While I adore our Steinway in the studio, it can sometimes just be a hair dark in recordings for pop and rock music. Enter the EM Blue card. It seems like every time the piano is going to be used in a full mix, we are grabbing the EM Blue to help accentuate the top end detail of our Steinway B. We’ve had it work wonderfully on snare drum, vocals and acoustic guitar where more top and slightly less relative mids were the goal. The Blue does a fantastic job of bringing more presence to an instrument without doing it in a harsh or brash way. It has a nickel output transformer which differentiates it from the others. It has a tight, detailed and true bottom end, and a bigger top (and upper mids). With this one, the midrange is purposefully held back. For any source where you need to accentuate the upper frequencies and you don’t want to grab an EQ, the A Designs Blue should be your preamp! Since this is something we tend to do with many, many different sources, it makes it a very versatile little preamp.
Read for more info on some of the other available modules if this one doesn’t sound exactly right for your application.
The Rest of the EM Preamp Cards
The full line of EM Preamp cards from A Designs was built to bring a few different flavors into your 500 series rack, but with an extreme quality standard that is only possible with small quantity, boutique runs. These guarantee each module is built to world-class audio standards. Each module has custom-wound transformers which really create a noticeable difference in tone, and to be honest, the difference is quite impressive compared to many of the modules available on the market today from other manufacturers. Each module has plenty of gain for your quieter sources like acoustic guitar, or traditionally quieter microphones like ribbons. The front panel DI sits prior to the input transformer, which allows you to pick up that great coloration that each of the modules individually presents, even when patching in an instrument. The preamp modules from the A-Designs series are: the P1, EM Red, EM Silver, EM Blue and EM Gold. With the exception of the P-1 (since we own 3x Pacificas), Sound Pure owns pairs of EVERY SINGLE module above, and uses them daily in our own world-class recording studio, the Sound Pure Studios. We are here to report our findings after years of using them. Any question you have can be e-mailed to us, or you can call us toll free! We’d love to talk to you more about these modules, microphone pairings, comparing these to other pres on the market, and whether or not they are right for you.
What We Think of the Others
The P1 is modeled to be very similar to the Pacifica, with some moderate color and some very nice detail throughout the frequency range, and with a very smooth and open top end. The Red module has a “boost” to the mids due to the transformer, which we found to be wonderful on guitar cabs. The Silver boasts a Steel output transformer that gives it the darkest tone of the bunch (and a big low end), and the Blue with its Nickel transformer has a very lofty, airy top end that is great for bringing a brighter life into darker sources. Finally, the Gold is a mixture of the Red (input transformer) and Silver (output transformer), which gives it the hottest output with a nice colored and pushed midrange.