It's rare to find a truly outstanding solid-state channel strip that can deliver a vintage vibe reminiscent of classic high-end products, yet employs a thoroughly modern design. To find one that you can buy without heavily depleting your bank account is even more rare.
But there is one channel strip that delivers the goods without the big tab: the PreSonus® RC 500.
The Gentleman Magician
Once upon a time, in the historic city of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a white-haired gentleman quietly pored over a chassis filled with circuits. He was clearly designing an analog preamp and processor, which wasn't unusual for him.
But this wasn't just any fellow puttering around, and his project wasn't just another preamp and processor. This was Robert Creel, the engineering mastermind behind many of PreSonus’ best analog circuits, including the ever-popular XMAX™ preamp, and his project was the ADL 700 tube channel strip, which turned out to be a terrific "boutique"-style, high-end channel strip.
At least, the PreSonus team thought his project was the ADL 700. As it turns out, he was doing something more.
In the process of developing the ADL 700, which uses the same high-voltage tube preamp found in the award-winning ADL 600 (codeveloped by PreSonus and Anthony DeMaria), Creel came up with a new design for a very special solid-state preamp that uses a Class A hybrid input stage with discrete transistors and the latest-generation, low-distortion operational amplifiers. Everyone at PreSonus who heard his prototype was so blown away by its transparent, detailed, clear sound that the new preamp immediately became an in-house legend. By popular demand, Creel’s superb preamp became the heart of the new RC 500, named "RC" in Robert Creel's honor.
The RC 500 combines the custom-designed FET compressor and semi-parametric EQ circuits that Creel developed for PreSonus’ highly lauded ADL 700 tube channel strip with his new ultra-low-distortion, high-gain, solid-state Class A preamplifier design, which delivers consistent, repeatable, transparent, detailed audio. A balanced analog insert sends the source signal out of your RC 500 before the compressor, EQ, and Master Gain stages and returns the signal directly to the compressor stage, allowing you to add external processors.
The result is a top-of-the-line — yet very affordable — channel strip for recording engineers and recording musicians, with a sound that is reminiscent of classic, vintage solid-state preamps.
The Compressor: Fun with FETs
The RC 500’s FET (Field-Effect Transistor) compressor includes fully variable attack, release, and threshold controls, as well as bypass controls. The compression ratio is fixed at 3:1. This combination provides lots of flexibility without giving you enough rope to hang yourself!
User tip: The input-gain stage can be driven harder with a lower threshold to emulate higher compression ratios. You can make the RC 500 compressor pump if you want to.
As noted earlier, this compressor design is also found in the ADL 700 and has drawn rave reviews. For example, Hugh Rabjohn (Sound on Sound, August 2013) remarked, "The compressor is accurate and responsive, and very good for managing the normal dynamic excursions of most vocal performers, subtly but firmly."
FET-based compressors such as the one in the RC 500 use transistors to emulate a triode tube’s operation and sound. This type of compressor generally provides a faster attack time and better repeatability than the optical compressors that are more commonly found in channel strips in this price class.
The compressor has a “soft knee” compression curve and can be hard-bypassed.
A Smooth, Refined, Musical EQ
The RC 500’s 3-band semi-parametric EQ was designed by Robert Creel to match the preamp and compressor. It combines isolated filters and optimized, per-band Q to provide subtle signal-shaping without harsh artifacts.
This EQ employs the same circuitry as the 4-band semi-parametric EQ in the ADL 700, which has received rave reviews. “The EQ was designed with musicality in mind,” comments Chris Grainger (Mix, January 2013). Resolution magazine's George Shilling (March 2013 issue) found that, "The EQ is smooth and refined.... [It] is more than powerful enough for general use but is pretty forgiving, and the low end can be huge (without wooliness) in Peak mode."
All three bands have Gain (±16 dB) and Frequency controls and fixed Q (0.5), and the mid and high bands have overlapping frequency ranges. The low and high bands are switchable between shelving and peak. The EQ can also be hard-bypassed.
Yes, of Course It Has That!
Of course, you get +48V phantom power, polarity inversion, and a 20 dB pad! Those features are a given with PreSonus preamps and channel strips. And there’s more!