THE WORKHORSE IS RADIAL’S TAKE on the 500 series Lunch Box module rack.
It’s Marine-tough with an 8x2 summing mixer
that accepts eight different modules—from
preamps to direct boxes and more. The
versatility is unbeatable. You can mix the
output of the eight modules through the bus,
or bring in eight channels from your DAW, and
mix them together through the Workhorse.
All of the module slots are equipped with
XLR, TRS, and D-sub inputs and outputs,
so there’s practically no signal that can’t
be routed through the beast. In addition, a
“feed” switch lets you send the signal from
one module to the next without patching
For those desiring a bona fide pro-studio
interface designed to impart warm and
brawny analog sound to a digital recording
medium, the Workhorse is definitely a
winning option. But there are some things
the typical musician/engineer with a home
studio should consider.
For one thing, you should fully understand
that the Workhorse is a no-nonsense,
complex, and professional piece of gear
used by renowned engineers and producers
to make commercial recordings. It is not
dumbed down, technically or operationally,
for home-studio applications. Configuring
the unit for optimum performance can be
daunting if you’re not a pro studio tech.
Happily, the manual is one of the best written
and most informative I’ve ever seen.
What’s more, as a pro-level, modular
system, the Workhorse is hardly inexpensive
by home-studio standards. The Workhorse
itself will set you back $1,399. The cost of
adding modules depends on what you’re
after. Here are some street prices for the
Radial modules we’ll look at a little later on:
X-Amp re-amping module ($249), JVD-Pre
instrument preamp/DI ($449), PowerPre
mic preamp ($499), EXTC guitar effects
interface ($249), Komit compressor/limiter
($499), TankDriver reverb preamp ($249),
and Shuttle insert loop module ($139).
Radial kindly supplied us with all of the
above modules for our tests, but if we had to
write our own check for the Workhorse and
these seven modules, the total cost would
currently be about $3,732.
But what’s great about the Workhorse—
especially for guitar players who are serious
about home recording—isn’t just the typical
Radial quality and innovation (although
that’s definitely a bonus), but the fact that
the unit offers so many guitar-oriented
applications. It’s like the Workhorse was
designed with 6-string madness in mind.
Let’s look deeper into the Radial modules to
fully understand this concept. (For more info,
click to radialeng.com.)
Huh? It’s a balanced interface
for stompboxes and other
guitar effects that allows users
to merge groovy and heinously
gritty guitar boxes with pro-audio
recording media. Run a line-level
signal from your DAW into the
EXTC, and it will “unbalance”
the signal and convert it to high-impedance—
the perfect insert
signal for effects pedals of all
How I Rocked It I’ve used guitar effects in
my studio for as long as I can remember, but
the process wasn’t as easy—nor the results
as robust and clean sounding—as when using
the EXTC. Some of my experiments included
adding a spiky modulation effect to a snare
(in an attempt to simulate producer Tony
Visconti’s world-changing, harmonized snare
sound on David Bowie’s Low), routing a kick
drum through a fuzz pedal, and (I stole this
idea from the Radial website) running a vocal
through a wah pedal. Controlling the wet/dry
mix with the EXTC’s Blend control adds even
more sonic trickery, as you can ensure note
attacks are clear, but have all manner of fuzz,
flanged, tremoled weirdness warbling just
below the source sound.
Huh? A class-A instrument input
preamp designed to work with
various types of pickups—even
the oft-troublesome piezo.
How I Rocked It I plugged in a
piezo-loaded acoustic first, as
some piezos tend to “quack”
and compromise the organic
beauty of an acoustic guitar. A
little tweaking with the Filter and
Load Adjust controls had that
guitar sounding almost as natural as a miked
acoustic. Quack Be Gone! Electric guitars
with humbuckers, single-coils, and P-90s all
sounded studly with nice round attacks. I even
“dressed up” a cheap solidbody’s sound with
the JDV-Pre, and then used the Aux Out to
route the processed signal to a small amp. The
improvement in the guitar’s tone through the
amp was impressive.
Komit Compressor Limiter
Huh? A transparent compressor
combined with an old-school
“clipping” limiter that can get as
gritty as you please.
How I Rocked It As a
compressor, the Komit is fine. It
does what it’s supposed to do
with zero artifacts. But I missed
the vibey crunch of some
vintage British compressors, so
I started playing with the limiter
and was much more inspired.
I dialed in some of that Stones “Street Fighting
Man” crunchy kerrang for some acoustic-guitar
tracks, and gave a lead vocal a touch of that Otis
Redding-style “mic breakup” sound.
PowerPre Microphone Preamplifer
Huh? A feature-packed mic pre with a very
savvy, 3-position Vox switch for adding breath,
punch, or transparency.
How I Rocked It All the mod cons are here, as
on most good mic preamps, but the Vox feature
really made it easy to capture very cool vocal
sounds with minimal effort on the fly. Gotta
love that. I also miked some guitar amps and
fooled with the Vox switch to get more air into a
tone (Breath) and a little more midrange attack
(Punch). This is a very versatile tool.
Shuttle Insert Loop
Huh? I call it a patch bay. You’ll call it an effects
How I Rocked It This is an easy way to route
tracks into the Workhorse for processing by
Huh? An interface that lets you route signals to
and from an amp’s spring reverb tank.
How I Rocked It Many DAWs have spring
reverb plug-ins, but it’s not Dick Dale spring
reverb unless you toss the digital simulation and
go with the real thing. The Tank Drive actually
improves on the rich ambience by offering
Blend (wet/dry), Boom, and Shimmer controls.
Huh? The X-Amp lets you send a dry direct
guitar track or a miked-amp track into another
amp to create a tone or to improve your existing one.
How I Rocked It Reamping is no big deal in
the digital realm, but it can be a bit tricky in the
analog world. The X-Amp makes everything
easy, flawless, and super clean when routing
recorded signals to actual amplifiers positioned
in nice rooms and captured by good mics.
Yum. The dual outputs even let me transform
a boring mono guitar track into a layered and
sexy wide-stereo sound through two different