Microphone preamplifiers are essential for bringing up mic-level signals in recording and sound reproduction. As the portable, lightweight, modular and affordable 500 Series format becomes more popular amongst professionals and amateurs, more excellent mic preamp options become available for the format.
In this article, we'll go through the best 500 Series microphone preamplifier options on the market to plug your mics and instruments into for amazing tone and gain.
The Top 9 Best 500 Series Microphone Preamps Are:
- API 512C
- Neve 1073LB 500
- Grace Design m501
- Chandler Limited TG2-500
- Rupert Neve Designs Portico 511
- Rupert Neve Designs Portico 517
- Shadow Hills Industries Mono GAMA
- Great River MP-500NV
- A Designs P-1
Each of the above-mentioned preamps is a superb option for a 500 Series system. In this article, we'll discuss why that is.
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Besides being the industry benchmark for seasoned engineers around the world, the API 512C is seriously loud. It can indeed add 65dB to the original signal. Moreover, you also get 45dB of gain for the line input. This translates into clean power regardless of the source.
Speaking of clean power, what made this API preamp so famous, besides its bombastic sound, is its ultra-low noise level (-129 EIN). Thus, you can push any microphone plugged into it to get the warmth of the analog circuitry to colour the voice (or instrument) and record crystal-clear takes regardless of the volume/gain.
These crystal-clear takes are not digitally stale but get the imprinted API colour you can expect from gear that can cost you up to 15 times more. In the same vein, the onboard features offer versatility for the amount of power at hand.
To begin with, the -20dB PAD can be a game-changer with loud singers or high-gain microphones. Also, the 48V phantom power and the reverse polarity switch can be super handy in case you have to connect different gear to the input (XLR or Hi-Z TRS). Finally, the 500-series size makes it a portable, easy-to-use unit.
The API512C remains true to what API founder Saul Walker designed back in the day, including the uncanny 2520 op-amp. If you are looking for a pre that sounds amazing in every category and won't break the bank to give you those warm, analog sounds, you have to try this one out. Here's a video of thorough testing so you can see it in action.
Neve 1073LB 500
To the most discerning ears on the planet, Neve is the best money can buy. If you've seen Dave Grohl's movie Sound City, you might know what a Neve console means to music-making.
Well, the very heart and soul of every Neve console is made of preamps. Indeed, if you watch this video, you can see Dave speaking of the console, and you'll recognize the same dark red knobs throughout.
The appearance of Neve's preamps in a 500-series format is revolutionary news. With the Neve 1073LB 500, you can now obtain one of the most sought-after tones in the world at a fraction of what a Neve console costs.
Moreover, these are still made in England; transformers are still hand-wound to this day.
But this unit is not only about tone; it can also add some power to the signal with a gain knob that can go up to 80 dB. In other words, you can plug even the quietest passive ribbon microphones and get strong, coloured, fantastic-sounding audio with enough gain to cut through any mix.
Inside, all the circuitry is top-notch Class-A, and thus, delivers audiophile-grade audio in all scenarios. In this vein, the universal input and the Lo-Z button make it the perfect companion for any instrument as well.
If you have the room and the budget for it, you can get your recordings as close as humanly possible to the sound of your favourite records. To get a full explanation of the features and a demo, watch this video.
Grace Design m501
Grace Design's famous m101 preamp got its first 500-series version. The Grace Design m501 is a faithful representation of the unit's original tone.
To begin with, the rotary switch offers 12 different gain positions that are more than enough to suit any endeavour. Moreover, there is a dedicated ribbon microphone mode that deactivates the internal phantom power. This way, you'll never have to be sorry you fried your favourite ribbon because you just forgot to double-check.
In the same vein, the high-pass filter and trim pot will help you get rid of unwanted frequencies even before you hit your DAW (or tape recorder).
Speaking of frequencies and audio, although it is a transformer-less unit, the transparency and the warmth that made the original such a sought-after piece of equipment are present in its 500-series format as well.
Another outstanding aspect of the m501 is that it can be the perfect companion during reamplification sessions. Indeed, the Hi-Z input allows you to keep the original tone and add some analog warmth to it before it hits the amp or the plug-in in your DAW.
This way, the tone of the instrument and the expression you can add with your unique playing style remain clear even after re-amping through a high-gain amp or a heavily-effected signal chain.
If you're searching for the ultimate 500-series preamp and plan to use it a lot on instruments, this is a serious choice to consider. To watch a brief explanation by Grace Design representatives, check out this video.
If you want to watch a comparison with a Neve 1073lb and two additional 500-series preamps, check out this video.
Chandler Limited TG2-500
Capturing the mystique and mojo of the legendary EMI/Abbey Road Studios during the magic decades of the '60s and '70s is nothing short of a dream come true.
Well, the preamps in that console, colouring the sounds of some of the most iconic bands of all time, were the EMI TG12428. The Chandler Limited TG2-500 module offers the amazing tone found in The Beatles Abbey Road record and Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon, among countless others.
But that's not all because besides recreating that magic tone, Chandler Limited added some ingredients to its secret recipe that made their TG2 such a sought-after series.
As a result, the warmth and deep low-end of the classic Abbey Road equipment is matched with Chandler's uncanny top-end to provide one of the most musical, open, clear, creamy, and smooth preamps in the market.
This musical top-end allows sound to retain punch while “appearing” in the mix more clearly. This way, you can make sure that no instrument is going to fall into the muddy low-mids and disappear from the song.
Chandler Limited's discrete, transformer-balanced gear made the company a go-to option for engineers worldwide. Adding the legendary Abbey Road warmth, what you have is a great-sounding preamp that can fit right in your 500-series rack on top of your desk.
Rupert Neve Designs 511
Rupert Neve is a name you'll keep on seeing everywhere in the high-end audio world. That is because he built the Rolls Royce of recording equipment, helping to shape the sound of modern music to a certain extent.
In this case, the Rupert Neve Designs Portico 511 is a combination of the critically acclaimed 5017 preamp, the high-pass filter you'd find in the 5012, and the unique silky-textured, tone-packed circuit that made the Portico II so famous.
With this combination of amazing sounds, you can think of the Portico 511 as a workhorse suitable for any studio.
Perhaps the biggest achievement of the Portico 511 is the ability to get that “Neve sound” in a small, portable, and affordable 500-series unit.
That, on its own, would make this an essential piece of gear in any studio. Yet, the company didn't stop there, and this small unit can also offer a high-pass filter that musically removes all the muddy low-end you don't want in a vocal take, for example.
Still, that's not all; the Portico 511 features a “silk” button with a dedicated knob. This feature adds harmonic saturation to the unit's output stage. By turning the knob clockwise, you'll increase the level of harmonic saturation, adding some vintage vibe and warmth to any take.
On the contrary, if you want to get a pristine, clean, modern tone out of the take, you can disengage the “silk” button, and you'll be getting only a world-class sound with no added saturation.
Those after a do-it-all preamp for their studio can't overlook this creation by one of the most important recording gear companies in the world. See it in action in this video, or watch this video for an overview.
Rupert Neve Designs 517
Speaking of do-it-all, all-in-one units, the Rupert Neve Designs Portico 517 module can accommodate a microphone and a line-in at the same time.
This is perfect for situations like putting a microphone in front of a bass amp and capturing a line-in as well. In the same vein, you can take a cable out of your favourite acoustic guitar and record the piezo pickup and the instrument's natural sound simultaneously.
Moreover, you can blend both outputs and obtain a unique sound with all the warmth and quality you could expect from any Rupert Neve gear. Furthermore, you can even engage the same “silk” button mentioned above and get that sweet harmonic saturation to round up the tone of the instrument or vocal.
Related article: Do Microphone Preamplifiers Improve Sound/Audio Quality?
On top of that, a subtle 2:1 compression helps keep the signal from peaking, while the 62dB for the microphone and 35dB for the instrument are more than enough gain to record even the quietest ribbon mic flawlessly.
To fit all these features in a 500-series module is, indeed, an engineering masterclass. Adding to that, Neve's world-class sound and warmth make this unit the perfect combination to take the audio of any studio to the next level.
Shadow Hills Industries Mono GAMA
Some pieces of gear are famous for the way they colour the sound, adding rich harmonics to the mix. On the other hand, equipment such as the Shadow Hills Industries Mono GAMA (Golden Age Microphone Amp) is famous for being among the clearest, less colouring preamps in the market.
Still, although it doesn't colour the sound, it adds transparency and air, especially in the mid-high section, which is very welcome in most scenarios.
This is because the heart and soul of this 500-series preamp is the company's Discrete Operational Amplifier, a lightning-fast transient, an exceptionally clear preamp that can level up any signal, highlighting its unique character rather than adding some of its own.
But there's more than meets the eye with this preamp. You can choose from the rotary 3-way selector between nickel, steel, or discrete transformers.
In the first position (nickel), you get a flat low end with a very subtle 1dB boost at 10 kHz.
In the middle position (discrete), you get the unmatched clarity described above.
Finally, the third position (steel) allows you to add a little 1dB boost at 40Hz, which can be awesome to highlight some of the original signal's personality with a tight Q.
If you want a preamp that can morph and adapt depending on the situation and deliver a stellar tone on every occasion, you have to check this unit out. You can hear it in this video or watch this unboxing video to see what comes in the box.
Great River MP-500NV
Great River set out on a mission to give a modern spin to a timeless classic, the Neve 1073. The Great River MP-500NV is an amazing piece of gear capable of capturing the magic analog warmth of the original but staying in modern territory.
The idea of bringing the Holy Grail of studio tone to the present is nothing short of bold, and they pulled it off in style.
To begin with, the transparency and accuracy available in this unit are uncanny. But it is not stale-sounding; on the contrary, with the knobs, you can achieve that vintage turntable sound, the quintessential soft distortions of a single-ended amplifier, or even brilliant transformer saturation.
All those tones fit in one 500-series module, believe it or not.
Also, through the MP500NV, you can add presence, real punch, and vitality to any audio signal, from a drum machine to a vintage guitar + amp setting to vocals. In the same vein, the tonal palette is so broad that it can match any kind of microphone in your studio with great results.
Finally, with a total gain possibility of 70dB and dedicated XLR and TRS (Hi-Z) inputs, there is virtually nothing you can't do with this state-of-the-art preamp. Check out this vintage video or this video for a full explanation of how to use it.
A Designs P-1
For simplicity lovers, minimalists, and fans of pure tone, the A Designs P-1 is a treasure. It is one of those pieces of gear that work on the ineffable “set-it-and-forget-it” motto, adding the right vintage coloration to the signal and consuming none of your time achieving it.
Indeed, with only one knob, a phantom power, a PAD, and a phase button, this preamp can take the audio of any take to the next level. Moreover, it doesn't only work on microphones; the dedicated DI input is also great for raising the gain level of instruments going straight into the DAW.
Besides, it can do it all, enhancing the original audio because A Desing's extremely popular Pacifica preamp circuitry, and hence tone, is the heart and soul of this unit. This means that you can get the tone of a much more expensive unit at a fraction of the price that occupies a fraction of the space.
If you love the sound of old API equipment, you'll fall in love with the P-1 instantly. For a rundown of the features, you can watch this vintage video. For a comparison with preamps from other brands, check out this video, and finally, for a comparison with the Red EM preamp, check out this video.
Building out your 500 Series system can be a challenging task. For this reason, I've created My New Microphone's Comprehensive 500 Series Buyer's Guide. Check it out for help in determining your next 500 Series purchases.