Two Solid Front Ends for Getting Audio Into Your DAW
Thermionic Culture is known for producing high-quality pro audio pieces that offer atypical sonic qualities. My first experience in using its gear amazed me at how much I could alter the sound of the source with one device.
LaChapell Audio is a Nashville-based company comprising designer Scott LaChapell and his father, a retired senior design engineer at Lawrence Livermore Labs who brings the electronics expertise. The 983S reviewed here is their fifth product and is based on the company’s 583, a 500 Series preamp module. LaChapell takes a no-compromise approach to design, fit and finish, and it shows in the 983S, which I was able to use across a range of sessions and inputs.
Great River is known for its high quality, solidly built products, the flagship being the MP-2NV 2-channel microphone preamp. It offers the personality of classic British preamps without the issues that come with 40-year-old electronics.
The history of the ADR Compex Limiter F760X RS goes back to the late ’60s in England when Audio & Design Recording made the single-knob F600 compressor module.
When SPL unveils a new product, it is often built around a one-of-a-kind new circuit. The company is probably best known for its Transient Designer, which allows the manipulation of attack and sustain in ways that sound and behave very differently than a traditional compressor does.
My first introduction to Universal Audio’s Apollo came two years ago at Winter NAMM. I was thrilled at the idea of having a single-rackspace unit that provided so many options for 8-channel, high-resolution recording with UAD plug-ins. This past year, UA introduced the Apollo 16, which is directed at the pro audio user looking for an alternative I/O solution. There is plenty to love about the new unit, including the ability to expand to 32 channels, Thunderbolt I/O, flex routing and more.
One of the hallmarks of the Prism Sound brand has been exceptionally transparent A/D and D/A converters. Products in the company’s recent USB interface line have varied in numbers of I/O channels provided, but in each case they offer high-quality mic preamplifiers, digital I/O and monitoring facilities. The second-generation release of the Lyra-family USB audio interface is its most affordable option, built on a foundation of features that should please a variety of users.
Over the past two years, 500 Series preamps and processors have matured in design sophistication and sonics. Processors such as the Empirical Labs DocDerr, Elysia nvelope and xfilter have set the bar high, and others have answered the call. The two units reviewed here offer a unique look at EQ for the format and will ring the bell of those looking to step beyond plug-ins into hardware solutions. Both have their strengths and unique features that put them in the best-in-class category.
Solid State Logic’s Sigma Summing Engine is a remote-controllable 16-channel analog summing engine with a monitor section. It uses the same SuperAnalogue technology as SSL’s Duality and AWS consoles, accepting 16 stereo channels of line-level audio from any DAW I/O unit(s) over Tascam standard AES59 25-pin D-sub connectors—four stereo pairs per DB25 cable. No other hardware is required for basic summing of 16 stereo pairs to a stereo mix bus plus monitoring.
In a way, the Focusrite Red 1 500 Series Mic Pre is the modern return of the microphone preamp design and sound used in the original Focusrite Red Range line of 2U processors. The Red 1 Quad Mic-Pre, Red 6 Mono Mic-Pre Equalizer, Red 7 Mono Mic-Pre & Dynamics and the Red 8 Dual Mic-Pre variants all used that same preamp circuit topology. The Red Range was first released in 1992 and then discontinued in 2010, but its lineage goes back to the mid-1980s with the Focusrite ISA 110 Mono Mic-Pre & Equalizer. The vertically mounted ISA 110 was a Rupert Neve design from being commissioned to supply 16 extra inputs for a Neve console at AIR Studios in London.
When it comes to digital audio hardware, there seem to be two different classes: devices offering the most connections, features and best possible sample rates for the most affordable price, and hardware that shoots for the highest possible sound quality regardless of the resulting price. Apogee has always embraced the latter approach, taking great care to consider every component’s role, from clocking, to converters, to power supply, and the quality and cleanliness of the analog portion of D/A and A/D converters.
Rupert Neve Designs has produced a number of signature products that bring Mr. Neve’s touch to the modern age of recording. While the price of these products are out of the reach for some, the newest offering from RND hits the affordability target dead center while maintaining quality and excellent sonics. The 511 preamp features a range of controls plus the signature Silk circuit.
When I first began making records, I quickly came to the understanding that everything in the signal path contributed to the quality of my system’s output. In the recording and mixing process, I would typically listen through the monitoring section of a console, but when attending mastering sessions, I began to notice these studios had unique monitoring controllers that allowed them to interface different sets of speakers, clocks, converters, CD players and more. When DAW recording became more popular, many of my peers and the studios I worked in became more reliant on the same types of interfaces.