Why I Love 500 Series Gear

A few years ago when I really started decking out my studio, I was looking for the next step up in preamps. I had upgraded from stock pres to a pair of Presonus Tube Pres, and then on to an FMR RNP, but of course eventually had to take the next step up.

After tons of research, I settled on the Great River ME 1NV. There was some sticker shock involved to be sure. To increase the shock, I wanted to set up a pair of golden channels so having just the one new preamp seemed insufficient. The Great River MP 2NV has two, but you don't get much of a discount by doing this.

Looking further, I found that the preamp was also available in a 500 series format for about 3/4 of the price. For the price of the 2 channel unit, I could get a 500 series API Lunchbox, add two MP-500NVs, and still have a couple of slots left over for a pair of whatever I wanted to get down the road!

Okay, let me step back a bit. Some people reading this might be asking - what is 500 series gear? In brief, it's a way to rack many high quality pieces of outboard gear, mainly preamps, EQ, and compressors, usually at a lower cost and using less space than traditional 1 to 3 rack space units.

In order to use a 500 series compliant piece of gear, you will have to purchase a 500 series chassis. These come in several configurations from several manufacturers, from the Chameleon Labs single space unit to the API (and others) 10 space units. This means that you could have up to 10 different single space preamps from 10 different manufacturers, all using 3 spaces on your rack.

You can also find portable units like the API Lunchbox (6-8 slots) and the Radial Workhorse Cube (3 slots). If you wanted to take high end processors on location, this is a great way to bring them along when space is at a minimum.

For a write up of the history of 500 series gear, check out this concise article on Radial Engineering's site. Radial has quite a few 500 series units, but the inception of 500 series is usually associated with API (although that's complicated as you can see in the article).

There are a lot more offerings that have hit the market since I bought my first 500 series units, including more affordable units by Radial, dbx, Chameleon Labs, and others. If you're looking to build out your studio, this is definitely an option to consider.

Until next time,

--Joel