Ludicrously good channel strip roundup...
As I mentioned in my gear pr0n post yesterday, people tend to overlook this sort of thing in their Quest For Gear. But a good input strip will let the true colors of your synth/bass/kazoo really shine, and is money extremely well spent, IMO. Since there are a lot of these sorts of products, we'll limit the selection to units that contain a mic pre, an equalizer, and a compressor/gate. In short, an entire input chain in one unit. Just add input.
First up, we have the Solid State Logic XLogic E Signature Channel. This is a channel strip cloned from an SSL E-series console. If you ever hear people talk about the "SSL sound," they're talking about the E-series, because it is the most colorful of the SSL lineage, for sure. Of the 14 full-length albums I've released, half have been either recorded, mixed, or both on an E-series, so I have a bit of experience with this particular sound, which could be described using adjectives like "aggressive," "chunky," and "wrawkin'." This strip is brand new, just announced at AES, and I can't find an MSRP. I'll wager it's in the $2500 range, though. Just for fun, it includes the "Listen Mic" compressor, just like the free plug-in that was dropped yesterday. There will also be an A/D option.
The API 7600 channel strip is basically the input section of an API Legacy console. It is, in short, the fucking Shit. As has been mentioned here, there, and everywhere, API is the sound of American rock. This bad boy will set you back $2750, but it is worth every single penny. It is part of API's rack-mount console series, and has sends that work with the 7800 master module, but that isn't necessary to use it, as it will work fine by itself. It includes the mic pre and compressor from the Legacy console, and the 550a equalizer. A strong "buy" recommendation, if you have the means.
After two discrete designs, it might be time for some tubes. Clocking in at $2650, the Pendulum Audio Quartet is chock-full of NOS tubes hand-blown by German virgins in the 50s, when blowing tubes was something the Russians didn't do very well, and people were more innocent. I don't have any experience with this particular unit, but I've seen a lot of people that know about such things write positively glowing reviews of it. The thing to note is that it has a _lot_ of options for carving up your tone. Transformers can be switched in and out, the routing of the unit can be changed (e.g. EQ before or after compressor), all the modules can be patched out and used indepentently, etc. It is an extremely versatile box for the money. There is also the inevitable Mercenary Edition, (every manufacture that has a product in the Mercenary store has to provide Fletcher with a custom job, it seems) which is, like all Mercenary Editions, "more agressive," "punchier," etc. Supposedly a great fucking box, but I don't know from using it.
So, those are but three of the possibilities. The price range for a high-end input strip generally hovers around the $2K to $3.5K mark, with some considerably more. But you get what you pay for here, no doubt. Not only is it a good investment for your sound, but these things hold their value (and in many cases appreciate) so when you finally give up this whole music racket and decide to become an investment banker, you can sell this stuff and put the money in penny stocks.