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Graham Archer, engineer for Trevor Horn keeps A-Designs unit focused on drum and mix busses


Since joining Sarm Studios in 2005, Graham Archer has moved up the ranks to become one of Trevor Horn’s top in-house engineers. Having recently engineered recordings for Seal, Robbie Williams, Massive Attack, Ellie Goulding and Madonna, Archer is often found in Sarm’s London or Los Angeles studio reaching for his A-Designs Audio HM2 NAIL compressor/limiter.

Purchased last summer, Archer’s NAIL spends most of its time on either the drum buss during tracking sessions or across the two-buss when mixing. The engineer reports that he deployed the device across the mix buss on recent projects for Seal, Spector, Ben Saunders, and Kelly Rowland, as well as on the entire drum buss for recordings by Birdy and Jeff Beck.

“When I put the NAIL across the whole drum buss, the filter allows me to get a really punchy, less compressed kick,” Archer describes. “It allows the bottom end of the kit to be quite dynamic and hit hard. With ‘normal’ compressors, the kick can be the element that drags down the gain reduction and sucks the life out of the drum buss.

“I usually set the filter somewhere between 150 Hz and 250 Hz, which allows me to compress things above those frequencies. In reality, I find this makes the top kit, the room, and ambient mics sound more alive, exciting, and cohesive whilst allowing the kick and the low toms to punch through largely unhindered.

“For me, the NAIL’s biggest strength is its versatility. I also like really hammering it and then using the mix knob to back off the heavily compressed signal and find a subtler middle ground. In my opinion, the NAIL glues things together really well and definitely makes everything more ‘3D’. It also adds an airy quality, like a subtle top boost, which is very clean and open. Plus, I don’t know of another stereo compressor that has a solid state/tube design with a variable HPF and wet/dry controls, so it’s quite unique.”

Archer notes that he has also used the A-Designs compressor/limiter to provide a bit of subtle compression when tracking piano, but the NAIL’s other primary duty has been to essentially “live on the two-buss” at Sarm for mix applications.

“Tim Weidner, Trevor’s other engineer, and I tend to pool our gear resources on Trevor’s projects and the A-Designs unit is currently sitting on the mix buss along with a couple of mastering grade units,” says Archer. “Tim agrees with me that the NAIL is a fantastically versatile compressor.

“I tend to use it in a fairly standard way with a low ratio, slow attack, quick release, and a threshold that results in a couple dBs of gain reduction,” Archer describes. “In this context, it’s great, does all the things that I want from a mix buss stereo comp, and adds more weight and depth to my mix with a sharper stereo image.

“One thing that I love about the NAIL, however, is that it can allow me to be a bit more creative if I’m looking for something a little different. I can really crush a mix and then back off a lot of the compressed signal with the mix knob. It’s not for all situations, but it can be really cool!
“Before doing anything with the NAIL, I’ll send a tone through the unit and align the left/right output gain. I then usually flick one of the meters to ‘level’ and the other to ‘GR’ so I can see at a glance roughly how much I’m compressing and what my output level is like. It’s only a guideline as I’m looking at the left and right signals separately but I find it really useful.”

Marc Anthony Tour Uses Hammer & Nail on 2 Buss


Marc Anthony, Chayanne, and Marco Antonio Solis – three of the biggest names in Latin pop – are currently out on the road together on their 14-city North American GIGANT3S tour. Manning the house mix for Anthony once again is his longtime FOH engineer, Jose A. Rivera, Jr., who has recently chosen to apply an A-Designs HM2EQ HAMMER dual-channel tube equalizer and HM2 NAIL compressor/limiter across the stereo mix buss.

The idea came when Chris Cally, Anthony’s guitar and bass tech, purchased several REDDI tube direct inject boxes then introduced Rivera to A-Designs President Peter Montessi. “A week before we went on the road, I had Peter ship me a HAMMER and NAIL so I could experiment with them a bit and consider using them on the tour,” says Rivera. “When they arrived, I immediately used the pair to track bass and guitars in my studio and instantly fell in love with the sound of each unit. It was quite an experience.”

“So I took them into our production rehearsals to see if they would also bring an improvement to our overall live sound,” he continues. “After putting the HAMMER and NAIL across my stereo mix buss, I was stunned by the difference. Even without touching the EQ or compression controls, the pair brought such a beautiful warmth and musicality to everything. I prefer to use an Avid VENUE console on tour with Marc, which means that most of my processing is done via plug-ins, but the A-Designs combo sonically wrapped everything together so nicely, and it continues to wonderfully surprise me night after night.”

Initially, Rivera was uncertain as to how he was going to utilize the HAMMER seeing that he typically relies on a graphic equalizer to tweak out offending frequencies. “Once rehearsals had started, I noticed that the HAMMER was not only extremely transparent, but that the way it added or subtracted frequencies was very musical. There was an instance where I felt there was too much of a buildup in the 500Hz range, so all I did was attenuate it by 1.5dB and it was just beautiful. Jorge Solorzano, the system engineer, and I were both amazed. We still have the graphic EQ on hand for one particular frequency, but when we want to address a range of frequencies – high, mid and low – I definitely run through the HAMMER first. It’s a wonderful little surgeon.”

According to Rivera, the only downside to his HAMMER and NAIL is that he doesn’t have two of each. “The rack stays on the truck, so when I’m back in my studio between shows producing an EP for a local band by the name of Magazine Society, I’m definitely missing them very much. I guess that just means I’ll eventually have to buy a second pair,” he laughs.


Ventura for 2012 Par Excellence Award!

We are very proud that the The A-Designs Ventura has been nominated for a 2012 PAR Excellence Award in the Studio Hardware/Channel Strips product category.   We would very much appreciate your vote!   Here are the details:

August 2012 marks the PAR Excellence Awards’ re-introduction as a reader-voted program, presented by the editors and contributors of Pro Audio Review (PAR) magazine. Online voting on the list of nominees by PAR print and digital readers (subscribers only) will be open from the mail date of the August issue through Friday, November 16, 2012.

PAR Excellence winners will be announced in the December issue of Pro Audio Review and simultaneously online at, PAR’s shared website with sister publication, Pro Sound News.

Nominations for the 2012 PAR Excellence Awards were developed through the brain trust of PAR editors and contributors. Nominations were based on the “I want to own this” principle; gear selected should have a proven field track record, performedwell via PAR’s “real world” review process, or — in the case of recently released products — have shown particular promise through demonstrations, beta-testing and among early adopters. All products for consideration must have been first made commercially available on or after July 1, 2011 and on or before June 30, 2012. The full list of nominees will be posted here concurrent with a press release distribution on Wednesday, August 8, 2012.

Potluck Con 2012

We just returned from Potluck Con 2012 in Tucson AZ.    This conference was on hold for a few years and we are so happy to have it back.  It is the most uninhibited exchange of ideas for the recording engineer and producer and we look forward to more amazing conferences in the future.  Here’s a few pics…

Peter Montessi speaking with his hands

Jon Erickson and Lisa Montessi getting setup for a big weekend

What do Jack White and A-Designs Audio have in common? Producer/Engineer Vance Powell!

Vintage Levi’s bellbottoms, stylish glasses and fully ventilated chesthair. Designer extraordinaire Jonathan Little gets the finger.

The gang from Roll Music and Avenson Audio.

Analog vs. Digital panel. Steven Slate and engineer Vance Powell really got their blood up on this one. All of the panels were incredible. This particular panel really demonstrated how passionate people remain about pure analog sound.

The man of the hour, Craig Schumacher. Craig put this conference together and deserves a giant pat on the back. These conferences make a huge difference in moving recorded music in the right direction. Thanks again Craig and we’ll see you next year.

Looking for the best combination Mic Pre/EQ/DI?…The A-Designs Ventura.

Check out these world class videos featuring the  A-Designs Ventura made by our friends over at Soundpure.

These 3 videos features A-Designs’ Jon Erickson going into great detail, inside and out.  Jon answers many of the most common questions and demonstrates the Ventura’s  flexibility.   Videos include a recording of the Olympic Ass Kicking Team engineered by Fletcher and Jason Richmond using the A-Designs Ventura, Pacifica, Hammer, Nail, EM-EQ2 and REDDI.  Check them out here.

California Dreamin’: Pacifica & Ventura Compare and Contrast

Since its release in 2006 the TEC nominated A-Designs Pacifica has won a rabid following and high regard amongst the world’s top engineers and producers, not to mention being used on countless hits. This year we released a sister product to the Pacifica, The Ventura. Like its predecessor, the Ventura takes its core inspiration from the 70’s Quad Eight consoles and now introduces the EQ section from these classic desks. We have had many questions from engineers regarding the similarities and differences between these two units and this document is designed to help answer some of these questions.


Op Amps AKA Amplifiers

Both units utilize a discrete op amp and run at the same high rail voltage of+/-28vdc for maximized headroom. The op amp in the Pacifica is identical to the original amplifier in the Quad Eight Consoles down to the PCB layout while the op amp in the Ventura has tweaks to the original design that gives it a slightly faster response.

Mic Pre Topology

The basic mic pre topology is the same in the two units. They both utilize a similar gain structure with input and output transformers. Both units are fully balanced in and out. The Ventura has 70db of gain while the Pacifica has 72db. They both have a gain control, -20db pad, phase reversal and +48v phantom. The -20 db pad feature on both units performs the typical function of lowering the input gain of high level sources, but also serves as a tone shaping control by allowing the user to push the gain to higher levels to achieve variations in tone. This is somewhat similar to balancing the master volume and preamp level control on a guitar amplifier.


Both units share a unique vintage style which time has proven to be very popular. Of course it’s the sound that really sets the Pacifica and Ventura above the pack, but these units also stand out in a rack and make people ask Whats That!?


Both units are highly versatile and can be used across an entire album without the muddiness of some vintage styled pres. They both have very wide frequency response and high headroom with just a touch of color through subtle harmonic distortion that engineers and artists love.

Made in the U.S.A.

A-Designs Audio is dedicated to American manufacturing. Both the Pacifica and the Ventura are built right here in Southern California and utilize some of the same build partners that Quad Eight had back in the 70’s including transformer houses. We literally live right down the street from where those Q8 boards were made and are able to work face to face with some of the original designers.


The Basics

The Pacifica is a dual mono mic pre and D.I. The Ventura is a mono mic pre, D.I. and a 3 band band parametric EQ.

Ventura Routing Options

The Ventura may be used in a typical inline channel strip type application utilizing the mic pre or DI into the EQ from a single source, but it also has a very unique feature that sets the Ventura apart from a typical channel strip. The Mic Pre/DI and EQ sections can be used independently with their own separate amplifiers and output transformers. EG. You can track a guitar with the mic pre while eq’ing a kick drum, simultaneously.

Moreover the mic pre section can send its’ output to its own dedicated output transformer for a one tonal option, the EQ amplifier and output transformer for another option, and from the EQ amplifier and output transformer with the EQ in bypass for yet another color altogether. Its a tongue twister we know, but this gives the user a great deal of tonal variation and routing flexibility. The Ventura signal path is displayed below.

Ventura 3 Band Parametric EQ

The Ventura features a 3 band parametric EQ whose inspiration comes straight from the 70’s Quad Eight Ventura console. The 33 Frequency points and +/- 15db cut/boosts are on custom rotary switches for full recall. All three bands feature switchable “Q” control to adjust the frequency center widths and the high and low bands may be converted from peaking to shelving with a flick of a switch. This EQ performs surgical and broad stroke duties equally well.

Ventura Filters

The Ventura features switchable lowpass and high pass filters at 150hz and 9k to eliminate low end boominess and to gently roll off the top end. EG. The high pass is great for vocals or acoustic guitars while the lowpass works well at quickly getting rid of excess string noise on bass guitar or for reducing high hat bleed. HP and LP filters always come in handy.


Without any marketing exaggeration, the Pacifica has a magic top end that makes people choose it in shootouts more often than almost any other pre. It is not brash shrill or exaggerated, but gently forward. By comparison the Ventura has a cleaner sound with a rich midrange.  The Pacifica is a quick pick for vocals, acoustic instruments and overheads while the Ventura excels at vocals, electric guitars, kick, snare and keyboards.


The Ventura features a Jensen input transformer and a pair of steel core Cinemag output transformers, one for the mic pre and one for the EQ. The Pacifica features Cinemag input transformers and extra large Cinemag hybrid nickel/steel output transformers. What does this mean? The steel core material in the Ventura helps contribute a touch more harmonic distortion when pushed hard. The more ‘hi-fi’ nickel core materials and transformer size in the Pacifica contribute to its’ more airy top end. Cinemag and Jensen are the two most highly regarded transformer manufacturers in the U.S.

“Direct Inject” or “Instrument Input”

While they have different names the 1/4″ inputs on both of these units have one thing in common: They rival the most expensive dedicated direct boxes and this places both units head and shoulders above the rest. The Pacifica’s 1/4″ differs in that the signal drives through a ultra high impedance circuit into the mic pre’s input transformer for a bit of iron warmth via subtle harmonic distortion. The Ventura’s instrument input also features an ultra high impedance buffer, but is transformer-less, yielding a bit cleaner sound by comparison. The Ventura instrument input also has its own dedicated gain control. The Ventura has a switch which selects between the mic or instrument input while the Pacifica automatically switches the inputs with the insertion or removal of a 1/4″ TS cable.

We hope this has helped clear up some of the differences, but if you have any questions please feel to contact us.

Try your Hand at Mixing!

A-Designs Audio
sponsored a recording workshop with Producer/Engineer Tony Shepperd and artist Dom Liberati at Burbank’s Speakeasy Sound Studio back in April and we now have tracks available from that session for you to experiment with.  This session featured the Pacifica, Ventura and REDDI on the front end.

TRY YOUR HAND AT MIXING!  This is purely educational and for those who do not have a tracking studio and want to give your mixings skills a workout feel free to experiment with these files.   Right/Click on Windows or Control/Click on Mac to download files.  These .wav files are all synced so just drag them into your session and line them up at zero.

Tony Gtr_02   Pacifica

TOM LO_02  Pacifica

TOM HI_02  Pacifica

SN TOP_02  Pacifica

SN BOT_02  Pacifica

Scratch Vox_01  Pacifica

ROOM_02 R  Pacifica

ROOM_02 L  Pacifica

ROOM_02 C  Pacifica

OVER_02 R  Ventura

OVER_02 L  Ventura

KICK OUT_02  Pacifica

KICK IN_02  Pacifica

Jim Gtr_02  Pacifica

HAT_02  Pacifica

Gtr Solo_01  Pacifica

Gtr Build_01  Pacifica

BASS FX_02  REDDI into Pacifica

BASS DI_02   REDDI into Pacifica

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