ADesigns PacificaKen Morgan 2006The ADesigns Pacifica is a 2 channel mono preamp device derived from the astonishingly good Quad 8 Pacifica consoles of the 70s. We got one, gave it a complete and total rundown of every conceivable test, and this is what we found: The Pacifica is perhaps the most versatile and useful preamp available in today’s market.The Pacifica is the big brother to the now famous ADesigns P1 (500 series) card preamp, with some significant differences (details below). First, upon opening the box, we were greeted by an unassuming, yet very heavy single rack spaced device. The cream-colored faceplate is uncluttered, featuring only an inch DI input, single gain knob, phantom power, -20db pad switch, phase reversal for each channel, plus a master power switch with a small, but very easy to see, blue power light.The rear panel is simply XLR inputs and outputs, a standard EIC power cord connection, and line voltage switch. The operations manual is well thought out and detailed, yet just a few pages long.Connecting it all could not be easier. The unit features a toroid power transformer, plus transformers for each input AND each output (note: transformers provide that magical sound, and in our opinion, have more influence on warmth, clarity, and sonic mojo than tubes). The Pacifica is capable of up to 72db of gain, so ribbon mics are not a worry.To test the unit, we used a myriad of mics and sources. All testing was done using Samplitude 8.31 or 9.01 (see related reviews) with ADDA chores handled by an RME Fireface, set for 24/48K. For our tests neither compression nor EQ were used. Now let’s get to it!1.Vocals: With an extremely wide sonic palette offered by the Pacifica, capturing vocals for any genre was an almost too easy task. For a silky smooth country gospel female singer and a pop oriented male singer, we used a Pearlman TM1 for most of the work. The sounds varied from squeaky clean to deep, rich, and warm, just by varying the input gain and pad switches. We also ran the same vocalists through a Peluso 2247, getting slightly different but equally superior results. Running the old standby RCA SK46 ribbon gave us the old school jazz sound; the EV RE16 sounded superlative, and an ever present SM57 never sounded so big, warm, and juicy. The SM7 through a Pacifica cannot be accurately described. No words can describe its HUGE warmth and accuracy. Even though every mic in our locker sounded superb, the Pearlman seemed to win (sometimes by a very narrow margin) each time. 2.Acoustic Instruments/Guitars: For our test, we ran the Pearlman, the Peluso, a Joly modded Oktava 319, and a pair of Josephson C42s. On acoustic instruments, the differences in gain/pad settings really became apparent. On both Martins, the Pearlman gave that unique U47 sound, the Peluso a crisper, more present sound, the 319 the classic 47FET sound, and the Joesphsons the crisp detailed sonics one would expect from a GREAT set of SDC mics into a GREAT preamp. Hint: take a matched pair of mics (or as close to matched as you can swing), put one Pacifica in clean mode (gain down, pad off), the other in color mode (gain way up, pad engaged), then blend the two. I had no idea a pair of SDCs could sound so large, warm, yet detailed to hear every nuance of each test guitar. We got the same results with pairs of AT 4041s, ADK A51 Ser IIIs, and even a pair of EV RE11s. The similarity of mics combined with the extreme preamp differences gave us some rather unique and highly usable sound each time.3.Drums: Always the topic of debate. In our tests, we ran the Pacifica in various setups. When used for close micing individual drums, each drum track was punchy yet clear and detailed. Snares with an SM57 really seem to like the Pacificas transformers. When the Pacifica was used with an overhead pair of Josephson C42s, everything we heard was detailed, with no high end harshness, uneven frequency responses requiring EQ, etc. As this reviewer prefers the simplistic 3 mic approach, the best results we got (out of all the possible combinations) was the Joly-modded Oktava 319 front-of-kit run into an ADesigns EM Silver 500 series card, and a pair of ADK A51 Series III (old models) into the Pacifica as overheads. A huge punch with crystal clarity, and an extraordinary sense of depth was the result. We went as far as to use just 2 mics for a particular drum track: the Pearlman TM1 as front-of-kit and a Jurassic era RCA SK46 ribbon overhead. Again, the results were clear, precise, and powerful, without being overbearing. Ringo, anyone? Note that we tried the Pacifica with the usual myriad of hand percussion toys (bongos, timbales, tambourines, etc, all with the same results. Great stuff.1.Electric Instruments: This is where it got really interesting. We ran a “beefed up” Telecaster thru a JBL-stuffed MusicMan SixtyFive Reverb head, and put up an SM57Hello classic Nashville! I think Roy Nichols and Don Rich would have loved this combination. Using different mics, as expected, the Pacifica gave a clearer picture of that mic, with the preamp adding just a touch or a ton of color, depending on the gain/pad settings. For heavier/more contemporary sounds, the ribbon into the Pacifica gave up the goods in way we had been looking for. A Marshall 412 and an older 50 Watt Marshall head, plus a combination of ribbon and an SM57 gave remarkable results.Plugging a bass directly into the Pacifica gave us very good results, but adding the REDDI as a DI has, in effect, redefined our bass sound. An EMG loaded P-Bass into the REDDI, then into the Pacifica, could very easily become THE standard for bass guitar.5.Pianos/Keyboards: Once again, the Pacifica came through these tests with flying colors. Synths (including a Triton, Alesis Q6 and Motif) all sounded much more realistic, requiring little, if any, EQ. A Fender Rhodes sounded amazing, with or without the REDDI in the path. We then took the Pacifica to a local church with a great sounding upright grand, and when combined with both the Pearlman and our Peluso 2247 it provided deep lows, detailed highs, and clear bell-like mids. On one remote session, we recorded a young, gifted soprano and a grand piano. For the session, we used the Pacifica and a pair of Josephson C42s in XY, and as expected, the details of the piano came through beautifully. After the session was over, we set up the Pearlman in Omni mode, about 2 feet from the piano at full stick, and recorded a concertina (3 minute piece). The combination of the Pearlman and the Pacifica, even in a poor sounding room, rendered amazing clarity, power, and detail. I can honestly say I’ve never heard a mono track sound so big and spacious. Why do you need this preamp? Simple answer: It provides two channels of outstanding sound that can run the gamut from “super clean,” with just a suggestion of color, to an in-your-face, aggressive preamp that will make a track jump out and demand to be heard. Is this THE one perfect preamp? I don’t think anything exists that is perfect for every application, but given all the choices I have and/or have used, the ADesigns Pacifica would be my choice for the desert island preamp. It really is that good, in this reviewer’s opinion.The Pacifica holds its own against any other pre I have encountered and in most cases out-performs the competitors, by no small margin. Its versatility, sonic character, build quality, and price/performance ratio make the Pacifica a no-brainer for any studio large or small, pure audio or heavy external synth based, classical, jazz, or metal. It works well with every mic we tried and on every source we could muster. ADesigns, as a rule, builds exceptional gear, and the manufacturers support could not be better. Tracks recorded with the Pacifica are much easier to mix, saving time and making the job easier. We encountered none of the buildup believed to be present when using nothing but Neve or similar pres. Whatever we had, tracks recorded or redone with the Pacifica found their place with little fuss.We also found the 500 series devices from ADesigns to be very complimentary of the Pacifica. Our P1 pair and an EM silver melded beautifully, and worked almost in a perfect symbiosis. This preamp is a must have. I want to add this: The combination of a Pacifica pre and a Pearlman TM1 mic is as close to a perfect combination as one can get. The Pearlman acts as if it was manufactured to be an OEM match for the ADesigns, and in our studio, the Pearlman/Pacifica combination has become THE go-to combination.Look for our upcoming review and the head-to-head shootout between the Pearlman TM1 and the Peluso 2247, another winning combination for nearly every application.