The PreSonus Studio Channel is a single channel strip consisting of a preamp, compressor, and eq. It’s a full featured little gadget that has a high pass filter and the ability to change the order between the EQ and compressor which is always a fun thing. Overall, they’ve crammed just about every feature you can think of into this 1U rack space all at a price that can work well within pretty much every home recorder’s budget.
For a rundown on all the features and a healthy dose of the usual propaganda, head here.
When I first got a hold of the PreSonus Studio Channel my rack was full. I had 4 pieces of gear in it and a combined price tag of over $10,000. I’ve always come from the school that the high end gear is a nice little luxury, but in the real world recording land, there are way too many other flaws to overcome for the gear to be as strong of impact as maybe be implied by a $1,000+ volume knob. So keep in mind that my review of the PreSonus Studio Channel was done when in the midst of some big time players. I think it held up pretty well! Better than it’s price tag would indicate.a
My hope was the PreSonus Studio Channel preamps would not only blow away the stock preamps in my audio interface or M-Audio Octane, but also be able to run head to head with the big boys like the Great River MEQ-1NV, PreSonus ADL600, or the Manley TNT.
I can say without hesitation that the preamps in the Studio Channel are better on all sources than the stock preamp in my PreSonus Firestudio, but certainly aren’t going to be putting the Money-Is-No-Object companies out of business. Then again, most members here at RecordingReview happen to be in the Money-Doesn’t-Grow-On-Trees side of the fence.
The PreSonus Studio Channel was a step up in clarity, excitement, and low end tightness from the PreSonus Firestudio preamp, but I can’t ever imagine myself choosing this preamp when a preamp from the A-list is available. There were certain specific shootouts where the PreSonus Studio Channel certainly snuck into high end preamp land and I mistook it for a preamp costing exponentially more. So there are some very desirable uses for the PreSonus Studio Channel.
I think it’s safe to say the PreSonus Studio Channel preamps outperform the price tag and would be a welcome home in any budget oriented home recording studio. You certainly gain a point by upgrading from a stock audio interface preamp to the Studio Channel. Moving up to $2k preamps will give you another point. You figure out how much a point is worth to you. (We are talking NBA points here, not hockey or that dumb thing everyone in the world plays with their feet.)
As is illustrated in the upcoming shootouts for Killer Home Recording, the PreSonus Studio Channel has this way of being a little extra forward in the 1Khz region. This could be excellent for helping vocals cut through a dense mix. I’m not sure if I would want it on everything, but I definitely wouldn’t mind having that feature around.
The Tube Drive Thing
I played with the tube drive thing considerably. It does add some gain and it does add some harmonics. I could be useful for some things. I have to admit that I never get too wound up about these sorts of things. It’s never a life changing thing. I can’t think of one source where maybe the sound wasn’t quite right with the Tube Drive on 0, but changing it to 10 parted the Red Sea or whatever. However, the tube drive thing didn’t hurt anything. I’m sure there are sources where I would say “Oh hell with it!” and crank it all the way up. In fact, on real sessions that’s probably were I’d start.
I prefer knobs / processors that go overboard when I turn them all the way up. The ability to break is the ability to fix said Socrates. Okay, maybe he didn’t, but somebody somewhere said something remotely close. If not, put Brandon Drury down in the book right next to Richard Lewis and “the blank from hell” (Curb Your Enthusiasm inside joke). The tube drive feature did not give me the ability to break. If I can’t turn it up to “disgusting” and then slowly pull it back to reality, I have a hard time. So take that for what it’s worth. Good big or go home, as they say.
More Headroom Please
On several occasions I had attempted to reamp a signal back through the PreSonus Studio Channel. In practically every situation I overloaded the unit. It’s safe to say that the headroom on the Studio Channel is not near as high as other compressors I had used during the shootout (Distressor EL-8X and Spectrasonic Complimiter). This wasn’t the end of the world, but it was certainly a pain in the neck. This hampered me from slamming the compressor as much as I would have preferred.
I like to use hardware compressors to add tonal color. Smashing a signal can bring it right to the front of a mega dense mix and can even add perceived excitement to a track. These things I like. Even with the threshold on the compressor of the Studio Channel set for maximum death, I never really felt like I could get this compressor to pump and slam. At least not to the extent I was used to.
I was also looking for adding harmonic content by reducing the release down to zero. While I was led to believe that all hardware compressors were supposed to distort any signal with a wavelength longer than the release time, I stand corrected. I just couldn’t get any distortion out of this thing.
I’ve been through the recording forum war long enough to know that a bunch of you reading this aren’t looking to distort the signal. However, when you take away the ability of the engineer to color the signal (particularly vocals) with compressors, you essentially cut off one his fingers….if not his whole arm. (Then again, how badly could that REALLY effect an engineer. So much for the ability to do keyboard shortcuts AND mouse clicks simultaneously! Big deal!)
I did find that the compressor was able to nicely control peaks. This certainly has it’s place and I did find it useful in those situations. Of course, plugin compressors like the Waves C1, Waves Rcomp, or even the stock Cubase compressors perform in a similar fashion. There are certainly times where maybe my Distressor EL-8X is a little bit too loud at parties and I have to find ways to get him to quiet down without hurting his feelings. I’d never take my Distressor to a library and he really has to bite his tongue in funerals. He’s always trying to scream “See you in hell, mother f*cker!”. The Complimiter 610 had a tendency to invite the other kids out to country roads to smash mail boxes. I didn’t have any of those problems with the compressor in the PreSonus Studio Channel. It’s a much more behaved compressor. So this compressor choice really depends heavily on whether you need Dr. Spock or Vince Neil. Both have their strengths. Personally, I’m looking for a compressor that resells hard drugs and kicks up the tribute to the producer. Let me know if you come across that one.
Of course, either the Distressor EL-8x of the Complimiter 610 cost the price of 5 PreSonus Studio channels and they don’t do anything but compress. So I may be comparing an apple to a Ferrari. Regardless, a minivan is badass when the Swedish Bikini Team bus breaks down. You get the idea.
In a world where EQ plugins capable of robo surgery, turbo tone control, and everything in between are running rampant it does seem a bit odd to switch to an analog EQ with a high shelf, a low shelf, and one parametric band of EQ. You aren’t going to save the world with this EQ. I guess a person could argue that you can do less damage on the way in with this EQ as well. That could be a plus for many of us.
I do have to say that there were specific situations where it certainly came in handy for solving slight problems. Adding a little bottom and top to a kick drum is pretty much a no brainer and it functioned perfectly for that. On vocals that had a bit too much 400Hz and 2k, I had to choose which problem I wanted to solve because this EQ couldn’t do both. This isn’t a big deal in modern computer land, but it’s worth noting.
On The Way In
The more I’ve used the hardware gear, I’ve found that the benefits of getting the sound right from the very beginning are worth the occasional (and regular!) times I screw up a track with over compression or whatever. I do feel there is some merit to getting tracks closest to their final state as early on in the process as possible. As I said above, maybe we can’t solve a 400Hz and a 2K problem with this EQ, but we can certainly solve the 2k issue. This is worth something. It’s worth a lot! Every problem during a mix (or even tracking) uses a bit of RAM in your brain that could have been better used for cranking the Ass Kicking Gears (yes, this warrants proper noun grammar treatment). So depending on your style of working, you may reap big rewards for this alone.
The preamp on this booger is an improvement of preamps found in stock audio interfaces. The compressor and EQ are not life changing, but they certainly ain’t bad. I didn’t get my first hardware compressor until I had been recording for 7 years and I still don’t own a hardware EQ. So I’m not exactly going to tell you that hardware is absolutely required in these situations. However, as I’ve documented above, having these gadgets around is pretty much always beneficial.
At $300 (street), the PreSonus Studio Channel is a nice, well laid out channel strip that will definitely serve it’s purpose to anyone in the market for a $300 channel strip. I’d expect it to very competitive and I think it’s an excellent purchase for the home recording market.
To hear how this thing competes with the gear costing exponentially more and drastically less, make sure to check out the Killer Home Recording shootouts today.