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Avedis MA5 Preamp Review by Ken Morgan, Wireline Studio ©2009, All Rights Reserved MA5 Pre Amp SYNOPSIS: The Avedis MA5 preamp is a 500 series chassis with a very prominent Neve 1073 influence. Each unit is hand built with custom designed and wound Jensen output transformers. The MA5 works as a graceful and elegant pre, or as a device that takes charge by sheer brute force, either as the sole pre for a project, or in tandem with other higher end devices. Now that I have a pair of MA5s, I can hear what the hype has been all about. This is a superior product, to be sure. WHAT IT IS: The Avedis MA5 (as of this writing, available with a black or red face – I chose red) is a 500 series VPR compliant single slot preamp. The primary gain knob has several preset positions, with a ‘fine tune’ knob on the bottom to dial in the EXACT amount of gain you want the device to provide. There are three basic switches on the front panel: 48V phantom power, phase and the almighty “28K” button that engages a presence circuit that is not really a treble boost, but more of an overall high end enhancement. There are no direct inject inputs. The inputs and outputs are accomplished with balanced XLR connectors. WHAT IT DOES: It would be easier to describe what it doesn’t do, as the MA5 provides a wide range of sonic choices, based on how hard you push the unit, how much gain is dialed in, and the position of the 28K switch. Our tested (and previously purchased) units were run through everything we could find for projects ranging from radio voice interviews for NPR, to a Tejano project for a major label, to an alternative rock band’s demo. In some cases, the MAs were direct to our RME convertors. In other cases they went to our Soundtracs console. Let’s take a look at some real world applications: Note - I waited to prepare this review until I had two units here, for verification. Vocals: The MA5 seems to be the perfect pre for many types of vocals. We used one with an old EV RE16 dynamic mic for an interview featuring a baritone voiced male speaker that aired on National Public Radio. The end result was clear, crisp, precise, and the nuances of the speaker’s original voice came across perfectly on the interview. In the context of tracking a modern rock singer, the MA5 is a strong, clear, powerful, and focused preamp which makes, the sometime subtle differences between mics, jump out. The MA5 seems to focus more on highs and lows without accenting the mids (just as most of the properly working Neves I have used in the past). We found the MA5 likes tube mics, as well as FETs and dynamics as much as ribbons. Acoustic Guitars: We hooked a Pearlman TM1 to the MA5, activated the 28K switch, and started to track a 60s Martin Dreadnaught… The sound I heard immediately was that of the Stone’s version of “Wild Horses” – an honest sound with little fuss. Comparing the same guitar/guitarist/mic with other pres in the stable (heh…) we found that the sounds produced by the Avedis unit did not compete with, but seems to complement everything. Using an older RE16 into the Avedis yielded less pleasing results than a Pacifica or P1, but this (as with all things) is a purely subjective call. Electric Guitars: This is an area in which the MA5 really shines. The Avedis units take very well to screaming Marshall cabs, as well as delicate jazz passages thru a JBL D130 and a Musicman… Again, the MA5 showed no real preference to ribbon, dynamic, or condenser mics, each performing equally well, but drastically different. On a recent project, while recording a couple of tracks for the local band Down Yesterday (each guitarist with a humbucker stuffed guitar into either a Marshall or Laney head and a 4- 12 cab) we were able to get completely complimentary sounds by simply switching the 28K button off. As it turned out, we used a Cascade Fathead on each cabinet, with no additional EQ necessary in tracking or in post… Superlative versatility and sound. The MA5 also really adds some clarity when recording hotrod tele-style players (ala Albert Lee or Brent Mason) by adding enough focus and clarity to add punch while still maintaining glass-like distinctions and harmonics. Drums: The ever-sensitive subject of drums. We tried the Avedis units on kick and snare, with either Soundtracs board or A Designs, covering the rest… Again, killer sounds and complimentary to the overall sonics. Then, we used the MA5 pair as overheads/cymbal mics and the ADesigns/API/Soundtracs stuff handing drum duties, and there was a difference. A huge difference? In our opinion, no, but a difference nonetheless. Hand percussions and assorted noisemakers all came through with flying colors, as well. Other/Misc: Since we track a LOT of Tejano music here, we tried the MA5 and a Joly modded Oktava 319 on accordion. Gone was the shrillness that can come from accordions, replaced with warmth and a very pleasant hi end. Most Tejano musicians really like to hear the accordion buttons clicking away as the player progresses thru the song, but with most mics this can be very difficult to achieve with drastic EQ. With the Avedis unit, we captured not just the buttons being pushed, but we also heard the player’s fingers actually hitting the buttons – all without touching the EQ. Again, the 28K switch came to the rescue. As mentioned, the MA5 does not come with any sort of line input. Avedis does make an XLR- XLR transformer pad to take line levels down to unity. We tried this with a Yamaha synth of some variety, and following Avedis’ instructions to put the MA5 at 35db gain with the line pad, we were able to get some excellent results from the keyboard’s line outs. A pair of Avedis MA5s, a pair of these line pad transformers, and a passive summing unit (Folcrum, etc.), you will likely have a killer gain make up chain for OTB summing. Conclusions: The Avedis MA5 is a welcome addition to our shop, and would fit in nicely in just about any studio’s arsenal of sonic tools. It is IMO as good at providing “that” Neve sound as any vintage Neve preamp you will find. Housed in the popular VPR Alliance 500 chassis format, the MA5 provides top quality workmanship, components, build quality, and most important, sound. Selling for about $750, the MA5 does not seem to want to run roughshod over other high end pres, but instead seems to want to compliment the sonic quality of the overall project. To this end, the MA5 does its job. When combined with ADesigns P1s, Pacificas, an EM Silver, an API 512C, and a sack full of console pres, we have been able to get some great results on a variety of instrument sources in a variety of genres.  In my opinion, the MA5 as a single or pair of high end pres is a great choice, but adding them to a pre-existing arsenal of killer gear seems to make everything involved sound that much better.
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Avedis - MA5 Preamp