Gear reviews

API – 512c lunchbox preamp

Generally speaking

The API 512c is a mic / line / instrument preamp designed to provide a low noise, unusually good sounding front end for all types of audio systems. Sonically, it offers the distinct API sound at an extremely affordable price. Offering low noise (-129 EIN) and 65 dB of gain, the 512c includes phantom power, and switchable polarity, -20 dB pad and Mic/Line or Instrument selector. Front panel XLR and 1/4 inch connectors combined with rear panel mic access allows for additional flexibility when installed into an API lunchbox┬«, API’s 10 position 500V vertical rack, or an API console.

The API 512c is an already recognized preamp. It has been long time around and was developed by the founder of API, Saul Walker. Like described above it features a gain-knob, phantom, polarity and pad switch + DI input. It’s a preamp.. yeah right. And it has a meter.

Problems & Technicalities

One of the biggest problems people face with API preamps and any other discrete class A-no output trim preamps is the high output. If you are a hybrid studio like mine (preamps directly into converter), the APIs deliver too much output. When you drive them a littlebit and you think “wow, that’s the sound I want from them” the AD-converter is already clipping.

I faced this problem and solved it with the GAS-A10 (, a channel attenuator tool. It’s like the output trim of a regular preamp but hosted in an external 19″-rack. Problem is solved, I can drive my API now as much as I want, even distort it.


The main-application for API preamps is drums. The preamps sound mid-forward, very pushy due to the iron-transformer (distortion) and of course due to their curcuit design.

I already experienced their sound from using the 4 channel API-preamp. Stunning what they do on snare and kick if you never used an API preamp. Sometimes it’s too much midrange and it gets too clicky, so be careful on placing your micrphone.

I use it also for bass (DI or mic) to record metal-finger and pick style bass. It really makes stuff cut trough the mix. It tames the bottom-end, get rid of the sub-rumble stuff in a pleasent way, still it sounds full and exciting.

The api really kills together with an SM57. I also tried them as overheads (got 2 API512c). The really “deliver” the sound of the drumkit. If you like to samplereplace your drums, the API are too aggressive, means you get too much click from the snare and the attack of the toms. I do not like them as much for overheads as for the other application I already mentioned.

Using them on distorted guitars is also cool. Mostly they work no Oasis-style guitars, Grunge-style. I had not so much luck (after trying them many times) on death metal guitars. They do too much crunch in the midrange, means the guitars lack lowend and the midrange get too undefined. Well, to say at last, they worked exceptionally well on one album (with death metal guitars), so it’s like with all gear: not every piece of gear fits every instrument/style/player/album-sound.


If you record drums, you need at least 2 API 512c. If you like your synths in your face, use the API DI and drive them (don’t forget to get a GAS-A10). In general if you have a dense mix and would like things to grab trough the mix, use an API preamp.

Lovely. Buy em.

Tech specs:

Discrete Mic / Line Pre


  • Mic Preamp with 65 dB of gain
  • Front and Back Panel Mic Input Access
  • Line/Instrument Preamp with 50 dB of gain
  • Front and Back Panel Line/Instrument Input
  • LED VU meter for monitoring output level
  • 20 dB pad switch, applies to mic/line/instrument
  • 48v Phantom switchable power
  • Traditional API fully discrete circuit design
  • Uses the famous API 2520 Op-Amp

4 Responses to “API – 512c lunchbox preamp”

  1. Isham says:

    Hi George, great post, why not using a good compressor if the output level is too hot ?

  2. jamstudio says:


    i tested the api on acoustic guitar, so far not real good sounds. It sound oke but for that price it has to sound perfect. I have a neumann km184 and Api 512c.

    On electric guitar with a dynamic mic it sounds realy good. little to much 150 hz.

    What do you think.


    • GeorgeNecola says:

      that’s why there are different preamps and flavours.. I had no problems getting a good acoustic sound. it’s all about microphone placement.

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