500 series – Brief history of the Lunchbox™

Way back in the early 1970s, Automated Processes Inc. (API) was building modular consoles. They gained notoriety primarily for the 2520 discrete amplifier gain stage. Beginning in the 80's, resourceful audio engineers would create their own racks by taking various API modules and stringing them together. Several companies made modular rack mounted devices, such as Allison Research, DBX and later Valley Audio. None of these racks were compatible with the 500 series standard.

In 1978, Datatronics - who at the time were contracted to make API products, (as API had gone out of business) - made the first production version of a 10 slot powered 500 rack. Aphex president Marvin Caesar had come up with his famous 602 Aphex Aural Exciter and followed that with a 500 series VCA compressor and an EQ that also could fit into a similar, but not identical, 500 series portable power rack. Caesar decided to come out with his own 10 space and 4 space racks which were then adopted by many API users, even though the pin-outs were not quite compatible. Soon after, a fellow named Art Kelm created a setup using Marvin's 4 module power rack along with a preamp, EQ and a compressor – creating one of the first 'modular channel strips' for many artists including Steve Perry of Journey. Soon thereafter, Kelm coined the name 'Lunchbox' which has stuck ever since.

As Aphex had decided to discontinue the now famed powered 500 rack, Paul Wolff – who purchased API form Datatronics in the mid 1980s - contacted Marvin Caesar and got his approval to make similar racks which he did under the API brand. API continued to produce 10 space, 2 space and 'Lunchbox' racks and modules for about 10 years until in 1996 when Paul Wolf finally sold the company to the live console manufacturer ATI. After leaving ATI/API, he started a new company called Tonelux.

In 2010, Radial Engineering Ltd. decided to get into the 500 series market by creating the Workhorse™. This new rack retained backward compatibility by using the same 15-pin format that is employed by API, while adding a mix buss and 8 channel mixer by reassigning the unused contacts. This innovation enables one to combine modules and mix their signals inside the Workhorse power rack mixer. In 2012, Radial added a three module single rack unit called the Powerstrip™ to enable engineers to follow Mr. Kelm's original channel strip console along with a 3-module desk-top device called the Cube™.

Although the Lunchbox name has been around for about 25 years, API managed to secure the US trademark in around 2010 and although 'Lunchbox' has become somewhat of a generic term that is used to identify various 500 series powered racks, it is now the property of API.