Hacienda Labs HL 169 by Dowsed
Manufacturer: Hacienda Labs
Model Number: HL169
Product Type: 500 Series Pre-Amp Module
Website: HL 169 - HACIENDA LABS - Studios de l'Hacienda
Price: 369 € plus tax introductory price (469 € after introductory period)
I recently reviewed Hacienda’s other module, the HL4000 dynamics module (based on the SSL E series compressor gate/expander), which I fell in love with. Upon a first glance, the HL169, based on the renowned Studer pre-amp, looks equally as well built and sturdy as the HL4000 and it also looks great stationed next to its brother.
All of my first hand experiences with Studer equipment have been with their tape machines. All I knew about their mixing consoles was that they were widely used for broadcast purposes in Europe. That’s why decided to keep a little bit of this mystique and trust only my ears to pass initial judgment.
Vintage gear seems to almost universally get described as “warm” or “big” sounding, so imagine my surprise to listen to the 169 and not immediately imagine the 169 pre-amp as a similar type of beast to a Neve 1073 or 1081. In fact, my first impression was the opposite: it sounds clean, transparent and open, but without sounding at all boring, lifeless or “digital”. This would leave me to believe that the 169 was originally designed to be as transparent as was possible at the time, and it is most likely the fact that it’s a transformer-based design which gives it the little colour it has, which stops it sounding sterile. The HL169 is a thing of beauty, just like the HL4000. One of the more pleasing aspects of the HL169, is that it will compliment many of your other pre-amps: a Neve 1073 with its “warm” sound, a API 512c with a nice “mid-range punch” and an SSL E series with a nice “aggressive and cutting quality” -the HL169 has the “open top-end”. At this point I should add that that if you want warmth, you can saturate the pre-amp by driving the input and using the units output trim to bring it back down to a reasonable level. Doing this adds a pleasant colour on when used on appropriate sources and just goes to show how flexible the HL169 is.
After hearing the pre-amp, I quickly started researching the 169 console and found a few video and audio clips and, as usual, plenty of differing opinions. After internally sifting through this information for an evening, I’ve decided that the Studer 169 deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Neve, API, SSL etc. This is remarkable, considering that a lot of the Studer consoles can be found in much smaller formats and prices than the aforementioned “big boys”. The downside is that they are rare, not as aesthetically good looking (at least to me) and often require some maintenance (such as recapping) to get them back to their former glory. To get such a unique and great pre-amp as the HL169 at this price is a no brainer and I’d happily fill an 8 slot API 500 Chassis with 2xNeve, 2xAPI, 2xSSL and 2xHL169s, and think that I’d have all my basic flavours covered.
The gain range of the HL169 is MASSIVE, the noise floor is tremendous and the unit has every feature you expect from a vintage pre-amp design. It has a +48v phantom power, sweepable high pass filter, hi-z input, polarity switch and pad. If I were to be hyper-picky, I would have liked a couple of other features that you often see on more modern 500 series designs. Options to think about would be a similar type of colour button like on the HL4000, or have some different impedance options. Even without these features, the sound justifies trying it out, and their introductory price is extremely competitive. I would snap up a couple of these right now.
Having experienced both the Hacienda Dynamics module (click here for the review!) and their pre-amp, I would like to ask them to hurry up and get a 500 series EQ on the market, so that I can buy two.