A-Designs Audio JM-3001 by robot gigante
Ventura has been interesting to work with, because it is the first pre that I have used that bridges the gap between clean and colored design. Its ‘base’ sound is very 3-dimensional and detailed, right up there with the best clean pre’s. I don’t have a Millenia or a Gordon to compare it with, but it straight up smokes the preamps in my Prism Orpheus and Nightpro PreQ3 (the cleanest pre’s I own) in terms of natural detail. It is flat with no noticeable bumps or dips anywhere in the frequency range, something I appreciate in a mic preamp. It doesn’t smear, everything sounds very crisp and upfront. No low mid wooliness whatsoever. Clean is a relative thing anyway. Brauner and Schoeps mics for example are detailed and realistic sounding, but also add some very nice sweetness indeed. I have never heard someone call something I tracked with a Schoeps mic “sterile.” Never once. This is the same kind of clean.
It is obvious from the sound and the way it responds that it has transformers. But when gain staged at normal levels, the transformers don’t step all over the sound. As you start to run things hotter, the saturation starts to get compressive without too much noticeable color, and as you push it even hotter, it begins to add some very nice and aggressive (in a good way) harmonic distortion, all the way to the sweet fuzz box zone before it tops out and hard clips. It stays flat and fast no matter what. So it has multiple “sweet spots” depending on how you gain stage it (padding the output will be needed at some point), massive headroom (the headroom of some preamps out there seems laughable in comparison) and you can dial the color quite nicely from clean to mean.
A Designs says the DI was designed with guitar and bass pickups in mind. Since as I understand, the unit was designed by a guitar player, I have no reason to doubt it. To me when run clean it sounds just like my guitar (or bass, synth, or Rhodes etc) - that is to say, nothing getting in the way of its character and fatness as I play. If the REDDI could be likened to a tube amp in terms of sound, then this DI would be more like a JC-120, pure, with a little solid-state sweetness. Can be gain staged the same as the pre. I’ve preferred its overdriven sound to distortion pedals when I wanted some grit on synths and things, same as how I like an overdriven 1073. This I like.
The 3-band EQ is definitely going to make a lot of people happy for a few reasons. First, when you use it for broad boosts and cuts, it has a vibe equal to the classics that everybody loves. It is unmistakably a character EQ. However (and this is nice when you are used to getting your vibe from classic EQ’s with fewer frequency points and less Q options), when you are looking to do narrow cuts it can get quite surgical. It can get slightly aggressive but not overbearingly so. Tesla discovered the resonant frequency of the earth to be 8hz. Square it, -1, and you get 63hz. That’s what the low band sounds like. ? That is to say, the low and mid bands pack a lot of thickness while no punch is lost. You'll like the high band if you like the high shelf on a 1073 but wish it was just a little less aggressive (not to mention not just a fixed shelf). A ¼” TRS input on the back makes patching it in on an insert for mixing easy, although since it bypasses the pre/DI when the jack is inserted you will have to go round the back of the rack to patch in the EQ.
It has a HPF at 150hz and a LPF at 9k, perfect for guitar and a million other things. I am glad they included the 9k lowpass. A trick I like to do is boost a frequency close to 9k with the filter engaged to get a little push-pull curve thing going.
All in all, between the pre/DI sections and EQ, you can get as thick and colored and aggressive as you want, or skip the color and aggression and have it sound just like your instruments and mics, +. Personally I like to gain stage it more in the clean zone- in the mix everything sounds plenty fat, detailed, and full of character to me without a lot of saturation having to bring out any of the sound by adding extra harmonics. I am using the EQ for broad shaping almost all the time tracking however. It saves me a lot of time mixing.
If you are looking for instant color over flexibility this is probably not the pre for you. But if you want a precision tool that brings out all the good stuff from the source, mics, and room; a whole lot of headroom; and flexibility with the turn of a few knobs, you will dig this. For me it is a workhorse, and my go-to for anything from classical violin to rock snare. Some people debate on using different colored preamps for different instruments vs. using the same pre for all the tracks for cohesion vs. buildups in certain frequencies from using the same pre for everything… on and on it goes. With the Ventura I laugh at those debates. I dial in the sound just how I want it via mic choice/mic placement/gain staging/EQ, you know- what an engineer does best, and it is flat so there is no buildup.
The build is A Designs’ best yet, overbuilt, truck-like, all metal, with stepped knobs for the EQ. (a nice new direction for A Designs) The outs are split on a mult, which is incredibly useful for a million reasons. I use this feature probably 80% of the time while tracking.
I have been giving the Ventura a workout in my studio for some time now, and am very psyched on this unit- like I said, it's my go-to and I have a lot of other boxes I could use.
Here are a couple examples of things I have tracked through the Ventura:
Native American flute by Hotlab on SoundCloud - Create, record and share your sounds for free
(strings with a single Schoeps CK4/Mk6, indie kids)
White Flag by Hotlab on SoundCloud - Create, record and share your sounds for free