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Thanks to the advancement of technology, it’s easier than ever to record professional-sounding audio on any budget. It may sound like hyperbole, but it’s not. The current crop of gear has completely leveled the playing field, giving you the option to record and mix with the same setups as the best engineers without going into bankruptcy.
If you’re wondering where to start or want to continue building out your rig, Vintage King is here to help. Throughout this blog, we'll be breaking down the best studio gear for under $500. We're talking microphones, outboard gear, monitors, and more. Let's get started!
ADAM Audio T5V Monitor ($219/Single)
One of the most important aspects of any studio is having monitors that enable you to hear your productions at their most authentic. ADAM Audio’s T Series monitors do so by offering up many of the frills of its flagship S-Series while still keeping the overall price low. The T5V is a fantastic two-way active monitor with 106 dB SPL per pair, a wide frequency range, and a U-ART tweeter for the perfect sweet spot in any room.
Kali Audio Lone Pine LP-6 Monitor ($169/Single)
Kali Audio has done a great job building out its Lone Pine series with two excellent monitors coming in at under $200 a piece. The LP-6 V2 is a 6.5" active studio monitor with a transparent sound that sports an advanced waveguide, large voice coil, and a low noise port tube. This V1 version of this monitor showcased a deft balance between its highs and lows, but the V2 features an improved amp platform for even better frequency response
Honorable Mentions: Focal Alpha 65 Evo, Yamaha HS8, Genelec 8010A, Auratone 5C, Avantone MixCube
Focal Pro Listen Headphones ($269)
Whether working in your studio or on the go, a pair of solid headphones is always necessary for recording tracks and referencing mixes. Focal offers a wide range of headphones (with some even hitting the $3000 mark), but in terms of the best gear under $500, we think you’ll be happy with the Pro Listen. These closed-back, over ear headphones have a frequency response ranging from 5 Hz to 22 kHz and offer perfect isolation from the outside world.
Sony MDR-7506 Headphones ($99)
Let’s be frank, Sony’s MDR-7506s lack the sex appeal of more pricey headphones. But did you come here to find the hottest gear in the world or wallet-friendly alternatives to get the job done right? These best sellers land in the latter camp and do so by coming correct with a $99 price tag. For under $100, you will get a sturdy, stable pair of headphones that will last for years and perform with the utmost integrity. These are perfect for start-up studios that will be tracking live bands.
Honorable Mentions: Steven Slate Audio VSX, Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO, ADAM Audio Studio Pro SP-5
Universal Audio Volt 476 Audio Interface ($369)
If you’re unfamiliar with Universal Audio’s new Volt interface lineup, the storied pro audio brand now delivers streamlined interfaces for under $500. The Volt 476 has the most extensive I/O offering with 4-in/4-out connectivity, in addition to two 610-style preamps with individual compressors based on the 1176. These interfaces offer the best of both worlds via UA’s storied outboard history and its premium software emulations.
Solid State Logic SSL2+ Audio Interface ($299.99)
Two years ago, Solid State Logic entered into the world of affordable interfaces with the SSL 2 and SSL 2+. The 2+ version of the interface features two high-quality mic pres with 4K mode based on the legendary SSL 4000 console, in addition to some extra output and MIDI options. SSL has also put together a helpful package of software, including Pro Tools First, Ableton Live Lite, SSL Native Vocalstrip 2, and much more.
Honorable Mentions: Audient iD14 MKII, Black Lion Audio Revolution 2x2, Focusrite Scarlett 4I4, MOTU M2, Universal Audio Apollo Solo
Cranborne Audio Camden 500 Series Microphone Preamp ($349)
The Cranborne Audio Camden 500 is a long-time favorite around these parts. Not only has it been one of our best-selling 500 Series modules, but it’s also one of our best-selling microphone preamps. The Camden 500 has a sleek design that allows for a wide range of sounds. The preamp is clean and transparent at its core with low noise and distortion performance. Kick in the Mojo circuit, and you’ll instantly get a fat dose of warmth and saturation.
Solid State Logic SiX CH 500 Series Channel Strip ($449)
We have a lot of love for Solid State Logic's latest offerings on this list of the best studio gear under $500. After all, the brand has worked diligently to bring its legendary gear designs down to the project studio level. The SSL SiX CH is the perfect example, as designers have packed the channel strip from the much larger SiX mixer into a tidy 500 Series package. All the essentials are here; a SuperAnalogue mic preamp, a channel EQ based on the SSL E Series EQ, and a one-knob compressor based on SSL analog consoles.
Honorable Mentions: Black Lion Audio Auteur, Focusrite Scarlett OctoPre, Warm Audio WA12, Useful Arts Hornet, Golden Age Project Pre-573 PREMIER
Trident 80B 500 Series EQ ($449.99)
There's nothing quite like bringing home reproductions of classic gear from the brand that made the original. Oh, except for when the new version also costs under $500. Case in point, the Trident 80B 500 Series EQ. The 80B EQ from the Trident Series 80 console made its name on some essential classic rock recordings of the 1970s. Add killer color and character to your tracks with this four-band EQ featuring sweepable mid bands.
Pope Audio BAX 2020 Classic ($349)
Some may consider Pope Audio a “new kid on the block, " but founder/designer Adam Pope has worked in pro audio since the 1980s. His first foray into building gear has led to the creation of the BAX 2020. This simple-but-sweet design finds inspiration in the classic Baxandall EQ concept. No steep rise here, just a gentle rising slope that allows for a more natural sound overall. This Classic version features an In button for adding some drive to the input stage via discrete op amp.
Honorable Mentions: DBX 530, Fredenstein Artistic EQ, Golden Age Project EQ-73, TK Audio TF1
The VCA-based dbx 160A ranks among the most musical compressors in the pro audio universe. The 500 Series version of this classic features a simple switch that allows you to choose between two timeless compression curves. Start with Over Easy to perfectly smooth out vocal and instrument performances, and work with Hard Knee when you need to protect against overload distortion.
Lindell Audio LIN 76 Compressor ($399)
Lindell Audio recently released a new 19" rackmount 1176-style compressor dubbed the LiN 76. Tackling the 1176 is certainly nothing new in the outboard world, but creating a reproduction with this much vintage flair, a USA-made transformer, and a price of $399 is a feat.
Honorable Mentions: Fredenstein Artistic Compressor Plus, Golden Age Project COMP-554,
Sennheiser MD 421 II Dynamic Microphone ($399.95)
The Sennheiser MD 421 II is a must for any microphone locker. This dynamic mic is highly versatile and will sound great on everything from guitar amps and drums to brass and vocals. Its form factor is perfect for expertly capturing sources, while its bass roll-off switch helps with proximity effect.
Roswell Pro Audio Mini K47 Condenser Microphone ($349)
When designing the Mini K47, Roswell Pro Audio was looking to capture the sound of a vintage masterpiece with the performance of a modern-day microphone. The magic lies in combining the brand's K47 capsule and a clean, transparent circuit design. It all adds up to one impressive mic, especially considering it's one of the more inexpensive condensers at just $349.
Lauten Audio LA-120 Pencil Condenser Microphones ($488)
Picking up a pair of small diaphragm condenser microphones under $500 isn't always the simplest of tasks. Yet, Lauten Audio has done the unthinkable and given engineers worldwide the uber-affordable LA-120s. These FET condensers feature two onboard filters, low-pass and high-pass, in addition to swappable cardioid and omni-directional capsules. Need some drum overheads? Maybe something for piano? Give a pair of these a try!
Honorable Mentions: Antelope Audio Edge Solo, Electro Voice RE20, Royer Labs R-10, Shure SM7B Dynamic Microphone, Universal Audio SD-1
API 500-8B Lunchbox Rack ($474.05)
Throughout this blog, we’ve touched on a lot of 500 Series gear. To use any of these modules, you’re going to need a 500 Series rack. So why not go with the brand that created the format when choosing a rack? API Audio pioneered the lunchbox concept and the 500-8 is its most significant offering to date. Load up eight modules and track, mix, and master to your heart's content.
Acme Audio Motown DI WB-3 ($429)
If you've been searching for the "Motown Sound," look no further than the Motown DI WB-3. Acme Audio's recreation of the classic DI box used by the Funk Brothers enables guitarists, bassists, and other players to capture the same magical character. This beauty comes built to spec and features an exact recreation of the unit's original transformer.
Cloud Microphones Cloudlifter CL-1 ($149)
Low-output and passive microphones like dynamics and ribbons require an extra gain boost when recording directly. Cloud Microphones’ pioneering Cloudlifter CL-1 gives a +25dB to these mics via two ultra-clean gain stages with four JFETS and phantom power from your interface or mixer. If you want a clean boost for your microphone, you want a Cloudlifter.
Soyuz Microphones Launcher Gain Booster ($229)
Don't want a clean boost?! Soyuz Microphones has you covered with The Launcher. This inline microphone preamp gives 26dB of gain, but doesn't stop there. The Launcher features a custom transformer and analog circuit that adds vintage console-style color and character to any signal that passes through it.
PreSonus Faderport USB Production Controller ($224.95)
Point and click, rinse and repeat. Working in a DAW all day can be mind-numbing, but it doesn't have to be. Add a faithful companion to your rig with our last choice for the best gear under $500, the Presonus Faderport USB Production Controller. It’s now possible to take back tactile control over your DAW with this simple USB controller featuring a 100 mm motorized fader and 24 buttons that handle 40 different functions.
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