A format created by API Audio for their modular consoles, the 500-series has come a long way since its inception to become one of the most interesting choices for the modern studio. It allows us to build custom channel strips with endless combinations - but those strips all starts with a great mic pre. We have polled our community to gather their nominations for awesome sounding units and here we are - ten of Gearslutz' members favourite 500 series preamps.
Acclaimed for their 'Hammer' EQ and 'Nail' compressor, A-Designs brings the spirit of their flagship Pacifica preamp to the 500 series format. Each of A-Designs' preamps are designed with a certain purpose in mind, with custom transformers tailored to particular applications, and with that in mind the P1 is their “high-fidelity” proposition in the preamp realm. With a simple design that only occupies one rack unit, the P1 features a gain knob, convenient frontal DI input and phase buttons (polarity), a -10 db pad and switchable +48V phantom power, making it a very straightforward to use preamp that will reward very little effort & sound great. Read our user reviews.
Our list wouldn’t be complete without something from the company who started it all, and this time it’s a brand new module that many have been craving. The 512v updates the classic 512 design and now offers output control, a transformer option and a combi XLR & 1/4” connector at the front. Besides that, it’s the same preamp that many people love, with low noise operation, buttons for a -20 db pad, +48V, an instrument/mic switch, polarity switching and most importantly, all the lovely character from the revered 2520 operational amplifier for that unmistakable API sound. A guaranteed, proven and reliable choice - you can’t possibly go wrong with an API. Read our users reviews of the 512c.
A soulful preamp packed with a famous UK-made Carnhill/St. Ives input transformer and a custom-designed Jensen output transformer. A single-slot unit with all the magic of the British consoles from the 1970s but with a modern twist on the '28k' button, which extends the top end for a more contemporary and open sound. The MA5 features LED-lit buttons for the 28k options, 48V and polarity flip, a nice Marconi-style input gain knob and a smaller knob for the output trim. It’s one of Gearslutz' members' most loved preamps - and with very good reason! Read our users reviews.
A huge module that will occupy three slots of your lunchbox, but for a reason - Brent Averill Enterprise’s 1073D is basically a fully-fledged channel strip using the revered 1073 preamp with Carnhill transformers, a three-band EQ with a high-frequency shelf (+/-16dB at 10, 12 & 16kHz), a 'mid' bell with fixed Q (+/-18 dB at 0.36, 0.7, 1.6, 3.2, 4.8, 7.2 kHz), a low shelf (+/-16 dB at 35, 60, 110, 220 Hz) and a high-pass filter with 50, 80, 160 and 300 Hz options. The 1073D also comes with a Marconi-style input gain knob, a smaller output knob and there are buttons for +48V, polarity, mic/line mode, and input impedance (switchable between 1200 or 300 ohms) - EQ bypass and a frontal line input complete the options. Definitely an endgame preamp that will likely stay on your lunchbox forever!
Offered as "ready-to-use" units but more often supplied as in unbuilt 'kits' for DIY builders, CAPI products are highly regarded by our community and often cited when “affordable mic pre” is the topic. The VP26 is one of their most successful releases. It features separate input and output controls, a +48V switch, a -20 db pad, mute buttons and the sonic signature of the 2520 opamp. It’s important to note that given the nature and scope of CAPI's operation the availability of pre-assembled modules isn’t guaranteed and therefore some hunting may be required. Read our user reviews.
A powerful preamp with a custom Sowter transformer for a big sound, a super quiet noise floor and the same quality of Great River’s rack-mounted NV series. The MP-500NV features a variable gain stage that allows the user to drive the input while taming the output for more or less colouration, and it’s quite a breeze to dial in thanks to a stepped input control, an output gain calibration knob and input/output metering on 6 LEDs so you never lose sight of the levels. It also comes with a front Hi-Z input for instruments, buttons for +48V, polarity and input/output impedance. The MP-500NV will occupy a couple of slots in your lunchbox but it will easily justify that space with its gorgeous tone-rich sound that will certainly be of great use on any recording. Read our user reviews.
A very budget-friendly unit that you can pick up as a pre-assembled unit or as a DIY kit to build on your own. The Lola features custom-built transformers closely following the classic design of the 1073 console channel strip, an input knob with 4.5 steps, an output calibration knob, illuminated buttons for +48V, polarity and line mode and a 10-segment LED output meter with PPM and VU options. Hairball also offers two opamp choices, with a Jensen 990 option for a super fast and clean sound and a Esien Audio BA512 option for more drive and smoother highs - Hairball advises that they’re subtle colours that are not radically different, so you can’t go wrong with either. Read our user reviews.
If you’re looking for that coveted 1073 sound without entirely breaking the bank then Heritage Audio’s 73JR might be your ticket to joy. This is a stripped down version of Heritage’s 1073/500 which omits the EQ and filter but features a smaller footprint and a line input on the front. The 73JR also comes with separate input and output level controls (with that ubiquitous Marconi knob), buttons for a -20dB gain pad, +48V, an 80Hz low-cut filter, a line/mic level selector, a low impedance option and phase (polarity) switching. A very appealing unit for anyone who wants to add an iconic mic preamp sound to their lunchbox. Read our user reviews.
We all love vintage Neve but what about some new and current Neve? Enter the Portico 511, an elegant mic pre with a “Silk” texture option that can take it from a clean and pristine 'sound of the present' to the lush, warm tones of the past. With all the quality one expects from Rupert Neve Designs, the 511 is designed to squeeze all the goods from the acclaimed Portico series into the 500 series format without compromise. The 511 features a useful sweepable high-pass filter from 20 to 250 Hz, a +48V switch, polarity buttons, input gain control, output trim (-6 to +6 db) and 8-LED metering. With the sonic options provided by the “Silk” variable texture control it’s a great pick if you’re after a flexible mic pre with great quality all the way through. Read our user reviews.
Shadow Hills Industries make some of the most distinctive pieces of audio equipment today, and it’s no different with their Mono GAMA preamp. The GAMA is equipped with a Jensen input transformer, and an output transformer “switching matrix” that lets the user choose between two transformers (nickel or steel) for colour, or even select a 'transformerless' setting for super clarity. It also features a front DI input, buttons for +48V, a gain pad (-18 for the mic and -8 db for the DI), and a stepped gain knob for precise dials and recalls. Everything has a fantastic build quality and Shadow Hills’ distinctive retro visuals. An excellent choice if plenty of character and tone are desired.
We know that there are many other great 500-series preamps out there, so what did we miss? Also, since 500-series requires a chassis please tell us about what devices are you using to house and power your modules!