The Best Channel Strip Units 2024 – All Prices

channel strips

There will come a time when you start to feel the limitations of your recording setup, and the first thing that is usually slated for an upgrade is getting outboard gear. For many, choosing what to get for their first might be daunting. Others with a well-built studio might want a piece of gear to process vocals without piling on another set of rackmount gear.

That’s where channel strips come in. Usually, you’d see multiple channel strips on a large format console. However, one or two recordings will suffice, especially for those looking to improve their vocal recordings, as many rackmount channel strips are vocal-focused.

Some channel strips also include useful tools like toggles for a saturator and other features that color your sound in beneficial ways. It is the most economical way to improve your sound, especially for vocals.

For people who record podcasts or voice-overs, having a channel strip before your audio interface or iPad Audio Interface adds a lot of big studio character without the big studio cost. It also lets you fire up your DAW and record right away with consistent sound quality.

Ready to make the next step in furnishing your studio? Read on.

The Top Channel Strips – May 2024

Author & Contributors

The Best Budget Channel Strips under $500

dbx 286s

91 out of 100. Incorporating 1650+ ratings and reviews.
At publication time this was the Highest Rated Channel Strip Under $500.


  • Simplified controls limit tweakability


  • Great sounding preamp
  • Gate/expander one of the best I've tried
  • Dynamics and EQ well thought out

Many consider rackmount channel strips a "medium" type of studio gear. I've always used software monitoring during recording. Still, sometimes, the latency builds up, especially when the tracks and plugins start piling up.

I also wanted some processing into the audio interface for general communication, so I started looking into channel strips for my project studio.

Your signal goes through the Preamp section. While I don't think dbx based the circuitry on API gear, to my ears, it reminds me of what API preamps sound like. It smooths out the high frequencies with harmonics without muffling the input. Other preamp features include a standard 48V phantom power and an 80Hz high-pass filter at 18dB/octave.

The filter's roll-off is enough to deal with wind and vibration transfer from the mic stand without affecting the overall tone of my mics. The input levels are visible thanks to four LEDs that indicate the amount of signal passing through the preamp.

dbx 286s compressor section
The dbx 286s compressor section works well even with just 2 controls.

The compressor section looks basic at first glance. The controls are different from what most would expect. The drive is basically your threshold control, and the compression ratio is fixed at 4:1. The density knob is a release time knob with fully counterclockwise giving the slowest release and fully clockwise giving the fastest.

Equalization is also simple on the outside. Labeled "Enhancer" on the unit, the low frequencies combine a boost at 80Hz while simultaneously cutting out 250Hz as you go higher with it at a ratio of 2:1. The high-frequency control employs a dynamic shelving EQ.

I noticed that with higher speaking levels, the high frequencies don't get proportionally louder but retain clarity throughout the entire voice's dynamic range.

The gating is natural at ratios lower than 2:1. It filters out my A/C in the background well enough for general recording.

Tweakers relying on minute adjustments of various parameters might find the controls too limited. Even so, I preferred this simplicity because it didn't keep me fixated on getting everything right.

The excellent price point and feature set make it great value for any studio. Even comparing it with more expensive channel strips, it packs enough punch to hang with the big boys, especially with how well the dynamics are handled.

Voiceover example recorded with the dbx 286s*

*Audio recorded with a Lewitt LCT 440 Pure condenser microphone.

The dbx 286s is an excellent addition to any studio, big or small. As a vocal chain, it adds a professional sheen to singing and excellent dynamic control for spoken word and voiceovers.

While the simplified controls may not be to everyone's liking, each module is cleverly engineered to have a useful setting, no matter the input. If you're looking for your first channel strip or preamp, the dbx 286s is an excellent choice at a great price.

If you'd like a detailed explanation of all its functionality, look at my extended dbx 286s review.


  • Channels: 1 (some people mistake the Insert for a second channel)
  • Inputs: XLR (mic), 1/4" TRS (line), 1/4" TRS (insert)
  • Outputs: 1/4" TRS - 100Ω balanced / 200Ω unbalanced
  • Preamp: 0dB to +60dB gain with phantom power on XLR pins 2 and 3
  • Compressor: ratio 4:1 with a threshold range of -40dBu to +20dBu
  • De-Esser: frequency range 800Hz to 10kHz High Pass, 12dB/octave
  • Enhancer: with high frequency program-controlled shelving equalizer, approximately 15dB maximum HF boost, and low frequency bell-shaped boost @ 80Hz, bell-shaped cut @250Hz, ratio is approximately 2:1
  • Expander/Gate: with an adjustable expansion ratio from 1.5:1 to 10:1
  • Rackmountable: Yes - 1U

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Gearank Raphael Pulgar 95/100
YouTube Podcastage 98/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

The Best Channel Strips under $1000

ART Voice Channel

91 out of 100. Incorporating 175+ ratings and reviews.
At publication time this was the Highest Rated Channel Strip from $500 to $1000.


  • Multiple options might be overwhelming at first
  • Better sounding (but less versatile) options at this price


  • Extremely versatile with a multitude of controls
  • Tube preamp tone warms up even the brightest condenser mics
  • Tone shaping options abound with a Parametric EQ

The ART Voice channel is a full-featured channel strip with all the tools you need to get an amazing-sounding track onto a recording. It features a Class A Tube Preamp with up to +60dB Mic gain and +40 dB line-level gain, which aligns with ART's reputation for affordable quality outboard gear, especially their mic preamps.

While the front panel looks overwhelming, seasoned engineers will feel right at home with the controls.

It includes a semi-parametric EQ that can be patched pre- or post-dynamics, multiple insert points, an expander/gate section (one of my biggest requirements in an outboard channel strip), and a special impedance control to fine-tune different mics to the preamp.

Switching the tube voltage changes the response of the preamp mild tube tone to harmonically rich. Cheap microphones can benefit from the warmth and saturation of the tube section.

Additional I/O makes it versatile enough to integrate into an already busy rig. At the same time, USB outlets function as a direct recording solution for smaller setups.

While a blessing for experienced engineers, the complex layout and various controls might be overwhelming for someone still learning the craft. Don't let that stop you from adding it to your rack.

The ART Voice Channel is a versatile piece of gear at a great price. It amalgamates many essential pieces in a signal chain and works well with vocal and instrument recordings. It's not the most transparent preamp, so look elsewhere if that's what you're after.


  • Channels: 1
  • Inputs: 2 x Combo (XLR/TRS), 1 x ADAT (Optical)
  • Outputs:1 x AES/EBU (XLR), 1 x S/PDIF (Coax), 1 x S/PDIF (Optical)
  • Preamp: Class A vacuum tube (12AX7), up to +60 dB (Mic) +3 dB to +40 dB (Line) with 48v phantom power
  • Compressor: 1:1 to 20:1
  • Equalizer: Low Frequency: 50/150 Hz Selectable, MID 1 Frequency: 100 Hz to 3kHz continuously variable, MID 2 Frequency: 500 Hz to 15kHz continuously variable, High Frequency: 5K/15kHz Selectable
  • Rackmountable: Yes - 2U

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Sound On Sound Mike Senior 90/100
Gearspace PMoshay 97/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Black Lion Audio Eighteen

90 out of 100. Incorporating 5+ ratings and reviews.
Black Lion Audio


  • Inadequate as a standalone preamp; synergizes best with other outboard gear


  • Classic solid state preamp tones inspired by landmark designs
  • Pultec-style EQ brings familiar sheen
  • High quality components

Nothing beats the great crunch of a pushed channel as an effect on vocals. Even in more subtle flavors, a nice amount of saturation on vocals and other instruments adds to the "glue" effect during a mix.

The Black Lion Audio Eighteen was designed with character in mind. Its solid-state, CineMag transformer-based induction EQ/Preamp puts mojo and vibe at the forefront.

The EQ controls will be familiar to those who have used Pultec-style equalization. It's a great-sounding circuit that adds brilliance without becoming harsh. This trait is carried over to the Eighteen and improved with custom componentry and tweaks.

Even with copious amounts of harmonic saturation from the 1831 op-amp it was named after, the Black Lion Audio Eighteen has excellent control over distortion and does not introduce unmusical audio clipping.

However, as a channel strip, it lacks a compressor and other processing that could have improved its functionality. That being said, it's best used in a studio with the outboard gear necessary to synergize with it.

All in all, the Black Lion Eighteen is a refinement of classic, time-tested designs that fits very well into a well-equipped studio. Do note that I do not recommend it as a first purchase for a studio just starting out because of the lack of other features like compression.


  • Channels: 1
  • Inputs: 1 x XLR)
  • Outputs: 1 x XLR
  • Preamp: Solid State Induction EQ Preamp. OpAmp circuitry with CineMag Transformers
  • Compressor: none
  • Equalizer: 2-band EQ, Lowpass Shelving, 80Hz Highpass, 10kHz Lowpass
  • Rackmountable: Yes - 2U

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Sound On Sound Neil Rogers 94/100
MusicTech John Pickford 90/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

The Best Channel Strip Units under $1500

Rupert Neve Designs Portico 5017

95 out of 100. Incorporating 50+ ratings and reviews.
Rupert Neve Designs
At publication time this was the Equal Highest Rated Channel Strip from $1000 to $1500 along with the Vintech X73i.


  • Needs more options for tone shaping


  • Big Neve console sound in a compact package
  • Sweetens various sound sources like vocals and instruments
  • Onboard compressor provides light transient smoothing

Rupert Neve and his name have been among the most recognizable trademarks in the audio engineering industry. He has done designs for both his own brands and others like Focusrite. His designs have a trademark "sheen" and polish and what he calls a "sweet" sound, and this is what you'll get from the Portico 5017.

The Rupert Neve Designs Portico 5017 is unlike other channel strips. For starters, it is in a desktop format rather than a rackmount or modular unit. This form factor makes it ideal for project recording studios without rack space but still want the "big console sound" the Neve name is known for.

It features a solid-state preamp with up to +66dB in gain, phase, and high-pass switches. The Silk switch engages a vintage-styled character reminiscent of early Neve console designs. The compressor offers light dynamic range augmentation with just the right ratio for dynamic singing, leaving room for further processing.

The sound is unmistakably "Neve". For vocals, this results in a sweet-sounding high-end, especially for female vocals. Strident singers get tamed by the Neve's richness without sacrificing sparkle.

On bass, the Portico 5017 clears up any muddiness on the lower range while adding a nice sheen to the top end without sounding brittle. For miked-up electric guitars, fat tones are streamlined to fit better in mixes.

To me, though, it lacks additional equalization and dynamics options. The optical compressor has a variable threshold but a fixed 2:1 ratio. This limits the unit's versatility but is adequate for a gentle squeeze on bass and vocals.

The fundamental Neve tone is adequate for great-sounding sources. Still, additional tone-shaping options would have made it even more versatile.

For big studio polish in a portable desk format, the Rupert Neve Designs Portico 5017 is the perfect companion for small to medium studios and more mobile setups.


  • Channels: 1
  • Inputs: 1 x XLR (Mic), 1 x 1/4" (Hi-Z)
  • Outputs: 1 x XLR, 1 x 1/4" (Mic Out)
  • Preamp: Solid State with up to +66 dB gain with 48v phantom power
  • Compressor: 2:1 ratio with a 10dB to -20dB threshiold
  • Equalizer: Highpass filter: 12dB/octave @ 80Hz
  • Rackmountable: no

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Vintage Guitar Pete Prown 92/100
Audiofanzine fabamarie 100/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Vintech X73i

95 out of 100. Incorporating 50+ ratings and reviews.
Vintech Audio
At publication time this was the Equal Highest Rated Channel Strip from $1000 to $1500 along with the RND Portico 5017.


  • Not the pick if you're looking for a 1:1 vintage reproduction (warts and all)


  • Modernized 1073 look and feel
  • Smooth, harmonically rich top end
  • Modern components with tight tolerances perfect for stereo matching
  • More affordable and reliable than vintage units

The 1073-style preamp/EQ has always been a community favorite. The design lends itself to warm and polished-sounding vocals with a focused, clear midrange and a shimmering top end.

The Vintech X73i is based on the legendary 1073 design and built with production techniques that allow Vintech to make it more accessible to most studios and engineers.

It features a Class A solid-state preamp with a familiar EQ section for various cuts and boosts. The analog circuitry makes even the most extreme settings sound musical in many contexts.

The X73i would pass as an actual Neve unit with the color scheme from a distance. The X73i injects the Neve mojo with a more polished, modern twist.

With compression, the high end never gets overemphasized, as sibilance is smoothed out across a broader spectrum thanks to the harmonic content—just like the unit the X73i was based on.

The modern construction and componentry give it a "brand new" sound compared to vintage units with aged components and lower tolerances.

This, however, means that the X73i is not a one-to-one reproduction. It favors consistency over vintage accuracy, so having a stereo preamp pair would be more consistent (and affordable!) than getting two vintage units.

If you're a 1073 preamp/eq fan and have a limited budget to outfit your studio with a channel strip, the Vintech X73i is your best bet to get that N-style polish.


  • Channels: 1
  • Inputs: 1 x XLR (Mic), 1 x XLR (Line), 1 x 1/4" (Line)
  • Outputs: 1 x XLR, 1 x 1/4"
  • Preamp: Class A solid state with up to +70db gain with 48v phantom power
  • Compressor:none
  • Equalizer: Low shelving, Fixed Hi EQ, Variable Low EQ, Variable Mid EQ frequencies
  • Rackmountable: Yes - 1U

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
TapeOp Allen Farmelo 95/100
Gearspace ToneJones 95/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

The Best Channel Strips over $1500

Tube-Tech MEC 1A Tube Channel Strip

95 out of 100. Incorporating 20+ ratings and reviews.


  • Tubes are inherently fragile
  • It would've been nice if it had a VU meter
  • Requires regular tube replacement


  • Adds tube warmth to a mic signal
  • Musical sounding EQ and compression
  • Easy to get professional sounding vocals
  • Premium build quality

Even in this age of digital signal processing, tube preamps are still in high demand—mainly because of the musical warmth they add to audio. This is precisely what the Tube-Tech MEC 1A offers. It imparts the unmistakable warmth and depth characteristic of Tube-Tech's tube-driven circuitry. This feature makes it easy to get professional-sounding vocal recordings with minimal tweaking.

In addition to its tube preamp, the integrated equalizer allows for precision shaping of the audio spectrum with intuitive control over frequency bands. This allows for good tangible EQ control that will enable you to shave off or boost specific bands as needed.

It also has an optical compressor, which allows for transient enhancement and control over dynamics without compromising the musical quality of the source material. You can set it to follow the normal signal flow, follow the equalizer, or go before the EQ via a switch. Essential controls are provided, including Attack, Release, Ratio, and Threshold. There is also an Output Gain pot that supplies up to 10dB of make-up gain.

All these features make the Tube-Tech MEC 1A a great recording tool for those who want to infuse their recording with the characteristics of a genuine tube preamp. The price is quite steep, but professionals can get quite a lot of mileage from this channel strip, given the quality that it provides.


  • Channels: 1
  • Inputs: 1 x XLR, 1 x 1/4" (Hi-Z)
  • Outputs: 1 x XLR, 2 x 1/4" (Sidechain Link)
  • Preamp: Tube preamplifier (3 x ECC 81, x ECC 82, x ECC 83),
  • Compressor: Ratio: 1.5:1 to 10:1, variable Attack and Release controls, Threshold control,
  • Equalizer: Active tube based equalizer, 3-Band EQ, 6 low shelving frequencies, 6 high shelving frequencies, Bell-type Mid with 12 selectable frequencies & variable Q
  • Rackmountable: Yes - 2U

Rating Source Highlight

Website Source *Rating Value
Sound On Sound Paul White 96/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Manley Core Reference

96 out of 100. Incorporating 60+ ratings and reviews.


  • Limited tweakability compared to individual units from Manley
  • No noise gate


  • Adds richness and complexity to brighter, detailed mics
  • Distilled versions of Manley's best circuits in one unit
  • Custom high-end componentry
  • Great entry into boutique gear

The Manley Core Reference is a channel strip based on Manley's award-winning VOXBOX. With a Class A tube mic preamp (1 x 12AX7 for gain and 1 x 6922 White Follower) and custom Manley transformers, the Core Reference was designed to be as it's named: the core of your project studio.

The Core Reference combines Manley's most popular modules and technology into an "essentials" package channel strip.

In addition to the tube preamp, the Core Reference has a Baxandall EQ, ELOP compressor, and Brickwall limiter.

Going into the preamp, the overall tone is crisp and clear without making bright condenser mics thin or brittle. This is a big plus for bright mics like the Sony C800g or C100 to have a richer top end without totally sacrificing the tonality they are known for. Manley's own Reference series condenser mics have an extended top end. With that in mind, if your mic collection consists of bright mics, this unit's preamp is a godsend in keeping harshness at bay.

That said, the Core Reference has its own compromises. Its modules are less fully fleshed out than Manley's main units, such as their individual dynamics and EQ lines. The lack of a noise gate/expander (which is important to me) is also something to look out for.

The Manley Core Reference is a great entry point for high-end gear. It allows a generous taste of what boutique gear can do for your sound without the collective cost of owning multiple modules.


  • Channels: 1
  • Inputs: 1 x 1/4", 2 x XLR
  • Outputs: 2 x XLR
  • Preamp: Class A tube mic preamplifier (1 x 12AX7 for gain and 1 x 6922 White Follower), Manley hand-wound transformers, Mic Pre Selectable Gain 40dB or 60dB, Line Amp Selectable Gain 20dB or 40dB
  • Compressor: ratio 3:1, variable Attack and Release controls, Threshold control,
  • Equalizer: Low and High Baxandall Shelves (80Hz and 12kHz) with ±12dB range, Sweepable Midrange Bell EQ (100Hz – 1kHz) or (1kHz – 10kHz) with ±10dB range, 120Hz High Pass Filter switch
  • Rackmountable: Yes - 2U

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Sound On Sound Bob Thomas 97/100
Bonedo Felix Klostermann 90/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Rupert Neve Designs Shelford Channel

97 out of 100. Incorporating 70+ ratings and reviews.
Rupert Neve Designs
At publication time this was the Highest Rated Channel Strip.


  • No master output control


  • Developed and refined by Rupert Neve
  • Takes the best of classic Neve designs into a channel strip
  • Unmistakable Neve character that can be dialed in or out

The Rupert Neve Designs Shelford Channel is the closest thing to a large-format channel strip, refined for the modern recording studio.

It features the classic Inductor EQ from the Shelford 5052. The preamp was designed with a direct-coupled transformer input, and the custom transformer provides gain.

The equalizer bass section is based on 1064, known for its smooth-sounding and resonant bass harmonics. The midrange is based on the famous 1073 and is best for sweetening vocals and instruments. The compressor is based on a Neve-designed 2254. All this is rounded off with toggles for the "Silk" setting and as well as a texture knob for more character.
he one thing missing for me is a master output control. Some of us might be a bit gain-happy when it comes to recording, so without a master output, it might hit your interface too hard, even with the gain turned down all the way. This is an unlikely scenario, but it is still something to watch out for.

The Shelford Channel provides the classic sound associated with the name in a more accessible format. It preserves the tone shaping and character of the best of Rupert Neve's circuit designs over the years while making it more accessible to those who can't fit a large format console in their bedroom (hey, we can all dream, right?).

If you're after the "Neve Sound," that is, a sparkly top end with a lot of midrange clarity and smooth dynamics, then this is it. It's designed by the legend himself, with many refinements over the original units he helped create.


  • Channels: 1
  • Inputs: 1 x XLR (mic), 1 x XLR (line), 1 x 1/4" (Hi-Z)
  • Outputs: 1 x XLR (line), 1 x XLR (-6dB out), 1 x 1/4" (thru)
  • Preamp: Solid state with up to +66 dB gain with 48v phantom power
  • Compressor: ratio 1.5:1 to 8:1 with a threshold range of -25dBu to +20 dBu
  • Equalizer: 3-band Parametric with selectable peak/shelf modes
  • Rackmountable: Yes - 1U

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
TapeOp Geoff Stanfield 98/100
Pro Sound Rov Tavaglione 95/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Things to Consider When Buying a Channel Strip

What is a Channel Strip and What Does it Do?

They are basically a single or double channel of a mixing console providing signal processing functions. These may include things such as a preamp, compressor, limiter, Equalizer, exciter, de-esser, and auto-tuning. Various channel strips offer different combinations of signal processing.


Channel strips offer different combinations of modules. Some have different kind of circuits that include a Preamp, Equalizer, high pass and low pass filters, compression section, and limiter (gain reduction). Others are more streamlined and only include a mic preamp and one or two other modules. Some channel strips have consoles with options for saturation and character. Knowing whether you want a channel strip that does everything before your DAW or leaves enough for you to work with inside the box is important.

Transparency vs Character

This will depend on whether you want a channel strip that was designed to be as clean as possible or a strip with a lot of character. Transparent channel strips only subtly alter the tone going into your interface. At the same time, Character-based designs usually imbue your tracks with analog warmth and saturation, reminiscent of the analog console gear of yesterday.

Enclosure Format

Channel strips come in various formats, from 1U rackmount units to 500 series and desktop form factors. What you choose will depend on whether you have an existing rack to use and won't be moving around or prefer having a more mobile setup. We have included rack size in the features of each product so you can know which fits your existing space the best or how to budget your eventual rackmount setup.

Best Channel Strip Selection Methodology

The first edition was published in 2016. The current edition was published on April 29, 2024.

We looked at all the rackmount, desktop, and 500 series channel strips available at major online American retailers for this edition. We ended up with 29 options on our shortlist, from different brands that include including Rupert Neve, Manley, Dbx, Universal Audio. and more. You can see our short list see in the Music Gear Database. We then collected ratings and reviews from forum posts, magazine articles, videos, and retailers, which incorporated over 2,600 of these sources into our data set - an increase of more than 10% over the previous edition. We processed those data with the Gearank Algorithm to produce the rating scores out of 100 for each channel strip. These rating scores were used to select the highest-rated options to recommend above in each price range. For more information about our methods, see How Gearank Works.

Other popular options that did not secure a top spot in this list include the Avalon VT-737SP, Universal Audio 6176, Empirical Labs EL-9 Mike E, and the Presonus Studio Channel Strip.

About the Author and Contributors

Here are the key people and sources involved in this guide's production - click on linked names for information about their music industry backgrounds.

Lead Author & Researcher

Some of the recording gear I use in my studio includes the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20, Focusrite Scarlett Solo, Samson QH4 Headphone Amp and Cloudlifter CL-1. My mics include Aston Origin, Aston Element, Shure SM57, Rode NT1, Rode PodMic and MXL V67G.


Jason Horton: Editing and Illustrating.


Main/Top Image: By using photographs of the RND Portico 5017, DBX 286s, Vintech X73i, RND Shelford Channel and Manley Core Reference.

The videos have been embedded in accordance with YouTube's Terms of Service.

The individual product images were sourced from websites, promotional materials or supporting documentation provided by their respective manufacturers except for the dbx 286s Compressor Section which was photographed by the author.

7 thoughts on “The Best Channel Strip Units 2024 – All Prices”

    1. I’ve just completed a review of the category and there were no eligible 2 channel options available under $500 to include in this guide.

  1. Hello and sorry for maybe silly question but i am kinda a newbie in this field. I recently wanted to build a small home studio and wanted to ask if any of the above are good tools for mastering. All of the strip channels showed are “mono”, this means that I need a pair if I want to master a whole song, one for each channel? Or i can simply bounce all the tracks in a single track and then master/eq on the strip? Thank you in advance for your support!!!

    1. Once you mix the stereo tracks into mono you can’t separate them back to stereo. It sounds like you haven’t had the chance to do much mastering yet so I suggest you look at some guides on the topic – Mastering music.

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