There are a lot of 500 Series preamps to vie for your attention. Some pack many features into a single vertical space while others are simple yet solid, offering excellent sonic performance and few extras. The two units reviewed here are of the latter type, with designs that hail back to the golden age of audio production. The Sunset Sound S1P Tutti comes from Hollywood’s legendary Sunset Sound studios, founded in 1959 by Tutti Camarata. The Chandler TG2-500 is a replication of the EMI TG12428 found in the mastering and recording consoles at EMI and Abbey Road studios in the ’60s and ’70s.
Sunset Sound S1P
By Barry Rudolph
The Sunset Sound S1P Tutti was released about 18 months ago as a single-channel, 500 Series microphone preamp commemorating the 50th anniversary of Hollywood’s legendary Sunset Sound studios, home to the Doors, Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, Prince, Sheryl Crow and so many others. They came for the sound of Studios 1 and 3, as well as the sound of the studios’ Frank De Medio consoles that featured API 550A EQs and custom preamp modules on every channel. The S1P is a faithful reissue of those mic preamps that are still in use today.
The S1P uses Cinemag nickel core input and output transformers based on the original drawings/specs of the Jensen transformers, also made back in the day by Cinemag. The S1P uses two John Hardy 990C+ discrete operational amplifiers with the same basic circuit design as the original 990 introduced in 1979. The 990C+ uses surface mount construction and higher-grade precision components, and operates over a wide range of power supply voltages.
The S1P’s metal front panel is printed directly with a beautiful, sunny, psychedelic graphic that complements the set of customized aluminum knobs and front-mounted XLR Combi jack. There are no attenuator pads used; rather, a coarse gain rotary switch sets gain and a separate ±6dB volume pot for fine-tuning. The Sig/Peak LED reads signal present at the output of the first 990C+ stage. As with the originals in the consoles, there is no highpass filter switch, but modern features include a fader output level control for manual fadeouts, lighted buttons for polarity reverse, +48-volt phantom on/off, and the Inst button to switch the front XLR Combi jack and back mic input over to the ¼-inch Instrument (DI).
For my first test, I set up my single-channel Jensen transformer mic splitter to route the output of an AKG C451 B condenser (no pad or roll-off) to feed simultaneously both the S1P and the mic pre in the studio’s API 1608 console. On the 1608, I patched the console’s preamp out to feed directly to Pro Tools.
I recorded a Martin D-18 acoustic guitar with the mic aimed at the 12th fret, about 10 inches away. I immediately heard the S1P’s clearer, transparent sound in the bass and low midrange. Listening to both rhythmic strumming and flat-picking revealed that the S1P had more definition and presence in the midrange and upper ranges, as well. By comparison, the 1608 preamp produced a bright but smaller sound with a muddy lower midrange calling for equalization.
Recording loud snare drums inches from an SM57, the 1608’s preamp tended to overload, necessitating its -20dB pad and causing a change in sound. With the S1P, I selected the 10dB range for just the right amount of gain without clipping. I also tried S1P on kick and toms using my usual dynamic mic choices with good success; I loved the fast, three-knob (Coarse, Trim, Fader) recall of these signal chains.
At another studio, I used two Radial JS2 passive mic splitters, a pair API 312 preamps and two S1Ps. I recorded the studio’s Yamaha C7 grand piano with a pair of DPA 4011 cardioid mics aimed toward the hammers but placed halfway down the length of the harp. This test demonstrated to me the S1P’s low harmonic distortion and good transient performance. The S1P pair satisfactorily conveyed the bottom and top octaves of the piano’s range. With the S1P, the piano sounded more “grand,” with a bigger dynamic feeling and sound stage.
For vocals, the S1P was outstanding. It produces a presence that is punchy, forward, and “in your face” like an API mic pre, but with more fullness and clarity. I used a Retro Instruments Doublewide tube compressor to level out my singer’s dynamics and kept the Fader knob on the S1P in the middle position; this pot could use a detent. I would “ride” the Fader control up for the singer’s quiet verses and then back down for the loud choruses.
The Sunset Sound S1P is my go-to 500 Series solid-state mic preamp; a pair goes with me whenever and wherever I want to record a big sound.
The front panel XLR Combi jack of the S1P makes instant inputs for DI guitar, bass or any -10dB line level. I use those inputs for quickly connecting stereo keyboards within the control room. First-class sound is offered here using the same preamp outputs as when using the XLR or 500 Series rackmount mic connections.
COMPANY: Sunset Sound
PRODUCT: Sunset Sound S1P Tutti Mic Pre-Amp
PRICE: $995 MSRP
PROS: Identical to the preamps in Sunset Sound Studios 1 and 3.
CONS: Like the original, no HPF.
Chandler Limited TG2-500
By Kevin Becka
The Chandler TG2-500 mic/line amp is simplicity defined. There are three gain controls, with the most prominent—a large red chickenhead knob at the top of the unit—for setting coarse gain from +20 dB to +50 dB, in 12 steps. The second control, in the middle of the unit, is continuously variable and fine-tunes gain from -10 to +10, rolling through zero at the 12 o’clock position. Last is the output control, also continuously variable and marked from 0 to 10.
Buttons and switches include polarity and 48V buttons, an impedance switch offering 1,200- and 300-ohm positions, and a mic/line switch for setting the input type. Like the original, the unit can be used for mic and line signals, if you want to impart the richness of the unit’s signal path or drive the input and lower the output to add a bit of grit to already recorded signals during a mix.
I first used the TG2-500 to power a female vocalist singing through a Shure SM7B microphone. This singer had an incredible power range, which the SM7 could easily handle, but the output was giving me troubles when I sent it through another well-designed and respected preamp. Her volume would send spikes that required me to constantly check the gain control by hand. I plugged up the TG2, which handled the peaks better and also sounded richer and fuller. From there, I sent the vocal through the new Kush Tweaker compressor, which tamed the peaks very well on the way to Pro Tools.
Next, I recorded an electric guitar through a Fender Deluxe amp captured by a SandHill active ribbon microphone. So far, I’d left the TG2’s impedance switch at 300 for the best results, and this was no different. Being active, it didn’t take much gain to power the Sandhill. Once again, I used the Kush Tweaker compressor but with a more aggressive setting, which brought out the rich midrange frequencies that the prior signal stops provided. The best compliment for any recording is that it “sounds like a record,” and this was the case here. The guitar was chunky when the player bore down, but still had a beautiful ring when he went for harmonics. It sounded great with just a little help at 2.5 kHz and 400 Hz, provided by a GML 8200 EQ.
I used the TG2 to record an active bass from a Wolfbox DI, through the TG2, then through a Retro Sta Level compressor and API 550A EQ on its way to Pro Tools. Wanting a clean sound, I set the output fully clockwise and the trim at zero, and used the stepped input gain control to set my level to the Sta Level. I added 2 dB of 100 Hz with the 550A, and that was just the ticket to give the bass a tight and full bottom end. When the player got more aggressive, the TG2 handled the active bass’s peaks with ease, with no distortion present.
For cymbal overdubs, I used a Royer R-121 that I positioned three stick lengths above the bell and sent the signal through the TG2. The gain was way down to the second position on the top knob and the other two at the 12 o’clock. This time I used the 1,200-ohm position, which sounded best. I rolled off the bottom end on a shelf at 100 Hz and added a few dB on high shelf starting at 6 kHz. The player was using mallets, which can quickly get overwhelming as the cymbal roll builds. The TG2 had no problems, and I heard nary a hint of distortion even at the absolute loudest parts of the performance.
Although the TG2 has no filters, DI input, signal present LEDs or other extras that are commonly found on competitively priced preamps, the Chandler offers confidence and great sonic performance. This is a solid piece that will please any engineer looking for a reliable gain stager with a past.
For this review, I mostly set the TG2 for the cleanest possible results. However, because this unit has a line switch, try sending a recorded bass through the box with the output control set lower than the input. You can fine-tune the grit using the center fine-tune knob until you have something you can bring back directly to the mix in a serial fashion, or patch back parallel to blend with the clean original.
COMPANY: Chandler Limited
PROS: Great sound. Simple to use.
CONS: No extras like DI input, metering.