500 Series: Guide to Effects


For our final installment in the 500-Series guide, we’ll be looking at the available offerings of effects in the 500-Series format. I’m also including more utility modules that aren’t necessarily an “effect,” but don’t fall under the Preamp, EQ, or Compressor categories and are quite useful, nonetheless.

Specialty Modules

If you are after some serious color, it’s worth checking out the Big Bear Audio MP1+, which provides a low-noise, discrete Class-A microphone preamplifier with an integrated “Colour” slot that is fitted with the “Discrete Saturator” card for adding the saturation characteristics of a vintage console. Should you wish to change out the card, there are several more to choose from. The Colour Card format was created by DIY Recording Equipment and is designed to be an open source modular harmonic generator, providing real analog “plug-ins” much like the virtual plug-ins your DAW contains. Cards are available pre-built or in DIY kit form for the adventurous engineer. There is quite the plethora of cards to choose from, including the TM79 Multi-Stage Saturation, the Distortastudio Cassette 4-Track, the FET Filter Saturating EQ, the DOA Discrete OpAmp, the Implode FET Compressor, and the CTX Cinemag Transformer, plus much more.

Big Bear Audio MP1+ 500 Series Microphone Preamplifier with Interchangeable Colour Slot

For the sound of analog tape, the Rupert Neve Designs Portico 542 Tape Emulator is a single-channel rack module that simulates the sound of analog tape using analog circuitry, as opposed to digital processing. The 542 features a "True Tape" circuit, which utilizes an authentic magnetic record head and a replay amplifier, giving the applied audio the warmth of tape compression and a boost of third-order harmonics. Texture and harmonic content can be added by pushing the Silk button, selecting Red or Blue mode, and adjusting a knob. This adds harmonic content that's reminiscent of vintage Neve consoles. Additional features include a 15/30 IPS selection, a saturation knob with blend to dial-in the perfect mix of the pre- and post-signals, and a soft clip function to prevent your signal from peaking.

Rupert Neve Designs Portico 542 Tape Emulator

If you are having issues with your signal lacking bass impact, check out the Little Labs VOG Bass Resonance Control Module, which was originally designed to capture the chest resonance of vocalists or voice-over artists, enabling them to maintain the proximity effects without having to be so close to the microphone. The module also excels at bringing out the best of kick drums and bass guitars. With its narrow frequency band, the VOG Resonance Control Module can boost a sharp resonance from 20 to 300 Hz while eliminating low-end and unnecessary woofer excursion.

LITTLE LABS VOG Analog Bass Resonance Tool 500-Series Module

For adding 8 channels of pristine analog-to-digital conversion in the tiniest format available, the Millennia AD-596 might just be the ticket. For several years, Millennia has been at the forefront of high-end analog audio. The module displays excellent performance specifications, in both the analog and conversion stages, with low jitter and low crosstalk. The AD-596 provides 24-bit/96 kHz conversion via 25-pin D-sub connectors, which are used for the analog input and the AES digital output. Additionally, there are BNC connectors for Wordclock I/O. Metering is also provided, as is a sync lock indicator for use with external clocks.

Millennia AD-596 - Analog to Digital Converter

A great problem solver for studios trying to implement the connectivity of mobile devices into their environment is the Heritage Audio BT-500 Bluetooth Streaming 500 Series Module. Audio professionals often need to listen to mobile-stored or -streamed reference tracks for direct level comparisons while mastering or mixing. Mini-jack to XLR adapter cables, and mobile devices' analog outputs and integrated converters impose perceptible limitations on audio quality. Using audio-specific Bluetooth technology and high-fidelity D/A converters, the BT-500 delivers lossless transmission intended as being better quality, compared to any analog wired connection.

Heritage Audio BT-500 Bluetooth-Streaming 500 Series Module

Delay and Reverb

The use of delays and reverbs can create a sense of depth, space, and time within your recorded signals. The Eventide DDL-500 is a delay with an analog signal path that features 10 seconds of mono delay at a 192 kHz sample rate, and boasts a design that limits the amount of digital circuitry to a minimum. Soft saturation clipping, low pass filter, feedback, insert loop, relay bypass, and +20 dB boost are all analog, providing you with the best of both worlds. Delay time can be varied manually or by connecting an LFO to the remote input, allowing for flanging and comb filtering effects. By setting the sample rate to 16 kHz, extremely long delays (up to 160 seconds) are also possible and allow long passages to be captured for looping. For spring reverb effects, check out the Radial Engineering TankDriver, with which you can drive a balanced line level signal through any compatible reverb tank. The unit works well with a Fender Twin amplifier, but there are several low-cost spring tanks available that deliver the long, trailing, shimmering effect that is only possible with a true spring.

Radial Engineering Radial 500 Series TankDriver Spring Reverb Studio Interface

Phase Alignment Tool

Phase alignment tools are indispensable for recording and live sound engineers. Applications range from matching a close mic and distant room mic on a guitar amplifier, an X/Y split on an acoustic guitar, matching the kick-beater mic and bass drum mic, and combining a mic’d bass cabinet with a direct feed. Live sound engineers also use phase control on subwoofers to compensate for any time differentials caused by room reflections or suboptimal speaker placement. The Radial Engineering PhazeQ 500 is a combination phase alignment tool and filter module. As a phase alignment tool, it is used to time-align two microphones for greater clarity and realism. It also behaves like a powerful EQ that lets you create exciting new tones that will set your recordings apart. The unit features 100% discrete class-electronics for a warm, rich, and natural tone. A single control lets you adjust the phase shift from 0 to 180° and clever application of a 180° polarity reverse extends the range to a full 360°. To further focus the effect on the fundamentals, a low-pass filter can be engaged to remove high-frequency content. This is split into two ranges for added precision.

Radial Engineering PhazeQ 500 Phase Alignment Tool & Filter 500 Series Module

Guitar Processors

Radial Engineering is the champion of guitar-based processors and includes modules for re-amping your guitar signal, introducing guitar-based stompbox effects into line level signals, and a speaker-emulation module. With the Radial Engineering X-Amp 500 Reamper Module, you can route a pre-recorded guitar track out of your recorder and send it back to amplifiers and effects to tailor the sound to suit. Reamping allows the guitarist to concentrate only on the performance while recording. Working out specific sounds and optimal microphone placement can be done later. This eliminates hours of tiresome repetition, while allowing the producer to adjust the character of the track as the production evolves. The EXTC-500 Guitar Effects Studio Interface enables creatively inclined engineers to introduce guitar pedals into the signal chain by unbalancing the balanced recorded signal and reducing the level so that it can properly interface with hi-Z guitar pedals. Once the signal is processed, this studio interface reverses the process by taking the unbalanced signal and reconverting it to a +4 dB balanced line level signal, for easy manipulation in the professional recording environment. The JDX 500 Reactor Speaker Simulator Module is a guitar amplifier interface that captures the combined effect of an amplifier and speaker cabinet. It emulates the sound of a 4 x 12 guitar amplifier speaker by way of a multi-stage filtering mechanism and can also be used for direct instrument recording.

Radial Engineering X-Amp 500 Reamper Module

Mixers and Distribution

Another set of useful tools from Radial Engineering is the ChainDrive 1 x 4 Audio Distribution Amplifier and the Submix 4 x 1 Line Mixer for Keyboards. The ChainDrive works like a one-in and four-out Mult, allowing you to send a signal to four destinations simultaneously. The circuit enables balanced and unbalanced signals to be processed, and it can also be used to distribute unbalanced stereo signals. The Submix 4x1 Line Mixer is an ultra-quiet four-channel mixer that combines multiple audio stems, such as line level devices and effects together. The Submix is also suited for keyboards, samplers, and drum machines, where these need to be mixed into the audio chain. Separate level controls are available for each input and are equipped with dual-gang Accustate circuits that simultaneously set the input sensitivity and the gain to maximize signal-to-noise. This enables instrument and line level signals to be interfaced easily without the need for a typical level-reducing pad.

Radial Engineering 500 Series ChainDrive 1 x 4 Audio Distribution Amplifier

Hopefully, this article has inspired you to incorporate some fantastic tools into your audio arsenal and you’re on your way to building the perfect 500 Series setup. For a complete overview of what the 500 Series format offers, check out our other articles on racks and enclosures, microphone preamps, equalizers, and compressors. And please, share your thoughts on and experiences with 500-series gear, in the Comments section.