Ruban’s Lunchbox

Ruban Nielson travels with a 500 series rack—or “lunchbox” in studio parlance—full of goodies. It’s a compact, rugged box with a handle that’s stocked with preamps, compressors, and other devices to enhance or color your sound. API (Automated Processes Incorporated) built the original lunchboxes in the late ’70s to house their 500 series modules. (API owns the name “Lunchbox.”) Over the years the format was standardized. Today, many companies make modules that conform to 500 series specs.

Nielson’s lunchbox houses a number of preamps (an essential tool that boosts a relatively weak microphone signal), including a high-end Neve preamp and an Avedis MA5. He has signal-processing units like a BAC-500 compressor and a Radial Tank Driver Spring Reverb Interface. “I have a real spring reverb rackmounted underneath the 500 series rack,” he says. He also uses a number of DIY RE Colour Series modules. “It comes as a kit and you put different cards in it. I have a slight delay card, a tube saturation card, and Cinemag Output Transformer—three different kinds of color that sound cool to me.”

The 500 series is a popular format for capturing great tones. On the road, Nielson uses his 500 series modules primarily for vocals. “When I’m off the mic a little, it’s really clean,” he says. “It breaks up and gets crazy when I get really close. When I cup the mic it sounds lo-fi and cool. I can control a lot of what’s going on just with my mic technique. I can sing clean or distorted and it’s really fun.”