Before I built up my own studio, I used to carry around a portable case with original Neve 1272 and API 312 mic preamps that Brent Averill Enterprises had racked for me. These now sit permanently installed in the console desk at my studio, alongside my Sony DMX-R100 console and preamps from Great River, Hamptone, and Focusrite. With the supply of original API modules having pretty much dried up, Brent Averill recently started selling "like" versions of the much sought-after API 312, featuring the same circuit topology but utilizing different transformers and opamps. BAE's Avedis Kifedjian, who sent me two of the BAE 312A modules for my BAE API-compatible powered rack, designed the discrete opamp that takes the place of the original API 2520. His is appropriately named the Avedis TM 1122. I pulled out my original API modules to compare. When mine were refurbished by BAE, I asked Brent to keep the original AP2622 input transformers on two of them and replace with Reichenbach RE-115K-E input transformers on six of them. The two new BAE 312A's I got from Avedis had Jensen units in them. I also noted that all wiring was performed meticulously, with clean solder joints and judicious use of shrink wrap.
Like most engineers who've used API preamps, I love the sound of them on drums. Those who've read my previous writings or read my interview know that I like to start with stereo overheads and build up the sound of the kit around them. While recording a jazz trio featuring Luther Gray (Tsunami, Joe Morris Trio) on drums, I placed a Royer SF-12 stereo ribbon above the kit and various close mics on the individual heads/shells. I listened to the SF-12 through a number of preamps, and I was quite surprised that I liked how the whole kit sounded through the BAE 312A preamps the best. In past experiments, I'd never chosen my original API preamps for the SF-12 because the ribbon- API combination always seemed to lose some of the cymbal sheen that I could capture with other preamps. It was readily apparent that the high-end was much more detailed through the BAE 312A than through my original API modules. And I didn't feel that the bottom- end, especially of the toms, suffered-nor did the resonance of the skins. On subsequent days, we recorded drum tracks with other mic and preamp combinations. When it came time to mix, Luther and the other members of the band, Geoff Farina (Karate member and Tape Op guitar geek) and Nate McBride (Joe Morris Trio, Spaceways Incorporated) agreed with me that the SF-12 mic through the BAE 312A preamps provided the smoothest and clearest cymbal sounds while still picking up the punch and body of the drums. We weren't as happy with Gefell M295 mics going through the BAE 312A's; here the high-end felt too "cold," even with judicious use of the Warmth control on a FATSO Jr. And the SF-12 through the Great River MP-2NV yielded too soft of an overall kit sound.
On my next project, I tried the BAE 312A on a female vocal. I wasn't getting the lower-midrange intimacy I wanted with my Gefell UM92.1S tube condenser feeding my Neve 1272 preamp. I switched to the BAE 312A and got much closer to what I wanted. Changing the mic distance got us all the way there, and we nailed the take. On electric guitar, many of you know that I almost always prefer an AKG C 1000S electret condenser feeding my Neve 1272 preamp for creamy midrange. I tried the BAE 312A with the C 1000S and still preferred the Neve, but the BAE 312A offered a bit more detail, bringing out more of the high-end distortion that the C 1000S can sometimes impart. With a Gefell UMT70S in figure-8, the BAE 312A fared much better on guitar amp, and I felt the lower midrange was simultaneously bigger and less muddy than with the Neve. The guitar sounded huge, without it getting in the way of the bass. Piano was no contest. I'm getting the best sounds that I've ever gotten from my Yamaha U5 with Gefell M930 and UMT70S condensers feeding BAE 312A preamps. Strong, percussive, and lots of full- bodied sustain.
I asked Avedis about his design and why the bottom was big and the top so clear. The high-ratio (1:10) input transformer imparts some color, especially in the low- end. There are no capacitors in the audio path to soften or smear the sound, especially in the high-end. And the 1122 opamp is a high-current, low-impedance design, able to push the output transformer, especially with low frequencies, "like it doesn't care." Avedis sent me two BAE 312A preamp modules to review. I had three spaces left in my BAE 11-space rack. So I purchased the two modules that he sent me and promptly bought a third. And I would've bought a fourth if I'd had one more space. (312A single-channel rackmount w/ power supply $899 direct, 312A two-channel w/ PS $1449, 312A module $549, module racks w/ PS $499-$899; www.brentaverill.com)