Beauty More Than Just Skin Deep

By Sven-Erik Seaholm Magazine - All Rights Reserved 6/10/01

While most of us don’t own luxury cars, we've had the opportunity to sit in one at one time or another, however briefly. What immediately strikes us are the differences in the details: standard dashboard indicators replaced with object lessons in elegance and ergonomics, every knob and blinker seeming opulent, what was plastic is now exotic hardwood, what was vinyl is imported leather. Often, too, there's some gadget we never even dreamed of which is perfectly integrated into the car’s design and seems almost indispensable. These spoils do more than just provide comfort -- they assure us that the high level of quality and design extends to all aspects of such a fine automobile. It may seem an odd metaphor, but working with the Avalon Design Vt-737sp tube preamp, compressor, and EQ ($2295) consistently gave me this same feeling of (borrowed) splendor -- and yes, this baby drives like a dream.

The 737 has three basic stages: a preamp, a compressor, and a 4-band EQ. It utilizes 4, yes 4, military-grade vacuum triode tubes and boasts 100% pure Class A operation for the highest sonic integrity through all stages. The unit sports XLR inputs for both mic and balanced line signals and a balanced XLR output, as well as a jack to link it to another 737 for stereo operation.

The 737's beautifully and intuitively designed face will stop even casual observers in their tracks. The left end deals with the preamp stage and offers a 1/4" unbalanced instrument jack and silky smooth knobs for gain, input selection, and low cut filter frequency. These are followed by buttons for high gain, phase reverse, phantom power, and hi-pass filters, which light to a soft, rosy glow when engaged. Next over are the compressor's threshold, ratio, attack, and release knobs and buttons that select pre- or post-EQ compression, input- or compression-level VU metering, and compressor engage/disengage, respectively. Avalon’s trademark oval VU meter is at the center of the unit, followed by the EQ section, with four knobs along the top (bass, low mid, high mid, and treble), four along the bottom (bass shelving frequency, sweepable frequencies for both low and high mids, and a treble shelving frequency selector) and four buttons: two that control ‘Q’ width and two that multiply the selected low and high mid-frequency ranges x10. The far right of the unit sports the output knob, a sidechain button (for de-essing applications), an EQ in/out button, and the power switch. Powering the unit on engages a "soft start" feature which gradually brings the unit to life, ensuring no strain on the electronic components. Powering down utilizes a similar technique -- very nice touches one doesn’t see often.

In use, I found the 737 to be downright relaxing, both in its ease of operation and the wonderful, strikingly accurate capturing of all signals run through it. While recording a vocal duet, I used a pair of very high-quality microphones, running one through the 737 and the other through a JoeMeek VC1Q studio channel. The 737 instantly showed its superiority. Its sound was more open and I swear I could almost see around the sides of the signal, as the imaging was so three-dimensional. The unit's compression is virtually transparent, appropriately punching things up and leveling the signal nicely without the pumping and breathing the Meek unit evidenced at similar settings. But the 737's EQ definitely hit the ball out of the park. The sound is sweet and juicy as a nectarine -- almost anyone could operate it with their eyes closed.

Subsequent sessions for guitar, horns and percussion showed the 737 to be more than up to any task, with uniformly luxurious results throughout. The Avalon Vt-737sp is an excellent "one-stop shop" for anything you want to put through it, eliminating the need for any other processing other than a splash of reverb or other special effect. It’s built like a tank, but handles the corners like a Jaguar. If you want to get on the road to sonic nirvana, this wonderful piece will take you there in style.


Sven-Erik Seaholm is San Diego-based artist/producer who provides recording, mastering, and design services through his company, Kitsch & Sync Production.Gearing Up features new products aimed toward recording and performance, as well as techniques and applications of these tools.

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