Avalon Designs has a deserved reputation for designinghigh-quality, robust-sounding outboard gear. I've had the pleasureof accumulating several pieces of Avalon gear over the years,including a pair of M5s, the company's premiere 1-channelmicrophone preamp/DI combo. So, when Avalon released the AD2022, anupdated 2-channel version of the M5, I was more than happy to takeit through the testing process.
The AD2022 is a dual-mono, fully discrete, Class A preamp,combined with two hi-Z instrument inputs. As is the case with theM5, the microphone input stage includes a low-ratio, balanced inputtransformer. Split low-ratio primary windings are combined within acustom mu-metal core for extended frequency response and lowdistortion. A built-in, variable highpass filter eliminateslow-frequency rumble at sub-sonic frequencies.
The most obvious improvement over the M5 is the inclusion of anoutput gain control that is controlled by an additional pot on thefront of the unit, but the most drastic change in design is lessobvious: The AD2022 uses two signal amplifiers per channel, asopposed to one per channel in the M5. According to Avalon, thechange improves transient response and doubles the internalbandwidth of the amplifiers.
Another improvement is the positioning of the two hi-Zinstrument inputs on the front of the unit. (The hi-Z instrumentinput is on the back of the M5terribly inconvenient.) Furtherimprovements include selectable microphone source loading, animproved power supply and double-plated circuit boards for superiorlow-level signal transfer.
Over the past several years, I've come to love using my M5s in avariety of situations, especially for vocals. The first test I tookthe AD2022 through was with a female vocalist, a real screamer. Onesimilarity between the M5 and the AD2022 is the unit's ability totake an exceptionally high sound pressure level beforedistortingdefinitely an important feature with loud vocalists. As Iexpected, I also found the AD2022 to have the same overallcharacteristics as the M5: smooth, with a well-defined top end andtight low end, and very present, or, as our test vocalist calledit, a real in your face sound. The unit is also very quiet, evenwith the gain cranked up.
The addition of the second amplifier and gain stage to theAD2022 allows the user to control the color by varying the ratiobetween the two amplifiers. Also, the addition of the selectablemicrophone source-loading switch (50, 150 and 600Hz) adds even morecontrol optionsa definite plus over the M5.
I tried the AD2022 with various microphones in a range ofsituations. These configurations included a pair of Neumann U67sused as drum overheads, a U47 set up as a room mic and a Royer 121ribbon mic on a tenor sax. The AD2022 was exceptional in all ofthese situations, but I was especially pleased with the drumoverheads. The tune I used it on was a roots-rock song with a lotof cymbal and hi-hat. The drummer, who was a session pro, was quiteimpressed with the clarity of the kit and definition of thecymbals.
As far as the DI goes, the AD2022 is the same animal as the M5.As expected, the DI has a very in your face quality, toovery clearand present. Synth pads, sampled drums and synth bass all benefitfrom the unit's fast transient response, and if you're looking fora clean but extremely gutsy bass guitar DI, then this is one to putat the top of your list. I also had a lot of fun running some drumloops out of a sampler into the unit with the gain cranked uppretty high; the AD2022 added a bit more color than a Countryman,but not as much as a racked Neve 1073. Positioning the instrumentinputs on the front of the unit has reduced the hassle factor tozeroextra kudos to Avalon for this improvement.
With the AD2022, Avalon has improved on an already successfuldesign witout adding nonessential features. The unit is anextremely low-noise/high-power unit, and it is an exceptional pieceof gear that would do well in a wide variety of situations. Ifyou're looking for a stand-alone preamp/DI combo within this pricerange ($3,000), then the AD2022 is an excellent choice.
Avalon Design, PO Box 5976, San Clemente, CA 92673;949/492-2000; fax 949/492-4284; www.avalondesign.com.
Walt Szalva was born and raised in America.