- We review a range of 500-Series cases to suit a budget of under $600.
- Mid-range price point, best bang for buck.
What is 500 Series Gear?
The term ‘lunchbox’ is thrown around the industry, to the confusion of many. Those in the know are aware that it is not actually a case for your sandwiches, but rather a revolution in the audio industry’s interaction with rack unit gear. It was invented by API in the 1970s, and has now become a widely popular modular analog format for rack gear.
On a very basic level, individual modules (such as an EQ) are inserted into a rack that supplies power to the modules. Each case is built to hold a number of units (modules), and besides powering up the modules, the case also suppies input and output routing to each unit.
Rising Popularity Of The 500 Series
With the growing popularity of 500 series gear, a handful of companies are now also producing their own variations of 500 series racks.
As companies try to compete with each other for market share, we now see many variations of these cases, each with their pros and cons. Some of these include things like link switches, stereo compatibility, and extra routing choices for the producers who like to get proper modular with their summing and routing. We’re basically spoilt for choice now, and it can get a little confusing as to where to begin when selecting the best 500 series chassis for your home studio.
Why Add 500 Series To Your Home Studio Setup?
A large part of the 500 series’ success is that it ushered producers into a whole new world of customization.
Due to its modular nature, engineers can easily ‘mix and match’ modules from different manufacturers, creating the signal path of their dreams. To many of us, this is a much more freeing experience than being limited to a fixed console desk (not to mention, a lot cheaper).
Portability and convenience are also huge contributors to the success of the 500 series. With many bedroom producers operating out of their small apartments, 500 series is an attractive option as they have a small form factor and are easily transportable for producers ‘on the move’.
The Best 500 Series Lunchboxes Money Can Buy
1. API 500-8B 8-Channel 500 Series Lunchbox Rack
- 8 slots with 250mA of power per slot
- DB25 connectivity on the rear panel
- Phantom power
- Optional rack ears available for rack mounting
- Toggle switches for channel linking
- Rubber feet & carrying handle for portability
- Rugged steel chassis
- Includes external power supply
The 8-slot powered lunchbox rack is a highly portable and functional addition to any home studio.
The DB25 connectors located at the back provide you with an easy connection to almost any multichannel interface or patchbay you can think of (provided they use those connectors). In terms of power, 250MA per slot is more than sufficient to power all of our VPR approved modules.
Of course, it’s fully compatible with all API 500 series modules by API and other manufacturers.
The unit is built with quality in mind: it has a fair bit of weight, and features rubber feet for grip. Whether you want to rack-mount the unit, or simply place it atop your studio desk, the API 500-8B (check price on Amazon here) will look and perform great wherever you decide to house it.
It’s a solid unit, though not everyone enjoys the fact that Lunchbox have opted for the external power supply.
- Durable and solid construction
2. Radial Engineering: Workhorse SixPack 500
- Portable 6 Slot Power Rack
- Comes with a Carry Handle
- Powerful 1,600mA Supply
- Front Panel Convenience XLRs
The SixPack (check price on Amazon here) features two XLR inputs on its front panel and a whole bunch of extra connectors and switches on the rear.
The back features XLR jacks for six channels of I/O and an external power supply for an effortless ‘plug and play’ experience. The external power supply is rated at 1600 mA (which is twice the ‘per-slot’ current specified by the original 500-series).
However, where the SixPack gets interesting are with its ‘Link’ switches. With these engaged, you are able to connect adjacent modules that support link functionality. Voila: stereo processing engaged!
The ‘Feed’ switches are also handy, allowing you to easily tie module outputs to the inputs of the modules in sequence, without ever having to use patch cables.
- That it has loads of connectivity options
- That it packs a lot of power
3. Rupert Neve Designs R6 Six Space 500 Series Rack
- 150% supply of the required current
- LED current consumption meter displays available current
- XLR, TRS, and DB-25 I/O
- Variable-position screw holes make for quick and easy module insertion
- Double-shielded internal power supply designed to avoid magnetic induction in module slots
- Switchmode PSU with frequencies considerably outside audible band
- Internal jumper configuration lets you link slots in pairs
If connector flexibility is your jam, then the Rupert Neve Designs R6 (check price on Amazon here) might be the best 500 series chassis for you.
The chassis also gives you the convenience of linking adjacent channels together using the internal jumpers.
Also, the moveable screw-holes are handy for installing 500 series modules with holes that are slightly different or have a differing sized faceplate. For those wanting to mount the R6 into a standard 19″ rack frame, there is a rack kit available. Also, when the bottom feet are removed, the R6 takes up 3U of rack space.
It does what it says on the tin. The 150% supply capacity prevents power rails from failing under a higher than expected load. The LED metering does a great job of displaying power consumption, and it gives us peace of mind knowing that the internal power supply has been double shielded.
- The huge array of connectivity options
- 150% supply power – yes, please
4. Lindell Audio 506 Power MKII
- 6-slot chassis for 500-series modules
- Lightweight aluminum enclosure
- Gold plated XLR I/O’s
- dSub I/O’s
- Feed switch. Mix one channel into another without cables
- No-noise, high-frequency switching power supply
- Overload and short-circuit protection
- 400mA per slot
- Includes protective neoprene bag
In our ‘best of’ reviews, we generally like to include a budget option. Low cost doesn’t necessarily mean low quality, and the Lindell Audio 506 (check price on Amazon here) has been included as it’s just as capable as many of the others on this list, at a price that won’t break the bank.
For the money, it’s hard to beat the Lindell Audio 506 Power MKII. Feature-wise, you’re given exactly what you need to power up your 500 modules: D-Sub 25-pin connectors and a total of 6 gold-plated XLR inputs and outputs. Rearranging your modules via the power chassis is a breeze, and the power indicators on the rear ensure you that nothing is amiss.
Don’t let the price fool you: the engineering quality on this case is excellent and is well-built.
- The price point to performance
- The ease of use
5. Heritage Audio OST-6 Enclosure
- 6 slots
- 48 V phantom power
- External power supply
- Incl. 19″ rack ears
Last but not least, the Heritage Audio OST-6 (check price on Amazon here) has earnt itself in our ‘best 500 series racks money can buy’ list.
On the surface, it may not appear to be too different from its counterparts, listed above. However, the ‘On Slot’ Technology that it boasts is deserving of some mention.
Essentially it allows per-slot linear regulation stages, which isolate the slots and avoid modules from ‘sharing power’. This means that each slot has its own power supply, isolating modules from one another. The only thing they share is the metal enclosure itself.
Each slot features some neat LEDs for power status indicators, which is always nice to have.
The construction is one of the strongest we’ve felt. It is made of heavy-gauge steel with an aluminium front panel. The side-mounted carry handle makes for easy transportation though, despite the weight.
In terms of phantom power, the unit supplies up to 140mA, which is sufficient.
The bonus ear racks that they give you is also a nice touch, as many companies would have these as a purchasable ‘extra’.
- On-Slot technology
- That it’s rugged as hell
Last update on 2020-09-18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API