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This article was originally published in Playback Issue 002. Subscribe to Playback for free to stay up to date with our latest articles, interviews, product reviews and more.
When it comes to building out a studio, a well-packed 500 Series rack can be your best friend. Not only does it make it easy to mix and match sonic textures without breaking the bank, but you can also pick up the whole thing and take your sound with you, no matter where you work.
With so many great modules to choose from, it can be difficult to narrow it down to just a few options. We caught up with three Vintage King Audio Consultants to share some of their favorite 500 Series modules for a basic recording and mixing set-up. To make things more interesting, each Audio Consultant was given a budget to work with and asked to pick at least one mic pre, one compressor and one EQ module.
Learn a little more about our Audio Consultants Whit Fineberg, Josh Frost, and Sam Routheaux below and continue reading to see which 500 Series modules they chose to build a custom rack with different budgets.
Whit has over a decade of experience working out of his home studio, where he also records his band Fallow Land. Whit is fascinated by interweaving musical textures and the way a bunch of simple sounds can compound to create something rich and complex.
Sam loves the recording process and has furthered his love of pro audio knowledge having spent time working in retail at Guitar Center and LPD Music. As an Audio Consultant at Vintage King, he enjoys helping and working with people that are cut from the same cloth.
Coming of age in his group, Search the City, Josh signed with storied punk label Tooth & Nail and began touring the country and recording in top-notch studios. When in the studio with Search The City, he became more engaged in the process of recording and learning about gear.
Whit Fineberg: Rupert Neve Designs Portico 511 Preamp ($699), Pope Audio BAX 2020+ 500 Series EQ & Drive X2 ($649/each), IGS Audio 576 Blue Stripe Limiter ($895), Acme Audio Opticom XLA-500 Compressor ($895), Rupert Neve Designs R6 500 Series Rack ($649)
A great signal chain starts with a high-quality preamp. That's why Whit chose the Rupert Neve Designs Portico 511 Series preamp. This versatile 500 Series module delivers classic tone, and includes some of the best features from popular Neve modules, including the 517 preamp circuit, and the 5012’s sweepable High-Pass Filter.
"The RND 511 is an ultra-versatile preamp. With the texture controls, you can take your tracks from clean and transparent to vintage and vibey with the turn of a knob!"
For EQ, Whit recommends a pair of Pope Audio BAX 2020+ 500 Series EQ & Drive modules, which offers simple controls for Lo and Hi shelving. Equipped with a proprietary Discrete Op-Amp based on the classic 990C, the 2020+ is perfect for adding gritty distortion that helps your tracks cut through the mix.
"The 2020+ is a really smooth EQ that's great for adding extra thickness and clarity to tracks. Grab a pair so you can use them on your mix bus!"
Can you ever really have enough compressors? To be sure you can handle any issue that comes your way, it's best to have both a fast peak limiter-style compressor and a slow optical-style compressor. That's why Whit suggests the IGS Audio 576 Blue Stripe Limiter and the Acme Audio Opticom XLA-500 Compressor.
Inspired by the iconic 1176 FET compressor, the IGS Audio 576 Blue Stripe Limiter features the same high-quality input transformer used and pure class A output stage as the original to ensure classic tone.
"The IGS 576 is a great 500 Series 1176 module. It pairs really well with the Opticom on vocals, it can help a guitar poke through a dense mix, and it can completely obliterate a drum track!"
Based on the Teletronix LA-2A optical compressor, the Opticom improves upon the original vintage tube design with three variable speed settings. With settings for slow, normal, and fast attack and release settings, the Opticom opens up a whole new world of sonic possibilities.
"The Opticom is phenomenal for adding depth and thickness to any track. Plus, it's even more versatile than a traditional LA-2A thanks to the variable speed switch."
Sam Routheaux: Retro Instruments 500Pre Tube Preamp X2 ($895/each), MAAG Audio EQ4 ($911/each), IGS Audio 576 Blue Stripe Limiter X2 ($895/each), Rupert Neve Designs R6 500 Series Rack ($649)
With a little more room in the budget, you can spring for a pair of proper tube preamps—Sam suggests the Retro Instruments 500PRE. Equipped with three powerful 12AT7 tubes, the 500PRE delivers thick, rich analog tone with gentle limiting characteristics. The 500PRE perfectly captures the classic tone of the Sta-Level compressor, making it ideal for tracking or mixing.
"The 500PRE is a newer preamp in the world of 500 Series gear, but it's easily one of my favorites. Why? Tubes! As a guitarist, I can never have enough tubes. This preamp uses 12at7s tubes, which are great for adding a fair amount of color without smearing your tone. They sound great on guitar, vocals, and synths."
Outboard EQ is great for enhancing tracks with additive EQ. That's why Sam recommends a pair of Mäag EQ4 modules. The EQ4 is a versatile six-band EQ with simple controls and stunning sound. Instantly breathe new life into any track with the legendary AIR BAND, or add powerful low-end with the SUB BAND.
"This EQ is really easy to use. You can blindfold yourself and turn the knobs to any position and it will sound great. It's very musical-sounding and can be used to enhance any source."
With a pair of IGS 576 Blue Stripe compressors, you can take advantage of the stereo linking feature. With a wide range of compression ratios and attack and release times, the IGS 576 works great on everything from subtle bus compression to slamming parallel compression.
"The IGS 576 is a solid 1176-style compressor that's great for taming hi-hats, rounding out bass, or making your vocals balanced. This compressor is great for emulating instrumentation from classic 70's albums in any genre."
With the remainder of the budget, Sam suggests upgrading your lunchbox for additional connectivity. The Rupert Neve Designs R6 makes it easy to quickly connect to any device in your studio with versatile XLR, TRS and DB25 connectors.
"This lunchbox is my go-to for three reasons. The first is connectivity. The R6 is one of the only racks in this price point that can connect to pretty much any source: DB25, TRS or XLR. The second is link jumping. R6 makes it much easier to pass stereo signals to your converter! The third thing I love about the R6 is the current meter—it helps me make sure none of my gear is being underpowered."
Josh Frost: Shadow Hills Mono GAMA Mic Pre X2 ($1204/each), API 550A EQ X2 ($1135/each), Dramastic Audio Obsidian Bus Compressor ($2495), Pope Audio BAX 2020 500 Series 'Beast' EQ & Drive ($480), Rupert Neve Designs R6 500 Series Rack ($649)
If you're looking for a top-of-the-line preamp that will sound great on any source, Josh recommends a pair of Shadow Hills Mono GAMA preamps. With three selectable transformer options, GAMA preamps make it easy to sculpt your tone on the way in—without ever having to touch an EQ.
"The Shadow Hills Mono GAMA is one of the most versatile 500 series preamps on the market. It has a transformer switching matrix that allows you to toggle between Nickel, Discrete and Steel for different sounds. The Discrete transformer reminds me of the API 512C with a little more low-end. The Steel and Nickel transformers really add in their own flavors. The Iron transformer (which is available on the Quad Gama, but not the Mono Gama) sounds similar to a Neve preamp."
If you do find yourself in need of an EQ to give your tracks that extra lift while recording or mixing, Josh suggests the API 550B. Featuring four bands of EQ with finely-tuned frequency settings and Proportional-Q technology, the API 550B is perfect for cleaning up or enhancing tracks.
"The API 550B is great for tracking and mixing. It has a great vibe, and you can get surgical with it when you need to."
The Dramastic Audio Obsidian Bus Compressor is a versatile VCA bus compressor based on the beloved SSL G series bus compressor. With a wide range of ratio settings, a switchable high-pass filter, and versatile AUTO and LO-FI release settings, the Obsidian works well on a variety of sources—from single tracks to mix busses.
"The Obsidian 500 is inspired by the legendary SSL bus compressor—but it's much more than just a clone. It works great on the mix bus."
Finally, with the remainder of the budget, Josh suggests picking up a pair of Pope Audio BAX 2020 'Beast’ EQ and Drive modules. Equipped with custom Discrete Op-Amps and simple controls, the Beast is one of those boxes that just makes everything sound better.
"These simple but amazing EQs use the Avedis 1122 Op-Amps and can make any track sound better just by running it through them. I own a pair of these EQs myself and use them for mix bus polish that you can put in the rack when you get to the mixing stage. They're also awesome for tracking—I haven't found anywhere I don't like these yet!"
No matter what budget you're working with, Vintage King has the gear you need to achieve the sound you're looking for. Get in touch and we can help you design a custom rack that fits within your budget.
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