Antelope Audio Zen Studio; The Difference Isn't Subtle

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Antelope Audio Zen Studio; The Difference Isn't Subtle

Post by mojobone » Fri Nov 13, 2015 10:29 pm

WHAT IT IS
The Zen Studio is a portable USB Audio Interface with 20 Analog Inputs, 12 Mic Preamps, Onboard DSP Effects, Multiple Monitor Mixers, and Mac/PC Control Software
* here's a PDF of an article on the design philosophy behind the Zen Studio: http://bit.ly/1MHXffU

WHAT IT DOES
Normally, one considers swapping out a preamp, clock or converter to be an incremental upgrade; one expects subtle improvements over typical prosumer audio performance, beginning at about a thousand dollars per channel, but in upgrading all three at once with Antelope's USB 2.0 Zen Studio, I'm fully flabbergasted at the improvement in both the quality of my recorded tracks and in my ability to hear them. The increase in focus, clarity and detail is simply stunning, even on virtual instruments and tracks recorded elsewhere. Then, when you consider that the Zen Studio features 12 preamps and can record up to 24 simultaneous channels; at under $100 per channel, it may appear foolish to buy anything else, IF you need this much horsepower in a portable package, but there are a couple of caveats.

WHAT IT AIN'T
first up, you can't rackmount it without an add-on kit, which takes up TWO rackspaces, because the unit runs very hot, possibly due to the hi-tech oven-controlled clock, and secondly there are some terrific extra features that are frustratingly difficult to access- multiple digital mixers with compression, EQ and even a great-sounding algorithmic reverb, all of which SO far can only be controlled with...a mouse. (and no scroll-wheel implementation, either) The wall wart (BOO) is sturdy and has a locking collar. (YAY) The Zen's control GUI cannot be re-sized. (UGH) There is also no manual to speak of; basically just a quick start guide on Antelope's web site and mention of a DAW plugin that presumably will allow access to the goodies noted above from within your DAW, at some point in the near future. As of this writing, it's vaporware, so far as I've been able to determine. There is also no provision at present for managing any of this awesome firepower from a control surface, which is a doggone shame, because the unit itself provides a total of three buttons (one of them of questionable utility) and one clickable knob, but as others have mentioned, many of these minor annoyances can and probably will be fixed in future firmware updates. Nonetheless, the Zen Studio's tremendous flexibility, connectivity and utterly awesome sound quality put it in a class all its own.
Last edited by mojobone on Mon Nov 16, 2015 7:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Antelope Audio Zen Studio; The Difference Isn't Subtle

Post by eeoo » Mon Nov 16, 2015 3:25 pm

You have one Mojo? I'm covetous!

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Re: Antelope Audio Zen Studio; The Difference Isn't Subtle

Post by mojobone » Mon Nov 16, 2015 3:38 pm

Yup. Been puttin' her through the paces and building a new 64-bit studio.
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Re: Antelope Audio Zen Studio; The Difference Isn't Subtle

Post by andygabrys » Mon Nov 16, 2015 4:29 pm

eeoo wrote:You have one Mojo? I'm covetous!
+1

Mojo - you could get a job writing gear reviews, if anyone would pay you for actually telling how it is......

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Re: Antelope Audio Zen Studio; The Difference Isn't Subtle

Post by jonnybutter » Mon Nov 16, 2015 5:23 pm

andygabrys wrote:
eeoo wrote:You have one Mojo? I'm covetous!
+1

Mojo - you could get a job writing gear reviews, if anyone would pay you for actually telling how it is......
Yes! Also I want one of these puppies

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Re: Antelope Audio Zen Studio; The Difference Isn't Subtle

Post by mojobone » Mon Nov 16, 2015 7:31 pm

andygabrys wrote:
eeoo wrote:You have one Mojo? I'm covetous!
+1

Mojo - you could get a job writing gear reviews, if anyone would pay you for actually telling how it is......
I get that, and I honestly love y'all for saying it, but if I DID that, I maybe wouldn't have time to actually use the gear. Um, on the other hand, people would probably send me gear to evaluate, which would maybe be a nice problem to have. I absolutely love learning new gear and teaching about gear, but gear can be a distraction from what we all should be focused on; that would be the music.
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Re: Antelope Audio Zen Studio; The Difference Isn't Subtle

Post by mojobone » Mon Nov 30, 2015 12:52 am

After just a couple of real world sessions recording bass and my trusty Washburn dreadnought, (with the brand-new Gauge stereo pencil condensers I scored at the Taxi Rally, thanks again, Rob!) I have to reiterate that the quality of the discrete, Class A preamps and the clock/conversion in the Zen Studio is beyond anything I've experienced before, even in some pretty fancy studios featuring names like Lavry, Pyramid and others that compare less favorably. CraneSong and Burl converters are probably a different category, as they're designed to judiciously apply coloration, sorta like API or Neve, in the analog realm. The A/D conversion in the Zen more resembles the theoretical 'straight wire', and the preamp provides gain that's as colorless as anything I've yet heard. It's honest, without ever being anything less than musical, though it will tend to expose bad miking/mixing technique. But you know, it's only your friends that'll tell you you have B. O. or bad fashion, right? ;)

These preamps have extended both the reach and the dynamic range of every mic I own, and the Zen as a whole, has revealed the true character of each, while giving me a high-res aural image of exactly what my room is doing. (some mics have already been sidelined, pending further review, but I believe every mic is good at something )

I can imagine that improving the space and the cans/monitors can only lead to further clarification of everything that goes on in my tracking room. In fact, I would have zero trepidation hooking this rig up to a Decca tree and some room/spot mics and recording any symphony orchestra you'd dare to name, though I'd certainly need to rent some better mics. For me, this thing has already been a game changer, and I'm operating on a whole new level. I may still bitch about the interface, (I believe I've earned the right) but this is far and away the best piece of hardware I've ever bought. I just miss controlling it all with 100mm motorized Alps faders.
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Re: Antelope Audio Zen Studio; The Difference Isn't Subtle

Post by mojobone » Fri Feb 05, 2016 1:26 pm

NAMM UPDATE: Antelope has announced the Orion Studio, which, while being as portable as the Zen, is more focused on use in dedicated control rooms, with similar audio and input capabilities to the Zen, but with a different complement of outputs, and some new wrinkles in the hardware and mix software, plus USB and Thunderbolt I/O, which apparently are available simultaneously. You lose the Zen's 8 line-level inputs on a D-sub connector in favor of two connectors with a total of 16 analog outputs, perfect for feeding something like a Dangerous Music summing mixer. You gain an extra set of mastering grade-balanced analog outputs, the Zen's four independent mixers with Auraverb and FX, a talkback function and the ability to attenuate either monitor output pair with the large onboard knob, something Zen users can certainly appreciate. I haven't got my hands on one of these as of yet, but I know it's gonna sound amazing. Not sure how I'd swing it, but it'd be great to keep my Zen packed and ready for location work; this new one fits my studio's workflow and hardware better than the Zen which maybe makes a more awesome laptop rig.
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Re: Antelope Audio Zen Studio; The Difference Isn't Subtle

Post by andygabrys » Fri Mar 18, 2016 1:28 pm

hey Mojo - don't know the specifics but I saw this: http://www.sweetwater.com/insync/antelo ... on-studio/

regarding the Antelope Orion Studio and its interesting about the included plugins that run in zero latency (like the Overloud stuff which I use natively and think its good).

They are sort of contending with the Apollo type stuff.

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Re: Antelope Audio Zen Studio; The Difference Isn't Subtle

Post by mojobone » Mon Apr 11, 2016 6:08 am

I'm hoping they'll make that available to Zen owners in a firmware update.
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