DIYRE Colour 500-Series Modules

A Touch of Colour

 

The DIYRE Colour modules are conceptually simple units that isolate the building block components from classic gear. Colour takes these tone-shaping components and lets you access them on their own inside of a DIY 500-series module. The Colour modules can give you more (or less) of a single effect, whether that effect is the saturation of a transformer, the overdrive of a FET gain stage, the clipping of Germanium diodes, or the harmonic distortion created by overdriving a tube.

The idea may be simple, but it has taken years to develop these modules. It has been done not by a large company, but by a small team of enthusiasts led by Peterson Goodwyn, making the outcome even more unbelievably amazing.

Any person who can (or wants to learn how to) solder can build one of these – they aren’t hard. There are two main components – the main module and the sub modules (the “Colours”). The main module has spaces for three Colours, each with it’s own potentiometer. The Colour sub-modules are built on smaller boards and literally pop in to the main unit – you can change them out at will and very quickly.

The build quality of the Mkii units is excellent when completed and the individual components supplied by DIY Recording Equipment are of excellent quality. The knobs are high quality and the feel of the pots is outstanding. The faceplate and design of the entire unit are well thought out and very pleasing to the eye. The LEDs even change color depending on which Colour sub module you have in any given slot. It’s a cool design component of the Colour package and one that affirms the time and thought that have gone into the development of this product.

 

Colours

The Cinemag transformer Colour module is currently my favorite. It adds an astounding amount of depth and harmonics to anything you run through it. It shines on drums and bass. I recently used it to even out a dynamic kick and snare, coming after a DBX 160 that gave the kit “ thwack,” but no “puff.” The Cinemag module gave me back the “puff.” Not unlike analog tape, this transformer module can help individual tracks feel glued together and fit better into the context of a mix. Another benefit is the upper harmonics generated by the transformer – they help increase intelligibility on all speakers, especially small ones without much bass extension. It can be applied in a subtle way, or a track can be pretty well decimated if desired.

It is a good time to reflect on the intentions of Colour and how it was originally conceived. Peterson wanted to replicate the good things about running signal through great pieces of gear. This doesn’t mean full on guitar pedal distortion. It is about subtle glow, euphonic haze, and fatness. Colour works best when holding yourself back and comparing the effect in and out, and within the context of a mix. You can go nuts and overdo it easily.

Having said that, there are modules that are about going overboard. The Tascam “Distort-a-studio” is one example. I’m not sure of the market size of those looking to recreate the amazing effect of what happens when you simply run a signal through a PortaStudio channel, but it was pretty cool when you blew apart the input stage and got some interesting distortion. This Colour module gets you back to your early days of recording.

 

15IPS Colour

The 15IPS Colour module is intended to mimic tape compression/distortion. On bass instruments, I haven’t found a ton of success with it yet. On the mid-range and high end, it begins to become an interesting flavor at very subtle levels. I felt that you had to use too much of it on the bass to hear the effect, which then made the effect too obvious for what I wanted. On the top end, you can round off errant transients with it, or get a nice smooth rolloff on cymbals. I am still experimenting with it, but electronic synths with some serious high frequency content also benefitted from the 15IPS module.

Have I used the word “subtle” too much in this review? I think the key to someone appreciating the Colour format is in listening and being subtle. Like poorly over-compressed music, something that sounds cool in a moment loses its appeal quickly. The key to unlocking the potential of the format is through self control.

 

JFET Colour

The JFET module is really interesting. It recreates the sound of an overdriven FET amplifier stage. It’s not unlike driving a 1176 hard. There are other, similar modules that let you plug any API-footprint-compatible discrete opamp, then overdrive them to your heart’s desire. This gives you an easy way to control the effect, something that is more difficult to varying degrees in traditional gear. The JFET module seems to do really well when you run two or more in series. Vocals, guitars, and drums (everything, really) benefitted from the JFET module and it’s a bit higher quality and more subtle than running a signal through a pure distortion box.

 

New Colour Modules

New Colour designs have trickled out of third-party manufacturers like Louder Than Liftoff (Pentode, etc), but I wanted to know more about what Peterson had planned for the future of the platform.

So I asked him:

 

Ian: What other Colour modules are you planning to develop?
Peterson: We’re currently working on releasing an optical compressor and another vintage saturator from Eisen Audio (who designed the TM79).

Ian: What other companies have expressed interest in developing for the platform?
Peterson: We’ve got prototypes right now from Avenson Audio and Joel Cameron of Rascal Audio. There are a few others but I’m hesitant to name them since their Colour designs aren’t as far along.

Ian: You built a mic pre that accepts the color modules – anything else?
Peterson: That’s it for now. Right now we’re working on creating rack-mount, stereo versions of the Palette and CP5 preamp.

Ian: The Mkii seemed to be what you had in mind when first rolling out Colour, but you decided that you liked everything full throttle ahead. The Mki had one level control for three Colours? What made you decide to rethink the design?
Peterson: Lots of customer feedback! The mkI design was based on a “keep it simple, stupid” approach—I guess we kept it a bit too simple.

Ian: Who designed the layout? It is beautifully done.
Peterson: Thanks! Jens Jungkurth at Eisen Audio laid out the Colour Palette mkII PCB.
Buy Colour modules and the Mkii at The DIYRE Shop.
Thanks to Peterson Goodwyn for both building a great product and for taking the time to add more depth to this review.
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