Retro Powerstrip Channel Strip Review

Jan 1, 2012 9:00 AM, By Kevin Becka



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The Retro Powerstrip brings tube personality-plus through its preamp, EQ and compressor sections.

The Retro Powerstrip brings tube personality-plus through its preamp, EQ and compressor sections.

Some manufacturers produce products that are the best one-trick ponies money can buy, while others attempt to pack a wide range of features into a rackmountable or desktop unit. The Retro Powerstrip channel strip adheres to the latter philosophy with great results and no corners cut. The Powerstrip features a tube preamp with lots of clean gain; a Pultec-style, 2-band passive tube EQ; and variable-mu tube compressor in a two-rackspace unit.

As with other Retro gear, the build is rock solid with a chassis sporting knobs, dials, meters and even the colors looking like they came from military hardware. All mic and line I/O are fully floating and transformer balanced. There are features you’d expect like switchable phantom power, polarity reverse and an adjustable meter, as well as others that tube-heads will love, like the ability to use current production and new-old-stock tubes with no alignment needed after a tube swap. The unit’s I/O is versatility defined: You can use the rear XLR mic input and line-level input for recording and mixing, or the front-mounted instrument DI, which can exit line-level or through the bonus instrument level output to go straight to a guitar or bass amp for live use, or both.

The signal flow on the Powerstrip is not linear like some three-in-one units, meaning gain on the left goes to compressor, to the right goes to EQ, to the right of that, etc. For instance, the mic/line/instrument input selector is on the far-left of the unit, but the gain is set on the far-right—separate input and output knobs let you drive the output with tube goodness, if you desire. I liked how much gain I could get out of it, even when using a passive ribbon, without any hiss, which is remarkable for a tube preamp.

The switchable EQ on the left of the unit offers separate low and high bands. The Pultec passive style means you can boost or cut, or boost and cut, creating unique EQ effects. I found myself loving the 60Hz and 100Hz settings when I was cutting bass guitar or kick drum. Passive EQs always take quite a bit of boost to be apparent, but they are very forgiving and easy to use. The HF section offers a lot more versatility with 10 frequency choices as opposed to only four in the LF section. There is also a HF bandwidth control marked 0-10 (Sharp to Broad) and an extra knob allowing you to cut at 5 kHz, 10 kHz and 20 kHz while you’re boosting at one of the other 10 frequencies. There are a lot of possibilities here, but I found myself drifting back to a couple of key boosts that ended up making the track. For instance, on bass, a boost of 100 Hz and then again at 5 or 6 kHz brought out the big bottom and definition in the higher range of the instrument beautifully.

The compressor is as beautiful-sounding as it is simple. It offers six time constants from slow to fast and is turned on via the sidechain HPF knob, which can be set to Comp Out, 250, 90 or Off, which means the compressor is on but there is no sidechain filter in play. I really liked how the sidechain HPF kept the compressor from choking down on the fundamental of a kick drum while grabbing the transient of the beater hit and putting it right in my face. Next, there’s a separate three-position subsonic filter switch that can be set to Off, 40 Hz or 90 Hz. This takes rumble out of play on any recording. There’s also a push/pull feature on the input knob that cuts down the gain and is described in the manual as a way to add interesting effects during instrument recording. I tried it a few times and it did cut the gain, but I always preferred the results I got with the knob “in” and off.

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