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Microphone Month

Hands On: Antelope Audio Zen Studio

Antelope Audio is a company that specializes in amazing products. Their mastering-grade converters and super-accurate clocks are just two examples. Then there is the Orion 32, with its ground-breaking ability to route 32 high-resolution audio inputs and 32 high-res audio outputs over a single USB cable. Newest in the line of achievements from Antelope is the Zen Studio, a portable interface that brings together amazing mic preamps, high-quality audio I/O, monitor control, flexible routing, onboard DSP, and much more at a price that’s unbelievable. I’ve been using a Zen Studio in my rig for several months, and here’s what I’ve found.

WHAT YOU GET

The Zen Studio packs an astounding amount of simultaneously available I/O into a compact unit — up to 38 simultaneous inputs and 32 simultaneous outputs! The complement includes 20 analog inputs (12 with mic preamps), 16 channels of ADAT optical I/O, stereo S/PDIF I/O, word clock I/O, two stereo headphone outs, and two pre-digital-to-analog conversion analog inserts…enough to cover a huge tracking or mixing session. The unit itself feels solid, and is designed for portability. It has a built-in handle, and slides easily into a backpack or larger laptop bag. (Note: Antelope introduced a rackmount kit for the Zen Studio at this year’s AES show.)

The Zen Studio’s front panel includes a power/standby switch, a display for metering and for viewing settings, two option switches, and two headphone outs. A single large knob near the center adjusts whatever parameter is currently being accessed. Everything else is handled by the included Zen Studio Software Control Panel for Mac and PC, which covers super-flexible I/O routing, hardware DSP-based EQ and dynamics processing, custom presets, and four independent zero-latency mixers. Resolution up to 24-bit/192kHz is supported. The whole thing is driven by Antelope’s highly regarded Acoustically Focused Clocking.

IN USE

Setting up the Zen Studio is easy. Simply plug in the USB cable between the Zen and your computer, connect your mics and instruments, hook up monitors or headphones, and get rolling! The Zen Studio Control Panel can look daunting at first glance, but it’s easy to figure out, and offers all the control you need for routing signals, applying EQ and dynamics, and creating mixes for the engineer/producer and talent. The ability to save and recall set-up presets is a real time saver. Make a preset up for writing sessions, one for band tracking, one for mix down, or whatever tasks you do frequently, and you’re never more than a quick click away from being able to call up your preferred configuration and routing.

THE SOUND

I’ve used an Antelope Audio Orion 32 for a long time, and I’ve always enjoyed the sound. Clean, pristine, detailed, but never sterile. The best term I can apply is “real.” With the Zen Studio you get that same quality, but with the bonus of 12 truly wonderful mic/instrument/line preamps onboard. Twelve channels is enough to cover a large session — and you can always connect eight more external analog preamps and up to 16 more ADAT-optical preamps for huge tracking sessions! The 12 onboard preamps are clean enough for classical and acoustic jazz, but also have enough vibe and punch for rock, EDM, or any other style; they’re great all-arounders that sound excellent on any source.

A STATE OF ZEN

It’s hard to imagine needing more than the Zen Studio offers in a portable interface — or for many studios, for that matter! The comprehensive I/O complement, the onboard DSP, four independent latency-free mixers..it covers a ton of ground for home, project, commercial, or remote recording rigs. And, amazingly it does it all via USB, leaving your computer’s Firewire or Thunderbolt ports available for DSP accelerators or high-speed storage devices.

Give the Zen Studio a definite look; it covers all the bases at a great price, in a compact package, with great sound, and flexible connectivity. A solid winner!

Mitch Gallagher

About Mitch Gallagher

Sweetwater Editorial Director, Mitch Gallagher, is one of the leading music/pro audio/audio recording authorities in the world. The former senior technical editor of Keyboard magazine and former editor-in-chief of EQ magazine, Gallagher has published thousands of articles, is the author of seven books and one instructional DVD, and appears in well over 500 videos on YouTube. He teaches audio recording and music business at Purdue University/Indiana University, and has appeared at festivals, conventions, and conferences around the world.
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