Improving the signal chain

Hi all,

I’ve been in a really good place with my sound-making tools. I’ve not really lusted after anything for actual music-making in some time (with the exception of maybe getting back to the guitar with a new electric perhaps). As a result, I’m trying to take care of more utilitarian equipment and aspects of the process. Getting new monitors was a big step, I’ve gotten some new headphones, but now I’m trying to improve the signal chain at the front-end with some new pre-amps and compressors.

I’m curious what everyone’s take is on this on the forum. I have a friend who loves the Warm Audio brand and I’ve had my eye on their dual pre-amp w/ EQ. Also have my eye on a three band Drawmer compressor that seems like it’d be great for taking stereo recordings to the next level, particularly with electronic music.

Anyway, really just trying to improve my signal chain. I think I get so caught up in the ‘toys’ that I ignore the benefit of tightening things up in other capacities. Anyone have a go-to preamp or compressor that they love that’s flexible for a variety of sonic approaches (i.e. not JUST electronic music)?



I tend to just use the preamps in my Apogee interfaces, they sound great and are easy to use.

For compressors though, I have a few :slight_smile:

The OTO BOUM is pretty great and flexible. Works well on a stereo master as well as individual instruments… can do everything from light compression to outrageous pumping distortion.

You can also find the old “plastic case” version of the Valley People Dynamite used for about $600 often, and it’s fantastic.


If you are into DIY, DIYRE has a very inexpensive and very clean 500 series preamp that can accept its colour modules. These are all analog modules that can impart anything from Neve to API flavors or things like tape compression, transformer saturation, etc. I am in the process of building a few (just built their 2-space rack). The preamp is based on a very clean preamp design around the INA217 amplifier (google “$5 preamp”). They also have a new LA-4 based kit I’m interested in…


I have also been looking into this recently, and I’ve been listening to a few podcasts to learn more. DIYRE has a good one (albeit only a few episodes). The episode with the founder of CAPI (DIY API-based designs) was particularly interesting. Tape Op also has a pretty interesting podcast that is somewhat Sound and Process-like. The DIY 500 rack kits (including CAPI’s 11 space for 340) you can find on the group diy white market thread seem like they are much more affordable than the ready built stuff.

If you are DIY’ing (and have the number of DAC channels to support it) and are doing mixing yourself, it seems like using an analog summing mixer is a good way to impart analog character to your sound. The DIYRE SB2 looks to be a cheap and easy kit that pulls your signal down to mic level so you can use a preamp’s op amps and transformers to color your mix.


I use a few outboard pres, but my favorite two are the 500 series api 512 (usually on reverb used for about $600) and the aml ez1073-500. the latter includes an eq for basically the same price as a normal 1073 clone, which is nice (though i don’t love the top eq shelf).

for compressors my favorite for a mono channel is also from aml, the 54F50. the api or 1073 into this is what i use on pretty much every vocal going into my converters, it sounds great. for stereo compression I LOVE the serpent audio sb4001, an ssl clone with a bunch of extra bells and whistles that I can’t make sound bad.

only other rec i’d add would be the overstayer MAS. it’s a two channel limiting amp with three inputs per channel, and i usually use it either as a DI or after my stereo bus compressor on the main bus. when you push it it sounds like an old british console bus pushed into the red, and when used more lightly it just feels like a mix finisher. my favorite piece of studio gear i’ve bought in years, maybe ever.


I was wondering, how do you decide when to use which between the 512 and 1073?

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I built the SB2 - very easy build. I don’t have a 16 channel interface to fully utilize the box but still works well with 8 channels.

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Also worth checking out the FMR stuff. Inexpensive, sounds great, and small. I especially like the RNC and RNLA.


Yeah, I have an RNP and RNC and if I go rackmount over 500-series, I’d likely grab an RNLA and mount them in a rack. Definitely great value, but I’d like to kick it up a notch. I feel like so many people obsess about the toys, but ignore the utilitarian stuff that help take things to the next level of fidelity, so while I’m in a good place with the toys, I’d like to expand that side of things. :slight_smile:

What would people argue are the pros and cons of a 500-series lunchbox approach compared to just getting an 8u (or whatever size) rack and filling it up with rack gear?

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What are you recording into? That can also make a huge difference in end result.

Also, those big green Joe Meek stereo compressors are pretty good and really good value.

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Besides a decent interface the Distressor is probably the most useful piece of gear I have recorded with. Great for tracking just about anything. The usefulness of it in my perception is that it adds some thickness but not in a way that is overly colored, so that you can track a few things with it and the resulting mix will not sound too “Distressory.” I think of it as crticial signal chain, and other, cheaper compressors I have as more like effects.


certain 500 series ‘ports’ are not as good as the originals (pultec clones, etc), so that’s something to consider. that said, it’s much like eurorack - you save by having a standardized power supply, i/o, and enclosure for all the modules combined vs standard rack gear, and also have access to smaller manufacturers who wouldn’t be in the game if not for the standardized components. also have the ability to get up to 10 channels worth of gear out of 3u.

personally I think the purple audio sweet 10 is a great investment - built like a tank, gives you 10 slots instead of 8 (or 6) for the same price and has the added bonus of being able to be converted into a summing mixer.


I usually start with the 1073 on vocals, and then if it’s too bright or top-end-y or dynamic (the 1073 tends to have a distinct breakup at a certain amplitude) I switch to the 512, which is warmer and more rounded, and can really take a lot of level before imparting noticeable distortion. I tend to like the 512 on drum machines, keys and bass and the 1073 for acoustic guitars & vocals, but that changes for each situation. also prefer the 1073 in general with ribbon mics.

I think if I could only have one I’d take the 512 though, it’s such a great all around preamp and never sounds bad.


I have a 500 series lunchbox with a 512c, a Purple Audio Action compressor, and a Neve 1073LBEQ (I haven’t had a ton of good results with the Action and have been considering replacing it with a different compressor). It gets used for mono recordings where we really want it to sound nice and analog but we end up defaulting to the UA Apollo + the suite of VSTs that came with it for the flexibility and speed much more often. I’ve been very pleased with the UA overall, it’s proven useful both as a studio tool for recording and effecting audio and as a tool for helping shape the sound of our performances live.

I’m still using a MOTU Ultralite. I had a Digi03, but unloaded that at a certain point. I’ve talked to a friend of mine who is in this game as a career and he doesn’t think there’d be a marked difference worth the price if I got another interface. It’s definitely something that is on the radar, but I’m sort of waiting for my 2010 MBP to die and let my next laptop determine connectivity and guide my next interface.


Yeah, MOTU is solid. You would get a little nicer from Apogee, UAD, etc but not enough to worry about.

we’re lucky to have @madeofoak 's perspective (current pro) on this topic as deep as the ocean
even at the deepest depths, it comes down to personal preference
'trust your ears…
and 'someone’s gotta make music

oh, and it changes

personal favs:

as here…

I wouldn’t be looking at mic preamps if using with modular. Should be looking at line amp or mixer. Speck makes some nice smaller stuff.

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I don’t just use modular. This is not a modular-only forum.