Some vintage gear re-issues seem a bit outdated and even ill-equipped for the modern studio. Others lack the classic tones that first warranted the re-issue. But once in a while, a product emerges with all vintage vibe intact plus enough modernity to compete in today’s complex audio rodeo. Harrison’s 32cs Channel Strip is most definitely the latter.
It was 1975 when Dave Harrison began marketing his 32 Series console, the first 32-bus inline console design. The 32 Series utilized a transformer at the input; a fully differential output (with no transformers); versatile four-band EQ and a unique filter set with LPF and HPF—both tunable. It all combined for a sonic signature unlike the era's Neve desks.
Listeners will likely recognize this iconic sound so favored by Bruce Swedien and used on landmark releases by Fleetwood Mac, Kansas, Queen and Michael Jackson. I've mixed on 32 Series consoles; to my ears, they're punchy, clean, versatile and full of character.
The 32cs Channel Strip harnesses the same mic preamp, transformers, filters and EQ but also adds a two-track input, headphone amp and blending facilities so one can utilize the 32cs as a “mic pre/monitor controller” for recordists on the go.
See the Harrison website for its full feature list: www.harrisonconsoles.com/site/32cs.html.
Right out of the box, the 32cs revealed its intent with a firm build quality and heavy weight; no doubt, this is pro gear. All switches, pots and jacks feel tight and right.
I started out with a passive electric bass via the front panel instrument input and received a sound that was more full than bright, quite transformery (especially when pushed), and rather classic. Although the “Instrument” switch crackles and the signal strength LEDs are a little too crowded for precise illumination, the tone is quite flexible once I kicked in HPF and engaged Bump. I cannot overstate the importance of tuning the HPF; users can actually re-shape the relationship between fundamentals and harmonics: that’s a lot of power that can get way out of hand if used heavily. Counter-intuitively, I found Bump to be “hit or miss” per application; on bassy sources, like bass guitar and drums, an additional EQ notch was typically needed, but it was always ideal for thickening up thin sources.
The 32cs’s semi-parametric EQ section proves to be powerful, even lacking bandwidth (Q) controls. To be exact, Q is proportional: wide with minor attenuation/boost, very narrow at high values, so broad changes and surgical slices are both achievable. The bands widely overlap and the top and bottom bells can be switched for shelving. Combined with those HP and LP filters, there's a world of tonal options.
The headphone amp is just loud enough and blending input with the two-track input makes for an easy headphone mix for the talent; it’s an ideal hotel room production solution. Rear panel XLR “mixed outputs” provide convenience for powered monitors or signal splitting to multiple destinations.
I auditioned a wide palette of sources via the 32cs and heard some familiar sounds from my days mixing on a 32 Series. Guitars were classic; percussion, especially tambourine, was notably crisp; kick, snare and drum room mics were quite nice; Hammond organ and particularly rock vocals take on a slightly euphonic, warm and pleasant texture that is quite desirable and useful for anyone desiring refinement and smoothness. It’s a sound ideal for many genres—just not anything aiming to be cold and/or sterile. (Check out my audio webclip of this example here: https://soundcloud.com/pro-audio-review-magazine).
Compared to my benchmark Millennia Music & Media STT-1, the 32cs had a little more mid definition, the STT-1 had a little more bottom and euphonic roundness (especially on bass guitar DI) and the two sounded nearly identical on drum room and djembe.
The only thing I’d like to see on the 32cs is a compressor, but that’s not found on the original 32 Series; compression is just an easy patch away via the 32cs’s provided insert points. Not only in/out switchable but pre- or post-filter, this singular feature ensures that I have the flexibility to achieve the signal path I require. In fact, insert sends are always active, so I can use the 32cs as a simple mic pre, if desired.
If craving the classic Harrison flavor of ‘70s tonality, transformer goodness and a trip down memory lane, it’s all ideally packed into the 32cs’s modern, overbuilt chassis. The price is not budget by any means (at $2,850 list), but is indeed on par for channel strips at this level of available features, durability and prestige.