Andy Cherna - Metric Halo ULN-8
My interface of choice is the Metric Halo ULN-8. The ULN-8 is a single rack DAW interface with 8 analog i/o’s, additional digital i/o, 8 mic preamps and on-board digital summing. How I got there is a bit of a game of dominos…. I had a firewire equipped laptop at the time and a Lynx Aurora 16 left over after stripping out the Digidesign Adat Bridge which got orphaned. I wanted a system with a large i/o count in order to integrate various analog processors, primarily my DIY built collection. I ended up with a pair of ULN-8’s at considerable expense and began my difficult relationship with what I soon called "aggravate device" (aggregate device, Mac’s method to combine 2 or more interfaces in a single audio/midi setup).
Some review right? Well, while the audio quality was great, the multi-unit, real-world performance in my application was going from bad to worse until the rarest of rare events happened. Metric Halo announced and just recently finally delivered a complete overhaul of the unit (and the entire line including legacy products) called 3D. Instead of “mark 2-ing” and leaving the most loyal users to liquidate and re-buy just like brands x,y and z, not to mention names, Metric Halo offered a very reasonably priced upgrade package including a replacement rear panel, main CPU and DSP card, complete with easy to follow instructions and forum support. This is a true fortunate stroke of serendipity with in addition to the integration of multiple devices as a single entity under Core Audio, the new system boasts a mega increase in DSP power, better clocking and a vastly improved i/o management utility. Metric Halo is now officially the coolest company ever in my book, as this level of backwards integration and ease of upgrade is unheard of anywhere else in the world of computers and digital audio workstations.
In a growingly crowded world of interfaces at the upper level, we see more and more units with integrated plug-ins, microphone and guitar amp modeling, integrated digitally controlled mic pre-amps and console center section managers often with the marketing concentrated on the bells and whistles, the plug-in GUI’s in particular. Metric Halo takes a different approach with the emphasis on essential audio transfer processes, clock integrity and real time expandability, without neglecting much of the fun stuff noted above. The system works under Ethernet or USB with the possibility of long distances between units in multi unit setups, near-zero system latency between said devices and the ability to share resources between units. Sonically, the system is without peer in its class. In my comparisons, I did prefer a Digital Audio Denmark AX converter with a slight edge that was quickly offset by its enormous price tag. While everyone may have an opinion, nothing else comes close under $1K/ channel of analog i/o in my book. The ULN-8 streets for $3395US and a version either 4 mic pre-amps or just line inputs will be even less.
Metric Halo has a good sized cult following on several audio forums and is a favourite amongst people doing pro location work but hasn’t reached the market share of the most popular market leaders in DAW interfaces. One can expect that with this new upgrade, it will gain adopters both amongst pro users and home studios that want an extra edge in performance. One can also find great used market deals on the earlier boxes like the ULN-2, with the option of adding the 3D upgrade and later integration with a larger box like the ULN-8 as needs grow.
Chris Vandeviver – PreSonus Quantum
For many years I owned MOTU's old firewire interface, the 8pre. It was my first "serious" interface and it served me well.
However, as time went on and my client work grew, I started to outgrow the 8pre. It was rather limited on outputs. And switching between Logic and MOTU's CueMix software always felt a bit like a juggling act.
Sure, I pined for a new interface. But the 8pre was "good enough" for my needs. But over time the 8pre began to act erratically, getting lost in its own start-up cycle when powered up. Eventually the 8pre would sort itself out. But it usually took walking away from the it for 10-15 minutes.
In September of 2017, in the middle of a client session, the 8pre decided to shut-off on its own. When I restarted the interface, it began its start-up cycle shenanigans once again. Only this time it couldn't figure itself out for over an hour.
Yeah. It was pretty embarrassing.
So right after that session I went out and bought PreSonus' Quantum thunderbolt interface. And I can say, with hand on my heart, I wouldn't pick another interface over it. I simply can't think of another piece of gear that I've bought that I've been this happy with. But I'm exactly that – 100% happy!
What's so good about it you say? Let me count the ways:
Plenty of I/O, from the combi-XLR inputs to ADAT expansion (plus extra Thunderbolt port for daisychaining monitors or interfaces!)
NO in-between digital mixer to muck up workflow
Built-in talkback mic
Recallable, digital Digimax preamps
You’d think I might use Studio One to love the Quantum so much. I have no doubt PreSonus aims to build great gear for everyone. But they certainly aim for their hardware to integrate tightly with Studio One over anything else.
But it's like PreSonus sorted out every feature one would want in an interface, and then built that dream interface.
If you forced me to make a criticism of the Quantum, it would come down to the Thunderbolt cable. It's just no fun to buy anything and not have all the connective bits you need to use it right out of the box. I'd happily pay an extra $45 to save a trip to the Apple Store.
I took the time to test-drive the Quantum with both Logic Pro X and Studio One 4. And much to my surprise, the Quantum actually performed better with Logic than Studio One.
In my tests I tried both a DIed guitar and large condenser on my vocals.
Even at the lowest Buffer Sizes I was noticing a hair of distracting latency between my performance and the output in Studio One. It wasn't until I instantiated the "Green Z" Low Latency Monitoring that I was able to remove the latency completely.
However with Logic Pro X, I could go as high as a Buffer Size of 128 without distracting latency. And that's without Low Latency Mode enabled.
All in all, my delight with the Quantum led me to buy many other products from PreSonus shortly after!
Eli Krantzberg - Universal Audio 8p
My quality of audio interface life has improved with each upgrade. My personal journey thus far looks like this: Audiomedia ll —> Digi 001 —> Motu 828 MK ll —> Apogee Ensemble —> UA Apollo 8p.
Like Chris, I was relatively satisfied with the MOTU universe. I was using FireWire-based Mac towers and life was good. The drivers were solid, performance was stable, I had an outboard Octapre LE for additional preamps to mic my drums. I got by just fine. But when I upgraded to a new thunderbolt iMac three and a half years ago, I decided to bump my digital life up a notch. There’s nothing wrong with driving a Toyota or Honda, but I was ready for a BMW.
I knew I wanted something with eight good preamps on board (for drum micing). My colleague Russ Hughes had recently gotten his new thunderbolt Ensemble and was singing it's praises. Let's face it, reading online forums and discussions is great, but nothing beats having a trusted colleague with reliable real-world hands-on experience. I put down my cash and ponied up for the thunderbolt Apogee Ensemble.
The preamps are so much better than the Octapre, that it was immediately noticeable from my very first VO and drum mic recordings. I record a lot of guitar as well, so the dual input / re-amping setup it has is a nice bonus. I really like the Ensemble’s performance with Logic. The hardware controls are supported directly from within Logic’s mixer, which is very convenient. The drivers are solid at low buffer settings. And the Maestro app is simple to set up and navigate.
Then along came Universal Audio. They hired me to do some logic pro expert videos about a year ago. Wanting to get the full unison experience, and needing eight mic pres, the Apollo 8p was the logical choice at the time. They have since released a new x8p version with 50% more onboard DSP. Sweet!
So, now I have a BMW and a Mercedes side by side! What can I say, the Apollo is fantastic. You can argue this way or that as to which has better converters or mic pres. But the indisputable factor that differentiates them is the unison preamp technology. There is simply nothing comparable in the software world to recording directly through unison powered preamps with near-zero latency. It really is like having the hardware.
The other major differentiating factor, and you can argue about the relative merits of this, is the selection of proprietary DSP driven plug-ins available exclusively for the UA platform. There is no question they sound outstanding. But they are not inexpensive, particularly when you factor in the cost of the DSP needed to drive them. There are plenty of fantastic sounding native plug-ins available that run with any hardware. Are these proprietary plug-ins worth the difference? I don’t think that’s a question to tackle here. You don’t have to buy them of course. But they are a significant part of life in the UA universe.
So now, I am happily using my Apollo 8p. Apogee has announced their DualPath FX Rack software (now called Apogee FX Rack) for unison like real-time recording. I am eagerly anticipating its release, and look forward to trying it out. Regardless of which will be better, the end result is that the bar will be raised, and we will all win in our next upgrade!
Deryck Roche - Presonus Studio 192
Up until earlier this year I was using AVID’s 003 Rack Audio Interface. I was searching for a new interface for my studio. I tried out several great interfaces like the UA Apollo (Silver Face FW 800 Model), Antelopes Orion 32 (USB) and Apogees Ensemble (Silver Face FW 800 Model). They all worked and sounded great with my upgraded Mac Tower (Cheese Grater Edition). I knew that I would have to get something with a USB connection to stay up to date for my tower. The last interface I tried was the Presonus Studio 192 with a USB 3 connector. This unit sounds great and holds it’s own with the best of what I’ve mentioned above. The USB 3 connector and cable even worked brilliantly over USB 2 but to be on the safe side I bought a Sonnet Alegro USB 3.0 PCIe card and installed it in my tower. The Studio 192 connects to my Audient ASP 008 8 Channel Mic Pre Interface via Light Pipe and works flawlessly to give me a total of 16 Mic Pre’s between the two units, perfect for my small studio for drum tracking and small band recording configurations.
I really like how they laid out the 8 digitally controlled XMAX Mic Pre’s with 2 on the front of the unit and 6 on the back, having 2 on the front of the unit makes it really convenient for quick recording when a guitar or bass player comes over to lay down tracks and all 8 Pre’s are combo connectors. The 8 line outs on the back are all balanced TRS connectors, there is Word Clock in and out, SPDIF in and out and Light Pipe connection. Another great feature that makes this interface easy to use is the Mic Pre control functions on the front …. LOVE IT!. You can select the pre you want and dial in the signal level in seconds and engage the phantom power for mics that need it. They’ve also installed a Talk Back button with an internal mic which is brilliant for recording booth communication with a singer.
The 8 Channel LED read out is clear and precise especially when I’m tracking drums from across the room. A solid blue main volume control knob and two really good sounding headphone amps rounds things out nicely. All in all a really solid unit for sure! The only drawback I found is the 12v Power adaptor; I’m not a fan of this type of power supply. I have it plugged into a Furman PL8 power conditioner. This should help keep the shelf life for this adaptor running smoothly for a long time.
Another addition to the Studio 192 is the UC (Universal Control Software). This was a game changer for me with this unit because it allows me to have next to ZERO latency for monitoring and it so easy to set up monitor mix’s and record path channels Pre or Post EQ, Dynamics or FX. I can turn off Software monitoring in Logic Pro X and let the UC software navigate the ship! Presonus gives you templates for almost every DAW including Logic Pro X so that you have quick and easy workflow access through UC to the Studio 192 and back. You can also download the UC software for your iPad for even more control. I’m definitely a fan of this interface and it will work great when I upgrade to a new computer!.