Using a channel strip is one of the most convenient ways to shape your sound on the way in. We’ve selected some of the best channel strips for your setup, no matter what you plan on recording.
Generally with audio gear, all-in-one products should always be regarded with a healthy degree of skepticism. Channel strips, however, are modular by nature so you need to find something that suits your specific workflow.
While some pro engineers swear by the “comp no EQ” rule, others like to dial in a healthy dose of parametric EQ before the compression stage on the way in. As history shows, there are no hard and fast rules, only ways to deliver the sounds you desire.
How to choose the best channel strips
The idea of a channel strip originates from the analogue consoles of yesteryear that helped in the recording process of some of our favourite music.
In today’s flexible home recording era, a useful combination of a preamp stage, EQ, and compression becomes the perfect set of tools to refine your instruments before they enter your DAW.
Providing discrete gain, analogue saturation, and tone colour, or shaping the peaks of your vocals and instruments are all unique features that still can’t be reproduced with software in quite the same way.
JHS Colour Box V2
Neve-style channel strips come in all shapes, sizes, and price ranges, and the Colour Box brings studio quality to your pedal board. Apart from a great mic and instrument pre, you also get an extremely versatile EQ with 3 variable bands.
Boost or cut lows from 20Hz to 440Hz, mids from 150Hz to 2.4kHz, and highs from 2kHz to 30kHz. Meanwhile, there is an adjustable HP filter that works from 160Hz to 650Hz. Besides its sound, possibly the best thing about the design is that without visual cues, you are forced to use your ears.
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Elysia Skulpter 500
The Skulpter 500 is a versatile front-end module for the 500-series format. While its class-A mic pre provides over 60dB of discrete gain, a fixed ratio VCA compressor, and a saturation stage with individual shaping modes for instruments and vocals.
Controls include Shape amount, to set the degree of saturation, compression threshold, and a variable low-cut filter. The front panel layout allows you to work quickly, shifting between different applications and still achieving the sound you want.
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Empirical Labs Mike-e
There are very few professional studios around the world that don’t own at least one piece of Empirical Labs gear. The Mike-e gives you precise, digital control over your preamp gain and 1176-style compression stage, plus an analogue saturation circuit.
Also, like most things from Empirical, it’s modular and offers flexibility like a pre-compression insert point, a sidechain input, and stereo-link operation. The Mike-e even allows parallel processing, making it even more versatile.
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Rupert Neve Designs 5034 Newton Channel
The Newton Channel takes all the quality you’d expect in an RND channel strip and puts it in a more accessible package. You get a basic 3-band inductor EQ, a simple VCA compressor, and of course, the SILK feature common to RND gear.
Apart from being stereo-linkable, the EQ and compression stages can be bypassed, and there’s a separate -6dB output to ensure you don’t overload your gain stage when introducing harmonics into the signal.
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If you absolutely must have tube gear, Manley is a manufacturer that stands out of the crowd. The Core uses Manley’s famous tube input and ELOP compression stages with a 3-band EQ and an FET brick-wall limiter.
This combination will get the most of the dynamic nuances within the performances you record, and you have the flexibility of the insert and direct out before the EQ stage should you need it.
- More from Manley
More about the best channel strips:
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- JHS Colour Box V2.: JHS
- Elysia Skulpter 500: Elysia
- Empirical Labs Mike-e.: Empirical Labs
- Front and rear panels.: Rupert Neve Designs
- Manley Core.: Manley