PreSonus is a company becoming well known for their ability to bridge the gap between quality and affordable. I have been a fan of PreSonus products since my original investment in a Digimax D8 offering 8 quality mic pre’s via ADAT connectivity and other great features for a low $399 at the time. It’s been several products like these for the home studio owners that make achieving great results in our project studios completely an affordable process. As of late they have came out with affordable boutique style channel strips for project studios looking to go to the next level in their audio careers. The ADL 600 and 700 have had great success so far, but still might be a little beyond the project studio’s reach. Enter the RC500 channel strip from PreSonus.
When I first received the RC500 I was quite impressed with the construction quality of the unit. It has a sleek look and finish to it with smooth metal knobs that have a buttery turn to them. I do wish the metering on it was a bit larger, though. Seeing your gain reduction can be a challenge at times. The channel strip is a solid-state design featuring a transformer-coupled mic pre capable of 70dB of gain. The compressor is FET based with a variable attack and release with a fixed compression ratio of 3.0:1. It also has a 3-Band parametric EQ with a fixed Q of 0.5 while the low and high bands can be changed between peak and shelf the middle band is peak only. It is worth mentioning that the compressor and EQ sections are both exact circuit designs taken from the ADL 700 unit. The only difference being less features such as variable compression ratio. The unit also has phantom power capabilities, a 80Hz HPF, a send and return insert for external gear processing, and a -20 dB pad while also you’re able to go in DI, line level, and mic level covering all bases of inputs. PreSonus claims that the minimal signal path design consists of high grade film capacitors, 1% tolerance resistors, and low-distortion op amps resulting in a clean signal path. Another unique feature that designer Robert Creel added was the ability to hard bypass the compressor and EQ thus creating an even shorter signal path for the mic pre. Most units just soft bypass the components to create a flat signal from the compressor and EQ, but they don’t take all the components out of the signal path. Probably the best feature of this channel strip is the ability to utilize send insert into an open line input on your interface to record an unprocessed signal while also recording a processed signal through the regular chain. This is a fantastic safety net to have a clean unprocessed channel.
PreSonus specs this unit of having a frequency response ranging from 10Hz-25KHz. I believe this to be very true. Running a bass through the DI captured the low end very tightly without a floppy bottom I seem to get with a lot of DI’s. I attribute this to a well designed circuit capturing lows very flat in the sub range. On the other end of the spectrum when I first tracked acoustic guitar on it the high end had a sparkle to it that required no additional EQ. I felt the “air” range in the 15K and up region was captured exquisitely. Cutting vocals has been a delight as well. When I’m trying out mic pre’s for vocals I try to pay a great deal of attention in how it captures the midrange. The important 2-4K range on a vocal cuts through nicely on the RC500. Again overall this mic pre had a tightness to it on every source I threw it’s way that made me smile every time. The compressor is snappy as you’d expect from a FET design. The fixed ratio may seem a little unforgiving, but if you play with the input gain you can achieve some radical compression as well. Too fast of a release on low frequency information on sources like bass can cause a distortion breakup unlike an 1176 that I don’t particularly like, but I do like it on electric guitar. Getting it to pump on rhythmic electric guitar tracks sounds fantastic. The 3:0:1 ratio works great on vocals with a medium/fast attack and fast release. I can achieve very aggressive rock vocals 1176 style. Using it for tame work as well yields fairly transparent results on vocals. I still found myself using the compressor more for it’s punch factor rather than transparency. It has an addictive snap to it when dialed in right. The EQ is by no means a surgical one. It’s broad, gentle Q allows for sonic sculpting of the source. The low end is tight even with generous boosts. I was able to add bottom to anemic basses without the flab of a lot of EQ’s. I found the low mid’s easy to clear out space in a mix using the mid band. Large cuts can sound a bit much with such a broad fixed Q of 0.5, but using it for a few dB cut showed wonderful results. The high end in shelf mode was the star of the EQ for me. Anything 10K and up on sources that needed it gave absolutely superior results. High levels of boost still sounded smooth and not brittle with Pultec like quality.
My answer to this is yes and no. I firmly believe the sound of the RC500 is of a high end caliber. This is where I would say yes it does rival them. On the other end of the spectrum is that it could use a little more controllability over the sound shaping of the compressor and EQ. This is where I would say not so much. This can be totally subjective, though. For a retail price of $799 I can say it’s the best channel strip made for under $1,000. I will go as far as to say it achieves better results of some of the higher end ones I’ve used in the past. PreSonus is a company pioneering some very innovative stuff in our constantly growing audio industry. I can’t wait to see what they will release next.