Could this modern spin on a classic British trio be the perfect analogue front end?
Peter Rodriguez’s enthusiasm for vintage recording consoles, particularly those produced by Neve in the 1970s, eventually led him to start his company Heritage Audio. The brand have built a strong reputation with a line of products that are certainly inspired by the past, but whose design and construction is firmly rooted in the present. Their latest release, the BritStrip, is a vintage‑style mono channel strip comprising mic preamp, EQ and compressor sections, and its heritage is easily recognisable.
The BritStrip’s microphone preamplifier uses the same discrete, three‑stage, Class‑A circuitry of Heritage’s 500‑series 73JR, but adds a new input transformer designed in collaboration with (and manufactured exclusively for) Heritage by Carnhill. Transformer‑balanced XLR connectors handle both mic‑ and line‑level inputs, whilst the DI’s Class‑A JFET input circuitry is accessed via a pair of front‑panel quarter‑inch TS jacks, one for the incoming instrument signal, and the other a thru connection to pass the signal on to an amp.
The familiarly shaped dark red gain control has a range of ‑30 to ‑80 dB, in 5dB steps, while four buttons handle switching for the 48V phantom power, the ‑20dB pad, the line input, and the preamp’s two input impedances (a ‘normal’ 1200Ω and a Lo‑Z 300Ω option). A fifth button lifts the DI thru’s output earth, and the DI input is activated when a jack plug is inserted into its switching input socket.
The EQ section is a modified version of Heritage’s 73EQ JR three‑band module. Its high and low bands can be switched between shelf and peak responses, with shelf being the default. Each of these two bands offers three frequency options (10, 12 and 16 kHz in the high band and 60, 110 and 220 Hz in the low band), selected using the detented silver outer ring of its dual‑concentric rotary control. The bands’ undetented, grey‑knobbed potentiometers in the centre set the amount of cut or boost (±16dB) for the selected frequency.
The inductor‑based mid band features twin Vinkor‑style ferrite pot core inductors. A dual‑concentric switch and an undetented central potentiometer offer six frequencies (360 and 700 Hz, and 1.6, 3.2, 4.8 and 7.2 kHz), and this band can be switched between the default and a higher Q setting. The inductors give the mid band a proportional Q, with both the selected frequency and the amount of cut or boost (±18dB at high Q and ±12dB at the default Q) affecting the mid EQ’s bandwidth on either side of the chosen centre frequency.
The final EQ control, a switchable ‑3dB per octave high‑pass filter, is based around a single Vinkor‑style inductor and has its frequencies set at 50, 80, 160 and 300 Hz. This is followed by an undetented rotary output level control — effectively a post‑EQ ‘fader’.
Separating the EQ and compressor areas are six buttons, arranged in two columns. The top‑left button switches the EQ section in and out of the signal path and the top right, as in vintage designs, inverts the polarity of the output signal leaving the secondary winding of the output transformer. The other four buttons are dedicated to the compressor.
...it’s worth bearing in mind that the BritStrip was conceived as a Swiss Army Knife channel for tracking duties...
The BritStrip’s compressor is a single‑channel variant of the stereo, diode‑bridge compressor found in Heritage Audio’s Successor. In order to save space, its main controls sit on two dual‑concentric switch/potentiometer combinations. The outer switching section of the first one handles ratio selection (1.5:1, 2:1, 4:1, 6:1 and 10:1), and its undetented inner knob applies up to 20dB of makeup gain. On the second, the outer switch selects the compressor’s release time (50, 100, 200 or 400 ms, or auto), with the undetented inner knob setting the threshold between ‑20 and +20 dBu. The attack time options are by default set to 5‑7 ms but switching to the Fast setting gives you 1.5‑2 ms.
The side‑chain filter is identical to that on the Successor. It offers 80 and 160 Hz high‑pass filters, bell‑shaped fixed pre‑emphasis boosts at 800Hz and 3kHz, a high‑pass filter at 5kHz, and an off position. A switchable, unbalanced side‑chain send‑return loop allows the use of additional external processing, or, using only the return, an external trigger. The Blend control, engaged or bypassed with a separate button, sets the mix between the compressed and uncompressed signals when the compressor is positioned post‑EQ, and so gives instant access to the world of parallel compression. If the Blend control isn’t engaged, the BritStrip outputs only the compressed signal. The VU ouput‑level meter can be switched to indicate gain reduction.
Returning to that array of four buttons I mentioned earlier, the bottom pair switch the compressor in and out of circuit and toggle its position pre‑ or post‑EQ. Above this, a third button activates the external side‑chain, while the fourth activates the rear‑panel RCA phono Link connector. This Link enables you to run the compressor sections of two BritStrips as a linked stereo pair, by summing their control voltages.
The BritStrip doesn’t have a single, dedicated master output level control. Instead, when the compressor is active and post‑EQ, its makeup gain control determines the final output level, whereas when the compressor is disengaged or pre‑EQ, the makeup gain sets the signal level entering the EQ, and the EQ’s output control has the final say.
I’ve always been impressed by the way in which the circuit boards are laid out in this company’s products, and the BritStrip is no exception. It makes extensive, though not exclusive, use of surface‑mount components, the notable exceptions being full‑sized, high‑quality capacitors (and the occasional resistor) and, of course, those custom Carnhill input and output transformers.
All of the dual‑concentric front‑panel controls, rather than being of traditional construction with both gangs (switched and continuously variable) in the same housing, are split in two. The switched gangs sit on two vertical daughter boards directly behind the fascia (one each for the EQ and compressor), whilst the variable gangs (actually conventional PCB‑mounted potentiometers) are mounted remotely on one of two horizontal circuit boards. The distance between the front panel and the daughter board does tend to leave the controls feeling somewhat looser than one might expect, but it’s not problematic: this style of dual‑concentric construction operates securely and effectively in the BritStrip.
With its classic 1073‑inspired transformer‑balanced inputs and outputs, and its three discrete, Class‑A gain stages, the BritStrip’s preamp proved to be more than capable of delivering all the vintage warmth, weight and definition that I could wish for, once I started pushing the levels going into its transformers.
The DI input has a 2MΩ input impedance and feeds the input transformer via a Class‑A, J‑FET‑based amplifier stage, and this makes an appealing sonic contribution of its own. Not only is it ideal for recording electric guitars for reamping later in the production process, but it’s also very effective on piezo‑equipped acoustic guitars. In addition, the BritStrip’s ability to provide heft in the lower frequencies without losing any clarity in the midrange seems to be particularly suited to tracking basses, both electric and acoustic.
Microphones are also well served by the BritStrip’s preamp, in part because both of its switchable impedances increase with higher gain settings. This can benefit passive ribbon microphones, for which the preamp’s full 80dB of gain and input impedances above 1200Ω can be required.
I have a soft spot for the warmth, definition and clarity that characterise a 1073‑style mic preamp; I can’t personally think of a source or microphone that wouldn’t benefit from passing through one. Although the BritStrip doesn’t sound identical to my reference, its performance is more than close enough. Notably, I’ve always particularly loved using a 1073 for vocals and acoustic guitars, and the BritStrip performed exactly as I anticipated on those sources, with both dynamic (Sennheiser MD‑441 and Shure SM57) and capacitor (AKG C414 and C460B/CK61) microphones.
The BritStrip’s EQ section might well have become my new favourite implementation of a 1073‑type equaliser to date.
The BritStrip’s EQ section might well have become my new favourite implementation of a 1073‑type equaliser to date. The choice of frequencies, the switchable midrange Q and the choice of shelf or peak response in the high and low bands is a significant improvement on the vintage original, and can open up interesting tonal opportunities where these bands intersect. The inclusion of a variable high‑pass filter is the proverbial icing on the cake. When tracking, I tend to use EQ to enhance the sonic character of a source rather than undertake surgical correction, and this EQ seems to me to be particularly suited to enhancement; the peak or shelf options in the low and high bands really help there, while the midrange’s proportional Q offers a means of dealing with problem frequencies.
Despite the mono compressor in the BritStrip having a slightly more restricted set of front‑panel controls than the stereo one in Heritage’s Successor diode‑bridge compressor (which I reviewed in SOS December 2019: https://sosm.ag/heritage-successor), it delivers an equally impressive overall performance.
In assessing the differences between the two (notably, the inclusion of only two attack times on the BritStrip, the exclusion of the Successor’s 20:1 limiting ratio, and the expansion of the BritStrip’s makeup gain range to +20dB), it’s worth bearing in mind that the BritStrip was conceived as a Swiss Army Knife channel for tracking duties, rather than for the mixing and mastering roles primarily envisioned for the Successor.
When tracking, I often use parallel compression to bring source dynamics under relatively gentle control, and the BritStrip’s switchable Blend facility helps to simplify that process. Also, being able to position the compressor pre or post the output control opens up different compression and tonal options.
What all this adds up to is that the Heritage Audio BritStrip is an extremely capable and impressive channel strip. It can deliver not only a pleasing vintage character but also a high level of sonic performance — and that’s a combination which more than justifies its price. So, if you’re looking to expand your studio’s tonal options to include a vintage, transformer‑based vibe, a flexible classic EQ and a character compressor, a BritStrip should certainly be in your sights. Equally, if your main interest is in tracking vocals, acoustic instruments or basses, a BritStrip could be precisely what you need to cover that spread. Either way, exploring what this appealing channel strip can offer will be well worth your while.
- Fully featured channel strip, with preamp, EQ and compressor.
- Compressor and EQ positions can be swapped.
- Vintage, transformer‑based sonic character.
- The instrument input also sounds great.
- I can’t afford a stereo pair!
An attractive channel strip with a vintage vibe, and a feature set and level of performance that more than justifies its price.