Elysia, just over a decade old at this point, boasts over a dozen hardware products and more than a half-dozen plug-ins in its catalog. Their flagship Alpha Compressor and its plug-in version are fantastic mastering compressors, with unique features and outstanding sonics, and the rest of their product line is filled with unique and colorful audio processors. The newest addition to the product line is the elysia skulpter 500 mic preamp. The skulpter 500, as its name implies, is a 500 Series module preamp with some effective tone shaping features. The skulpter 500 features a Class A mic preamp, a JFET DI input, a variable low cut filter, onboard compression, and a dual-mode sound shaping circuit. Phantom power and phase reverse round out the skulpter 500’s features to create a powerful, unique mic preamp and processor.
Also unique is the look of elysia’s gear in general. The skulpter 500 has a bold blue faceplate with large silver knobs and houses a sophisticated microprocessor brain that controls its routing, metering and settings. The mic preamp is a tranformerless, Class A design that employs audiophile gain staging by utilizing electronic relay switching of fixed resistors for setting the preamp gain. This type of circuitry is precise, using 40 switched gain steps from 3 dB up to 65 dB. Every skulpter 500 unit is matched so that any two units can be used as a stereo pair. Toggling the phantom power switch automatically mutes the output to avoid loud pops. No pad is required as the mic preamp can accept very hot input levels and starts with a very low gain setting. Additionally, the input impedance is extremely high for a mic pre (13 kiloohm), allowing virtually any microphone or line level device to happily feed the preamp. The DI input uses a high-impedance (one megaohm) JFET circuit to please passive guitars and basses but can also accept balanced TRS sources. The preamp and DI have independent gain settings, which are retained even after powering down the unit.
A 14-segment LED meter displays the signal level or the mic preamp gain setting as well as overloads and the amount of onboard compression. The soft-knee, RMS compressor, controlled by only one knob, has a 3:1 ratio of compression with fixed attack and release times. The attack time can be further controlled by elysia’s Auto Fast function, which optimizes the attack time for percussive sounds. The variable low cut filter is sweepable from 10 Hz up to 375 Hz with a 12 dB/octave slope. Clearly labeled 48V, phase reverse and mute buttons are also provided.
The centerpiece of the skulpter 500 is its tone shaping circuit, which provides harmonic saturation and two selectable EQ curves. Tonal coloration is provided by the Shape knob, which behaves as a mix control between the clean signal and the processed signal while a push button chooses between Shape 1 and Shape 2. Shape 1 provides harmonic saturation plus a high frequency roll-off while Shape 2 provides the same saturation plus a high-mid EQ boost of up to 10 dB. This tone shaping can be applied while recording mic or DI signals, or may be used as a mix processor to provide saturation and tone control to line level sources.
I used the skulpter 500 on a variety of vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, bass guitar, and drum mics. My favorite recording uses for the skulpter were DI bass guitar, DI acoustic guitar, and snare mic. The DI on bass and acoustic guitar felt solid, punchy, and well balanced, without the slowness or dulling that some transformer-based DI boxes exhibit. The mic pre is extremely clean and detailed, which I would describe as truly transparent, as opposed to, for example, a GML 2032 preamp [Tape Op #52], which is extremely clean but also has a recognizable characteristic sound. While recording I typically avoid committing to too much processing, but sometimes a light amount of Shape 1 or 2 would bring a bass or guitar sound to life with added dimension and depth. During mixing, I experimented with the tone shaping circuit on all kinds of drums, synths, basses, and vocals and I was able to create subtle or drastic saturation effects that enhanced almost every sound that I auditioned. The Skulpter 500 handled both mic and line level signals well, although during testing I did find at that the maximum preamp gain setting the unit seemed noisier than at lower settings. The noise only became apparent at the highest gain settings, and I never needed that much gain with any of my instrumental recordings. The high-pass filter could be adjusted to effectively remove air conditioning rumble all the way up to where it seemed to affect as high as 700 or 800 Hz on vocals and guitar.
The onboard compressor with only one knob proved useful on drums and behaved similarly to a dbx 160 when I found a mostly transparent setting with an occasional tap of a dB or two on loud hits. The attack and release seem to be in the relatively fast range, so that on vocals and bass the occasional loud peak would cause the compressor to clamp down and affect the tone a bit too much for my taste. I found the compressor to excel at moderate dynamic control, especially on percussive sounds where it provided even levels and a “sticky” attack to staccato piano and percussive guitar parts. The compression meter is a single LED that effectively displays the amount of compression via its intensity.
Overall, the mic pre and DI sound extremely clean and natural, while the tone shaping circuit provides an extremely wide range of saturation and tonal control. I would highly recommend the Skulpter 500 as a mix processor as well as for obvious mic and DI applications. elysia specs the Skulpter 500 well within the VPR Alliance power consumption specs for 500 Series modules, so there is no risk of taxing any 500 Series chassis with a full rack of Skulpter 500 modules.