Introducing the Lunch Box API

What is the API Lunchbox/500 Series?

The API Lunchbox/500 Series, also known as the “lunchbox” format, is a standardized and modular audio equipment format extensively used in professional audio recording and processing. Originally developed by API (Automated Processes, Inc.) in the 1980s, this format has gained popularity and has been adopted by various manufacturers.

The lunchbox format consists of a rack enclosure that can accommodate multiple individual audio modules. These modules, commonly known as “500 Series modules” or “500 Series units,” serve specific audio processing functions such as mic preamplification, equalization, compression, or reverb. Measuring only 1.5 inches in width, these modules offer flexibility and customization.

The Key Characteristics of the 500 Series Format

The 500 Series format stands out for its modularity and interchangeability, enabling users to mix and match modules from different manufacturers. With the lunchbox enclosure, modules can be easily inserted or removed, allowing for a flexible and easily expandable system. This modularity feature provides users with the ability to customize their audio signal chain according to their specific needs and preferences.

To get a better idea of how the 500 Series works in practice, check out this video:

API Lunchbox Video

API Lunchbox Alternatives

Though API pioneered the lunchbox format, other brands have also embraced this concept, offering their own alternatives. Today, you’ll find many competitors to the original Lunchbox, available in various sizes and configurations. From smaller 3-slot options to behemoth 10-slot versions, there’s something for everyone.

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Let’s take a look at some popular Lunchbox models and accessories that you may find handy:

Rupert Neve Designs R6 500 Series Rack

  • Rupert Neve Designs R6 500 Series Rack
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Heritage Audio HAOST4v2 4-slot 500 Series Chassis

  • Heritage Audio HAOST4v2 4-slot 500 Series Chassis
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API 500-8B - 8-Channel 500 Series Lunchbox Rack

  • API 500-8B – 8-Channel 500 Series Lunchbox Rack
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1U 500 Series Universal Blank Panel - 4 Pack

  • 1U 500 Series Universal Blank Panel – 4 Pack
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HOSA Balanced Snake DB25 to XLR3M - (16 Feet) (Black) & DTF805 Balanced Snake XLR3F to DB25 - (16 Feet) (Black)

  • HOSA Balanced Snake DB25 to XLR3M – (16 Feet) (Black) & DTF805 Balanced Snake XLR3F to DB25 – (16 Feet) (Black)
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Pros and Cons of 500 Series Modules

Pros of 500 Series Modules

The lunchbox format gained popularity due to its compact size, affordability, and the ability to create a high-quality audio processing chain using modules from different manufacturers. Swapping out modules is incredibly convenient. Unlike traditional rack units, changing a module is similar to changing a game cartridge on your Nintendo 64.

Cons of 500 Series Modules

The only drawback of 500 Series modules is their dependency on the Lunchbox. Should you decide to move away from the Lunchbox ecosystem, your modules might become obsolete. Additionally, selling used 500 Series gear requires finding a buyer within the Lunchbox system, which might require more patience compared to selling standard rack units.

Two Ways to Set Up Your Lunchbox

You have two main options when setting up your 500 Series Gear: using individual units or creating a signal chain. For instance, at my studio, I employed two API Lunchboxes, each with preamp modules. This setup allowed me to have 12 channels of preamplification with just two power outlets, connected to my interface via DB25 cables.

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Alternatively, you can assemble your audio modules in a chain using small XLR patch cables. For example, you could connect a preamp, a compressor, an EQ, and a second compressor in a 4-channel Lunchbox to create your preferred vocal chain.

In theory, you can configure your Lunchbox with any combination of signal flows. For instance, a 6-slot Lunchbox can house three individual preamps and three units routed together for your vocal chain.

Our Favorite 500 Series Modules

With a wide array of 500 Series modules available, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed with options. To help you narrow down your choices, here are some of our favorite 500 Series modules that might pique your interest:

Rupert Neve Designs Portico 511 500-Series Preamp Module

  • Rupert Neve Designs Portico 511 500-Series Preamp Module
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dbx 580 Compact, Professional Mic Preamp

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Lindell Audio PEX-500 / 500 Series Pultec Equalizer

  • Lindell Audio PEX-500 / 500 Series Pultec Equalizer
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SSL 500-Series SiX Channel Strip

  • SSL 500-Series SiX Channel Strip
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SSL Stereo Buss Compressor Module for 500-Series MK3

  • SSL Stereo Buss Compressor Module for 500-Series MK3
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We hope you found this overview of 500 Series modules and the API Lunchbox helpful! For more informative reviews, visit ProgramMatek.