Retro Instruments Powerstrip
(first published in CX magazine – July, 2013)
The Retro Powerstrip is a 2RU tube mono ‘channel strip’ that’s been on the market for a couple of years now. It’s a transformer-balanced tube preamp, Pultec-styled EQ and mono tube compressor all in one.
The preamp stage contains facilities for mic, line and instrument inputs as well as phantom power and polarity switching. The mic preamp itself sounds superb, from crystal clear to smooth and deliciously creamy when driven hard.
Remember this is a channel strip, so you can crank the input and output controls as you see fit, depending on your requirements. These are on the right by the way, so don’t looking for them on the left. They masquerade and double as compressor controls, not just preamp gain. More on this in a sec.
There’s 70dB of wide-open, gain available here – enough for virtually any microphone and circumstance. Somewhat frustratingly, the unit’s magnificent VU meter only describes gain reduction. Personally I like all my preamps to have an input meter, but alas, no preamp metering here. That said, the preamp stage on the Powerstrip is one of the best I’ve known.
When driven hard, the input saturates like a beast, but never harshly. It just gets fatter and fatter ’til it explodes! Well, not literally, but you get the picture.
Line and instrument-level signals sound strong and powerful too, and interestingly, the back panel of the unit offers both ‘instrument-thru’ and ‘Hi-Z’ ¼-inch jack output stages for processed or unprocessed outputs.
The EQ is a Pultec in all but name, featuring the EQP-1A’s familiar control set, with some extra top-end stages added to the midrange steps: from 1.5kHz all the way out to 16. This EQ is drop-dead gorgeous and identical to the circuit in the stereo Retro 2A3 equaliser. It can also be switched out of the signal path if you’re crazy enough to think it wise. Sweet as sweet can be up high and incredibly euphonic.
Finally, the onboard tube compressor functions a bit like a Fairchild vari-mu. There’s no ratio control here, only ‘in’ and ‘out’ levels, a sidechain HPF and a time constant. As you dial the constant from slow to fast, both attack and recovery respond more rapidly.
The compressor sounds great, although with its control sensitivity bound up in the preamp stage, balancing a microphone’s gain and compression structures simultaneously can be tricky at times, and somewhat counter-intuitive. It takes some getting used to.
If your life revolves around making things sound good for a living, like mine does… well, you know… I’m just saying… no pressure.
Retro make exceptionally good gear, and the Powerstrip is no exception. At somewhere around four grand in Australia, depending on where the Aussie dollar is situated, you might need a small bank loan though.
In Australia, contact Mixmasters for more info: (08) 8278 8506 or www.mixmasters.com.au