One of the most exciting trends in gear over the last few years has been the rising popularity of API’s 500-series “Lunchbox” format. 500-series racks such as the Lunchbox provide an easy way to rack and power 6-11 preamps, compressors, equalizers, etc. in a single 3RU case. These racks are a boon to DIYers who want to build their own modules but don’t have the skills or tools to drill and engrave their own cases.
Of course, the DIY community has found ways to have their own fun with the format. The first DIY module to the scene was Eisen Audio’s DIY500 which provides a PCB and all of the hardware needed to build a transformer-balanced, opamp-based (API, Twin Servo, et al) mic preamp. Great for those who like to tinker, or if you’ve got some rare iron or a vintage opamp languishing in your collection.
Next to come were ClassicAPI’s API-style preamps for the 500-series. Created by a 70’s API console owner/repairman/admirer, the VP25/VP26 and the VP312 are almost exact replicas of the original preamp circuits. ClassicAPI has also worked with Ed Anderson and Barnett Industries to clone vintage API transformers and opamps. This all makes the VPxx preamps perhaps closest thing out there to the original units–closer, in fact, than those offered by API today.
After modules had been cropping up for a couple of years, some DIYers started daydreaming about a uniquely DIY modular format. The result is 51x, a format based on the 500-series but with both +/-16v and +/-24v power rails. Last year a group of builders created the 51x Alliance 511 Rack, a DIY, 3RU, 11-space rack with an optional power supply kit. Awesome! Now we have a modular rack with a truly bulletproof power supply and enough voltage to power a real Neveish preamp, a John Hardy DOA, etc.
Since the introduction of the 511 rack, the GroupDIY forum has exploded with new modules taking advantage of the higher power rails, such as Don Classics Neve clone, Igor’s SSL buss compressor, and Classic API’s VP312DI. And there’s more to come: [silent:arts] has posted pictures of an optical compressor based on the D-AOC and Igor has announced an 1176-style FET compressor. Jeff Steiger of ClassicAPI even has plans for a 500-series/51x console (!!!) with the prototype for a “second console stage” fader and HPF/LPF module already posted. It’s a great time to be alive and to DIY!