For anyone looking to add a number of microphone preamps to a digital recording setup, a quick trawl of the web will show that 8 channel mic preamps are in plentiful supply. With so many manufacturers moving production to China to compete on price, it would seem that Audient have their work cut out for them if they are to try and gain a foothold in such a competitive market.
But Audient aren’t here to compete on price. There are a lot of multi-channel preamps in the sub-£500 price bracket, such as Focusrite’s Octopre and the Presonus Digimax, but then precious little until you get to units such as the Focusrite ISA 828 at over £1500. With the ASP008, Audient have filled that gap – it’s an 8 channel preamp with digital outs, yes, but it eschews the cheaper IC and op-amp based circuitry of mass manufactured units in favour of an all-analogue, transformer-based Discrete Class A design, and adds variable impedance on all inputs to the mix. Oh, and they are all assembled in England if you are interested.
Audient are best known for their analogue consoles and the ASP008’s analogue heritage is apparent the minute you unpack it – it’s heavy. And heavy is good, because heavy means a big power transformer to deliver constant voltage across the components, and real transformers handling the signal, rather than PCBs. My geek tendencies compelled me to open the lid and I can definitely confirm that!
The ASP008 offers eight mic inputs on the rear panel via female XLR sockets. Each channel has individual ‘soft start’ phantom power, a switch to trim to line level, a phase switch and a -12dB/octave high-pass filter which is variable from 25Hz to 250Hz. Each channel also has a 3-position impedance switch, offering 200Ω, 1.5kΩ and 5kΩ load values. Channels 1 and 2 also feature front panel instrument inputs and -20dB pad switches.
The rear of the unit has a DB25 connector for all eight line level inputs, another for the analogue outputs and, if you have the digital output board (which, lets face it, is the only sensible way to buy the unit) you also have ADAT out sockets supporting SMUX up to 96KHz, eight channels of AES/EBU (also switchable to SPDIF) via a 9-pin D-connector and a wordclock input. Digitally, the ASP008 can run up to 96KHz and a rear button selects between internal and external clocking.
So the Audient ASP008 is an extremely well-specified unit as far as connectivity goes, but the important functions of any mic preamp is how good it sounds and in particular how well it responds to the mic. And this is where the ASP008 really excels. Audient claim that distortion is less than 0.001% with 20dB gain, and it’s certainly apparent that the unit has a huge amount of headroom available. It’s not a crystal clear transparent unit, but rather added a wonderful analogue warmth to pretty much any signal that I fed through it. Lows were rich and detailed, mids were clear and well defined and high frequencies never seemed to inherit an air of brittleness that plagues many cheaper units (especially at higher gain settings) and the noise floor is incredibly low.
But the real trump card for the ASP008 is the variable impedance settings for each mic preamp. Changing the load that a microphone ‘sees’ can have anything from a subtle to drastic effect on the sound of a microphone across frequency response, dynamic range and transient response. Modern transformer-less condensers exhibit less of an effect but older, transformer-coupled mics, dynamics and ribbons definitely change character as the impedance is changed, giving you a whole new palette of sounds to work with.
The Audient ASP008 is not aimed at the user who just wants to add some mic inputs to their digital recording setup. Instead, it’s aimed at users who want some of that analogue magic to infiltrate their pristine digital world and experience a bit more depth from their mics. Pro Tools HD users in particular will love the fact that the unit has AES/EBU out, so they won’t be limited to ADAT-only digital connections. At its price point, the Audient’s only real competition is the RME Octamic II, which is no less wonderful but entirely different in character – being an example in transparency. But if it’s warmth and character you’re looking for, I’d recommend the Audient ASP008 all the way.
If you want to try the Audient ASP008 we have loan units available to try in your own studio. For more information, call our audio team on 03332 400 300 or email broadcast@Jigsaw24.com.