While most of us dont own luxury cars, we've had the opportunity to sit in one at one time or another, however briefly. What immediately strikes us are the differences in the details: standard dashboard indicators replaced with object lessons in elegance and ergonomics, every knob and blinker seeming opulent, what was plastic is now exotic hardwood, what was vinyl is imported leather. Often, too, there's some gadget we never even dreamed of which is perfectly integrated into the cars design and seems almost indispensable. These spoils do more than just provide comfort -- they assure us that the high level of quality and design extends to all aspects of such a fine automobile. It may seem an odd metaphor, but working with the Avalon Design Vt-737sp tube preamp, compressor, and EQ ($2295) consistently gave me this same feeling of (borrowed) splendor -- and yes, this baby drives like a dream.
The 737 has three basic stages: a preamp, a compressor, and a 4-band EQ. It utilizes 4, yes 4, military-grade vacuum triode tubes and boasts 100% pure Class A operation for the highest sonic integrity through all stages. The unit sports XLR inputs for both mic and balanced line signals and a balanced XLR output, as well as a jack to link it to another 737 for stereo operation.
737's beautifully and intuitively designed face will stop even casual
observers in their tracks. The left end deals with the preamp stage
and offers a 1/4" unbalanced instrument jack and silky smooth knobs
for gain, input selection, and low cut filter frequency. These are followed
by buttons for high gain, phase reverse, phantom power, and hi-pass
filters, which light to a soft, rosy glow when engaged. Next over are
the compressor's threshold, ratio, attack, and release knobs and buttons
that select pre- or post-EQ compression, input- or compression-level
VU metering, and compressor engage/disengage, respectively. Avalons
trademark oval VU meter is at the center of the unit, followed by the
EQ section, with four knobs along the top (bass, low mid, high mid,
and treble), four along the bottom (bass shelving frequency, sweepable
frequencies for both low and high mids, and a treble shelving frequency
selector) and four buttons: two that control Q width and
two that multiply the selected low and high mid-frequency ranges x10.
The far right of the unit sports the output knob, a sidechain button
(for de-essing applications), an EQ in/out button, and the power switch.
Powering the unit on engages a "soft start" feature which
gradually brings the unit to life, ensuring no strain on the electronic
components. Powering down utilizes a similar technique -- very nice
touches one doesnt see often.
In use, I found the 737 to be downright relaxing, both in its ease of operation and the wonderful, strikingly accurate capturing of all signals run through it. While recording a vocal duet, I used a pair of very high-quality microphones, running one through the 737 and the other through a JoeMeek VC1Q studio channel. The 737 instantly showed its superiority. Its sound was more open and I swear I could almost see around the sides of the signal, as the imaging was so three-dimensional. The unit's compression is virtually transparent, appropriately punching things up and leveling the signal nicely without the pumping and breathing the Meek unit evidenced at similar settings. But the 737's EQ definitely hit the ball out of the park. The sound is sweet and juicy as a nectarine -- almost anyone could operate it with their eyes closed.
Seaholm is San Diego-based artist/producer who provides recording, mastering,
and design services through his company, Kitsch & Sync Production.Gearing
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