THE RETRO CHANNEL ($1,795 RETAIL) IS THE brainchild of engineer and guitarist Lance Keltner, who set out to create a non-tube channel strip that reprised the essential vibe and much of the circuitry of three legendary vintage tube devices: the Telefunken V72 mic preamp (think ’60s Abbey Road), the Teletronix LA-2A compressor, and the Pultec EQP-1A equalizer. These units have been used on countless recordings and, when combined, form a truly magical signal chain with the potential to make almost anything sound fantastic—including acoustic and electric guitars.
The Retro has an unbalanced 1/4" Instrument input on the front and a balanced XLR Mic input with switchable 48v phantom power on the rear. The preamp section boosts the signal from either input by +12db, +18db, +24dB, or +30 db, and microphones may be boosted or attenuated an additional 12dB. The compressor/limiter section employs the same two-knob design and basic optical attenuator network topology as an LA-2A, though instead of the LA-2A’s VU level meter there is only a Peak overload LED. The attack time is essentially fixed at1.5ms and the release time varies from 40ms to 80ms for 50 percent release, with full release at between a half-second and several seconds, depending on the application. There’s also a Limit/Comp switch, which affects the gain-reduction characteristics. The equalizer section, which may be switched in and out, is modeled on the EQP-1A, though it provides increased control over which high and low frequencies may be cut or boosted. For example, you can boost 100Hz while simultaneously attenuating 30Hz, whereas the EQP-1A only allowed you to boost and/or cut the same selected low frequency.
The preamp sounded rich, warm, clear, and spacious with microphones ranging from a Shure SM57 dynamic to a Blue Baby Bottle large-diaphragm condenser to a Royer R-121 ribbon—and by tweaking the EQ to complement each type and adding a little compression, I was able to get exceptional acoustic guitar recordings using them all. The compressor’s relatively soft knee on more subtle settings worked particularly well in this application, and the ability to simultaneously cut lows while boosting low mids allowed me to dial in fat and punchy bottom end without boominess. The Retro’s EQ also has much of the top-end smoothness and sweetness for which vintage Pultec EQs are coveted.
Besides being an outstanding microphone preamp, the Retro also makes a great guitar preamp, as I discovered when I plugged Gibson, PRS, and other electrics (and a Taylor acoustic with onboard electronics) into the Instrument input. The clean tones were full and round with crystalline highs, much like those you’d get playing through a high-quality tube amp. And, also like a good tube amp, the Retro paired beautifully with overdrive and distortion pedals. Again, a little compression and EQ tweaking made both the electrics and the acoustic sound even better. And cranking the compression while boosting 12kHz with the Bandwidth set wide transformed my Daisy Rock solidbody 12-string into a raging jinglejangle machine.
Finally, connecting the Retro between a guitar and a Rivera combo’s clean channel (using the 1/4" output) let me craft an almost endless variety of overdriven and distorted tones— from smooth and bluesy to crisp and crunchy to “Revolution”-grade raunchiness.
In a perfect world the Retro Channel would have additional metering, an on/off indicator, and a front-mounted power switch. But other than those minor quibbles, this thing is damn near a perfect recording and performing machine— especially for guitarists.
RETRO CHANNEL MICROPHONE PREAMPLIFIER, EQ, COMPRESSOR/LIMITER
Brimming with vibolicious retro sound-crafting capabilities. Outstanding value.
CONCERNS No meter or on/off indicator. Power switch located on rear.
CONTACT Retro Channel, (877) 983-8988; retro-channel.com