In this shootout we’ll be comparing two very similar 8 channel preamps, of course what really matters is how they sound but its not just about the sound. The specs can tell you a lot but there are always things you learn about equipment when you actually get hands on with it that you just can’t tell from the specs alone. The audio files of these units in action will tell you a lot about how well these units do their job but here I’m going to offer the other stuff that specs and sound examples alone won’t tell you.
Both the Audient and Midas units are 1 U, 8 channel mic preamps of reassuringly solid construction and lets get this out of the way straight away - They are both excellent. There is no “bad one” here. However, having used them both I think the differences between them make them suitable for slightly different users.
So, how are they similar? Well after studying the front and rear panels the operation of both of these units should be reasonably clear, some similarities worth drawing attention to include:
Neither unit has a power switch, my preference has always been to have a front panel power switch on all rackmount equipment. Thankfully neither unit uses an external PSU.
Both feature 8 preamps with 60dB of gain. In a quick test both units seemed to have identical gain to within a dB - easily inside the margin of error of my not very scientific test. Both units have variable HPF, the Audient HPF is switched, the Midas’ is not.
ADAT outputs with SMUX to 96KHz
Although both units have pairs of ADAT connectors, both are outputs, with the second providing the extra bandwidth to SMUX to 96KHz. Both units can function as A/D converters for both mic and line sources. While patching one of these units I absent-mindedly considered setting up 8 hardware inserts via ADAT to give 8 analogue filters as inserts. Then I remembered I had only an A/D converter without any D/A conversion.
Both units have 8 line inputs and outputs on 25 pin Dsub. Using the digital and analogue outputs together enables use as a splitter to send to more than one destination simultaneously.
After considering all the similarities, there are significant differences which may or may not be deal-breakers depending on your particular needs:
The Audient only has pads only on channels 1&2. While for many this may not be an issue, If you are like me and like to use condenser mics on toms or other loud sources then if your mics don’t offer a pad then you may find yourself needing to keep a few in-line attenuators handy.
The Midas has variable LPF as well as HPF. This is really unusual and what first made me consider patching as a hardware insert. People have used the side chain filters on hardware like Drawmer DS201s for bracketing sounds for a long time and this would have been fun to try across elements of a mix. While not crucial like an HPF, the LPF is welcome and with a range descending as low as 1KHz, its possible to seriously sculpt the sound. The range of the variable HPF on the Midas at 400Hz goes higher than the Audient which tops out at 250Hz.
The Midas has 8 segment, per channel meters, the Audient has signal/peak LEDs. While 8 segment meters might seem lavish on a unit which is going to be connected to a DAW with all of its associated metering, I think you can never have too much information, I’m sure most of us have craned our necks to see an on-screen meter when adjusting preamp gains.
While both can be clocked externally via a word clock connection on BNC, the Midas has both word clock in and out. The Audient only has word clock in. This limits clocking choices when integrating the Audient into a larger system with other digitally connected equipment. I have had to set a preamp similar to this as the master clock on a Pro Tools system in the past and made Pro Tools slave to it via ADAT just because of a limitation like this.
The Audient has Hi Z DI inputs on Ch 1&2, the Midas has none. If this is important to you then of course it matters, but front panel DI connections are not something I’ve ever felt strongly about. DI boxes are cheap, future proof and more flexible, especially when moving beyond tracking at the computer towards tracking ensembles, which is probably why you would want a further eight channels of preamp after all.
The Midas has a cooling fan! For many this will be the most significant difference between these two units. For some it will be a deal breaker but I would argue that for others its less relevant.
Top - ASP880, Bottom - XL48
The sound examples show clear and consistent differences between the two units across a variety of sources and mics. I know which I preferred on absolutely everything but I wasn’t listening blind and my preference was probably influenced by factors other than the sound. We all do it, its human nature and we are all more suggestible than we’d like to admit so I won’t say any more. Listen to the examples and we’ll see what the results have to say.
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