Germ 500 MKII Pre Amp
By: Adam Kagan
Tape OP, Issue #89, May/June 2012
Chandler has created a strong following in the niche market of vintage-inspired preamps, compressors, and tone-shaping tools. Wade Goeke has derived modern tools from the original components and circuitry of early Neve, EMI, Telefunken, and Fairchild units. Chandler employs Class A, high-voltage, transformer-balanced circuits, each with a twist (or two), to create unique and flexible processors with vintage character and modern performance. The 500-series modules follow the same design principles as the rackmount versions, while complying with the API standards for power and connectivity. The componentry and character of the original designs has been carefully tweaked to fit the smaller chassis and lower voltage supplies.
The Germ 500 MKII preamp is an update to the Germ 500 preamp module, utilizing Germanium transistors like the original. It's been tested to work in all current 500-series compliant racks. The blue front panel sports two yellow "chicken-head" knobs, one each for gain and feedback; a complement of toggle switches for polarity, phantom power, and input selection; a 1/4'' jack for instruments; and two white pushbuttons to engage the pad and Thick controls.
The magic of this preamp lies in the interactivity of the gain and feedback controls, which create the variations of tone and drive in the amplifier circuit. Further, the pad can be used to push the gain and feedback to higher levels while the Thick control adds a useful low-frequency rise, or thickness, to the audio. This preamp can vary the tone from clean-and-thick to fat, saturated, and almost-breaking-up-goodness. It can sound like tubes and tape to the extent that pushing the controls leads to gentle harmonic saturation without clipping and harsh distortion.
On snare drum tracking, the tone ranged from huge and punchy to slightly overdriven and saturated, with a darker tone. Even with darker tone, the clarity and explosiveness is not lost. Think Motown or Lenny Kravitz on the dirty side and classic rock on the clean side. On electric guitar amps, this piece really shines for me. The preamp somehow complements a guitar amp's distortion, allowing you to dial in even more saturation and subtle breakup to make the guitar amp go up to 11, 12, maybe even 13! Picture the sound of a VOX AC30 slightly breaking up and then push it a little more... then a little more. Again, the clarity is not lost when the sound starts breaking up.
Used on vocals and electric bass (using the 1/4" instrument input for bass), the clean tones were thick and present and sometimes benefitted from the extra low-mid presence that the Thick button brought to the party. Pushing the feedback versus gain brought both vocals and bass to more midrangey and grungy tones that sat well in dense rock mixes. The Germ could sound as clean as you would need, or just dirty enough on vocals or bass. Again, the tone reminded me of hitting tape and slightly rounding off the harsh edginess of sibilance or string slap.
Overall, the Germ 500 MKII starts with clean vintage character and then adds a whole new palette of sonic options. This is a very versatile preamp that covers a lot of ground, especially for drums, guitars, and electric bass. The vocal sounds are excellent and lean towards vintage and creamy. The preamp provided ample gain for any source I used it on, and the noise floor never showed itself. If you are looking to expand your preamp collection or 500-series toolbox, be sure to check out the Germ 500 MKII. ($955 street; www.chandlerlimited.com)
-Adam Kagan <email@example.com>