I recently traded in a high-end mic preamp in my collection for a Retro Instruments 500 Pre. Considering the company’s irrefutable reputation for quality and the relatively accessible price of the 500 Pre, I had no reservations about ordering one before hearing it in action.
For the curious, I’m going to share my first impression of this preamp. My intent is to write a more detailed follow-up when I receive a second unit and can do some dual mono and stereo testing in both tracking and mixing applications.
One of the preamps I reach for when I want nice overall coloration but with a bit more coherence and detail than a typical 1073 is the Mercury AM16. It is solid state but can have a little bit of a tube-like top end that is sometimes more apparent than others.
The AM16 is detailed but not neutral and it is not a “hard” sound. It’s pretty natural in my opinion. However, in my testing, going back and forth between the AM16 and the 500 Pre, I just looked at my AM16 and thought, “It’s good but I could probably trade that in.”
The Retro 500 Pre just sounds real. I don’t know how else to explain it. You get all the detail you need but no weird transient artifacts. The 500 Pre is amazing when run on the cleaner side but also gives some awesome grit and compression when pushed.
It’s probably a bit unfair to compare a mic preamp with an all-tube circuit to another with an all-transistor circuit. However, the AM16 has more of a tube-like sound than most of the vintage-inspired, solid-state preamps currently in production.
I wanted to ding Retro for not including an instrument input on the front but I can’t because the 500 Pre is just so good. Even running bass guitar through an entry-level Whirlwind direct box and into the 500 Pre sounds bloody amazing.
Stay tuned for more findings and be sure to check it out for yourself if you have a quality 500-series frame.