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ADK AP-1 Mic Preamp / DI
Reviewed by Dan Richards

The ADK AP-1 Class A preamp/DI, provides up to 65 dB of gain, and is one of the intial offerings by ADK's new Custom Shop division, and is "made in the USA".

The story behind the AP-1 was early on I was having conversations with Larry Villella of ADK. He said he wanted to make an API-type preamp. I said if they were going to do that they really should make the opamps socketed rather than soldered. And should use the 6-pin 2520/990 format. I sent lists of all the opamps available. They ran with the idea, and also also came up with the further idea of even adding swappable transformers.

After it was developed, an ADK AP-1 was sent to The Listening Sessions for testing. We said we weren't impressed, and thought it just sounded like a mid-level preamp. Nothing special. Some other transformers were sent to us: Jensen and Lundahl. After trying those we became impressed. We liked the optional Xformers, but didn't like the Crimson in the stock unit. Larry said he wanted an AP-1 that was good enough stock. He then went to Cinemag and had them design one. Larry sent a Cinemag and Jon Erikson sent a new Sowter Xformer he'd been working on.

TLS put them all up on the bench, along with our opamp collection. We gave a thumbs up on the Cinemag and said the configuration of the Cinemag Xformer and the ADK opamp was good enough for a stock unit that got our approval.

We also found a lot of cool combinations of opamps and Xformers.

I think anyone looking to get an AP-1 should really figure on getting all the Xformers, and be prepared to pick up a few opamps. The fun in the AP-1 is the sonic flexibility, and if you don't use several opamps and Xformers — and all the combination variations - then you'll never tap into what the AP-1 can really do. Anyone who gets a new one should make sure it has a Cinemag installed. If it has a Crimson, then ask the dealer to contact ADK and have it exchanged for a Cinemag.

I think quite a few configurations sounded good. And if you figure TLS was using 4 transformers, not including the Crimson, and around 10 opamps — that's 40 different combinations.

I've been asked regularly if the AP-1 sounds like and API mic pre. If you have a desire for API — then get API. Or rent an API and decide for yourself. There's no combination we tried that sounded like API. But there were definitely combinations that sounded in the league of the high-end preamps. And keep in mind that with an API preamp you can also swap out the opamps.

Things I don't like about it? I think the chassis could be more robust. I think the overall design of the front panel could be nicer. I think the Custom Shop logo looks pretty chinsy.

At $1,199.00 list and around $799.00 street, I think the price might be a bit steep. A "loaded" John Hardy M-1 Personal sells for $950. A Great River ME-1NV for around $1075. An API 512C preamp in a 500-6B lunchbox goes for about $1050. And all that gear is built like a tank, industry-proven, and have beautiful tactile and balanced aesthetics that look and feel "high end". I'd like to see an overall chassis design the was more robust and sexier, and get the box looking and feeling more like what anyone spending in the area of a grand — or higher loaded up with good opamp and Xformer collection — would expect. But still I've got to applaud ADK for coming out with such an innovative product.

I think the AP-1 is a great way for someone who's wanting to move into what a high-end preamp can offer, and also who wants to explore the different sonic variations offered. Exploring may be hit and miss for awhile, and no one is going to like every combination. Obviously, it's going to take some investing. The Cinemag is stock, and then the Jensen, Lundahl and Sowter Xformers run around $100+ a piece. So, that's another $300+ to get all the xformers. Then you'll need to pick up some opamps, which average about $75 a piece. The AP-1 with all the xformers and opamps represented an investment in the area of around $900 worth of extras over the price of whatever someone would pay for the stock unit. Say $799 for the AP-1 plus $900 for xtra goodies = $1700. Maybe you wouldn't get all those opamps, but I'd figure a $1400-$1500+ investment would be made to really get into what the AP-1 can do. And, at least, it's something that can be invested in over time for those who don't want to take the hit in the wallet all a once.

Obviously, as far as sonic versatility, there's no analog preamp on the market that can touch what the AP-1 can do — if you've got it loaded up with a lot of the optional xformers and have a nice little opamp collection. So, if you want to spend some time in sonic exploration land, and have a cameleon in your studio then — yeah — it's definitely a cool box.

For more info on the ADK AP-1 and other ADK products visit www.adkmic.com

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