Since the mid-1980s, 500 Series audio equipment has become a significant part of the audio hardware market. Cherished for its portability, modularity, low price point and small form factor (relative to rackmount gear), many manufacturers/brands have hopped on the trend of producing 500 Series modules and racks.
With so many options to choose from, it can be difficult to find precisely what would work best for your needs and wants. In this article, I'll share my take on the top brands to look out for when deciding on a new 500 Series module or rack.
Though obviously subjective and prone to biases, I’ve done my best to list out these brands based on the following metrics (in no particular order):
- Company reputation
- Variety of 500 Series modules
- Variety of 500 Series racks/chassis
- Performance of the equipment
- Longevity of the equipment
- Currently in operation
With all that being said, let’s list out the brands.
The Top 11 Best Brands To Produce 500 Series Gear Are:
- Rupert Neve Designs
- Lindell Audio
- Solid State Logic
- A Designs
- Radial Engineering
Let’s get into each of these brands in greater detail and explain why they belong in the top 11 best 500 Series brands. I’ll share their country of origin, a bit of history, an example of a notable module and rack/chassis, and a link to their official website.
Related My New Microphone article:
• The Ultimate 500 Series Buyer’s Guide
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API is, without a doubt, the top company on this list. After all, Automated Processes Incorporated's founder, Saul Walker, invented the 500 Series to make API consoles more modular in the late 1960s.
What started as an idea to make API consoles more modular has become a popular method of mixing and matching portable hardware effects chains in modern recording.
Plenty of companies produce modules and racks to 500 Series specifications, but API has been doing it the longest and offers some of the best units on the market today.
API even put out a set of standardization guidelines for other manufacturers to subscribe to in order to ensure compatibility between 500 Series equipment. This program is called the VPR Alliance.
Today, API boasts an impressive catalogue of high-end audio processors, many of which are available in 500 Series modules.
With a mission to create the highest possible quality professional audio gear, API continues to offer their classic units while developing new classics along the way.
Notable 500 Series module: API 550A 500 Series 3-Band Equalizer
The API 550A is a 3-band semi-parametric EQ in the 500 Series format. Since its introduction in the late 1960s, this EQ has come to be regarded by many as one of the greatest EQ units ever to be built.
With simple functionality and superior sonic performance, it makes perfect sense that this unit is as cherished as it is.
Notable 500 Series rack/chassis: API 500V 10-Slot Lunchbox
API's Lunchbox Series was the first-ever commercially available 500 Series rack/chassis. The 500V 10-Slot Lunchbox offers ten individual slots for modules, mounts into a standard 19″ rack (3U), and is powered by a tri-polar L200PS power supply (included).
Rupert Neve Designs
Rupert Neve Designs was founded by none other than the legendary Rupert Neve, one of the most prominent audio equipment technology and design pioneers.
Included in RND's impressive catalogue of audio processors is a fantastic lineup of 500 Series modules. These 500 Series modules offer classic high-performance Neve technology at a fraction of the size (and price).
If you're in the market for a high-end 500 Series module or rack, Rupert Neve Designs will surely have something to fit your needs.
Notable 500 Series module: Rupert Neve Designs 511 500
The Rupert Neve Designs 511 is an incredible microphone preamplifier, combining the technologies from Neve's powerful Portico 5017 and 5012 preamp designs with the transformer-saturating power of a variable silk circuit derived from the Portico II Channel.
It's truly amazing how RND has crammed this much functionality into such a small preamp.
Notable 500 Series rack/chassis: Rupert Neve Designs R10 10-Slot 500 Series Chassis
The Rupert Neve Designs R10 is a 10-slot 500 Series chassis capable of providing more than 150% of its modules' required current. This prevents the power rails from failing under higher-than-expected loads and ensures the modular signal chain safely performs to its fullest potential.
Lindell Audio may not be a household name among all audio professionals. Still, the Swedish company is certainly one of the best on the market when it comes to high-quality 500 Series equipment.
This brand offers an outstanding roster of 500 Series modules and several superb racks. With noteworthy performance-to-price ratios on their products, Lindell Audio's modules will deliver high-end sonic performance without breaking the bank.
Drawing inspiration from classic designs, Lindell's design team combines old wisdom and inventive thinking to produce top-notch audio processors for discerning engineers around the world. Many of these processors just so happen to be built according to the 500 Series format.
Notable 500 Series module: Lindell Audio 77X 500
The Lindell Audio 77X 500 is a stereo compressor designed for mix and drum bus duties.
It's an 1176-style FET compressor with tons of functionality, including variable attack and release knobs, three ratios, a high-pass sidechain filter, wet/dry control for parallel compression, and stereo linking capabilities. This unit packs so much that it requires two rack slots.
Notable 500 Series rack/chassis: Lindell Audio 510 Power MKII 10-Slot 500 Series Chassis
The Lindell Audio 510 Power MKII is a rugged 10-slot chassis that utilizes an external no-noise power supply to run 500 Series modules at their peak performance. This lightweight unit offers 500mA of power per slot and 48V phantom power and can be mounted within a standard 19″ rack (3U).
Solid State Logic
For those in the audio industry, Solid State Logic should need no introduction. This legendary company made a name for itself by manufacturing some of the greatest mixing consoles of all time. Today, SSL offers some of its magic in the form of high-end 500 Series modules.
Sure, you won't find as many options with SSL modules as, say, with Lindell Audio. However, the company deserves a spot on this list due solely to the fact that their few 500 Series modules are instant classics, capturing the highly sought-after sound that made the brand famous to begin with.
Essentially, Solid State Logic has now made it possible for engineers to get their hands on premium SSL processing without having to fork out hundreds of thousands of dollars on a console.
Notable 500 Series module: Solid State Logic G Comp 500
The Solid State Logic G Comp 500 brings the SSL Stereo Bus Compressor's sound to the 500 Series format.
This classic VCA compressor has been gluing award-winning mixes together for decades now. This model comes with additional ratio settings and the renowned auto-release and sounds absolutely incredible on mix buses and individual tracks alike.
Solid State Logic does not currently offer any 500 Series racks/consoles.
Elysia is a German brand made up of a small team of expert audio equipment designers. With a keen focus on music gear with a warm sound, creative usability, handcrafted build quality and outstanding design, it's no wonder why Elysia's products are so well received.
This brand offers various high-quality analog 500 Series processor units that sound incredible and perform at an elite level. A notable percentage of Elysia's 500 Series module designs are two slots wide, providing high levels of functionality and stereo processing. Even the single-slot units are uber-powerful in how versatile they are.
With a catalogue that includes analog compressors, transient shapers, analog equalizers, saturators, and fine preamps, Elysia's 500 Series equipment is among the best of the best on the global market.
Elysia is part of the VPR Alliance.
Notable module: Elysia NVelope
The Elysia NVelope is a 2-slot analog transient shaper module.
By combining stereo equalization and dynamics processing, this module can make subtle or drastic changes to reshape all sorts of audio signals in such a way that is largely independent of the specific signal level.
Elysia does not currently offer any 500 Series racks/consoles.
Based in Taiwan, Fredenstein is another relatively small company that produces impressive 500 Series equipment. The brand strives to produce audio processors that combine the strengths of modern and vintage audio technologies and avoid the inherent weaknesses of each.
This company emphasizes zero-negative-feedback designs, which they use to produce their high-end 500 Series modules. In the days of highly functional and even complicated “in-the-box” digital recording, Fredenstein is focused on delivering user-friendly outboard gear for professionals at affordable prices.
Fredenstein has developed an impressive lineup of 500 Series modules that are certainly worth considering when it comes time to pick up your next (or first) module!
Notable module: Fredenstein F609 Tube MicPre
The Fredensteine F609 is a professional tube microphone preamplifier designed with two double-triode vacuum tubes. It features input and output level controls, pad and polarity switches, phantom power, a low-cut/high-pass filter, and a DI input on its front face.
This preamp sounds incredible and has all the makings of a professional unit in the 500 Series module format.
Notable 500 Series rack/chassis: Fredenstein Bento10S 10-Slot 500 Series Chassis
The Fredenstein Bento10S is a 10-slot 500 Series chassis with onboard audio routing, compress bus linking, auxiliary inputs and outputs, a multilayered backplane, and a ground-lift switch. It's powered by a universal power supply and fits nicely into a standard 19″ rackmount (3U).
If you're looking for simple yet highly effective 500 Series preamps, then A Designs may be the company for you.
The company has a superb line of 500 Series preamps meticulously designed to impart a unique and sonically pleasing character. In addition to preamps, A Designs also manufactures other excellent audio processor units.
A Designs modules are handcrafted with leading-edge design and quality manufacturing.
By listening closely to customers' comments, the team at A Designs creatively innovates its products based on the needs and wants of the market. Amazingly, their products carry such affordable price tags.
This brand stands by its motto, “quality without compromise,” and continues to deliver top-notch audio processors that include 500 Series modules.
A Designs is part of the VPR Alliance.
Notable 500 Series module: A Designs P-1
The A Designs P-1 is one of the brand's 500 Series preamps. This simple unit is based on the company's Pacifica preamp and gives you exceptional sound quality with the classic vibe of great vintage preamps.
The front face includes a 1/4″ input for direct-inject along with switches for 48V phantom power, 20 dB pad and phase/polarity flip. Of course, there is also a gain control (which offers 72dB of quiet gain).
Notable 500 Series rack/chassis: A Designs 503HR 3-Slot 500 Series Chassis
The A Designs 503HR is a 3-slot 500 Series chassis that fits into a standard 19″ rack (1U). Unlike many other racks, this model is set up horizontally.
This all-metal chassis has XLR inputs and output and feed controls for its modules (to feed 1 into 2 and 2 into 3 without having to patch).
BAE is a boutique audio equipment manufacturer that focuses on producing high-end audio devices that are faithful to the vintage/classic designs of the 1970s and earlier.
The company produces a superb line of 500 Series modules with vintage flair, recreating classic performance with the highest quality components.
All BAE products, including their 500 modules, are hand-wired/soldered using discreet electronics and not economized on a circuit board. The results of such dedication to tradition can be heard in the superior sonic performance of BAE's 500 Series modules.
Notable 500 Series module: BAE 500C
The BAE 500C is a single-channel FET compressor inspired by those from the 1960s and 1970s.
This module offers continuously variable input and output gain controls and attack and release time controls. The ratio of the 500C can be set to 2:1, 4:1, 8:1, 12:1, 20:1 and the revered “All Buttons Mode.”
Notable 500 Series rack/chassis: BAE 11 Space 500 Series Chassis
As the name would suggest, the BAE 11 Space Rack offers 11 slots for 500 Series modules.
The unit's remote power supply keeps transformer interference away from the modules to improve signal clarity. The rack mounts perfectly into a standard 19″ rack (3U).
Since the 1970s, dbx has been building its reputation as an innovative audio equipment manufacturer.
Perhaps most notable among the company's inventions is the dbx Blackmer gain cell (a superior voltage-controlled amplifier for professional audio applications) and the 160A VCA compressor.
In keeping with the times, this spirit of innovation has led dbx to produce its amazing 500 Series modules. With expertise in audio and a long history of top-notch designs (including modular designs), dbx has brought a small but awesome lineup of 500 Series modules to the market.
dbx focuses on professional-grade audio hardware and accessories for the pro studio. The brand's series of 500 Series modules fully represent this professionalism and perform to the standard that dbx has long held itself to.
dbx is part of the VPR Alliance.
Notable 500 Series module: dbx 560A 500
The dbx 560A is a 500 Series compressor module largely inspired by dbx's classic 160A VCA compressor. It features program-dependent attack/release times with a switchable soft/hard knee control and the typical threshold, ratio and output/makeup gain controls.
This unit is flexible and functional enough to compress any audio source to our liking.
dbx no longer manufactures 500 Series racks/chassis.
If you've been considering spicing up your 500 Series rack with some effects, Meris is a company to consider checking out. This boutique manufacturer is relatively new on the scene but has been welcomed with open arms by those who love effects.
Whether it's an effects pedal or a “pro audio” 500 Series module, Meris brings some potent audio effects to its customers.
Meris lives up to its ethos of “uniting art and engineering” by producing high-quality effects units that will surely inspire musicians and producers to create their own inspiring art pieces.
In addition to powerful effects that push the boundaries of sonic possibilities, Meris also offers a few “standard” pieces of equipment. Regardless of the product, high-end design and impressive functionality are par for the course with this company.
Notable 500 Series module: Meris Mercury7 500 Series Reverb
The Meris Mercury7 500 Series Reverb is the world’s first 500 Series algorithmic DSP (digital signal processing) reverb. This powerful unit has a remarkable amount of control.
It can offer everything from a standard plate reverb effect to an ethereal algorithmic reverb to pitch-altering experimental effects.
Meris does not manufacture 500 Series racks/chassis.
Radial Engineering may not be the flashiest company on this list. Rather, its reputation is based on its many products' superb utility, reliability, and durability.
From the world's finest direct boxes, splitters and audio interfacing devices to the brand's re-amp units, Radial Engineering products have become standard fare in live environments, professional and home studios, and broadcast centres across the globe.
Since the invention of the first passive direct box (the JDI) in 1996, Radial Engineering has grown to employ industry-leading in-house research and development, engineering and production departments.
Solving problems in simple yet innovative ways is the name of the game for Radial, and this can easily be seen in the company's list of products, including, of course, its 500 Series modules and racks.
Notable 500 Series module: Radial X-Amp 500
The Radial X-Amp 500 is a re-amping distribution module in the 500 Series format.
This module allows users to take a pre-recorded track (through a DI, for example) and send it back to amplifiers and effects so that you can tailor the sound to suit your needs. This unit has two Class-A-buffered transformer-isolated outputs to send the signal to two amplifiers at once.
Each output has a ground lift option to help combat hum in the signal, and Output 2 even has a polarity switch.
Notable 500 Series rack/chassis: Radial Workhorse Powerhouse 10-Slot 500 Series Chassis
As the name would suggest, the Radial Workhorse Powerhouse 10-Slot Chassis can house up to 10 slots worth of 500 Series modules. Each of the rear panel slots contains both XLR and TRS I/O.
The feed function allows us to connect one module to the next, making it easy to set up channel strips without having to hard patch modules using cables.
Each slot also has its own phantom power supply and an omniport that will allow for external control of the modules (if applicable to the chosen module).
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.