|“While I would consider the Ventura’s mic pre and EQ to be quite neutral, it is in no way sterile,” declares Long.
The Ventura — a high-gain, low-noise, natural-sounding mic
preamp coupled with extremely flexible EQ — “is one of the best
recording channels I’ve encountered,” offers our senior contributor.
The Ventura combines an amazing mic preamp, a low-noise instrument input and a smooth, threeband
parametric EQ that includes high/low filters into a single-rack-space channel strip. The mic pre
and the EQ each have discrete signal paths with independent transformer-balanced outputs, making
the Ventura extremely flexible.
The Ventura is built into a 1U steel chassis.
At the core of the 14 lb. box is the Carl
Johnson-designed C12X discrete bipolar
transistor operational amplifier. Operating
on ±30 VDC rails, the C12X is a high-gain,
fast-slew, stable op-amp with almost nonexistent
DC offset over the audio spectrum.
It employs a toroidal power transformer and
is capable of driving a 50-ohm load at 50
Hz with very little current draw. The Ventura
uses the C12X op-amps in the microphone
preamp, instrument input amp and main
output/EQ output stages. The box also features
a Jensen input transformer, Cinemag
output transformers and it utilizes only
the highest-quality components including 1
percent metal film resistors (0.1 percent in
the EQ), quality polystyrene, polypropylene,
C0G and bipolar capacitors, and all gold/
silver contacts with no relays.
With the exception of the front panel’s
instrument input, all I/O connectivity is
located on the rear panel. This includes a
microphone input via a female XLR connector,
mic/instrument output via a male XLR,
EQ input/insert return via a quarter-inch
TRS jack, and main output via a male XLR
connector. A standard IEC connector provides
power input that is jumper selectable
between 110 and 220VAC operation.
The mic pre is a single-stage, transformer-
coupled, balanced I/O design that provides
up to 72 dB of gain and includes
switches for phase reverse, -20 dB pad activation,
and +48V phantom power. An LED
illuminates when phantom power is activated.
The instrument input is single-stage,
single-ended, high-impedance primarily
designed for bass and guitar pickups. The
Input Select switch determines whether
the Mic or the Instrument signal is routed
through the system. The microphone circuit
has an input impedance of 1.4k ohms typical
and the instrument circuit has an input
impedance of 20Meg ohms nominal.
The EQ input/insert return is a direct-coupled,
balanced input. Inserting a TRS quarterinch
plug into the EQ Input/Insert Return
jack allows for direct input to the equalizer,
bypassing both the mic preamp and
instrument input. The three-band parametric
equalizer is activated via the EQ Switch and
features 33 frequencies with three bands
of overlapping ranges covering from 50 Hz
to 15 KHz. Both the frequency selection and
the ±12 dB boost/cut controls are step-type
switches for exact recallability, and they utilize
concentric controls with the inner knob
controlling boost/cut and the outer knob
selecting the desired frequency.
Each band includes a three-position Q
switch selectable between sharp (S), wide
(W) and narrow (N) providing respective Q
widths of 2.4, .7 and 7.7. The low and high
EQ bands are equipped with a switch that
disables the Q feature changes their operation
from peak to shelf. High Pass and Low
Pass filter switches insert the high-pass
and low-pass filters after the EQ circuit.
Both filters are wonderfully musical with
the 12 dB, second-order slope high-pass
filter operating with a 150 Hz corner frequency
and the 12 dB, second-order slope
low-pass filter operating with a 9 kHz corner
frequency. These filters work whether
the EQ is active or not.
I’ve been using the Ventura for the last few
months, and the box is truly amazing. The
preamp is one of the most flexible that I’ve
ever encountered. I’ve used it with dozens of
different mics, and there simply isn’t a bad
match. From low-gain ribbons to dynamics
to high-end tube mics, from what I’ve experienced,
the box sounds great with every mic I
tried. The 20 dB pad is useful when recording
loud sound sources with high-gain microphones,
although it is very disconcerting that
it makes a loud pop when switched on.
During various tracking sessions, I used
the channel to record kick (using a AKG
D112), snare (using a Heil PR20), hi-hat
(using a Royer SF-1A) and had fantastic
results in every instance. The instrument
input is amazing on bass guitar, and a pair
of Venturas would be fantastic for recording
stereo keyboard. I used the Ventura to
record electric guitar with both Royer R-101
and Heil PR31BW microphones and had
great results in both instances. I’ve never
heard more low-frequency clarity with the
R-101 than with the Ventura.
I used the Ventura along with a sE RN17
to record acoustic guitar and had wonderful
results. My favorite was using the Ventura
along with a Sony C-800G to record vocals.
The channel performed superbly, and in this
instance (as was the case with acoustic
guitar) I had delightful results utilizing the
high-pass filter. With a corner frequency of
150 Hz, I was fearful that the filter would be
so high that it would actually dig into the
tone of the instrument or voice it was being
applied to but with the smooth, natural rolloff,
that wasn’t the case at all.
In every instance I found the EQ to be
wonderfully musical with a more than adequate
selection of frequencies provided to
finesse a signal into the desired outcome.
I enjoyed the EQ so much that I routinely
utilized it (primarily on lead vocals and
bass guitar) while mixing and since the
adjustments are all made with step-type
switches, there’s never any question about
returning to my precise settings when
recalling a mix.
Maybe I keep my studio too dark, but I’m
getting tired of these blinding blue LEDs
and the Ventura unfortunately uses one of
these to signify that the unit is powered on.
The solution? A small piece of tape over it.
I’ll quit complaining.
The EQ on the Ventura is simply spectacular,
and it maintains its musicality
regardless of the extremities to which it
can be pushed (unlike most EQs). I love
having the ability to simultaneously use
the mic pre from the Ventura on one sound
source while using the EQ on another.
While recording a guitar/vocal, I used the
mic pre on the vocal (with a Sony C-800G)
while simultaneously using the Ventura’s
EQ on the acoustic guitar (with an sE RN17
into a Gordon Audio mic pre), and the
results were fantastic.
The Ventura has the appearance of
being completely road-worthy making it a
perfect upgrade contender for live sound
touring situations where an engineer
wants to utilize a high-quality mic pre
and EQ for the lead vocal and/or primary
While I would consider the Ventura’s mic
pre and EQ to be quite neutral, it is in no way
sterile. Between the mic pre’s almost nonexistent
noise floor and the sound-shaping
potential of the EQ, this box is one of the
best recording channels I’ve encountered.
I only wish A-Designs had included a compressor
in the chain as I’d love to hear
their take on the perfect recording channel
As of late, self-contained channel strips
are becoming more and more commonplace
in today’s recording studios, and the
A Designs Ventura is an excellent option for
someone wanting a high-gain, low-noise,
natural-sounding mic pre coupled with an
extremely flexible, fantastic-sounding EQ.
Contact: A-Designs | adesignsaudio.com
Russ Long is a Nashville-based producer engineer and mixer as well as a senior contributor to PAR. russlong.ws