I have a pair of 512c preamps in a lunchbox in my studio that pretty much live on my kick and snare drum, but they also work great on everything I've tried them on...they're forward and punchy, but still very clean. There's a reason that this preamp has been around for over 40 years now with very few changes.
The Classic, Must have Mic Pre
I've been waiting for years to own API Mic Pres. They have not disappointed. If you're reading this review then perhaps you're not familiar with them? They are the king of midrange. Not particularly warm on the bottom, not particularly open on the top, but for mids, this is it. No big stamp on the sound like Neves. Just smooth, punchy midrange. Guitars and drums and rock vocals.
Legendary drum sound.
If cash is no object THESE ARE WHAT YOU WANT TO USE ON DRUMS. Get as many as you can. API has it down. Your snares and kick will sound clearer and punchier than you could ever want. Your toms will sound thunderous. Makes mixing so much easier as the sound straight from the pre is excellent. Works good on vocals and guitar too but I find it has sort of a harsh/bright sound on vocals. That's just my opinion though as you will find plenty of people who love it and I'm sure it varies singer to singer.
Pair these with a couple 550s, 560s, and/or 527s and it will be game over.
The old standby
These are great Pre's. Very hot a forward-sounding. Not great for everything in my opinion, but excellent on percussive sources and the usability seemingly expands in more aggressive styles of music. Very functional, never been my favorite pre, but since I got a pair neither have left my rack either, while many others have come ans gone!
Absolutely classic. I'd been hearing this talk about the API "sound". Now I know what it is. I use this and the API 550b eq together and I am seriously amazed at what it's doing to vocals and acoustic guitar. I sat around for hours with just a single condenser mic playing guitar and singing songs with my headphones on just unable to believe that a preamp and eq could make me sound so darn good. I'm not a big studio guy, just a musician who records at home, and I'm telling you home recorders that you have to spend some money once in awhile to sound pro. The end justifies the means on this one and the 550b as well. Amazing difference even on cheaper mics like sm57/58 which need some push anyway. 10,000 times better than the preamps on your interface, but this preamp has character instead of just crystal clear gain. Mojo!
Lives Up To the Hype
Really, I'm putting this more at about 4.89. I'll explain, here.
This was my first external preamp, after having had used my Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 pres for a year or so. So, I bought this with an API Lunchbox and had no problem with the fitting and sound (some people seem to with some brands).
My first test was drums. I set up one mono room mic; I played the same piece twice — once through this and once through the Saffire pre. The difference even was distinctly audible through laptop speakers. It had a bit more high-end clarity, a little better lows, and overall was a bit more defined. Could I EQ to get to this sound? Maybe, but I couldn't get it exactly there, as it's a little more than just that.
I bought it mainly for male vocals, and I've got it paired with my Neumann TLM 102. It works great with that, and it brings out a tad of midrange that I never can EQ in just right. Paired with an API 550a, if EQ is needed, you'll have a great chain.
And for the bad: the output on this is EXTREMELY high. I love this on snare — very punchy and delightful, but even at the lowest gain stage, it's clipping. You have to either pad externally or internally. If you pad internally, that's, supposedly, getting rid of some "mojo," so pick your poison. They could have added output attenuation and a high-pass filter.
I'd recommend this preamp to anyone who is looking for a new addition or first, high quality preamp.
Classic pre with A LOT of tone
I really love the way this preamp sounds. It's punchy and aggressive, and sounds great on male rap or rock vocals. I've used it with electric and acoustic guitar as well, and it sounds great on that too.
This preamp runs HOT. I read about it in other reviews but had to experience it for myself. Not necessarily a bad thing, but I actually keep the pad switch on for all but the quietest sources. Once the VU meter starts reading yellow you will hear a lot of tone added from the pre, which may or may not be what you want to hear in a particular situation. Because of that, I would encourage folks to use this with a transparent compressor, and to keep a smoother preamp as a backup for session that don't need agressive sounding tone (A vintech or an avalon would be a good backup if you want smoother tone).
Overall I am really pleased with the sound and quality of this preamp. Sturdy build, classic API aesthetics, and agressive tone make this a well-rounded package.
So HOT. And I mean that in a GOOD way. I track male rock vocals at home in my apartment. Here the signal chain: SM7b dynamic mic, mogami xlr-to-xlr cable, API 512c mic pre, mogami xlr female to balanced 1/4" male, into line input on Avid MBox (input switched pulled for -20dB). This works very well, and I want to write this review to recommend it. While the other gear in this chain is all very good, the API pre is outstanding. I can simply make slight changes to the input gain switch on the API to get solid level into Pro Tools. The sound? Don't get me started... Warm. Crisp. Good level. Love it on male rock vocals!
Yes, I am in love with an inanimate object. Sigh.
I absolutely love all of my API pres. I use these on all of my drum tracks. I really like the sound of acoustic guitars miked with a KM184 or U67 running through this Pre. Bass guitars sound good too! This is a do it all Pre. And it being a 500 series Pre makes it even better! If you want this Pre just go ahead and get 2. Because you will want a second one.
Best 500 series Mic Pre in its class
The API 512c has incredible amounts of gain sounds more transparent than other mic pre's built very well. I tried my R84 Ribbon Microphones with two API's vs. two RPQ 500's I was actually more impressed with the API's. I suspect two or one condenser microphone would knock my socks off but if a ribbon mic can sound wonderful with this item then it would only be even better if you used a dynamic or condenser microphone.
If you want a really good yet inexpensive mic pre for your lunchbox, then by all means don't look anywhere else.
MUCH BETTER THAN I THOUGHT
I had a chance to check out this Mic Pre and first off I've tried about every mic pre in existence so I have a pretty good feel for what most of them are all about. Anyhow I suspected that the Gain on this Mic Pre wouldn't be too hot definately not for ribbon mic's, however using it mic'ing my 2x12 cab the dial on the mic pre although small packs a big punch. My waveforms were a really good size not too big not too small. Everything sounded right. As a matter of fact, I am selling my Great River MP-2NV Mic Pre and getting two of these API mic pre's. and besides how could you go wrong with API?
I recently purchased the 512c for my lunchbox and there is no mystery as to why they are so loved amongst engineers. I have used it on Snares, Guitars, and even Vocals. It is fast, clean, wide open and huge. It is one of the hotter preamps I own but is in no way a flaw. It would be nice to have some type of filter/eq... but I am not gonna knock it just because of that as eq is not needed on most things going through this bad boy. I look forward to grabbing a couple more of these (at least)!
After 2 hours play around with this, suddenly I found my kick sound was BIGGER!! Snare was punchy,and guitar just rock!!!
The only thing,,this is very hot pre,,,easily clipped my SM57,,,but after I tweaked it,,,it was just great..I Have two btw,,,enough explained???
My favorite aggressive pre.
I admit, I've been lusting after a few of these for awhile, and after spending many sessions with them at a studio, I found that it definitely had its place. I ended up only using it sources that worked well with how driven it can sound at the input. On sessions where I needed a clean RnB vocal, I found that coupled with several different mics, it still wasn't as clean as other pres, even the 6176. Even my musicians could hear the drive on the upper frequencies through their headphones! On the other hand, it is incredible for rock music, especially with a vocalist that needs to have that edge! Snare, bass, and electric guitar are also favorites.