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When last we spoke, I told y'all how I overcame my bias against PreSonus the manufacturer (based on my experience with their old M-80 preamp [Tape Op #26]) and digital the medium to find that the PreSonus StudioLive digital mixer [#80], while sounding only a little euphonic, does a great job of recording music. If the musicians and I do a good job, the StudioLive will capture it nicely, and its dynamics and EQs will enable me to tweak whatever needs tweaking come the mix. That may sound like faint praise, but I call it a big win. Two years later, I still love my StudioLive mixer and Studio One DAW [#76] (which replaced a large-format Harrison TV-3 desk and an Otari MTR-90 2'' 24-track), and I have no complaints (except Studio One keeps forgetting my I/O settings even when I save them as default). While this doesn't make me an unqualified PreSonus booster, I'm certainly a lot more open minded than I was two years ago, so when Andy asked for a volunteer to review the new PreSonus ADL 700, I raised my hand.
The ADL 700 is a hefty, busy-looking "all tube" channel strip. It's got a single channel of the PreSonus ADL 600 mic preamp [Tape Op #55], which was co-designed by tube guru Anthony DeMaria, utilizing two 6922s and one 12AT7. The preamp also comes equipped with an impedance selector and high-pass filter, plus switches for 48V phantom power, a pad, and polarity reverse. The extra "100" comes from the FET compressor and semi- parametric EQ. In addition to allowing you to switch the EQ and compressor in/out of the signal path, the ADL 700 allows you to select the order in which the signal goes to those sections, which is pretty cool. It also has a purty VU meter (switchable between signal and gain reduction, and adjustable to a -6 dB offset for loud sources) and a big ol' output-level knob.
The feature set was initially impressive, but I was disappointed to see the compressor ratio goes no higher than 4:1. Sometimes that's all you need, but sometimes it isn't; for example, I like 7:1 on a dynamic vocal in a busy rock mix - the ADL 700 wasn't gonna get me there. I also found the labeling of the tiny EQ knobs to be unhelpful; how the hell would I notch out frequencies with this thing?
I plugged in the mic preamp, and it was... okay. There was a lot of depth to the soundstage but little presence. You might say it was big (which is cool) and dull (not so much). When reviewing the StudioLive, I invoked Great River's discontinued MP-2 mic preamp, which was quality but very vanilla - some nice depth, not much presence. The ADL 700's preamp doubled down on this, offering more depth but even less presence than the Great River (much less the XMAX preamps in the StudioLive). I played with the ADL 700's impedance and got a Shure SM58 to open up, but there were no sparks. I don't expect a mic preamp to transform a $99 mic into a $1999 mic, but, say, the preamp in my API A2D [Tape Op #62] can add a lot of life to an SM58, and my John Hardy M-1 can add some grandeur. I'd say the ADL 700 added a little grandeur, but not as much as I hoped a $2000 tube preamp with variable impedance would impart. I moved on, determined to do my due diligence, but already my heart wasn't in it.
I patched in an Audio-Technica AT4033 on snare. I typically find the AT4033 to be a little dark for a condenser but figured that might make it a nice snare mic. I've been really happy with it in this capacity, and I thought the ADL 700 would add a little body. Initially, I was hitting the front end of the ADL 700 way too hard, but I got an amazing Dave Fridmann kind of crushed snare sound, which gave me an idea. What if I drove the tubes a bit, just to liven things up?
This turned out to be an excellent idea. I sometimes use a Waves Helios plug-in to add a little distortion to tracks that need to pop more; the ADL 700 offered a notably more euphonic way of achieving the same effect. I started rolling in some EQ. Rather than look at the settings (which, as noted above, are fairly broad), I grasped the very solid little knobs on the ADL 700 and started turning. As you might have gathered from my intro, I tend to track flat, but tuning by ear, I quickly found myself adding about 3 dB at approximately 6 kHz, about 2 dB at 1.3 kHz, and about 1 dB at 200 Hz - settings I would never expect to use, and certainly not while tracking. The snare sounded amazing; the input was very sensitive but the sound was worth the effort it took to dial the right level in.
I began approaching every source this way. Rather than follow my usual minimalist approach, I made sure I tweaked every element of the ADL 700 with every sound source - with routinely excellent results. For example, I'm not a fan of DI'ing the bass as I find the DI'ed signal often has the effect of making the bass sound like it's removed from the performance. However, using the ADL 700 as a DI, I was able to use the depth of the preamp to help the bass sit in a mix while the slightly driven tubes kept it sounding lively. I've got a Peluso 22 251 mic [Tape Op #44] with a tube upgrade which is wonderful in busy rock mixes, but while I don't hesitate to use it in any context, it doesn't have the heft of, say, a Neumann U 47. The ADL 700 gave it that heft while leaving the 251's presence intact (once EQ'ed) - score! I brought back the aforementioned SM58, and the tubes along with the EQ and impedance controls helped explain how Bono can record U2 albums using this mic; the ADL 700 converted the SM58's stolid but unremarkable character into a rich, creamy presence.
I typically wound up avoiding the compressor and left the impedance wide open, but when I switched to kick, I got a wonderfully muscular and focused sound out of an Audio- Technica ATM25 by rolling the impedance back to 300 ohms and running the compressor's attack at about 11 o'clock, release at noon, and the ratio at 2.5:1. Again, I arrived at these settings quickly, and by feel.
While the ADL 700 did a nice job on electric guitar, I still preferred the way my Rupert Neve Designs Portico 5012 preamp [Tape Op #49] complements my Royer R-122 ribbon mic on guitar cabs - there's a full-range presence in the 5012 that is just "right" to my ears. I could make the guitar lively with the PreSonus - I could add presence, mids, and low end - but I couldn't (in a reasonable amount of time) match the ineffable right-on-ness of the 5012, and that's okay; while there's something to be said for a mic preamp that's plug and play, there's something to be said for a preamp like the ADL 700, which allows you to do so much to flatter the signal. In an ideal world, you'd have both.
The ADL 700 streets for $1999. That ain't cheap, but it's certainly not unheard of either, particularly given the feature set and, more importantly, the wonderful sounds you can coax out of your signal when using that feature set in concert. If you're looking for an incredibly adaptable mic preamp - one that you could use on anything - I'd recommend checking this unit out. That said, recall that the compressor and EQ aren't super flexible; if you need to notch the resonance of a bass cab, you can find EQs that will make that job easier. Similarly, if you want to squash a signal, there are more powerful compressors. However, those same pieces may make it harder to dial in the sweet, broad tweaks the ADL 700 delivers so easily. The ADL 700 is linkable, too, so using two for sweetening the mix bus might make a lot of sense. Me? I'd love to have four or five of 'em.
($1999 street; www.presonus.com)
-Eric Tischler <www.sonicboomerangrecords.com>