The 500-series market has seen a flood of new products, to say the least. I keep waiting for Dyson to come out with a 500-series vacuum. Or maybe Bodum will make a milk frother for the format. The cool thing about everybody doing something is that it makes the exceptional stand out even more in sea of relative mediocrity. The Purple Audio Sweet Ten is a product that does just that! The Sweet Ten is a 10-module 500-series rack boasting unprecedented flexibility and configurability. Mine arrived with Moiyn and Cans II modules installed, turning it into an 8×2 summing mixer. This review will cover the Sweet Ten in this configuration.
The first thing I noticed out-of-the-box is its build quality. It's much more solid than the many 500-series racks that have visited High Bias. This thing is an absolute tank without feeling bulky at all. It's rigid and still sleek. It feels like it's going to outlast the building my studio is in. The next thing I noticed is the attractive venting on the top and sides of the chassis. These provide more than ample heat dissipation without exposing the insides. Maybe I'm imagining things, but it seems to run way cooler than other racks of its ilk. Next, I noticed the high-quality Neutrik connectors on the back - always a good sign. This being my first 500-series rack, I was intrigued and excited by the number of I/O points on the back. More on this later. Mine was installed in mere minutes, and I was on my way!
While I was waiting on delivery of several 500-series modules I'd ordered for my new rack, I was blown away by Chris Garges' review of the AwTAC Awesome Channel Amplifier [Tape Op #93]. That and the knowledge that it would really take advantage of the Sweet Ten's unique features led me to contact the ingenious and affable Dave Raphael, and he happened to have a few channels he could spare for a week until my other modules arrived. A pair of AEA RPQ500 mic preamps [#96] ended up arriving ahead of schedule, so the AwTACs had some company!
Bars Of Gold are quite possibly the best American rock band you've never heard of. Certainly the most earnest. Cross The Constantines and Repeater-era Fugazi fronted by Bruce Springsteen giving the most harrowingly inspirational halftime speech in the history of coaching, and you get the picture - barely. Anyhow, we had spent a yearish off-and-on tracking, overdubbing, re-tracking, re- amping, and eating my homemade salsa by the time the Sweet Ten arrived. First, we used the Sweet Ten to power the AEA preamps fed by an AEA R88 Mk2 stereo ribbon mic [Tape Op #96]. Everything sounded great - no surprise there. One of the guys had borrowed an API six-slot from Vintage King in case the Purple didn't show up in time for our session. We took full advantage and A/B'ed the two. While that mic and preamp combo sounded great in either box, the Sweet Ten seemed to provide a more substantial sound stage. There was more depth and weight. The image wasn't wider, per se, just bigger. It's nice and super rare when something already great becomes almost 3D sounding. The reason? Clean power. The Sweet Ten provides 150 mA of current per slot from a built-in, high- frequency switching power supply with extensive filtering and shielding.
With that last bit of tracking done, we mixed the record out from my DAW, summing through my trusty Sony MXP-3036 console. I was dying to use the summing features of the Sweet Ten, but with only four modules, I decided to wait. With longer projects like this, I often mix in stages, and this proved to be the second-to-last stage. A few days later, we did touchups. It was a classic example of the band asking for a few final tweaks, but being generally stoked, and me feeling like the record deserved more real-estate sonically. Too much In A Silent Way box-set-on-headphones, I guess. So I opted to patch the AwTACs and sum through the Purple Audio rig where my master fader would be - then straight out of the Purple's mix bus and into a Prism Sound Maselec MLA-2 compressor [Tape Op #93]. I then mult'ed the outputs, and a pair went into the DAW and another back to my master fader. The results were exactly what I had hoped for. Again, the above description regarding depth and weight applied, but other things happened too. Tracks sat better, details I had long forgotten reappeared, and the mix just seemed more cohesive and confident. Problem solved!
A few months and more modules later, the day arrived when full 8×2 summing in the Sweet Ten became possible, thanks to the wonderful people at Moog, Radial Engineering, and Rascal Audio - just in time for my session with Chit Chat, a band of young upstarts hailing from Ann Arbor, MI. They play bad-ass garage-y psyche rock with super huge, fuzzed-out guitars. They know how to lay it down when it comes to guitar tone. Same deal as usual - I mixed some, the band gave notes, I mixed some more. My fiancé, much to her delight (or chagrin, depending on the day) has to walk through the control room to get to our apartment. She has a pretty good ear and listens more than I would if I were in her shoes. She heard the first pass on Monday and commented accordingly. On Friday, when I did the touchup session, as the last chord was ringing out, she uttered "What the fu#*k?!?!?" It scared the bejesus out of me, as I had no idea she was in the room. She said the mixes sounded enormous and asked me what was different. I told her it was the Purple Audio rig. On her way out, she said "You better buy that thing!" Anyone who has a studio and a significant other can relate to what a miracle this is! The Chit Chat mixes sounded great to me too, and their singer Izzy asked what was different, even though the mix changes were pretty minimal, yet the sonic picture was drastically improved. Pretty cool.
A few more months in, and I'm just now scratching the surface of the extra I/O the Sweet Ten has to offer. Each slot has two inputs and two outputs available. This opens up possibilities for inserts, linking, fader loops, as well as stereo modules in one slot! All of the Purple Audio modules take full advantage of this. For example, the Biz [Tape Op #55] and Pants mic preamps have inserts as well as split outputs! And the new Dex is a high-quality line-level and phono mixer with a cross fader.
Mounting the Moiyn in slot 9 allows high-quality summing of the modules in the first eight slots. The Moiyn uses differential summing input amplifiers, reducing the load on the outputs of slots 1-8. This means you can still use the individual outs to go to your DAW or tape machine. It also sports custom hexifiliar output transformers, providing two stereo transformer- isolated feeds. The Moiyn uses two KDJ3 op-amps and two KDJ4 op-amps in its signal path. This all goes through a high quality stereo rotary master fader. It has headroom for days! In addition, the two inputs for slot 9 serve as a stereo input to the Moiyn mix bus for cascading multiple Sweet Ten racks, meaning you can have a killer 16×2 mixer in six rackspaces!
What goes in slot 10? The Cans II module! Cans II is a discrete, stereo headphone amp and control-room preamplifier. There is an internal jumper to send one of the Moiyn's outs to the inputs of the Cans II using no cables. Because of the Cans II's bridging transformer inputs, the pair of rear XLR inputs for slot 10 can be used as a second set of stereo outputs for the Moiyn - very cool. The Cans II sports buttons for channel swap, mono mode, cut for each channel, and dual cut. It also has a precision matched, stereo level control and a toggle switch for switching between its two outputs. All of this, and a 1/4'' headphone jack on the front panel!
After using this setup and about 20% of its feature set for a few months, it occurred to me that the reason for all of these features is a plan for how people will record and mix in the future! The Sweet Ten was built both as a standalone piece and to be part of a near- infinitely configurable modular studio. In the upcoming months, Purple Audio will release the MFTWENTY5. There's too much to cover here, but in short, it's a 1RU-height discrete summing mixer that uses all ten slots of the Sweet Ten - and then some. Super impressive. The idea of building a modular console out of these guys has become a distinct possibility here. The ability to add as you grow, as opposed to saving high five figures for a console in one pop, is super appealing.
So, clearly the Sweet Ten, Moiyn, and Cans II configuration does a ton of stuff. To be honest, it took me a few months to really grasp it. Thankfully, in addition to being some kind of audio genius and future-proofer, Purple Audio owner Andrew Roberts is a helpful and patient man! This setup has really changed the way I think about workflow. Sonically, the Sweet Ten is scary good, regardless of its extensive feature set. It's a proud addition to High Bias. If you're looking for a superior way to power your modules, and then some, or looking to build a modular audio reality, I can't think of a better choice than the Sweet Ten.(Sweet Ten $800 street; Moiyn $725; Cans II $500; www.purpleaudio.com)