Antelope Zen Studio - thoughts and comparisons

Submitted by Chris Perra on Tue, 09/06/2016 - 15:44

I just got my hands on an Antelope Zen Studio today..

Cool unit.. very easy to use.. I'll be comparing it to a M audio Profire 2626 and Behringer Ada 8200 through an ancient RME digiset that was sold by Steinberg back in the day.

So far.. I've just had a chance to listen to some speaker test songs and I'm shocked that the difference in D/A between the Ada 8200 and Zen Studio is the same...

I didn't do a test tone.. just level matched as close as I could.. I had to set the output of the Zen to minus 19.. and the Rme to minus .5 To get things as even as possible.. will do a test tone tonight..

I'll also record some drums with all 3 units to see what's up with them..

So far I hear a big difference between the Profire 2626 and the RME/Behringer but none between the Zen and Rme/Behringer D/A wise.... I'm kinda shocked..

More tests are needed..

Any songs suggestions to listen to that would be good for comparisons showing depth and clarity?

After getting some sleep I did notice a difference between the Rme/Behringer and Zen D/A wise .. I also did some playing using the different convertors.

Here's the raw 44.1/24bit files.. I think to check them out.... rather than me coming up with a mix of either it's better to download and make your own mix. You'll have to check the polarity and phase stuff on your own.. Kicks and bottom snare have to be flipped..

I also did one at 96 k but that would give it away.. I'm going to do some at 96 k between the Profire 2626 and the Zen when I get a chance.. I'll have to reduce the channel inputs to 8 for it to be fair.. Any suggestions on preferred tracks? right now I'm running 3 overheads and 2 kicks.. I think I'll axe the rooms and kick out.. and not play a tom.

I'm waiting for a Texas Instruments fire wire pci card for the profire.. The one I have is giving run time errors.

This is by no means a scientific test.. Just real world stuff.. what you would do if you used the same everything but change the interface and tried to play the same thing twice.. or 3 times in this case..

I can hear a difference.. looking forward to others thoughts.

I had my eyes on the zen studio for a while and settled for the RME FF800 only because my budget stopped me at that point.
The zen preamps and converters are very good ! I bet you'll get better result at 96khz.
Thing is, if you use the ADA8200 with the Zen or another unit, in theory they will sound the same because the interface is just routing a digital signal, UNLESS there is a clock issue.
Also, when comparing D/A performances, keep in mind that the degree of definition and possibilities of hearing differences are limited by the quality of the monitors you use...

I read the unit runs hot and some said to avoid squezing it between 2 other rack units...

I'll be reading your posts with interest Chris !

I'd say that's the reason it's not rackable.. You could leave your cup of coffee on it and it would keep warm.

I'll be doing some tests with 44.1 vs 96.. and 44.1 up sampled to 96 I need to get a dsub cable so I can have all channels.

It'll be interesting if the Ada 8200's sound better or not clocked to the Zen vs the Rme...

Just picked up a dsub to xlr cable. Now I'll have 20 ins. And can do all mics that I normally use comparison.. I usually use 13 or 14 for drums depending if on I use a mono overhead or not.

I found a place in Markham Ontario for my dsub cable

64 bucks taxes in.. Neutrik ends.. Worth checking out if you need cables

One show stopper for me was that the zen only have 4 mixes including the master mix.
So, no more than 3 mixes for musicians, of course I could do external mixes or duplicate them for 2 players but with the RMEs you have as many mixes as outputs... That's what I love about them !

How's the preamps working for you ? did you have time to track with them yet ?

I've spent some time.. I did another run using 14 mics this time..I like the Zen.. After spending some time listening to different things, I can hear that the Zen has extended highs vs the Behringer/Rme.. and a bit more detail in spacial placement..

Here's three different takes... One is the Behringer/Rme... Another is the Zen at 44/1 and the third is the Zen at 96 k.

I'm interested to see what people prefer.. They are not in that order.. I just labeled them examples..
Here's a link to the fixed waves

I tried to match them as close as I could level wise etc.. But as they are different takes they are a bit different..

Example A
Example B
Example C

Attached files

Example A fixed.mp3 (3.4 MB)  Example B fixed.mp3 (3.4 MB)  Example C fixed.mp3 (3.4 MB) 

I haven't had a chance to use the internal preamps yet as I've been using my standalones.. When I get the firewire card for the Profire.. I'll do a run with the stock preamps.

It just takes awhile to get levels..Doing it by yourself it's time consuming.. With my stand alones it's just unplug from one and plug into another..

The levels are close enough that I just volume up or down in the daw..

The Zen is pretty cool... I like it..

For mixes.. I have a Jam hub.. So I take 8 outs and run it into that and people make their own mix. You can also use the adats to run outs if you need. If you're doing 96k only have the outs though.. Cubase has a Control room that If I figured out how it works can do cue mixes.. to be sent wherever you want..

I too have thought about the Zen. The demo's I heard sound excellent. I'm looking forward to listening to these when I return off the road.

Chris Perra, post: 441093, member: 48232 wrote: One thing I don't like about the Zen is how hot it runs.. It's toasty...

That being said, keep in mind, heat can mean failure in time. Or, inconsistencies between the channels after some time. Op amps will do that. Maybe @Boswell can elaborate or confirm any of this? I had an issue years back even with 8 channels and hearing inconsistencies.

But this is only speculation for the Zen and a warning to myself, passing it on to others who may be aware of heat and to make sure you keep things cool as possible.
I've read most converters having more than 8 channels in a single rack unit tend to get hot. 8 seems to be the cap. Which may be why the higher end brands seem to stay at 8 channels per single rack. Prism puts 2 space for their 8 channel ADDA/pre combo.

B seems a little quieter.. I'm going to try and get them more matched tomorrow..It's tricky.. They are 3 different performances.. 2 of which are the same input level wise and one is different.. I also phase aligned them so they will be slightly different in that way as well.

It's certainly not a scientific example.. But to me preamp and conversion wise.. and starting sample rate wise for the 96k with a unit that is 3 grand Cad. vs.. 250 each for the Behringer converters and around 1000 for the Rme digiset and pci card.. There should be a clear winner..

Is there anything anyone wants with individual files to be able to look at in detail?

I can upload the individual files if wanted..

pcrecord, post: 441138, member: 46460 wrote: With my earbuds on my laptop, I like the A and C better. They sound fuller..
I'll listen to them in the studio tomorrow ;)

This was my first thoughts as well but B also seemed to be more forward and tighter. Hard to really choose from these. A seems to be the most lost.
Nice playing.(y)

I would much prefer one crash hit 10 sec or less with the tail as long as you could get it. Do it to all three and I would study how it stayed in phase and also how the converters dealt with it all.
That's how I judge converters.

To add, All I need is 2 bars looping.

example: I stick each example (snare, kick, tom's etc...) one after the other, on the same channel in my DAW and (compare them on the same timeline). Its much easier to adjust volumes and focus one thing at a time. Meaning, I don't clutter the timeline with all the drums. I break it down to individual parts , put A, B, C on the same timeline and study how they perform.

Snare A, B, C, loop. Snare A, B, C, loop. Snare A, B, C, loop. Snare A, B, C, loop.

Tom A, B, C, loop, Tom A, B, C, loop, Tom A, B, C, loop
and so on.

I firmly believe we loose the ability to judge something after a few secs. Even having to pause to switch a channel is distracting. This is why I loop a few bars and keep them all on the same channel in my DAW.
I even do this when Null testing.
Works well for me.

I did some recording with just the built in preamps on the Zen Studio and Ada 8200.. The drag is it's really hard to get an even playing field comparison wise as the levels going into both units were hard to match.. It's going to take me awhile to level match..

They are different.. The Zen I think sounds a bit wider,, possibly.. I might be fooling myself.. It definitely has more top end.. possibly a bit more dynamic range as well.

One thing I noticed while trying to get the mic pres happening is you have to adjust inside the control panel as there are no pots for each channel.. I imagine you can use the 1 dial to adjust but I didn't bother figuring that out..

While adjusting in the control panel I was disappointed that the increments jumped from 0.. to 10 to 15 to 20 ect.. Kind of coarse adjustments.. No pad selection either..

I had to use 2 line level ins from the dbus in snake.. Cranking the level to 10 on the line in channel which was the max for the control panel actually gave me enough signal for a 421 and a D6 kick mic. I turned them up in the daw a bit more and they were fine..

I need to let my ears rest and I'll take a stab at getting a few mixes for them.. easy to get fatigued when doing comparisons.. especially for drums..

Did anyone else check out the previous examples?. I'm still curious as to people opinions..

Chris Perra, post: 441228, member: 48232 wrote: I'd say they sound like they have different pitch resonance character.. A sounds the lowest B the second and C the highest..

So C sounded the widest to you? Or just more room vibe?

Yeah roomier, but it might just be that the Highend is more defined so it gives the impression there is more room sound.

Chris Perra, post: 441385, member: 48232 wrote: Cranking the level to 10 on the line in channel which was the max for line

This sounds like a gain staging prob.. check if some matching options are available +4 and -10db
I guess you are not pluging mics directly to line level inputs instead of preamps.. are you? ;)