Most 500 Series racks are just that – a hunk of rack gear that's not the sexiest piece of kit in the studio. They're mostly just a utility piece that's simply designed to interface other equipment with the really fun stuff in the 500 Series world. Let's face it, 500 Series chassis are mostly just a "power supply" with inputs and outputs. So, how does one turn a useful, but generally not feature-laden, piece of gear into something special and unique?
The folks at Black Lion Audio had an idea that really sets their new Patchbay Rack 8 (PBR-8 from here on) apart from most, if not all, other 500 Series enclosures; they have integrated a TT patchbay for all eight channels' inputs and outputs on the front panel of the chassis and also included two sets of mults (one in and two outs). Black Lion teamed up with Heritage Audio in Spain to build the PBR-8, taking advantage of Heritage's OST (On Slot Technology), which provides power regulation per slot to reduce noise and crosstalk. On the chassis' back panel each channel has an XLR input and output, but there are also DB-25 jacks to wire all eight channels on a single cable – handy if you're hooking up to a patchbay with DB-25 connectors. An external "lump-in-the-middle" style power supply feeds the PBR-8 via a locking multi-pin connector.
So, why is this rack so cool? Imagine you're traveling to another studio and you want to bring a bunch of gear of your own to plumb into the studio's equipment. In the PBR-8, for example, you could have six slots filled with a pair of preamps, a pair of EQs, and a pair of compressors (essentially a couple of channel strips), and then put a stereo bus compressor in the final two slots. Now, imagine being able to change the order of the channels (EQ pre-compression or after, or even the outputs of both channel strips into the bus compressor) without having to reach behind the rack to move cables around, chain outputs to inputs, or bother with the studio's own patchbay. These scenarios play out brilliantly and are all possible via the front panel of the PBR-8. Want to smash a vocal through a really vibey compressor but also print a clean track in case you change your mind later? Great! Take the output of the mic pre into one of the mult and then patch one mult out into the compressor and patch the other straight to your converters or wherever else you want it to go.
The Black Lion Audio PBR-8 does exactly what it says on the tin, but that's so much more than almost any other 500 Series chassis available, and certainly any I've used. It handled all the modules I loaded it up with as expected: Cranborne Camden preamps [Tape Op #130], Rupert Neve Designs' 551 EQs, and the TK Audio BC501 compressor [#112]. Additionally, a front panel patchbay is particularly handy for plugging in extra gear I have on hand that isn't currently hooked up to my studio's TT patchbay. I also took advantage of the PBR-8's patchbay for rearranging the order of the EQs and TK compressor when trying out configurations on the mix bus. Eminently handy and just a great thing to have – the PBR-8 is the kind of gear you don't know you're missing/need, but once you have it will wonder how you've lived without it! Highly recommended!