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Retro Instruments 500Pre

Valve Microphone Preamplifier By Neil Rogers

Retro Instruments 500Pre

Retro Instruments have supercharged the gain stage of their Sta‑Level compressor to build a 500-series preamp.

Retro may be better known for their larger recreations of classic valve-based gear, but they've long also had a toe dipped in the 500-series waters — I reviewed their impressive Doublewide compressor module back in SOS March 2014 ( Now, they've delivered a second 500-series product. Named simply the 500Pre, it's billed as a valve microphone preamplifier but, while it can certainly live up to that description, it's actually rather more special than that. It's based on the amplification circuitry of their 19-inch rackmount Sta‑Level compressor — a substantial 3U interpretation of the classic Gates device of the same name, and reviewed in SOS December 2014: — and crams three 12AT7 valves and chunky Cinemag input and output transformers into a single-width module. Even without the Sta‑Level's dedicated gain-reduction section, that's no mean feat! The idea is that you can choose to use this device either as a relatively clean high-quality valve preamp or as a saturation/dynamics processor, driving the valves harder to take advantage of their natural compression and harmonic distortion characteristics. It could be useful at both the recording and mix stages.

As with other Retro products I've used, the 500Pre's layout is simple and its build quality great. It has that built-like-a-tank aura that customers paying this much should expect, but don't always get. The three large switches, for instance, make those of other units in my 500-series rack look almost comical, and they're wonderfully satisfying to engage, and while the input and output knobs aren't the stepped switches some prefer, they do feel excellent. The three 12AT7 valves are...

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Published May 2020