The Pacifica by A-Designs is a two-channel, solid-state, transformer-balanced mic preamp. Its front panel is simple-each channel has a DI input, phantom-power switch, 20 dB pad, polarity switch, and a single gain knob. The rear has XLR ins and outs. The unit looks clean and simple and slightly retro. I own a lot of outboard preamps-more preamps than the number of inputs on any of my recording platforms. Twelve of my preamp channels are Quad Eight: the PE442 series from a custom console made in the early seventies and the 312 series. I've always liked the sound of these preamps but have considered them "chunky" sounding and definitely not on the brighter side-great for guitars or retro-sounding drum tracks. So when my friend (and occasional Tape Op contributor, to be on the level) Jon Erickson told me he'd teamed up with Peter Montessi at A-Designs to design a preamp based on the QE stuff, I was jazzed. I got Brad at TransAudio to overnight a review copy to me right out of the gate for a weekend tracking session. For this initial session, we were tracking a whole band (to tape, then to Pro Tools), but they were only keeping the drums with the intention to overdub at home. I hooked up the Pacifica and used it on kick and snare-one of the most demanding and telling uses of a mic preamp. I was using an Audix D-6 on kick (just slightly inside the hole) and an Audix i-5 on snare (over the top pointing at the rim). After using too many preamps with variable impedance and features that slow me down, I found the Pacifica easy to set up with its no-frills, single gain knob approach. First reactions? Very good. The kick sounded fast and accurate, with the same low-end thump and quick attack I've gotten from many of my other preamps. The snare sounded great as well, with highs cutting through and a good "thwack" from the attack. In fact, the high end was so good that I didn't add any EQ to tape, which is unusual for me. The Pacifica did a great job and was used on the entire session for these drums.
For my next session, I was tracking a band live in the studio, so I decided to use the Pacifica for the drum overheads. To me, this is another area where smeary or unexciting preamps fail quickly and obviously. I put up a pair of Curtis Technologies AL-2 tube condenser mics. The Pacifica handled this perfectly, even with a busy drummer set up in an area of the room we don't normally use for drum tracking. I usually do some cuts in the low mids to my overheads, but there was no need this time. After these sessions, I did some careful comparisons between the Pacifica and my PE442 Quad Eights. Snare: brighter but still similar in character. Voice: less low mids, slightly brighter with a more forward sound. Acoustic guitar: less low mids, less boomy, and clearer top end. Electric guitar: ah ha, I actually preferred the PE442; its chunky low mids and less highs provided a gutsier sound for distorted strumming and light picking. The Pacifica sounded thinner in comparison, though not "bad"-just not as throaty as the QE preamp. Checking out the manual, I realized that the designers wanted to build a preamp that had the sound and topology of the vintage QE units but with more top end. I'm happy to say that the designers were successful. Now my dilemma is that I want to keep the Pacifica even though I already own enough damn preamps. Should I sell one of the other ones? Damn. ($1900 MSRP, www.adesignsaudio.com)