The Presonus Studio Channel is Presonus’s affordable prosumer level channel strip product. With a flexible tube preamp section, a versatile compressor section with switchable pre/post EQ routing, backlit VU’s, and a flexible three band parametric EQ, the Studio Channel offers a flexible and very useful set of features at an affordable price in a convenient and good looking 1RU enclosure.
The first section of this channel strip is of course the Preamplifier section. With a typical set of controls like 48v, polarity, -20dB pad, and an 80Hz HPF the Channel makes itself very useful by giving the operator access to a standard and equally crucial set of tools.
Furthermore, making use of a starved plate tube pre for the front end, separate ‘Gain’ and ‘Tube Drive’ controls makes up the first step in controlling the character of this unit. With ‘Tube Drive’ at zero, the tube - a 12AX7 - is effectively out of circuit and the preamp is a typical Class A Op Amp. At 100% Tube Drive the tube is very audibly in circuit! Now the unit’s gain control has a very noticeable affect on the character
of the sound.
Most of the time having the Tube Drive this high wont work with the source, but it can be great on some DI bass sounds, especially darker sounding basses like Hoffners. Some people might say the sound of a starved plate circuit is less than desirable, but given its flexibility it can be very useful. It may not do the more conventional, very creamy very smooth sound that some very pricey boutique tube preamps can do. However most of the time, a Tube Drive setting between 30% and 70% will add some magic and character to the sound.
Now lets look further down the Channel at the Compressor section. Unlike a lot of compressors in this price bracket, this one doesn’t lack in features and flexibility, but at the same time, that flexibility includes options for ease of use! With five pots controlling Threshold, Ratio, Attack, Release, and Make Up gain, and five Push button/LED's controlling Soft (knee), Auto (Attack/Release) EQ>Comp, Gain Reduction to Meter, and Bypass it’s easy to take full control of this compressor and tweak until your heart's content, OR simply turn on Auto, Soft Knee, set a rough ratio, and dial in the amount of compression you want with the threshold control. It has to be said, the compressor in this unit is very soft sounding, even in hard knee mode. It wont bring out the snap in a snare drum like a Distressor can, but it's great for evening out the levels across a performance without changing the timbre too much.
The EQ section in this Channel strip is brilliantly flexible while pleasantly simple. Divided into three bands – Low, Mid, and High, each band has just the right controls to let you shape a sound, but without the clutter to over complicate the process. The Low section comprises of just two pots – Frequency from 20Hz to 300Hz, +/-10dB Gain, and a push button labelled ‘Peak’. In the Mid section we get 3 pots - Frequency from 200Hz to 3kHz, a Q control, and +/-10dB gain. And the High section is laid out just like the Low section but of course, is a high shelf, and ranges from 2kHz to 20kHz.
I have to say; the overlap in frequency ranges between each section is VERY useful. And the Peak options can be great, especially in the low end, if you want to take out some boominess or resonance. Additionally, boosting with the Low shelf and engaging the Pre’s HPF can sound fantastic. I would however, say that this EQ is best used for general shaping/balancing. It’s not the nicest sounding EQ so it’s best not to push it too hard, but it serves a wonderful purpose. The mid section is really effective for cutting out some of the rubbish in your signal, and clearly, with the inclusion of a variable Q, this is exactly what Presonus had in mind when they were designing the EQ.
There’s one last control on this unit that absolutely shouldn’t be overlooked – the output trim! From -60 to +10dB this unit now has a potential +74dB gain across the entire unit, 54dB at the preamp, +10dB at the compressor and +10dB at the output. However the real benefit here is that it now gives users control over the level hitting their ADC without having to turn down the level at the preamp, such is the case with many all inclusive preamp & interface units. This is a serious factor controlling the character of the sound going to disk and should not to be overlooked!
In terms of build quality, this is where some of the ‘budget’ aspects of the unit become apparent. The pots are Presonus’s typically frustrating little pots, all of which are stepped, even if it would be more useful that they weren’t. While the inclusion of LED’s and buttons in the same space is great for reducing the clutter of the unit, the buttons themselves seem pretty flimsy. On the plus side the unit is pretty small and lightweight, which is due in part to the external line lump power supply providing 16V AC. My recommendation? Perfectly fine in a rack in a studio or home studio, but it probably wouldn’t last too long in a mobile situation – it’s definitely not a guerrilla recordists piece of gear.
At the end of the day...
Essentially, while the sound of this unit mightn’t be equal to that of it’s $3,000+ counterparts, it offers a very important and useful set of features to home recordists and even professionals that want more control over the signal before conversion. And that isn’t something to be down played! Having an artist making takes while listening material that’s already been gently EQ’d and compressed can really help them stay enthusiastic about the project and really help them reach the potential of their performances. There are very few pieces of gear you can buy for less than $400, of which you can say “This will help me record better performances!