A great microphone is not enough.
Neither is a quality guitar or other instrument.
Without a great preamplifier, or a channel strip that contains a great preamp, spending money on a good mic or instrument is a waste.
And if you want to get the best possible sound, you need the best possible preamp. And that conversation inevitably turns to the Avalon VT-737SP.
It is a professional level channel strip that is famous for its transparent reproduction. It takes any input, be it your vocals or a guitar or any other instrument, and reproduces it perfectly.
Of course, it also has a ton of controls that allow you to dial in exactly the sound you want. As you might expect, it is expensive.
Is it worth it?
That really depends. Some people simply do not need everything this unit provides.
This review will take a closer look at this famous channel strip and help you decide for yourself if it is the perfect preamp solution for you, or if a more budget model would be perfectly sufficient for your needs.
Avalon VT-737SP Review: Overview And Features
Though it is often referred to as a preamp, the Avalon VT-737SP is more than just a regular preamp. It’s a channel strip with a class A preamp.
It has three input selections. The first is a high-performing mic input with its own 48-volt phantom power, suitable for condenser mics. The second is intended for instruments–the classic DI input that you can use for stuff like electric guitars or keyboards. And the third is a balanced input with Class A circuitry.
But here’s the most important thing–this is a tube-driven channel strip. It features four dual triode valves, all of which are Sovtek-made 6922.
As if all this wasn’t enough, the VT-737SP also has an optical compressor with minimum signal path design. It’s well-known how good-sounding opto-compression can be.
Optical compressors are famous for their responsiveness, setting the intensity according to the input signal strength. The compressor on the VT-737SP has all the basic controls for attack, release, threshold, and ratio.
Adding to the long list of features, it also has supremely detailed EQ controls on it. At the input section, there’s a high-pass filter, allowing some low-frequency cutoff.
Then there is a 4-band EQ, where the mids are divided into two controls. In addition, the mids have the Q-width control as well as the frequency selection. Of course, the lows and the highs also have their additional controls for shelf frequency.
- Tube-driven channel strip, featuring four 6922 valves
- Three inputs for microphones and instruments
- Optical compression
- Detailed EQ controls
- High-pass filter
- Rugged construction
This is a high-quality, high-end piece of equipment, so there aren’t any doubts about the tone quality. The question is how it affects the tone.
The main tone-shaping components are the four 6922 tubes. Two of them are part of the preamp, while the second pair is in the power section.
Tube-driven devices have their own way of adding that “organic” saturation to the tone, and to the dynamic response. You won’t hear the classic distortion you might assume with a tube-driven device, but rather just a slightly “muffled” sound in the mix.
Aside from microphones and vocal recordings, the Avalon VT-737SP is great for instrument recording. Anything analog or digital can run through it and sound great, but we would argue that conventional analog instruments work better.
The overall frequency range goes from 10 Hz to 120 kHz. This is obviously significantly wider than the audible spectrum and than any microphone’s range. Nevertheless, it’s important to have such an extensive span, in order to fully capture all the nuances.
Features And controls
We could talk about VT-737SP and its features for days, but there are a few things worth highlighting.
As mentioned, there are three inputs. But the entire unit works as one channel.
On the front panel, you’ll find the instrument line input, along with the input gain knob, input type switch, and the high pass control with 11 settings spanning from 30 to 140 Hz. There are also additional switches for input mode, phase, and phantom power.
The other two inputs, as well as the output, are all located on the back panel.
Next up on the front is the optical compression section with four essential controls for threshold, ratio, attack, and release. Right next to it, at the very center, we can find the classic VU meter.
The entire right side is for the EQ and other EQ-related controls. As mentioned above, there are four basic controls for lows, low mids, high mids, and highs. Each of these has an additional control for further adjustment.
The two mid knobs have controls for peak frequency, each giving 11 different settings. Meanwhile, the lows and highs each have the 4-position switches for shelf frequency. There are also additional switches for the bandwidth, labeled as “Q,” and the so-called “x10,” both of which serve to further shape the mids.
At the very right end of the front panel, you’ll find the main output level. It goes anywhere from -40 dB up to +10 dB.
One of the first things you’ll can notice about the VT-737SP is the overall build quality. This is no surprise considering that it’s made by Avalon. It is a classic rack-mounted piece with nothing too fancy design-wise, but it impresses with its sturdiness.
As mentioned, this channel strip is useful for any type of instrument, or for a microphone. Because it is tube-driven, the VT-737SP is also great for digital recording. It adds the analog aspect to the digital tone and thus brings life back to otherwise sterile recordings.
VT-737SP Preamp Advantages And Disadvantages
- Great tone quality, adds natural analog dimension to the tone
- An abundance of tone-shaping controls
- Optical compression
Avalon VT-737SP Vs Universal Audio 6176
When it comes to the way they are used, the Universal Audio 6176 and Avalon’s VT-737SP are pretty similar. However, there are some very noticeable differences, even at first glance–the 6176 offers fewer tone-shaping options.
This doesn’t make it worse, just different. After all, some users might prefer simplicity over numerous features.
While the 6176 is also a tube-driven unit, it only has valves in the preamp section. The compressor is solid-state, compared to the optical one on Avalon’s channel strip. For some, this might be a letdown, since optical compressors can offer a different aspect in the tone-shaping process.
The final difference to note here is the more narrow frequency range of the 6176, going from 20 Hz to 20 kHz. Considering these differences, it should come as no surprise that the VT-737SP is more expensive.
That said, the cost difference is not that high. For that reason, we definitely recommend spending a bit more and getting the Avalon VT-737SP, because it provides significantly more options to work with.
Avalon VT-737SP Vs M5
The VT-737SP is pretty amazing, but it might be unnecessarily complicated for some, who would rather go with a simpler setup and have a straightforward mic preamp rather than a rack-mounted channel strip. That is where the Avalon M5 comes in.
Although it is based on the company’s classic 2022, the M5 is a significantly smaller unit. The main difference between it and the VT-737SP is that it doesn’t feature any tubes. Despite that, it still offers some great tones.
While it’s mostly intended as a mic preamp, both for vocals and miced-up acoustic instruments or electric amplifiers, it also has the classic line input. This means that you can also record guitars and keyboards through it. It’s also not uncommon to see bassists using the M5 for both studio and live settings.
The lack of tubes just makes this a completely different piece of equipment. You won’t have that natural saturation, but you’ll get the clarity that many performers prefer. Again, this comes down to personal preference.
In the end, the M5 presents a more practical and cheaper solution for a mic or instrument preamp, while the VT-737SP is a detailed channel strip that allows some serious tone-shaping.
Avalon VT-737SP Channel Strip Review: Conclusion And Rating
The Avalon VT-737SP doesn’t really have any flaws or downsides worth mentioning. The one thing that could be an issue is the price. But as a fully professional piece of equipment the price is expected and actually a great value.
That said, you probably won’t want to buy the VT-737SP if you’re building a basic home studio. In order to use its full potential, you’ll need a significantly more expensive studio setup, including all the other gear and microphones.
You should also bear in mind that this is an advanced piece of equipment and being a tube-driven channel strip, it will require maintenance and tube replacement. That means an additional investment on top of the already high price.
But if you are building a professional studio, you can’t do any better than the VT-737SP, at least not if you want to add coloration. This is the perfect preamp to make your recordings less sterile, by bringing in some of that much-wanted tube saturation.
The abundance of controls is somewhat of a double-edged sword, as you might end up playing with them for hours and wasting valuable time, though that could be a lot of fun, too. That said, after getting used to the VT-737SP, you’ll be able to use it for any instrument or musical style you want.
This is one of the best channel strips money can buy and it topped our list of the best preamps, just for that single component alone. It gets our highest Musicaroo rating of 5 out of 5.