The Best 500 Series Preamps

The Best 500 Series Preamps

Today, we would love to take you on the journey of finding that rich character transparent sound you’re looking for in your recordings, which is done by arming your studio with one of the best 500 series preamps available on the market.

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Table of Contents


Our Top Choice

API 512c 500

API 512c 500
See Price @ Amazon / @ Sweetwater

More details…

API 512c 500 is a great choice for someone who is looking for the sound of a classic 512c preamp and rock-solid built quality.

Pros
  • Classic API sound
  • Easy-to-use
  • Well-known among users
Cons
  • Very sensitive gain knob


Top 5 Best 500 Series Preamps

  1. API 512c 500
  2. Great River MP-500NV
  3. Shadow Hills Industries Mono GAMA
  4. Solid State Logic SiX Channel
  5. Chandler Limited TG2-500

Best 500 Series Preamps Reviews


API 512c 500

API 512c 500

Pros
  • Classic API sound
  • Easy-to-use
  • Well-known among users
Cons
  • Very sensitive gain knob
See price @ Amazon / @ Sweetwater

It’s no wonder why API 512c 500 is the popular choice among many users. This preamp is considered to be an American classic and it’s really hard to find a person who wouldn’t want to have one.

Best features and specs

API 512c 500 is based on the sound of a well-known 512c preamp and is a 500 series line/mic/instrument preamp. Not only that, but it also was designed to maintain the same API circuitry with the legendary API 2520 Op-amp. This preamp offers high headroom with 50 dB of gain on the line side and 65 dB of the mic preamp. Another feature why everyone loves this preamp is versatility, as in no way can you get sound that you won’t love. On its front panel, you can find a LED VU meter for making the monitoring of output level even more convenient.

User impressions

Many users say that API 512c 500 is actually a very good preamp for its price range, featuring the classic API sound and overall having necessary functions. Users add that they always choose this preamp when recording heavy guitars as it makes guitars cut through the mix without sounding too thin and losing precious weight. Also, users say that this preamp brightens up the sound of any mics that you put on.

What we think

What we like about API 512c 500 is its minimalistic and simple front panel. You can’t find something extra that will mislead you or leave you frustrated, only necessary buttons and knobs with accurate readings. Another thing that we’re fond of is the sound that we get when this preamp is engaged. We liked this warm, clear, dynamic and punchy sound on everything starting from acoustic guitar and up to vocals.

Bottomline

API 512c 500 is a great choice for someone who is looking for the sound of a classic 512c preamp and rock-solid built quality. It has a very straightforward and easy-to-read front panel with an LED VU meter for monitoring the output level. Note that it has a very sensitive gain knob, so you can easily overdo gain by chance.


Great River MP-500NV

Great River MP-500NV

Pros
  • Versatile
  • Lovely sound
  • Well-built
Cons
  • Uses 2 spaces in the rack
  • Oversimplified front panel
See price @ Amazon / @ Sweetwater

Great River MP-500NV is known to be a professional-quality preamplifier that was designed as a recreation of that rich vintage sound of large consoles from the early 1970’s. Absolutely all microphones will benefit from the power of this preamp.

Best features and specs

The fact that the Great River MP-500NV has modern components ensures that it has more punch, clarity, and better performance. On the front panel, it has 4 switches such as input impedance from 300 to 1200 ohm, output loading of about 600 ohm, phantom power, and reversible polarity. Also, it has input and output meters corresponding with each channel, adjustable gain stages, balanced XLR inputs and outputs, and high-impedance 6.3 mm jack input.

User impressions

Users like Great River MP-500NV for having a lovely sound, being versatile, and working with a wide range of mics. Users note that they especially like this preamp when applied to acoustic guitar and vocals, but it works well on everything else. Also, users say that they have the strong 60’s-70’s vibe and character from this preamplifier. Though, some users express their concerns about the fact that they have to sacrifice an additional slot just to put this preamp in the rack. Others aren’t that fond of the simplicity of the front panel.

What we think

What we like about Great River MP-500NV is its versatility because we have heard and proved that it actually works and sounds very good with all mics that are in our range, including the condenser, ribbon, and dynamic mics. One thing that we don’t find that good is that we have to sacrifice two slots in order to use it.

Bottomline

Great River MP-500NV is a great choice for someone who is looking for a versatile, good-sounding preamplifier that works with a wide range of mics. Note that this preamp will take 2 slots in the rack.


Shadow Hills Industries Mono GAMA

Shadow Hills Industries Mono GAMA

Pros
  • Exceptional build quality
  • Great-sounding preamp
  • Easy to use
Cons
  • Isn’t ideal for those who are looking for really fat bass
  • Not an ideal choice for those who are on the tight budget
See price @ Sweetwater

Shadow Hills Industries Mono GAMA will charm you with its look, exceptional build quality, impressive performance and sound, and incredible ease of operation. It’s very unlikely that you will find another preamp that will sit so gorgeously in your 500 rack and give you so much in return.

Best features and specs

Shadow Hills Industries Mono GAMA is a very sturdy built preamplifier that runs on Shadow Hills Discrete Operational Amplifier that is very well-known for its fast transient response and outstanding clarity. Also, it features a Jensen input transformer and an advanced Transformer Switching Matrix, as well as an attenuation control that provides you with an 8 dB range on the line output and 18 dB on oncoming mic signals, polarity switching, and phantom power.

User impressions

Users agreed that Shadow Hills Industries Mono GAMA is a really great preamp, versatile, vintage-looking, and exactly the thing that users were looking for. Especially, users are fond of the settings that let them choose between the sound character. Users add that Discrete mode is an ideal choice for something that is full of character, like R&B vocals or string instruments. Nickel is good for vintage drums, and Steel is good for bringing the vocals in front of aggressive guitars or rap vocals and metal drums. Though, some users noted that they didn’t get that much of the effect while they were looking to achieve a really fat and tasty bass.

What we think

What we liked the most about Shadow Hills Industries Mono GAMA is its unique feature, specifically Transformer Switching Matrix, which gives you an opportunity to choose between Steel, Nickel, and Discrete transformers in order to complement everything that you’re recording. Nickel is responsible for providing you with a ruler-flat low end with a tiny boost of 1 dB around 10 k. Steel gives the personality of a 1 dB boost around 40 Hz with a tight Q. Discrete provides you with distinctive clarity and fast transients.

Bottomline

Shadow Hills Industries Mono GAMA is a great choice for someone who is looking for an outstandingly built, versatile, and good-sounding preamplifier that operates on Shadow Hills Discrete Operational Amplifier. It features 3 modes for achieving different sound. Note that this preamplifier won’t help you with reaching a tasty fat bass sound.


Solid State Logic SiX Channel

Solid State Logic SiX Channel

Pros
  • Affordable
  • Good for getting fast results
  • Feature-rich
Cons
  • A bit crowded front panel
  • Only transparent sound, no coloration
See price @ Sweetwater

Solid State Logic SiX Channel is an affordable, versatile, and sturdy build preamplifier that has a built-in compressor and 2-band equalizer. It features a very distinctive grey-colored front panel with colored buttons that delimit different sections.

Best features and specs

Solid State Logic SiX Channel offers you a lot of features while remaining affordable to get. You have a 2-band EQ, compressor, hi-pass filter, LED meters, 1/4″ mic/line input, and HI-Z input on the front panel and XLR input on the back of the rack. Near the input section, you have buttons with clear readings that lets you easily choose the input type. To activate a high-impedance input, you should always get the Line button active.

User impressions

Users like Solid State Logic SiX Channel for being affordable and the right unit for getting fast results. It provides you with a solid, transparent sound that is consistently pleasant. Regarding using a compressor and 2-band EQ, users say that they acknowledge noticeable improvements in their recordings, but they could not implement any surgical interventions. Some users, though, noted that the front panel was a bit too crowded for their taste, and it took some time for them to get used to it.

What we think

What we liked about Solid State Logic SiX Channel is that it offers a lot of useful features while not costing an arm and a leg. Especially we’re fond of it having a 2-band EQ and a channel compressor with a variable threshold. The said compressor is operated by one knob and is capable of giving a versatile and powerful performance.

Bottomline

Solid State Logic SiX Channel is a great choice for someone who is looking for an affordable, feature-rich, well-built preamplifier that has a very distinctive front panel with emphasized sections. This preamp will give you consistent, transparent sound, so if you’re opting for coloration, you should pay attention to other options on this list.


Chandler Limited TG2-500

Chandler Limited TG2-500

Pros
  • Easy to use
  • Classic Abbey Road sound
  • Solid build
  • Vintage design
Cons
  • Doesn’t have status indicator LEDs
  • Phantom power cannot be disabled in line mode
  • No DI input option
See price @ Amazon / @ Sweetwater

Chandler Limited TG2-500 gives you the vibes of the 70’s as it’s based on the legendary TG12428 preamp that was used in recording many classic albums such as The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” and Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”.

Best features and specs

Chandler Limited TG2-500 features a very straightforward and simple front panel with only 3 rotary controls, 2 toggle switches, and 2 buttons to it. The top, red, rotary control sets the gain in 7 steps with 5 dB intervals that cover the 30 dB range. The next rotary control, a black one, is a potentiometer and it is responsible for a continuous gain trim of around 10 dB that allows fine level adjustment. The last rotary control, a grey one, is responsible for output-level control and acts out as an output fader. Toggle switches are responsible for selecting mic or level input and input impedance from 300 to 1200 ohms.

User impressions

Users like Chandler Limited TG2-500 for being versatile, its build quality, and vintage looks. Also, users say that they are fond of the sound, which is clear and full, with fine low-mid detail and lovely high-end. It sounds equally good on all instruments and vocals. Though some users wished that this preamp would have a LED status indicator and DI input option. Other users note that they aren’t in favor of that it’s not possible to disable the phantom power in line mode.

What we think

We are a bit nostalgic about the times when a lot of amazingly-sounding albums were released, that is why whenever we get our hands on equipment that has that certain vibe, we get overwhelmed to a certain degree. That being said, Chandler Limited TG2-500 reminds us a lot of the 60’s and 70’s with its vintage look and design of the front panel. Coarse Gain, Fine Gain, and Output have a slight resemblance to chicken heads that further adds to the retro feel.

Bottomline

Chandler Limited TG2-500 is a great choice for someone who is looking for a vintage-looking, sturdy-built, versatile preamplifier that gives you a classic sound of the 70’s. It has a very straightforward front panel with all necessary controls. Note that this preamplifier doesn’t have LED status indicators and DI input, so if this is crucial for you, you should look elsewhere on this list.


500 Series Preamps Buying Guide

What is a 500 Series Preamp?

A 500 series preamp is an analog preamp that comes into a much smaller form factor than regular 19” rack units. It’s based on the larger 19″ gear, obtaining the same or close to the original characteristics, but comes in a compact form factor and is more lightweight, portable, and affordable.

Why would you need a 500 Series Preamp?

With a 500 series preamp, you can get the character and sound of analog circuitry and save lots of space by having a unit in a much compact form factor.

Important features

When choosing a 500 series preamp, you should focus on character and additional features.

Character

Not every song will benefit from adding an analog character in it, so if this is the case, you should be looking for an amplifier that brings the signal in front by adding transparency and a lot of air. But if you are looking to add more warmth and color, then you should be paying attention to how the sound transforms.

Additional features

It’s totally up to you to decide which additional features, in particular, you need in the preamplifier. In the list that we have compiled, you’ll find ones with built-in EQ, DI-box, or VU meter.

How to choose the right one for you?

When choosing between one of the best 500 series preamps listed above, you should take into consideration whether your aim is to add character or transparency. Also, if there’re any specific features that you need, you should decide on them accordingly.


FAQ

How much does a preamp affect sound?

The preamp affects the sound not that much, that being said, you will be aware of the changes in the sound character only when you crank the gain up.

How do you use a 500 series preamp?

The same way that you use a 19″ preamp, just keeping in mind the size. 

Do preamps reduce noise?

Actually, preamps make the level of the signal louder, therefore lowering the noise. 

Do you need a 500 series rack?

Yes, you do because it’s how 500 series modules get to work, as rack, chassis, or lunchbox provides power and connectivity to all modules and protection from damage. The option of buying yourself a rack or a lunchbox depends on whether you plan to be portable or you plan to record everything from one place. Alternatively, you may use an edge connector wiring harness and a power supply to get power in and audio in/out.  

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