How to Choose 500 Series Gear
Looking for the ultimate in flexibility for your studio’s front-end gear and your analog mixdown processors? Check out the incredible array of 500 Series preamps, dynamics processors, and EQs available at Sweetwater. 500 Series gear lets you pick, mix, and match components to create a setup that’s space-conscious, modular, flexible, configurable, customizable, affordable, and offers you the best of the best in analog sound quality. Your Sweetwater Sales Engineer has the experience and knowledge to help you choose the 500 Series gear that best suits your needs, tastes, and budget. Give us a call at (800) 222-4700.
What Is 500 Series Gear?
It all started with API, who developed a system for mounting compact modules into a tabletop or rackmountable chassis. The modules included mic preamps, compressors, and equalizers. Recording engineers immediately recognized that these handy and affordable modules would make it easy to build simple, compact rigs they could easily take anywhere, so the format quickly caught on. Soon several other manufacturers embraced the 500 Series format and began producing scaled-down versions of classic preamps, EQs, and compressors. Over the years, however, both the number of companies producing 500 Series modules and the variety of processors have expanded dramatically.
500 Series Benefits
The number one benefit to using 500 Series modules is flexibility. You can pick and choose whatever assortment of modules you want: preamps, compressors, EQs, de-essers, re-ampers, direct boxes, and more. They take up far less space than full-size rack gear, and reconfiguring your rig and swapping out modules is easy. Just pull one module, drop in another, and you’re good to go! Having your complete signal flow lined up in a single rack unit also keeps all the controls in one place, which can be a serious improvement to your workflow. And you can fit lots of different processors into a single rack, which makes your diverse collections of tools also very portable. Finally, there’s the cost. Most 500 Series gear is significantly less expensive than the full-sized equivalent, making it far less expensive to craft your ideal signal paths.
Your 500 Series rig all starts with the chassis, more commonly called a 500 Series rack. Each module fits into a slot in your rack (some modules may span 2 or even 3 slots), and racks come in many configurations ranging from two to 10 slots. Some are tabletop units, and others are designed to mount in a standard 19″ equipment rack. Your 500 Series rack isn’t just the housing for your modules, it’s their power supply and their primary I/O, commonly including either multichannel DB-25 connectors or discrete balanced I/O such as XLR or TRS jacks. Some 500 Series racks include complex signal routing, including internal patching, stereo linking, and even full audio summing.
500 Series preamps come in the form of vintage tube designs, classic solid-state console re-creations, and unique creations that offer an expanded range of tone shaping and coloration. Whatever type of mic preamp you want, it’s probably available in a 500 Series module. Most of these preamps provide 48V phantom power and include a hi-Z instrument input, and impedance-matched ribbon mic inputs are fairly common as well. Some 500 Series preamps even add channelstrip elements such as EQ and dynamics processing, adding even more value for the real estate.
Many 500 Series compressors are based on classic models, which have been redesigned to fit into the 500 Series format. You can choose from a number of types, ranging from opto to VCA to FET models. Many 500 Series compressors include sidechain capability and stereo linking unavailable in the original compressor designs. Despite their scaled-down size, you’ll still find detailed VU metering and all the controls you’d expect. What’s more, 500 Series dynamics processors today include many original designs, as manufacturers take advantage of this low-cost format to try out unique approaches to compression, expansion, and more.
500 Series equalizers range from classic parametric designs to precision graphic EQs, with a selection of specialty frequency shapers in the mix as well. In most cases, these EQs are as close to the actual EQ sections of the consoles that inspired them as it gets, including many of the most popular 3- and 4-band parametric EQs in music-production history. Some of these models even include detented knobs and extra filters or frequency bands not found on the originals, allowing you greater tone-shaping freedom than ever right inside your custom 500 Series rig.
When 500 Series racks found their place in a number of applications outside of traditional studio recording and mixing, manufacturers quickly recognized the need to go beyond classic preamps, compressors, and equalizers. One of the areas Sweetwater engineers have seen expand rapidly is 500 Series effects processors. Today, you’ll find a great selection of effects modules, from digital delays and harmonic generators to analog distortion boxes and and much more. They’re perfect for live signal chains, and some creative guitarists use 500 Series gear as part of their live rigs.
Along with effects modules, the number of specialty processors and signal routing tools available in the 500 Series format continues to grow rapidly. Impedance-matching direct boxes, reamping systems, headphone amps, and even mixers allow you to create complex signal flows for specific applications. These specialty modules are particularly handy for integrating guitars into your rig, but they’re also ideal for tasks such as analog summing a signal distribution. If there’s a need, then there’s probably a 500 Series module for it.