Over the last two years, mixing at The Hangar, John Baccigalupi's studio in Sacramento, I've come to rely on the pair of ADAM P22As that John has in the control room there. They've been just about my favorite monitors that I've ever used. They're accurate without being strident and musical without feeling hyped. I've trusted them to guide me through mixes when I'm feeling a bit adrift or the days are getting long. They feel like real tools, like a level, or measuring tape-but still fun to listen to, so I can forget that I'm working sometimes.
I've always wanted a pair of P22As for my home space, but price-wise they've always been a bit out of reach. Part of the main appeal of the P22A to me is the detailed treble that's very low in ear fatigue. All ADAM monitors have an ART (Accelerated Ribbon Technology) tweeter design. The short-form explanation of this approach is that by using an accordion-like fold that's compressing and expanding, you're effectively squeezing air out at higher velocities than the physical membrane can move, making the driver much more accurate than standard tweeter designs.
I was extremely psyched to learn that ADAM now had a new monitor in the crowded sub $1000/pair field. As expected, the A7s utilized the same tweeter technology as my fave P22As, so I was anxious to hear them. When they showed up, I had been working for a couple of weeks overdubbing and preparing mixes for the NYC band Matt Pond PA. Matt's record is a fairly punchy rock record with layered acoustic guitars in open tunings, so the midrange chord voicing can get dense pretty quickly. Bass EQ and placement was critical for the overall sound of the record because of the way that the bass voicing completed the acoustic guitar chord movement and really colored the overall mix.
I have NS-10Ms driven by a Hafler P1500 and a pair of powered Mackie HR624s at home, and I had been working mainly on the NS-10Ms as I've never quite been able to "get" the Mackie's spongy low mids and unfocused low end. Doing my rough mixes had really been feeling like a chore. I have to say when I swapped the A7s in for the Mackies and fired them up, I literally felt the tangible physical reaction of myself relaxing when I heard them. I know that's sort of silly, but they immediately had the treble and bass detail I had been missing. Each A7 sports two 50 Watt power amps (one per driver) and has a detented volume control and power switch on the front panel. On the back, there are three controls: two for shelving EQ curves at 150 Hz and 6.5 kHz, and another affecting overall tweeter volume. I did a bit of experimenting and found that just leaving all controls flat worked best in my room, but the EQ curves all felt smooth, well placed, and very useful.
Over the next few days, I found myself right at home on the A7s making quick and easy decisions, finding them very familiar territory. In the best sense, they allowed me to get back to the music that I was working on. They removed that feeling like I had to reach into what I was hearing to get enough information just to work. I like NS-10Ms because I've learned them, but working on them for extended amounts of time makes me feel like I've been swinging a hammer all day. The A7s felt much like the much more expensive P22As in the way that they were neutral but musical and low in ear fatigue, and it was easy to crank the A7s from time to time to get a handle on things at a high volume for a moment. They never felt like they were straining or closing down. They stayed open, and they just sang as well as they did at low to medium volume. The amount of detail that I could hear in each mix was tremendous. The midrange was pleasing and helped me balance some very tricky songs with multiple open tunings that had some seriously major low-mid chord motion. I wouldn't describe the low end as extended in a major, major way, but what's there is focused and informative. Plus, if you needed that kind of low-end extension, you'd use a sub. Something that seemed to help the A7s make the most of their small size and open up the low end was isolating them on Auralex MoPADs.
The real comparison test between the A7s and the Hangar P22As was when I got the Matt Pond PA roughs up to Sacramento to mix. I think that the A7s held up well. When the mix didn't need much in the way of external processing, I didn't need to change the internal drum balance a bit, and I barely touched the bass guitar EQs I had set at home. Most of the work was already done.
Switching between monitors has become a major part of my mixing these days, and comparing the translation between the NS-10Ms and A7s really highlighted the folly of my complete desire to want a pair of mini P22As on the cheap. The low-mid soundstage was more open than other monitors I've heard that are around the same size as the A7s, but it wasn't quite as detailed and spacious as the much physically larger P22As. Ultimately, as good as the A7s sound, the low end is being generated by a smaller woofer in a smaller box and you really do pay for the larger construction and woofer size. I could see how someone wanting more of a difference between monitors who had NS-10Ms, would maybe want a larger speaker to switch to. But that being said, I'm just looking at the A7s just replacing the NS-10Ms entirely. My friend Travis Huff, an engineer/producer here in LA, after spending about a week with the A7s, felt the same way about the size of the A7s, but he's keeping his NS-10Ms.
Monitors should be good company-easy to hang out with, give good advice, and be very quiet and solemn when circumstances dictate. In general, as your constant companion, be very trustworthy and reliable. But they better be ready to rock a dance party whenever necessary. The A7s won't be something leaving my room anytime soon. With a great price and fantastic value, they feel like future classics that I'd recommend to anyone as their day-to-day monitors. ($499.50 street; www.adam-audio.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.