Peterson Goodwyn and his crew at DIY Recording Equipment (DIYRE) won’t be strangers to many long-term Tape Op readers. Their Colour 500 Palette [Tape Op #107] has been reviewed, along with several other DIYRE and third-party Colour modules. For those not familiar, the Colour 500 Palette is a 500 Series unit with three Colour sockets into which user-assembled kits or prebuilt modules are inserted. These modules can then be activated individually or collectively with adjustable level controls for each module. DIYRE also makes the CP5 Colour Mic Preamp kit which is an ultra-clean preamp with 66 dB of gain and a single Colour socket. I’ve used these for years along with the 15IPS Tape Saturation Colour module.
I’m currently out of space in my three 500 Series racks, so I was happily surprised last year when DIYRE announced the development of the Colour Duo, an entirely new kit that was to combine a pair of their preamps with room for three Colour sockets each – all in a single rack space enclosure that includes the ability to hot-swap Colour modules. The Colour Duo has separate balanced XLR mic and line inputs so the unit can also be used purely as a processor while bypassing the preamps – plus it has balanced XLR and 1/4-inch TRS outputs. Sign me up!
Like all DIYRE products, the Colour Duo is available as a kit or fully assembled (with an up-charge). Never one to shy away from a hot soldering iron, I took the plunge on the kit version and got busy. There are a fair number of components (as one would expect) that reside in a two-channel preamp, but the build itself isn’t difficult if you have prior soldering experience. I didn’t run into any problems and was able to assemble the Colour Duo, plus six Colour modules, over two days. DIYRE consistently has the very best build guides with interactive build maps for all of the products on their website, so you never feel like you are flailing in the wind if things get tricky.
Luckily, no “magic smoke” was released upon first applying power! Speaking of power, the Colour Duo uses an external universal power supply that can auto-sense 110-220V while providing ±16V and 48V phantom to the unit via a 5-pin locking XLR plug. They have also thoughtfully included a power-through port on the enclosure that can be used to chain up to 4 Colour Duo units from a single power supply.
The preamp portion of the Colour Duo is similar to the CP5 Colour Mic Pre and is based around a THAT, Corp. IC. This is a preamp designed to precisely amplify the inserted mic signal while not adding anything that wasn’t there in the first place. The preamp gain is a stepped potentiometer, so matching gains between the two channels is very easy – as a matter of fact, all of the controls with knobs on the Colour Duo are stepped, so recall and matching across the whole unit is a snap! Each channel also has 48V phantom power with a red LED indicating when it is engaged, an 80 Hz high-pass filter (not available on the CP5), a -20 dB pad, a polarity reverse switch, and a Mic/Line switch to determine the input path. These preamps sound incredible on anything put through them. While they aren’t adding any transformer or op-amp saturation, they are giving you a perfectly accurate representation of what your microphone is placed in front of. They also have an extremely linear gain path – many lower-priced preamps bunch up gain at the top of their range making it difficult to accurately add small amounts near the end of the gain pot travel. Not so with the Colour Duo.
The Colour portion of the Duo is very similar to the Colour 500 Palette, with three aluminum knobs corresponding to each Colour socket, along with a lighted switch for each to engage the module in the circuit. These switches base their LED color on the Colour module installed in its respective slot, making it easier to remember what modules are slotted in. The unmarked knobs for each of the channel’s three modules are drive parameters that send signal from the preamp or the line input through the corresponding Colour unit. With three possible modules in use at a time, quite a lot of gain can get added to the input signal, so there’s a Trim knob that follows the output of the Colour portion. A Colour Duo feature that isn’t part of the original Colour 500 is a Dry/Wet mix knob for instant parallel processing. Since many Colour modules are designed for saturation/distortion, being able to drive them hard with the input knob to get an appropriate amount of dirt/hair/grit/mojo, and then blend to taste and not obliterate the signal running through that channel is an extremely handy feature.
The really unique aspect of the Colour Duo is that it can be configured with new/different Colour modules without having to remove them from the rack or power it down. On the right of the front panel is an Active button that has a red LED when engaged. Turning this off disconnects the I/O and power PCB at the back of the unit from the drawer PCB where all of the preamp and Colour business takes place. Two thumbscrews on the outer edges of the front panel can then be loosened and used as handles to pull the entire main PCB and front panel from the rack where Colour modules may be swapped. This is smart forward-thinking and makes swapping out the modules incredibly simple – it means having a small collection of different Colour modules on hand to entirely change the character of the unit is feasible and enticing.
So, do I like it? Hell yes, I like it! As I mentioned, I’m a long-time fan of DIYRE’s work and use their CP5 and EQP5 (preamps and EQs, respectively) all the time. I love the Colour Duo preamps for the same things I love the CP5 for: overheads that have all the depth and pinpoint definition of a beautiful drum kit, acoustic guitars that sound like they are right in front of the listener, and strings that need to shimmer through a mix. Combine these gorgeous sounding preamps with the options available in the Colour modules, and you can create almost any flavor of preamps you want. Not to mention, you’ll have a new processor for mix bus or track insert duties allowing you to add transformers, compressors, or EQ curves – the Colour world is deep and constantly evolving!
It’s hard to say anything negative about the Colour Duo because it does exactly what it was designed to do in such an elegant and powerful way. If I had to find something to whine about, it would be that when inserting the drawer back into the rack, the PCB edges sometimes don’t exactly line up in their guides on the sides of the enclosure, causing the multipoint connectors to misalign. Usually, pulling the drawer back out and realigning fixes the issue and it can then be reinserted correctly. The price to performance ratio for the Colour Duo in kit form is truly hard to beat – two world-class preamps plus the options and flexibility of the Colour ecosystem can be built for $650! Get in line now, as they are filling backorders! Special Colour bundle pricing available at checkout.