amp' (RNLA). Both units are excellent for mix buss duties, or stereo sources, the RNLA is a VCA compressor but has a hint of Opto about it due to the way the unit has been designed. The RNC personally I feel is clean, and transparent sounding, but depending how hard you hit it, the sound does tend to change. SSL LMC+ : £479 inc vat Solid-State-Logic have just released their famous Listen Mic Compressor in the 500 Series format. This new version also includes High Pass and Low Pass Filters for use as a Side Chain or within the audio path and really clever use of parallel and blend options via the Scoop and Split function. Quite a versatile comp! D.A.V. Electronics BG504 : £300 inc vat Based upon the larger D.A.V. Electronics BG4 unit, the BG 504 is an update to the original 1977 design presented in the 500 Series format. Bringing continuously variable Ratio control from 2:1 to 10:1, a side-chain HPF and a stereo link connection allowing proper stereo operation. Radial KOMIT compressor/limiter : £499 inc vat Radial provide many high-quality utilitarian solutions from DI's to re-amping to Guitar / Monitor routers etc - but they also make some very cool sounding original modules as well. The KOMIT is a feed forward VCA style compressor but also capable of creating harmonic overload via the old school diode bridge clipping limiter. Extremely versatile. Valley People Dyna-mite 500 : £459 inc vat The re-issue of the classic Dyna-mite compressor in the 500 Series format sonically stands up against the originally but includes the portability and modern day build quality. A classic sounding compressor and if you want some extreme 'bite' just dial a pair of these in over a stereo drum track and hear what the fuss is about.
The Mixing Engineer : EQKush Audio Electra 500 : £432 inc vat I'm a fan of the Kush Electra and my full review which covers everything it's capable of is here : KMR AUDIO KUSH Electra EQ Review. A great sounding EQ. Roger Schult w2395 : £399 inc vat and Roger Schult w2395c : £297 inc vat Full Review of the w2395c is here : KMR Audio w2395c REVIEW, but since then Roger has brought to market the new w2395 EQ which will run alongside the 'C' model. With both units having more than a nod towards Seimens and Neumann mastering EQ's from yesteryear, these are unique character EQ's in the 500 format. API 565 Filter Bank EQ Module : £459 inc vat Technically not 'just' an EQ, but a very high-quality filter module from API Audio, and any API module under £500 is always going to get interest! Based upon the filters from the 215 module and including the API 2520 and 2510 Op-Amps...what's not to like? Lindell Audio PEX-500 EQ : £259 inc vat Who fancies a Pultec style EQ for under £300?..Well that's what Tobias Lindell came up with a couple of years ago, and after tweaking the design with various transformers now has a very cool sounding Pultec 'Type' EQ for the 500 series. Frequencies are slightly limited compared to a real Pultec due to the design constraints of the 500 series, but the Low End weight is there, and a pair can work wonders on various sources, not just the mix buss.
Creative and Corrective ToolsThis section covers a few useful tools for creatively fixing or creatively enhancing your audio, Aphex Aural EXBB 500 Aural Exciter : £195 inc vat The classic Aphex Aural exciter is now available in 500 series format, and includes the 'Big Bottom' mode, tastefully now called the EXBB! Often imitated never duplicated, need I say more..? Little Labs VOG : £358 inc vat The Little Labs Voice Of God Bass Resonance Tool was originally designed to help enhance vocals in voice over work, enabling the proximity effect without being so close to the mic. However since the original inception, it has now become a favourite on Kick and Bass and many sub-harmonic Synth textures. Standard Audio Level-Or : £480 inc vat The Standard Audio Level-Or is based upon the old Shure Level-Loc PA Limiter from the 1960's, which these days is used to add distortion, ultra compression and trashy grit to lifeless signals!
The DerrEsser has 4 different modes, originally designed as a De-esser in the DS mode, but running it under HF Limit mode it works as a frequency compressor with the Highpass and Lowpass modes allowing precise monitoring of the frequencies not being affected by the VCA and dynamic/compressions circuits. Works great at just limiting the high frequencies as well as being a killer de-esser.
The last unit in my round-up is a device from Serpent Audio, allowing parallel compression externally from an ITB mix. As many hardware compressors don't have a blend or mix function this little device allows you to parallel externally within your DAW software of choice without having to worry about delay compensation working correctly. A simple device, but very useful.
So that's some of my favourite sub £500 modules for the 500 series. All these products are always available to demo in your own space, which I feel is the only way to evaluate gear, and hopefully, they may be useful to your creative needs!
Just : Contact KMR Audio