Essential 500 Series ModulesBuying Guide

500 Series modules attract audio engineers and musicians for a lot of reasons, many of which center around extreme flexibility. If you want scaled-down versions of classic preamps, compressors, and EQs, you can grab 500 Series versions and create unique, adaptable, and space-conscious setups.

Not only are these rigs smaller than full-sized rack gear alternatives, they're also significantly less expensive. They also allow you to centralize your complete signal flow into a single controllable place for an improved workflow. In this guide, we'll lay out what you need to consider before you buy your 500 Series rack and modules, as well as provide some of our favorite picks to help you build your ideal rig.

Step One: The Rack

What to Consider When Buying Your Chassis

Getting into the 500 Series all starts with the chassis (also referred to at times as a rack or lunchbox), which is a powered enclosure that you pack your modules into to connect, protect, and power them. While chassis and racks are designed to be mounted onto larger recording gear racks, a lunchbox features a more portable design with a carrying handle, like its namesake.

Racks come in a variety of different configurations with varying feature sets and capabilities. The first consideration you'll have to make is in regards to space—how many module slots you'll need—with racks generally having anywhere from two to 10 spaces.

Because this is your modules' power supply and primary I/O, you'll also have to consider voltage ratings and connection types—multichannel DB-25 connectors are common, as are discrete balanced ins and outs like XLR and TRS jacks.

More robust 500 Series racks will also feature complex signal routing—like internal patching, audio summing, and stereo linking—so be sure to carefully consider what the chassis offers and what kinds of features will or won't be useful to you.

Rack Picks

Step Two: 500 Series Picks

Preamp Picks

Modularity is especially exciting when it comes to preamps. Instead of being relegated to whatever your console is already equipped with, engineers can choose to build their setups with one or more modules suited to their tastes and studio needs.

The 500 Series preamp market is full of classic solid-state console recreations, vintage tube designs, and totally modern models featuring entirely new concepts. Whatever kind of preamp you're looking for, it's likely available in the 500 Series format.

Compressor Picks

There are four main types of compressors: Optical is one of the oldest forms and uses light to trigger gain reduction for a very slow attack time; tube/variable-mu compresses using a vacuum tube with the ratio increasing with input level rather than getting its own control; FET uses a "field effect transistor" to control gain and was developed as a faster alternative to tube designs; and VCA uses a voltage-controlled amplifier to control gain.

All of these kinds of compressors are available in the 500 Series—some in mono, some stereo, and some that are stereo-linkable by way of two single-chain units. Anyone in the market for a 500 Series compressor should also consider the module's side-chain capability.

EQ Picks

EQs are an important part of your setup, serving to adjust the loudness of specific frequencies, and come in a variety of different types. You might find a shelf EQ—which offers very basic bass and treble controls—on a consumer hi-fi system while graphic EQs offer more control over each individual frequency band and thus are especially popular when working with monitors and in live sound.

There are also parametric EQs, which allow you to boost/cut specific frequencies while also controlling the width of the bandwidth, and the similar semi-parametric EQs, which work in much the same way except with fixed bandwidths.

500 Series Effects and Other Module Picks

Though preamps, compressors, and EQs can color your signal, it's not a given and often not the best place to look if you're after specific effects. The 500 Series market is full of specialty effect modules that can help fill out your signal where you need it or bring something entirely unique to your sound.

Pack Your Lunchbox: 500 Series Favorites