good, solid sound from an affordable channel strip...
I bought this channel strip about a month ago... it's the first piece of outboard gear that I've bought, and I must say, it sounds really good. I intern at a local studio, and we have a couple Avalon 737's, a UA 6176, plus an API "Lunchbox"... so those are really what I'm comparing the Pro Channel against.
I really wanted an affordable, tube-based pre for my Pro Tools M-Powered rig... I am using a M-Audio ProjectMix I/O. The I/O's pre's sound good, but really lacked the warmth that I heard in the studio from the outboard gear there... now, I'm not going to tell you the Pro Channel sounds like the 737's, or the 6176... b/c they don't, but they sure sound close! Here is a short summation of each piece of the strip.
The mic pre: quality sound. The tube-based pre sounds warm and punchy. I really like the low-cut filter here for rolling out those low frequencies, this is something that is not found on other, more expensive channel strips, and I use it alot. Also, the phase invert switch will work wonders for brightening up signals from condenser mics or from DI sources. Playing with this can give an acoustic guitar or a vocal track a whole new sound, and this is with both the compressor and the EQ bypassed.
The compressor: wow, the one thing that I really like about the compressor is the OPTIONS. You have the choice between a tube-based or optical compressor, and both sound really good. I find myself using the optical compressor much more often b/c of its transparency and its musical sound. I've used it with great success on acoustic guitars, DI's for bass and electric guitars, and voice. I really like the aggressiveness of the tube-based compressor. This is where you get a "sound" of a compressor, and the Pro Channel definitely delivers here. I really like using the tube compressor on drums... kicks, snares... even overheads (for some nice warm levels). I found the tube compressor to be too unruly for the sources I mentioned above for the optical compressor, but it's really just a matter of taste.
The whole point here is the Pro Channel lets you choose which one to use... very flexible.
The EQ section: I might be saying this b/c I'm more of an EQ in the box type of guy, but I think the EQ section here is lacking. I find the controls not very user friendly, and the sound is too intrusive. There is just something that sounds un-natural about the EQ section compared to the pre and compressor, so I opt not to use the EQ section at all, it pretty much remains bypassed for me.
I like the VU meter, but what's really more useful is the tube character/gain reduction LED's below the VU meter. You can look at the PreAmp output, or the Compressor out there with a switch, and it really helps you to find the sweet spot on the pre visually, and gives you a nice read out of the compressor's gain reduction... I really like this option, b/c I really don't "smash" things on the way in... I just like a nice, warm signal, and to let the compressor "kiss" the transients of the signal... unless, I'm doing drums, where I want a more aggressive compression.
The unit is built well, solid, and the controls feel good. The one gripe I have here besides the EQ section is noisy pots! I don't know if I got a "bad" one, or it it's just the components ART uses, but I've noticed the Gain knob of the pre is noisy when you move it. At least it's not noisy when you record through it... but move the Gain knob when you're setting levels is embarrassing, b/c you're gear is making noise... clients don't like that.
So besides those two things... the EQ and noisy pots, and think the Pro Channel is a great buy for someone looking to get their first piece of outboard gear, or for a pro that wants to expand their arsenal of outboard gear with a transparent compressor.. or a tube-based "personality" compressor. The price is right on this one too.