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The Best 500 Series Mic Preamps for 2017

by | Mic Preamps | 0 comments

500 series modules are a great alternative option to buying full-size rack gear or freestanding desktop/tabletop units.

If you’re looking for a mic preamp and you’re not familiar with them, then you’ve come to the right place!

The first part of this article will focus on the basics of 500 series products, and the second part will follow up with reviews of the best 500 series microphone preamp modules.

What is the 500 Series Format?

The 500 series is a modular format that consists of individual signal processing units and the enclosure that houses them.

API, a renowned manufacturer of mixing consoles, mic preamps, and other pro audio gear, is credited by starting the idea of modular signal processing units.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, API’s mixing consoles were modular, meaning that each mixing channel had separate mic pre, EQ, and compression modules.

Studio engineers would take these API modules, mix them with other manufacturer’s modules, and create their own custom racks that they could take with them on recording sessions.

In the early days, you needed to be an engineer to be able to pull out and connect modules that had different power and connection requirements.

But as the concept grew in popularity, API began to lead discussions on compatibility among the various manufacturers’ products.

API eventually formed a VPR Alliance program that provided standardization and consistency guidelines to the 500 series format that had emerged.

Today, many manufacturers make 500 series modules that conform to API’s rack specifications.  Today, almost all 500 series modules are compatible with the standard.

To check if a specific 500 series module is VPR approved, click this link.

500 Series Modules

Best 500 Series Microphone Preamps

Neve 1073LB 500 series module

The 500 series modules themselves are small-sized, affordable signal processor units that are purchased separately.

Mic preamps, EQs, and compressors are the three main categories of signal processors available in the 500 series format, though more and more manufacturers are making reverb and delay units, headphone amplifiers, direct boxes, and even small scale mixers in the 500 series format.

Many 500 series modules are virtually the same as their bigger rackmount siblings, with the same features and sound, but at a more affordable price.

500 Series Chassis/Rack/Lunchbox Enclosures

500 series modules are housed in a powered enclosure, sometimes called a chassis, rack, or lunchbox.

Chassis and racks are designed to be rack mounted, while a lunchbox is designed to be portable (its look and carrying handle are reminiscent of a lunchbox.)

The enclosure serves a few purposes:

  • It provides power to all modules, including 48V phantom power
  • It provides connectivity to all modules through XLR, ¼ ”, and/or DB-25 inputs and outputs
  • It provides a secure housing to protect modules from damage

Benefits of 500 Series Modules

500 series mic preamps can be an incredible value compared to desktop or rack models.  There are three main benefits to purchasing 500 series modules:

Smaller size: Their smaller size reduces manufacturing and distribution costs.  For the user, they take up a lot less space than full-size units, allowing you to fit more signal processing power into a smaller space.

More affordable: As connectivity and power are supplied by the rack or lunchbox, modules don’t need these expensive components.  Less manufacturing costs are passed on to you as lower prices.

Note that your initial upfront costs may be higher because you also need a chassis, rack or Lunchbox™ enclosure. (Lunchbox™ is now a brand name of API).

Flexibility: You can mix and match the units you want to create your own custom signal path.  Here are a few possibilities:

  • A vintage-sounding vocal chain
  • An analog summing/mastering chain
  • A high-end guitar effects chain

Not only can you just buy what you need or can afford now, but you have the ability to grow and add modules as needed.

You can also swap out any unit quickly.  This flexibility can greatly improve your workflow.

500 Series Mic Preamp Modules

Mic preamps in 500 series format come in the same formats as their full-size siblings: tube, solid-state, or hybrid tube/solid-state. They are ideal for bringing the sound and character of analog circuitry to your digital recording studio at an affordable price.

Depending on the make and model, they also include typical features like 48V phantom power, low-pass filters, high impedance instrument inputs, and more.

While most 500 series mic preamps are single-channel, there are some channel strips available – mic preamps with added EQ or compression.

When considering any mic preamp, its features and sound should be your #1 consideration.  It’s frequently better to pay a little more for the next level up than compromise because of budget reasons.  Always buy quality!

The Reviews

The mic preamp reviews are organized by price:

  • Under $300
  • $300 to $500
  • $500 to $1,000

Review Criteria

All mic preamps included in my reviews were selected based on their widespread use and reputation in the professional music community and from personal use and knowledge.

I’ve also added my insights gained from my 25+ years of experience running a very successful music production company, plus working with dozens of composers and thousands of tracks for my Audio Addiction Music Library, a production music library with global distribution.

Ultimate Guide To Choosing The Best Microphone Preamp For Your Home Studio

If you’re new to buying microphone preamps, please check out my Ultimate Guide To Choosing The Best Microphone Preamp For Your Home Studio.  You’ll learn how mic preamps work, the types of preamps available, and how to choose a mic preamp that best fits your intended uses and, of course, your budget.

The Best 500 Series Microphone Preamps Under $300

Golden Age Music is relatively unknown to the U.S. music community.  Based in Sweden, they are a leading distributor of high-end pro audio products in Europe.

Looking to branch out, they began making their own mic preamps, compressors and acoustic foam panels in 1985.

The Pre-573 mic pre gets its name from the classic Neve 1073, on which its design is based.  The Neve 1073 is arguably the most revered mic pre in history and is highly sought after for its amazing tone.

Overview

The current Mark II version (note: there is a Mark III version of the half-rack/desktop unit, but not of the 500 series version) boasts new features and improvements to the original which was introduced almost 10 years ago.

On the front panel, the unit has Input and Output gain knobs, plus buttons/switches for:

  • Mic/line inputs or Active DI
  • +5 or +10 dB gain boost
  • 48V phantom power
  • 300 Ω or 1200 Ω impedance
  • Air

Activating the Air switch gives you a factory preset EQ setting that adds high-frequency space and breadth to recordings.

The Pre-573 has an impressive 80dB of gain and lots of headroom which is very helpful when working with lower-output mics like dynamics or ribbons.

How Does It Sound?

The Pre-573 delivers that vintage Neve 1073 character, with smooth highs and a strong mid-range that’s ideal for adding depth, punch, and warmth to vocals and instruments.

The Gain control dials in tones from uncolored on the lowest settings to a highly colored vintage sound with higher settings.

The Air button gives tracks an airy high-frequency sheen.

Numerous online users and reviews have stated how they love how the Pre-573 makes their tracks sound more professional, and that the Pre-73 is able to hold its own with mic pres costing much more.

The Golden Age Project Pre-573 in action:
Note that this video is of the rack/desktop unit…

Audio Examples

You can hear demos on guitars, bass, vocals, and more at the site below.  Just click on Preamps and then choose the Golden Age Project Pre-573:

ZenPro Audio Clipalator

NOTE: You can also download all files as high-quality 320K mp3s for comparison against other mic preamps.

Final Thoughts

The Pre-573 is well constructed and designed, with a wide dynamic range and very quiet operation.

The sound has lots of character for adding that vintage warmth to tracks.

The Pre-573 is highly recommended if you’re looking for a great-sounding mic pre at a very inexpensive price point.

Golden Age Project Pre-573 MKII

Check Price:
AmazonGuitar Center

Features:

  • Single-channel solid-state mic preamp
  • Discrete Class A components
  • High impedance input for DI applications
  • LED metering
  • 80dB of mic gain
  • Polarity switch
  • XLR + balanced ¼” inputs and outputs
  • 48V phantom power
  • Low impedance
  • Air selector switch

DBX is a well-known name in pro audio gear.

Founded in 1971 by David Blackmer, DBX’s products run from compressors and EQs to noise control systems.  They are probably best known for the classic DBX 160 compressor used on countless studios worldwide.

DBX is today owned by Harman International Industries, whose other pro audio brands include AKG, Crown, Infinity Systems, JBL, Lexicon, Soundcraft and Studer.

The DBX 580 is a 500 series solid-state channel strip that combines a mic pre with EQ.  Its design is based on their highly-prized 786 Blue Series and 1086 mic preamps.

It delivers the high-quality sound that DBX is known for at a very affordable price.

Features

The 580 has quite a lot packed into the small 500 format chassis.

At the very top, there is a cool analog VU meter.

Below that, the 580 has controls for Gain (up to 60dB), Low-Cut filter, plus Low Detail and High Detail EQ knobs.

A 20dB pad, 48V phantom power, and polarity invert switches are also included.

At the bottom, there’s a 1/4” input jack for connecting instruments.  A Mic/Instrument switch lets you choose the input you want.

DBX 580 Mic Preamp 500 Series Module Overview

How Does It Sound?

The 580 delivers clean, clear sound with lots of headroom.

The High and Low Detail controls are preset custom EQ settings that allow you to bring out air, depth, and body to your recordings.

Audio Examples

You can hear demos on guitars, bass, vocals, and more at the site below.  Just click on Preamps and then choose the DBX 580:

NOTE: You can also download all files as high-quality 320K mp3s for comparison against other mic preamps.

ZenPro Audio Clipalator

Final Thoughts

The DBX 580 is a very cost-effective mic pre that delivers great sound with easy to use EQ controls.  It makes a great addition to any studio.

DBX 580 Mic Preamp

Check Price:
Amazon

Features:

  • Premium single-channel solid-state mic preamp
  • Low noise design
  • Front panel instrument input
  • 60dB of mic gain
  • 20dB pad
  • Polarity invert
  • Analog VU metering
  • 48V phantom power

The Best 500 Series Microphone Preamps $300 to $500

Chameleon Labs defines themselves as an “unashamedly analog audio” company.

Chameleon’s line of mic preamps has garnered many positive reviews from music reviewers and users alike.

The Chameleon Labs CL 581 Preamp, inspired by 1970s British analog preamps that remain highly desirable today, delivers excellent warm analog sound a la vintage Neve and API mic pres.

Features

The CL 581 boasts a simple user interface:

There are large pots for Input Gain (up to 80dB) and Output level.

One notable feature is that the Output level control functions as a fader when going straight to a DAW or tape.

At the top of the unit are buttons for 48V phantom power, 300 Ω or 1200 Ω impedance, phase invert, and DI/mic selection.

The bottom of the unit has a ¼” jack for instrument connections, as well as LED indicators for Peak, +4 dB, signal presence, and Power.

How Does It Sound?

Chameleon mic pres are noted for their old-school Neve 1081/ API sound.  In reviews, the 581 compared pretty favorably to actual Neve/API units, especially when the price is factored in.

In listening tests, it performed well on electric guitars, percussion and vocals.  It provided a solid non-hyped sound that emphasized the natural character of the sound sources.

Audio Examples

You can hear demos on guitars, bass, vocals, and more at the site below.  Just click on Preamps and then choose the Chameleon Labs CL 581:

NOTE: You can also download all files as high-quality 320K mp3s for comparison against other mic preamps.

ZenPro Audio Clipalator

Final Thoughts

The Chameleon Labs CL 581 is easy to use, sounds great, and is a very affordable high-quality mic pre.  It delivers a classic 1970s vintage sound that compares to mic pres costing much more.

Chameleon Labs CL 581

Check Price:
AmazonGuitar Center

Features:

  • Single-channel solid-state mic preamp
  • Discrete Class AB circuit
  • Fully balanced transformer mic input which can be upgraded to a vintage style Carnhill transformer
  • High impedance input for instruments
  • LED metering
  • 80dB of mic gain
  • Polarity switch
  • 48V phantom power

Studio Projects, based in Gardena, CA, is an award-winning maker of mics, mic preamps, and accessories.

The SPM5 is a single-channel solid-state mic pre with a Radiance control that can add some top-end sheen to your recordings.

Features

The SPM5 has all the typical features you expect to find: Input and Output gain controls, plus buttons for a 70Hz low-pass filter, polarity invert, 48V phantom power and a 9-step LED meter.

A Mic/Instrument button chooses either the rear XLR mic input or the front panel combo ¼”-XLR mic/instrument input.

The SPM5 adds an Impedance button for impedance matching with mics like ribbon mics and some dynamic mics.

Finally, the Radiance control adds a high-frequency edge to the signal.

How Does It Sound?

The SPM5 has a full, clean, accurate sound when the Radiance knob is off.

The Radiance control lets you add high-end air and sparkle to the sound without adding any additional gain.  It works by adding 2nd order harmonic content.   This increases clarity and presence and makes tracks cut nicely through a mix.

It’s very low noise, even when the gain is cranked up.

The following videos give some examples of the mic pre on acoustic guitar and drum kit.
Recording Guitar with the Studio Projects SPM5 500 Series Mic Pre

Recording Drums with the Studio Projects SPM5 500 Series Mic Pre

Final Thoughts

The Studio Projects SPM5 delivers great quality sound at a very affordable price.  It would make a nice addition to any studio’s 500 series mic preamp collection.

Studio Projects SPM5 500 Series

Check Price:
Amazon

Features:

  • Single-channel solid-state mic preamp
  • Discrete input circuitry | transformer-balanced output
  • Front panel mic/instrument input
  • 70Hz low-pass filter
  • 8-Step LED metering
  • 60dB of mic gain
  • Polarity switch
  • 48V phantom power

The Best 500 Series Microphone Preamps $500 to $1,000

The Grace Design M501 is the 500 series version of the popular Grace Designs M101 mic pre.

It’s a single-channel solid-state mic pre that delivers clean, neutral, uncolored sound.

The M501 offers pro level, high-fidelity sound at a very affordable price.

Features

The front panel has a high-impedance input jack, Gain and Trim controls, a Ribbon mic switch, a 75Hz high-pass filter switch, and a 48V phantom power button.

The 12-step Input Gain control provides up to 65dB of gain, enough to power the lowest output mics with lots of headroom.

The Trim controls the Output gain with up to 10dB of gain reduction.

Ribbon Mic Mode

Unlike any other mic pre I’ve seen, the M501’s ribbon mic mode optimizes the mic pre for use with non-powered ribbon mics.  As ribbon mics can be easily damaged by phantom power, this is a handy feature to protect fragile (and expensive) ribbon mics.

Note: using dynamic mics in Ribbon Mode can provide different tonal variations – feel free to experiment with this feature!

How Does It Sound?

Unlike mic preamps that color the sound, the M501 lets you capture the natural sound of vocals or instruments.

It’s an excellent choice for classical instruments, harp, or other instruments where you want to hear the natural tonality without hype of coloration.  Acoustic guitar especially benefits from the M501’s depth and clarity.

With the right mic choice, vocals sound amazing with the M501.  There’s a purity of tone to this mic pre, and your vocal recordings will reflect this with detail and depth.

Wrap Up

The M501 is a highly-regarded mic pre for anyone wanting clear, crisp uncolored sound.  This mic pre delivers that at a very affordable price for both home and pro studio owners.

Grace Design M501

Check Price:
AmazonGuitar Center

Features:

  • Single-channel solid-state mic preamp
  • 12-position input gain knob
  • Transformerless design
  • Hi impedance instrument input/ DI input
  • Ribbon mic setting for optimal results
  • Ultra-low noise design
  • LED metering
  • 48V phantom power
  • Built-in power supply
  • 75Hz high-pass filter

Focusrite is a British audio company famous for its mic preamps, recording consoles, EQs, and other pro audio gear.

The company was founded by legendary engineer Rupert Neve who designed and built many now classic pieces of audio equipment, including the Neve 1073 mic pre.

In 1993 the first Focusrite Red Series mic preamps were released, and they soon developed a loyal following.  Their design was based on the very successful ISA mic preamps found in high-end Neve consoles.

The Red 1 500 series mic pre recreates the original Red 1 mic pre and brings this same classic Focusrite sound to studio owners at a very affordable price.

Features

The Red 1 is quite stylish with Focusrite’s signature red anodized aluminum front panel.

It features a backlit porthole VU meter on top, followed by a 6-step Gain control that allows for easy and accurate recall of input settings.

Below that are 48V phantom power and polarity invert buttons.

Behind the scenes is a Lundahl LL1538 input transformer that helps provide the unique Focusrite sound, and a custom Carhill output transformer that can drive long cable runs without losing audio quality or picking up noise.

How Does It Sound?

The Red 1 delivers the classic Focusrite sound you’d expect.  The sound is clean and transparent, without a lot of color, but with some nice top-end air and polish.   It is a favorite mic pre for recording vocals and acoustic guitar.

The following video has the Red 1 in action recording a violin.
Recording with the Red 1 500 & Charlie Andrew

Final Thoughts

The Red 1 is ideal for project and home studios who want the classic British Focusrite sound without paying a ton of money for it.  Despite not having an instrument input or a high-pass filter, the Red 1 would be a great addition to any studio setup.

Focusrite Red 1

Check Price:
AmazonGuitar Center

Features:

  • Single-channel solid-state mic preamp
  • 6-position input gain knob
  • 60dB of gain
  • Lundahl input and Carhill output transformers
  • Hi impedance instrument input/ DI input
  • Porthole analog VU metering
  • 48V phantom power
  • Polarity invert button

Chandler Limited is an American boutique manufacturer of mic preamps, EQs, compressor/limiters and other audio gear.  Their products are highly sought after for their quality craftsmanship and unparalleled sound.

The TG2-500’s big brother, the full rack size Chandler TG2 was designed as a recreation of the EMI TG12428 mic preamp used in EMI/Abbey Road Studio recording consoles in the late 60s and early 70s.  The EMI TG12428 mic preamp was used on The Beatles’ Abbey Road and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon records.

The TG2 itself has been used on many hit records, including:

Garbage, Not Your Kind Of People: Guitars and drums

Katy Perry, One Of The Boys: Vocals

Katy Perry, Teenage Dream: Vocals

Kings Of Leon, Sex On Fire: Various parts

Maroon 5, Overexposed: Various parts

The Strokes, Pink Martini: Various parts

White Stripes, Icky Thump: Various parts

The TG2-500 is a single-channel solid-state mic preamp with the same discrete transformer-balanced preamp and line amp as its big brother TG2.  It provides the same warm, punchy sound and performance, just in the smaller 500 series format.

Features

The TG2-500 has a pretty cool retro look.

Input is handled by a stepped 7-position Coarse Gain switch divided into 5dB increments that cover a 30dB range.  Total gain is +60dB.

A Fine Gain control (+ or –10dB) helps give more precise control over the input signal.

There are 4 switches/buttons: a 300 Ω/1200 Ω selector, a Mic/Line input selector, 48V phantom power and Phase Invert.

An Output knob that controls the signal’s output level rounds out the controls.

The bottom of the faceplate has EMI and Abbey Road logos, signifying its stellar sound heritage.

How Does It Sound?

Users often describe the TG2’s sound as “larger than life.”  It’s smooth, warm, and punchy, with rich mids and lows and an expanded top end.

The following video demonstrates the TG2-500 on acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and drum kit.

Chandler Limited TG2-500 Pre Amp – Sound Samples

Final Thoughts

There are a few compromises Chandler made for the smaller sized TG2-500 from its big brother TG2.

Total input gain has been reduced from 75db to 60dB, and there’s no instrument input.

However, those changes don’t affect the sound, and in the end, the sound is what you are looking for in a top-notch mic pre like the TG2-500.

Chandler Limited TG2-500

Check Price:
Amazon

Features:

  • Single-channel solid-state mic preamp
  • Discrete transformer-balanced I/O
  • Stepped multi-position Coarse Gain input knob
  • Fine Gain control
  • 60dB of gain
  • 300 Ω/1200 Ω selector
  • Mic/Line input selector
  • 48V phantom power
  • Phase invert button

Neve’s Portico series of analog mic preamps and signal processors are designed to used together to form a seamless, high-quality professional signal chain.

The Portico 511 gives users that classic Neve sound in a 500 series package; as Neve’s website states, it’s “… a Rupert Neve-designed mic pre for the masses.”

It incorporates the Portico 517’s world-class transformer-coupled mic preamp, the Portico 5012’s extremely musical sweepable high-pass filter, and the variable “silk circuit” derived from their flagship Portico II Channel.

Features

The front panel has input Gain and Trim controls, with 72dB of gain in stepped 6dB increments, and +/- 6dB on the Trim.

There is no pad, but according to Neve, the 511 can take a lot of level, and you can even run a line-level input.

Other features are 48V phantom power, a continuously variable 20Hz-205Hz high-pass filter, and polarity reverse.

A Texture knob controls the amount of “silk” you can add.  Silk adds harmonic content to the signal that closely emulates the warm vintage sound of 1970s Neve mic pres.

How Does It Sound?

Numerous reviews and users have stated that the 511 sounds pretty amazing on just about everything.  It can deliver clean tones all the way up to an overdriven tube-like sound.  The harmonic distortion is very musical and adds that classic British signature Neve sound.

Final Thoughts

While the 511 (and all of their 500 series modules) have slightly less headroom than the standard Portico units, the sound quality is virtually the same.  It can deliver clean, modern tones as well as a classic old-school warmth.

All in all, the 511 makes an excellent mic pre for any studio, whether a home project studio or a professional facility.  Outstanding sound, tonal flexibility with the Silk feature, and an affordable price make it a highly recommended choice.

Rupert Neve Designs Portico 511

Check Price:
AmazonGuitar Center

Features:

  • Single-channel solid-state mic preamp
  • Transformer-coupled I/O
  • Silk Blend control for adding warmth and presence
  • 12-position input gain knob
  • 8-segment LED meter
  • Low noise and harmonic distortion
  • +/- 6dB Trim control
  • 72dB of gain
  • 48V phantom power
  • Polarity invert button

The Rupert Neve Portico 517 is the bigger brother of the Portico 511.

It’s a single-channel solid-state channel strip mic pre that’s based on the award-winning Portico 5017 Mobile Pre.  It delivers the same sound as the Portico 511 but adds a compressor, completely separate instrument/DI circuitry, and a flexible Blend feature.

Features

At the top, the Portico 517’s front panel has a mic Input Gain control with 66dB of gain in stepped 6dB increments.

At the bottom, there’s a ¼” TRS jack for connecting instruments and an Instrument Gain input control that adds up to 30dB of gain.  A ground lift button is included to remove any 60Hz hum from instrument sources.

A ¼” Thru jack is also included for a passive through for high impedance sources.

Blend Control

A Blend control lets you determine the balance between the mic and DI inputs.

The combined signals can be phase aligned by using the Vari-Phase control to minimize phase cancellations between the two signals.

This is very handy when recording miked and direct versions of instruments at the same time.

Combining miked and direct signals often creates a thin hollow sound caused by phase issues.  But by rotating the phase as needed with the Vari-Phase control, the sound can be adjusted to minimize phase.

Other features are 48V phantom power, polarity reverse, and a Silk button that adds vintage warmth and attitude to the sound.

Silk adds harmonic content to the signal that closely emulates the warm vintage sound of 1970s Neve mic pres.

Opto-Compressor

The Portico 517’s compressor is a single knob opto-compressor with a set 2:1 ratio.

Though the compressor has some limitations – it doesn’t give you control over threshold, attack or release – it’s been designed to provide a very usable sound with very little hassle.

How Does It Sound?

Like the Portico 511, the Portico 517 sounds pretty amazing on just about everything.  It can deliver clean tones all the way up to an overdriven tube-like sound.  The harmonic distortion is very musical and adds that classic British signature Neve sound.

Final Thoughts

Which is the better choice- the Portico 511 or the Portico 517?

The Portico 517 provides a more complete signal path by adding the compressor and DI input.

Compared to the Portico 511, the Portico 517 has no Trim control or flexibility with the Silk feature – it’s either on or off.  It does, however, add a nice compressor and mic/ instrument blending capabilities to a great sounding mic pre.

Pricewise, the Portico 517 is about $200 more than the Portico 511.

Whether you can spend a little more for the compressor and DI or not, either model will give outstanding results.

Rupert Neve Designs Portico 517

Check Price:
AmazonGuitar Center

Features:

  • Single-channel solid-state mic preamp with compressor
  • Transformer-coupled I/O
  • 12-position input gain knob
  • Silk Blend control for adding warmth and presence
  • Low noise and harmonic distortion
  • 66dB of gain
  • 48V phantom power
  • Polarity invert button

For over 50 years, British company AMS Neve has been creating some of the finest pro audio products in the world.

Founded by Rupert Neve in 1961, AMS Neve started out building pro mixing consoles for high-end recording studios.  Though Rupert Neve sold the company in 1975 and is no longer associated with it, AMS Neve has continued to make highly sought-after gear for those who want the best.

The Neve 1073LB dates its heritage back to 1970 when the original Neve 1073 was a mic pre module included as part of Neve’s new A88 mixing console.  The 1073 mic preamp (and the EQ and compression modules in Neve’s mixing consoles) sounded incredible, and soon they were being produced as separate modules.

The 1073 has since appeared on thousands of hit recordings over the last 50 years.

The 1073LB is the 500 series version of the original 1073 mic pre.

It’s an award-winning single-channel solid-state mic pre that delivers the same classic Neve sound.   By using the same architecture, components, and original hand-wound transformers, the sound remains faithful to the original.

Features

The 1073LB features a Class A transformer-based design and Neve designed hand-wound transformers.

The front panel has a balanced mic/line input combo jack.

The Input Gain control is multi-position and stepped in 5dB increments.  A -20/+5 Trim control lets you fine tune the input gain.

Also included are an impedance selector, 48V phantom power, a phase invert button, and a Signal Present LED.

How Does It Sound?

The 1073LB creates a fat, punchy “in your face” sound that has found its way onto recordings spanning all styles of music – country, pop, rock, rap,  hip-hop, and more.

The sound has a solid punch and fullness in the lows, detailed mids, and a silky, airy top end.

The following video demonstrates the 1073LB on electric guitar.

Neve 1073LB test – Electric guitars

The next video has a shootout with 2 other mic pres. The 1073LB starts at 1:18.

Mic Preamp Shootout Classic Audio Products VP28, Neve 1073LB, & Focusrite ISA 428

Final Thoughts

The 1073 mic pre is undoubtedly the most emulated mic pre in history, with many different manufacturers making their own versions.  AMS Neve is the original maker of the 1073, and the 1073LB takes advantage of the original circuitry and design, so it’s the most authentic.

Packaged in the 500 series format, the 1073LB is a must-have for anyone wanting a Neve 1073 sound but can’t spend a lot to get it.

Neve 1073LB 500 Series Mic Pre

Check Price:
Amazon

Features:

  • Single-channel solid-state mic preamp
  • Class A transformer-based design
  • Neve designed hand-wound transformers
  • Front panel balanced mic and line inputs
  • Multi-position stepped input gain knob in 5dB steps
  • -20/+5 Trim control
  • 84dB of gain
  • Impedance selector
  • 48V phantom power
  • Phase invert button

Burl Audio is a designer and maker of high-end mic preamps, A/D converters, and other pro audio gear.  All their products are made and tested at their Santa Cruz, CA facility.

The Burl B1 is a 500 series mic pre/DI that is based on the classic API 500 series mic preamps.

Features

At the top of the unit, the B1 has 10-step Input and Output Gain controls and a 3-color LED meter that indicates input level.

Mic impedance can be switched between 300 Ω or 1100 Ω impedance, which can help input volume when working with lower output mics like ribbon or dynamic mics.

There are also buttons for a 30dB pad, 48V phantom power, and phase reverse.

The bottom of the unit has a ¼” DI input that is designed to give a fat tone to connected instruments.

How Does It Sound?

Though the B1 can deliver everything from clean, clear tone to grungy attitude, it’s designed for and excels on acoustic instruments such as acoustic guitar, drums, piano, and vocals.

The mic pre delivers tracks with lots of depth and clarity while keeping a warm tonality.

The B1’s custom transformers are as large as can fit into the 500 series chassis, and provide a big sound with an extended bottom, extended top end, and better phase response.

By keeping the input level low and raising the output level to an optimum level, you can take advantage of the B1’s crisp, clean tones.  But by increasing the input gain, the sound becomes more colored and saturated.

Audio Examples

You can hear demos of the B1 on guitars, bass, vocals, and more at the site below.  Just click on Preamps and then choose the Burl Audio B1:

ZenPro Audio Clipalator

NOTE: You can also download all files as high-quality 320K mp3s for comparison against other mic preamps.

There is also a B1D model that is identical to the B1 except that it has an all iron output transformer.  This gives the B1D a darker and more vintage tone that is ideal for harmonically complex instruments such as electric guitars, bass, electric piano, or synthesizers.

Final Thoughts

The Burl Audio B1 is well designed and built to last with premium components.

It has become many producers’ go-to mic pre for its ability to sound great on just about any sound source.  Plus, the DI adds lots of punch and character that makes guitar, bass, or synth tracks come alive.

A great mic pre for the money!

Burl Audio B1 500 Series Microphone Preamp / DI

Check Price:
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Features:

  • Single-channel solid-state mic preamp
  • Discrete Class A electronics
  • Custom input and output transformers
  • Front panel DI jack
  • 10-step input gain knob
  • 70dB of gain
  • Impedance selector
  • 48V phantom power
  • Phase reverse button

The Warm Audio TB12 Tone Beast is a double module 500 series solid-state mic preamp that pushes the limit on sound flexibility available from a mic pre at any price.

It’s designed as a versatile tone machine that can warm up and shape the sound from your microphones in many different ways. From clean tones to a vintage tube vibe, the TB12 delivers impressive sound and performance at a very affordable price point.

At its heart, the TB12 uses the basic circuitry of Warm Audio’s highly respected WA12 mic pre.  The WA12 itself is based on the acclaimed API 312 mic pre which has been used on countless hit records.

Warm Audio then expanded its capabilities by adding multiple tone sound options, multiple signal paths, two different Cinemag transformers, two different op-amps, and a variety of tone-shaping controls.  This gives the user unparalleled flexibility in shaping sounds to their liking.

Features

There are so many features on the TB12 – it boasts 14 switches and knobs – that it’s probably best to see them all in this video: (Note that the video demonstrates the full-sized rack version, but the 500 series model is virtually the same)

Warm Audio TB12 Tone Beast – Demo and Tour

How Does It Sound?

By choosing the different settings for op-amps, transformers and capacitor chains, plus varying the Gain and Output controls, you can get everything from a clean, uncolored tone to a vintage tube sound.

The Nickel transformer setting provides more extended range, while the Steel setting gives a smoother rounder sound.

If you are looking for a really overdriven sound, working the Input and Output Controls will let you go from a sweet, warm sound all the way up to heavy fuzz pedal type distortion.

Given all its flexibility, listening tests sometimes demonstrate that the different setting’s tonal changes can be quite subtle at times.

The most apparent tonal changes come with cranking up the harmonic distortion, which may be great on electric guitars or bass but not as desirable on vocals or strings.

Warm Audio TB12 Mic Preamp Demo

It’s Customizable!

Techie-minded users of the TB12 can swap out the op-amps for other models to further alter the sound.  Op-amps need to have the standard 2520 pin-out configuration that operates at +/- 16 volts.

Wrap Up

The TB12 Tone Beast is a super versatile mic pre that is unlike any other in its price range.

All in all, it’s designed and built with high-quality components, provides lots of tone-shaping flexibility, and delivers the character and sound quality you expect from a Warm Audio product.

Warm Audio TB12 Tone Beast Microphone Preamp

Check Price:
Amazon

Features:

  • Single-channel solid-state mic preamp
  • Fully discrete Class A signal path
  • Two op-amps generate different tones
  • Two Cinemag output transformers generate different tones
  • Hi impedance instrument input/ DI input
  • Insert jacks
  • Low noise design
  • 5-segment LED metering
  • Balanced XLR, ¼” TRS, and instrument inputs | balanced XLR and ¼” TRS outputs.
  • 48V phantom power
  • 80Hz high-pass filter
  • Polarity reverse switch

 

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