What makes a product good? Is it the box that it comes in, the features, the reputation of the manufacturer, the price? Maybe it’s just a great full color ad campaign, or some B.S. story by a celebrity that is connected to the product?
Sometimes I think that at least half of everything that is made today is designed to appeal to the above criteria, rather than to satisfy a basic need at a fair price. Making steady progress on the rough seas of indifference, there are a number of small companies making products that are performance rather than pretense oriented. DAV Electronics is one of those companies.
Is the Broadhurst Gardens NO. 1 going to win any industrial design awards? Probably not, for it is just a simple black anodized extruded aluminum box. I would describe its size as a standard brick in height and width, and a brick and a half in depth. The NO. 1 feels reassuringly like a brick too, in terms of solidity, and believe it or not, that overall feeling carries over into its sound.
In part due to its size, the NO.1 makes a great location recording preamp, with the only caveat, that AC power is required. Other than that, its compact size makes it the perfect choice for bundling into a bag along with some microphones. It’s small size and unobtrusive appearance also make it quite invisible on stage, which is also a nice thing as it can allow you to place the preamp much closer to the microphones and drive the long cables at line rather than mic level.
The unit that I received from DAV Electronics was set up for 120V operation, and features the standard detachable IEC AC cord. Sharing the rear panel is a pair of Neutrik XLR outputs. The front panel features two Neutrik XLR inputs, two switchable high pass filters (40Hz/80Hz/150Hz), a phase reversal switch (for channel 1), an 11 position gain control for each channel, and a two channel two element LED meter which indicates +18dB with a green LED, and +21dB with a red LED. Maximum output is stated as +29dB. My only complaint with the design is that the gain knobs protrude from the front panel, and might be prone to damage (if one were careless). I have been informed that the next iteration of the NO. 1 will have addressed this issue.
The NO. 1 really shined on vocals providing a solid presentation that was very quick dynamically, and not at all pinched sounding when driven hard. I had excellent results using the NO.1 running either direct to tape, or feeding a compressor before hitting tape.
The NO.1 provided a sense of realism as well to room microphones, when used in conjunction with a pair of Audio-Technica 4060 tube mics to capture the room sound during a recent session recording a full drum set. The sound was the antithesis of the typical hollow and honky sound room mics, instead providing a real representation of the actual musical event.
Bass guitar was handled quite well, and the option to reverse polarity came in handy when I used the NO.1 to simultaneously send a direct signal to tape (courtesy of a Radial JDI direct box) and to a vintage Sunn Sorado bass head and 2×15 cabinet. I always prefer to have the correct polarity recorded to tape, rather than to leave that to the mixing stage, for the benefit of the mix engineer should I not be mixing the track myself.
The NO.1 turned out to be a bit of a surprise in quite a few ways. First of all, based upon it’s lineage (it was designed by Mick Hinton an ex-Decca Records engineer in the UK) I expected it to be very old school, both in terms of sound and construction. I was completely wrong! The NO.1 is very well constructed (unlike some British products – All hail Lucas Prince of Darkness!) and very modern in its approach. Witness a large (I would guess overspec’d) torroidal transformer, and high speed Analog Devices IC’s.
I had the opportunity to ask the designer why he chose the topology that he did. I was told DAV’s design goals were to produce a clean uncolored preamp that would be reliable and consistent from unit to unit.
All I can say is that I think he succeeded. You would not mistake the sound of the NO. 1 for a syrupy tube design, but neither would you expect it to be a totally modern solid-state design either. The NO.1 simply sounds like music. A very good buy as well.
Excellent build quality
Gain knobs protrude from front panel