Brent Averill got inspired. To? Well, to start his own company and design mic pres that were similar to the old APIs. Though API used a couple of different transformers, the one that Brent liked best were the Jensen JT115s. He found the Jensen’s were the most consistent and had the best overall quality. But besides developing the 312A, Brent also manufactures the1272 pres. In comparison, the 1272 pres tend to compress the sound slightly, and add more second harmonic distortion, which results in added color. For now, though, let’s just take a look at the 312A.
The 312A is a passive device. There are no chips or capacitors inside (which have higher noise rejection) to slow down the signal. Transformers often have common mode rejection (CMR) of about 110dB at 60Hz. A big part of the dynamic sound the 312A has is because of the high step-up ratio of the input transformer. This adds 20dB of gain right from the start. Anything adding 20dB of gain is going to also add some of its own character and color.
I found a good amount of shielding inside the case. The unit is hand built and uses tested and matched parts. It has lots of output current designed to push transformers without choking up, losing low end and compromising headroom. The circuit board is single sided with thick traces, which prevents tracks from lifting off or becoming intermittent over time.
The back of the unit is simplicity at its best. There are XLR input and outputs for channels 1 and 2 — that’s it. The cable coming out of the unit you need to plug into the separate transformer by the XLR input. Interestingly enough, they added a second input on the transformer in case you want to buy a second 312A. You save roughly $200 when you buy a unit without a transformer.
On the front of the unit, (from left to right) there’s a 20dB pad, phase reverse button, 48 phantom power button, and gain knob. To the right are a mic and instrument switch and a quarter-inch input jack. The unbalanced DI input impedance is set at 250K ohms, which is roughly 10 times the average output impedance from many passive pickup instruments making it a great DI tool in the studio. It comes out of the preamp transformer balanced and ready to be compressed or EQ’d, if needed. The –20dB pad is designed to stay neutral when it’s engaged by maintaining a steady input impedance of 1400 ohms on the mic input. This may sound trivial but many manufacturers making similar preamps needing a pad often overlook this, which can explain why sound can change slightly when the pad is engaged. The pad does not affect the DI.
There are no led or VU meters on the unit. Though you can look at your signal in your DAW mixer to check the signal strength, I always appreciated having meters on the units themselves. There is a difference with the input signal into the unit compared to the output level going into your DAW. But why quibble over something this minor?
Mark Loughman of BAE stressed that this pre was designed to be very punchy and fast sounding. After hearing this in action, I must say, this is exactly what the pre delivers. This pre is fantastic for drum kits, for overheads, and to mic a snare drum to get a crisp sound. I compared it to several other mic pres in my studio, including the Langevin DVC and Neve Portico. On bass guitar, the Langevin gave a nice, clean, even sound, while the 312A has a slightly smoother sound. This smooth character was very useful when using solid state mics on vocal track, as well. In going through my Blue Blueberry and Audio-Technica 4033, the pre sounded good on both male and female vocalists. Though there is a character to the pre, it’s a gentle one. Some stronger colored pres if used on numerous tracks could result in getting a muddy sound on your mix. Though I’m not a big fan of going direct into a DI for bass, I found the 312A to give a much better sound than I expected. It had a good punch with a touch of smoothness added to the sound. So with this pre, you get a very dynamic and lively sounding preamp with just a little character and color without adding a bump in the response. If you’re looking for a high end pre that has a very quick response, is lively, and adds a touch of color, it would be a mistake not to try this pre out.