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Wes Audio Phoebe NG500

500-series Preamplifier By Bob Thomas
Published August 2023

Wes Audio Phoebe microphone preamp 500-series module.

With the release of their ‘Next Generation’ preamp, Wes Audio have made it possible to assemble a full 500‑series analogue channel strip with DAW plug‑in remote control!

In recent years, the dream of seamless hybrid analogue‑digital workflows has driven a small number of manufacturers to develop analogue audio hardware that is, or can be, controlled by dedicated DAW plug‑ins. Wes Audio are pioneers in this area, and have developed quite a wide range of digitally‑controlled analogue (DCA) equalisers and compressors, in both the 500‑series modular and 19‑inch rackmount formats.

The new Phoebe, a single‑slot 500‑series module, is a mic/line/instrument preamplifier, and its addition to their NG (Next Generation) range means it’s now possible to create a full Wes Audio 500‑series DCA recording channel, complete with preamp and your choice of EQ and compression types. As with Wes Audio’s other NG‑series products, the Phoebe can be controlled by a proprietary DAW plug‑in that communicates bi‑directionally with the hardware over Wes Audio’s GCon communications framework.

Hardware Overview

The Phoebe is a single‑width module that carries Wes Audio’s signature NG500‑series white‑painted fascia. Its restrained black and white cosmetics and elegant miniature LEDs convey an air of austere authority, but for the point size of its front‑panel lettering, which would not be out of place on the bottom of an eye‑test chart! The plug‑in control might be appealing, but it’s not necessary: the hardware can be used without hooking it up to a computer, so I’ll cover this side of things first.

As with most microphone preamps, the Phoebe’s user controls aren’t exactly complex. The gain control is a continuous, detented push‑and‑turn encoder, with a circle of coloured LEDs and scaling indicating the gain being applied to mic (+20‑75 dB, red LEDs) and line‑level (‑10 to +20 dB, green) sources. The level of instrument gain isn’t shown on this scale, but is specified at ‑30 to +25 dB. Pressing the gain control switches the input, via a relay, between mic and line levels. This is followed by a vertical stack of four momentary buttons with LED indicators. The first three of these toggle, again with relays, 48V phantom power, polarity inversion and input impedance (1.2kΩ or 300Ω). The Phoebe can route, using the fourth button in the stack, one of two physical inputs to its transformer‑balanced input stage: the rear‑panel connector of the host 500‑series rack or the balanced XLR/TRS combi jack on the module’s front panel. Two of the button’s three LEDs indicate which is in use. When the front‑panel input is active, inserting a TS jack automatically switches it to high‑impedance operation, illuminates the third LED to indicate that status, and switches off 48V phantom power.

The Phoebe’s nine‑LED output meter is scaled from ‑10 to +24 dB, and sits opposite the switch stack. Its input is taken after the output transformer but before Wes Audio’s proprietary passive Iron Pad, whose continuous, detented control sits just below and between the meter and switch stack. Turning the control knob of this pad, which is always in circuit, activates a relay cascade that sets the level of attenuation (0dB to ‑15dB in 1dB steps) and illuminates the corresponding LEDs.

Sitting below the combi input is a mini‑USB connector (with two LEDs) that allows DAW plug‑in control of the Phoebe. The first LED (Data) indicates when communication is active, and the second (H‑Link) confirms connection to the host DAW computer. Incidentally, Wes also offer a dedicated 10‑slot 500‑series chassis, the Titan, which allows communication with any NG500 modules via a single rear‑panel USB or Ethernet connection.

Circuit Highlights

The audio circuitry is fully analogue Class A, with a transformer‑balanced, twin‑amplifier topology that takes its inspiration, as others have before, from the work of the late Rupert Neve. The Carnhill input and output transformers are based on those used in classic Neve designs, and a cutout in the chassis metalwork creates just enough clearance for the chunky output transformer to fit within the confines of a single 500‑series slot.

A clip detection function turns all the VU meter LEDs red when internal preamp distortion is detected. This makes it easy to maximise input‑transformer‑based harmonic distortion (by pushing the level of the input signal) while avoiding internal clipping (by judicious setting of the gain control). When you push the output transformer to persuade it to add its not inconsiderable weight and warmth to proceedings, you may well need to employ the Iron Pad to prevent the output from that transformer (which can reach a maximum of +28dBu) from overloading the next input stage in your signal chain. While it does give an indication of what’s happening inside the preamp itself, a clip detector is a pretty blunt meter, and your ears will probably be a much better judge of the overall situation.

The lower input impedance setting is useful in allowing dynamic mics such as the YouTube pundit’s favourite, the Shure SM7B, to give of their best, and is certainly essential when using passive ribbon microphones (especially vintage models). In my opinion, though, it’s worth checking the effects of switching the input impedance for every mic in your collection, so you know both which value generally suits each mic best and how the ‘less suitable’ impedance changes its response — you never know when that knowledge will come in handy!

Before we move on to the plug‑in side of the equation, it’s worth noting that the Phoebe has two onboard, non‑volatile memories. One (Memory A) stores the latest front‑panel control status for the combi input and the other (Memory B) does the same for the rear XLR input. These memories are recalled simply by selecting the relevant input. This means that if you simply want to connect two separate sources, set them up and switch between them, you don’t need to use the DAW plug‑in — which is nice.

Softly Does It

As with Wes’ other NG500 modules, the hardware can optionally be controlled by a DAW plug‑in — or the plug‑in can be controlled by the hardware!As with Wes’ other NG500 modules, the hardware can optionally be controlled by a DAW plug‑in — or the plug‑in can be controlled by the hardware!Installing the DAW plug‑in in Windows requires the installation of a proprietary driver beforehand, but no driver is required for macOS. The installation process is quick and simple, with firmware updated automatically when required, and user intervention only needed to select the models of GCon devices connected to the computer and to click on Next and Finish buttons. The installer also gives you access to further housekeeping and troubleshooting functions. Each version of the plug‑in (VST 2, VST 3, AAX and AU) is installed in both mono and stereo versions — the latter eliminates the possibility of any difference between two Phoebes during stereo operation. Inserting the plug‑in into a track brings up a GUI which displays all the physical controls and LEDs from Phoebe’s front panel (in largely though not precisely the same layout) plus some extras.

It’s possible to use a number of GCon devices simultaneously, so the first step with the plug‑in is to assign an ID to the Phoebe. This is carried out by selecting the appropriate ID (only connected devices are displayed) from a drop‑down menu at the bottom left of the plug‑in GUI. The ID box also displays the source of the connection (USB if direct from a computer or a slot number if Phoebe is mounted in a Titan rack). Once an ID is assigned, bi‑directional communication between plug‑in and hardware is established, and the status and settings of all switches and controls synchronise, meaning a change on one results in an identical change on the other.

The one functional enhancement that the plug‑in brings to the Phoebe hardware is that the exact value in dB (to one decimal place) set by a control can be displayed on its virtual control when you touch its hardware equivalent.

Preset management is handled by a section at the top of the GUI. Each of the Front (A) and the Rear (B) Configuration Banks (Config) can store up to 20 preset configurations (Banks). It’s a simple, intuitive setup that is fast and easy to operate.

It would be a competitive product even without the DAW‑based remote control, preset recall and automation.


Sonically, the Phoebe delivers everything you’d expect from a vintage‑inspired, Class‑A, Carnhill‑transformer‑equipped mic preamp. It wears its old‑school, transformer‑balanced low‑end warmth, punchy mids and airy highs well, and when used standalone it’s easy to work with. Its onboard front and rear status/setting memories are the icing on the cake — it would be a competitive product even without the DAW‑based remote control, preset recall and automation.

The control plug‑in, though, adds another dimension. It is completely stable, works exactly as designed and offers real convenience and flexibility to the professional and project engineer and the home recordist, whether used simply to store presets for individual mics or singer/instrument and mic pairings, to remotely control the gain and tonality during a live recording, or as a DAW‑automated stereo pair for mixing through an analogue summing setup. If you like the British sound of the 1970s in a mic preamp, the idea of being able to store and recall presets, and/or if you want or need full automation or remote control, then the Wes Audio Phoebe NG500 preamplifier should be high up on your audition list.


A great‑sounding microphone preamplifier that delivers that quintessential 1970s British transformer‑balanced sound, and whose plug‑in‑based remote control, preset recall and full automation offers flexibility, convenience and seamless integration with your DAW.


£795 including VAT.

SX Pro + 44(0)1462 414 196.


Music Max Distribution +1 614 897 0007.

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