Retro Instruments Powerstrip
REVIEW
Retro Instruments Powerstrip
Representing something of a departure from the manufacturer’s more usual ‘homage’
products, this channel strip remains decidedly, err, retro in feel but includes the sort of
interesting twists that GEORGE SHILLING has come to expect.
I
’m not sure
if the terminology
is the same in the US (where
this device is made) but in the UK a
Powerstrip commonly refers to a mains distribution
board with four sockets in a white plastic case (Or
an 80s way of undressing. Ed). Thankfully, this
Powerstrip is rather less ordinary.
Retro Instruments and designer Phil Moore have
established themselves as specialists in updated
versions of classic designs. The Powerstrip (UK£2550
+ VAT) departs from the ‘replica’ theme more than any
previous Retro design, but it still incorporates some
familiar signal flow concepts. Those are combined
here in a unique fashion that has resulted in a valvebased recording channel with (unsurprisingly) a
distinctly vintage flavour.
SSL Hybrd Workflow_Jan2011_Layout
28/01/2011
The physical design is 1similar
to the14:36
2A3 Page
unit 1
previously reviewed (Resolution V9.5). This too
is a smart
grey 2U box with as
much mass mounted on the rear
as is fixed inside — the external mains transformer
on the back is especially weighty. And valves and
audio transformers also protrude from the rear, albeit
sheathed in protective caps. At the left end of the
rear panel you find the analogue audio connections.
Separate XLR inputs are provided for Mic and
Line, along with an XLR output. The increasingly
common (and very useful) feature of a pass-thru
jack for the front panel Instrument input is also
provided on the rear, along with a second Hi-Z output
that is postprocessing, to enable you to enhance
an instrument signal before sending it on to an
amplifier. The IEC Mains socket at the opposite end is
accompanied by a voltage switch and a fuseholder —
the fuse value must be changed when altering input
voltage.
The front panel switchgear is delightfully retro
yet wonderfully practical. Large toggle switches are
reassuring and the vintage knobs are provided with
clear pointers and detailed 100-scale legending for
easy recall. The custom vintage Bakelite meter scaling
is similarly detailed; the meter is strictly a gain
reduction display and as such is scaled with zero
at the top. XLR sockets are Neutriks and the
Instrument input and outputs are high quality
chromed sockets.
A chunky rotary switch selects between the
three possible inputs. Large toggles select Phase
Reverse and Phantom Power — ideally I’d have
liked a red light with the latter. Oddly, there is
no Gain knob here; that comes later. Next up is
the EQ section. This is similar to the 2A3 EQ
and a fairly authentic Pultec replica but this also
has the filter seen on the 2A3. This provides
for a subsonic roll-off with a corner frequency of
either 40Hz or 90Hz (or off), using a three-position
toggle. Above that is another toggle for EQ bypass.
We then come to the compressor section. Here, we
finally encounter an Input Gain, and indeed this is the
preamp gain, even when the compressor is bypassed.
The compressor circuitry is modelled on the EMI
RS124, so much is made of its ‘Britishness’. Alongside
the Input gain is Output Gain; this too is always in
circuit. The compressor is enabled with a rotary switch
which as well as the Compressor Out position also
enables selection of the always popular Sidechain
High Pass Filter. This has settings of 90Hz, 250Hz
and Off. The other rotary switch selects the Time
Constant modes similar to those found on the EMI
original, with six positions from Slow to Fast. Beyond
REVIEW
the meter are the Power toggle and a red power light.
The mic input is transformer balanced and fully
floating (except when using phantom power).
Although the Input and Output knobs are simply
scaled from 0 to 100, there is a bountiful 70dB of
gain on tap. The mic preamp seems clean and detailed
— deliciously crisp, but never clinical. Pulling the
Input gain knob up changes the circuitry to give a
more coloured sound. Gain is reduced, but the signal
is juiced up a bit with a touch of enhancement that
makes the sound more rounded and warm. This
mode is described by the designer as making the
input overload characteristic more ‘relaxed’ like a tube
guitar amplifier. There’s certainly a gentle fuzzing of
the tone achievable by juggling the Input and Output
gains, although (particularly with a Line signal) I’d
have liked even more drive available to expand the
possibilities! And the difference between the two
modes can be very subtle — it’s difficult to compare
as the levels are quite different.
The EQ sounds as gorgeous as expected, with
supremely clear and musical HF boost. The usual trick
of juggling Boost and Atten simultaneously works
as well as ever on the low band, and it all sounds
properly Pultec-like. For more on that section, you
may want to reread the 2A3 review.
The six different compressor Time Constants range
from Slow at 1 to Fast at 6 and the slowest setting
has a degree of auto attack and recovery. Things are
pumpy at the fast end, and it’s not lightning fast, with
a pizzicato double bass still maintaining a good thump
at the start of notes, although more than a few dBs
of gain reduction on this setting can give you that
feeling of your head turning inside out. As you move
towards slower modes, the compression gradually
becomes almost invisible on settings 3 or 4, although
still taming and containing, until the unnaturally slow
release of setting 1 makes the gain reduction rather
audible again, with the slow attack emphasising the
thump, followed by a very slow release.
On vocals, huge gain reductions on settings 3 or 4
sound very natural and not obvious. In a track, the
slower settings of 2 or 1 are a bit too slow with most
vocals, as the level recovers too slowly after a peak
and clarity can get lost. The compressor’s Sidechain
HPF was particularly successful when processing a
Cajon, allowing the low end bonks to retain plenty of
body, while squashing the overall sound pleasantly
using the fastest setting. The EQ helps the low
end too, with the Subsonic filter at 40Hz taming
and tightening things up nicely when boosting
at 100Hz. Since writing the Introduction Sheet
(there’s no manual) Moore has, by popular demand,
subsequently added the facility to connect two units
for stereo compression by adding a ‘Couple’ phono
socket on the back. This would turn a pair of these
into a fantastic bus processor and the Sidechain HPF
is undoubtedly extremely useful in that situation.
The instrument input is fat and solid sounding
but having the luxury of passing through this subtle
processing on the way to your guitar amp seems a
bit like brushing my 5-year old daughter’s hair before
school — it can be great, but frequently gets mushed
up on arrival!
The Powerstrip is a beautiful looking and sounding
processor. The mic preamp has a wonderful openness
and detail, while the classy EQ and compressor can
only enhance the sound. It’s a joy to use, and without
causing too much fuss or hype it makes everything
sound gorgeous. n
PROS
Beautifully constructed combination of
vintage-style circuitry with some great
modern filter options.
CONS
Unless rackmounted it is slightly bulky
and awkward, with heavy components
mounted on the rear; pull switch
function not indicated on front panel; no
meter backlight.
EXTRAS
The 2A3 is a dual-channel programme
equaliser similar to the Pultec EQP-1A3
and among other tweaks features a
Subsonic Filter that can enhance the
whole spectrum. It operates on both
channels independently of the channel
EQ bypass toggles, but is an integral
part of the filter network, between the
input transformer and the interstage
transformer in the passive filter.
Contact
retro instruments, us
Web: www.m1distribution.com
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