Radial Engineering Workhorse 500 Review

Jul 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Kevin Becka



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DACS MicAmp 500 Preamp

DACS MicAmp 500 is operationally styled after DACS’ MicAmp 2 horizontal rack preamp with minimal differences in the circuitry. Features include gain in 4dB increments, with a rotary trim pot offering 0 to 8 dB of additional gain. The phantom-power switch bypasses the input capacitors when defeated, and the three-stage highpass filter can be set to flat, 30 Hz and 80 Hz. The four-stage LED meter kicks in at -15 dB, +5 dB, +13 dB and Over.

I used the MicAmp 500 on a number of sessions on a drum kit and guitar amp, and it did sound very good. However, on low-level applications like acoustic guitar, it did have a bit of noise when I boosted the gain to the upper ranges available. My APx525 audio analyzer revealed an 80dB S/N ratio, the poorest noise performance of any of the preamps tested here. In service, the preamp represented transients very well and sounded smooth in most applications.

Although I liked the sound of the MicAmp 500, I did have a few reservations. For $1,122, I would expect a DI input and a few more features. I found the LED meter annoyingly slow during tracking, and missed having a pad. For instance, I used the MicAmp 500 to power an SM57 on a snare drum and was always riding dangerously close to distortion, even with the level and trim set to its lowest setting. If I needed to bring down the gain in a situation where I was using a dynamic mic, I’d have to use an inline pad, which is unacceptable. I also think that the settings for the HPF could be better placed at 60 Hz and 100 Hz, for instance, not 30 Hz and 80 Hz. While it’s nice to have any HPF at all, I’d prefer a setting where I could better control the frequency content at the low end. Maybe a two-button scenario that could give you four choices, including flat, instead of a three-position switch?

All in all, the MicAmp 500 is a very good-sounding preamp; however, the price and lack of extended features offered on competitive units costing less may deter all but dedicated DACS fans from jumping onboard.
—Kevin Becka

Radial Engineering PowerPre

The Radial Engineering PowerPre lists for $600, streets at $499 and offers the best metering and feature set of the four preamps tested here. Features include phantom power and polarity flip, plus a Hammond output transformer, -15dB pad, highpass filter (150 Hz), ground lift (rear-mounted) and a two-stage, gentle boost–only EQ called Breath and Punch. The phantom, pad and polarity all carry a confidence LED.

The 10-segment meter is very good with little light leakage between segments. The three-position Vox setting is very usable across a range of applications. I used both Breath and Punch when recording drums and bass with great effect. Punch gently boosts frequencies between 50 and 100 Hz, while Breath does the same between 5 kHz and 10 kHz. Smart design is evident: The phantom power switch is recessed, a DI input is implemented via the Omniport (provided you’re using the Radial Workhorse), there’s a front-mounted XLR mic input and the one-stage “Accustate” gain control automatically optimizes signal-to-noise at all levels.

I used the PowerPre for recording vocals, guitar amps and drums with great results. It is especially good in high-transient, high-SPL situations where you can drive the output hard for more transformer color. My APx525 audio analyzer revealed a respectable 87dB S/N ratio. The single-knob Accustate gain control is smooth and linear. The downloadable manual goes deeper into the mechanics of Accustate and is worth a read.

The downsides? The ground lift works with the front XLR only and is a great feature, but the rear-mount makes it a bit impractical. You could also argue that the front-mounted XLR is redundant, but it does offer a quick plug-and-record option for live and desktop situations. These minor gripes are overcome by the fact that this preamp sounds great, offers much character and visual feedback, and costs less than $500.The PowerPre is an affordable, feature-packed unit that’s a must-hear for anyone shopping for 500 Series preamps.
—Kevin Becka

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