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Missing a pad does seem like an oversight. You can dial down to -5db on the rotary…maybe they thought that was good enough? Leaves you 65db of gain range.

Anyway, I hadn’t really noticed noise much. I tried as OP suggested, and there definitely is additive noise from preamps; it increases as you bring faders up. But I would expect that.

My test, to try to get some kind of consistency: Shure SRH840 phones, phones level maxed. L/R at 0db, channel 1 at 60db gain, fader at 0db. Mute and unmute channel 1.

Doesn’t seem to me to be an inordinate amount of noise is added for that level of gain. So far I seem to end up with about 28db gain for most mics, even dynamics. Haven’t tried a ribbon yet, though.