Audient Zen Console Review

Apr 27, 2010 2:26 PM, By Barry Rudolph

ANALOG DESK OFFERS CUSTOM OPTIONS, DAW-FRIENDLY FEATURES

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ZEN ON THE WORK SITE
I set up the console right on top of my existing Raxxess desktop table. The 100mm faders overhang the desktop with enough space for my QWERTY keyboard and trackball to reside underneath.

Tracking with the Zen is a breeze; it’s clean, quiet and simple to set up and record any number of musicians. The 16 mic preamps let me record in the “1-track/1-mic” mode while using the remaining six buses for mixing multiple orchestral microphones to stereo tracks. The 16 mic preamps sound good: They are quiet, clean, thick and warm. I found them especially good for drums, percussion and guitars.

I found that the stereo compressor would “vibe up” the sound as I cranked it up. With the Wet/Dry control, I could get just the right amount of stereo mix compression—or more for radical drum bus processing.

During the session, at a musician’s request, I was able to do a mix plus “more me” directly from the mic channels, as any aux or cue send can also feed the mix bus.

Zen also has a DAW mix input that’s useful for working quickly. If you pre-make cue/monitor mixes “in the box” for all songs, you can jump from song to song quickly when a musician’s time is too precious to waste on stopping to make a new board mix for each song. Simply feed DAW 1-2 monitor outputs directly to the console’s DAW mix XLR inputs.

For mixing, I was impressed with the console’s elaborate routing abilities. Simple button-pushes replace most patching. For example, you can route the two additional mono bus outputs and/or the two additional stereo buses into the main mix bus for parallel processing or for folding submixes (stems) back into the main mix bus. No additional channel strips are required.

AUTOMATION
I worked the HUI protocol-based set of 16 motor faders, Mute and Solo buttons, transport controls and the Automation On/Off feature to death. It is responsive, fast and accurate, and the Auto On/Off feature works great for auditioning, presetting fader positions and then dropping them all into the DAW mix automation on the fly. All of the DAW’s capabilities—write, touch, trim, mute, etc., including graphical breakpoint editing—will be sent to the 16-channel motor faders in Zen.

Other console features include Solo Safe buttons that toggle between Solo Isolate (where selected channels remain unmuted when other solo buttons are pushed) and Automation Safe for locking a channel from any automation changes.

Zen uses two sets of MIDI connectors (eight channels per MIDI cable) to communicate HUI information to the host DAW. This requires a MIDI-to-USB interface box, such as M-Audio’s MIDISport 2x2. I hope to see these MIDI jacks soon replaced with an Ethernet connection.

I fed 16 channels at full level from my DAW interface to the 16 channel line inputs. If you have 16 additional (for 32 total outs) channels of I/O, you can feed the DAW inputs, switch to the Alternate Input path in the channel strip, and have 16 more inputs for effect returns and static track elements—things that change little or not at all during the mix. If needed, I’d use conventional “in-the-box” automation for level changes on these.

I found another automation process good for mixes that I had already developed “in the box” but wanted them to gain the benefit of analog summing. I stemmed out my in-the-box mix to 16 outputs. Because stereo tracks, hard-grouped tracks or VCA-grouped tracks from the DAW are controlled by single faders, by carefully arranging groups and tracks, you can affect motor fader control over very large track counts. In this scenario, I fed the 16 audio tracks to the alt input path in each channel strip; the motor faders will not be passing any audio.

To set up Zen accurately and for perfect recall, I first sent a -18dB tone out all 16 channels so that I could individually adjust the levels of each channel’s alt input that were sent to the mix bus to a -18dB level on the mix bus meters.

As a nod to the precision of the console’s electronic design, manufacture and component tolerances, I saw that all of Zen’s control knobs were in exactly the same place. With all 16 channels at unity, I was now ready to send the 16 channels of audio into Zen—this time, the 100mm motor faders were working only as controllers to set and ride levels inside of my DAW.

IT'S CHANGED ME
I’ve had the pleasure of living with the Zen console for more than a month now, and I’ve fully integrated it into my process. It’s allowed me to return to analog console mixing, but I never felt like I had to adapt my process due to any hardware shortcomings or non-recallability.

I am constantly amazed at the difference the Zen console has made in the sound quality and precision of my mixes—it is not subtle. Individual track elements are more present, firmly locked in their panned positions, and my mixes seem sonically 3-D in the way they “leap out” of my monitor speakers.

I’m enjoying the advanced technology of DAW music mixing with complete recall and plug-in processing, using vintage analog processing and getting that indescribable “mojo” that happens when analog audio signals sum and mix within superb electronics. 


Barry Rudolph is an L.A.-based engineer. Visit him at www.barryrudolph.com.

Click on the Product Summary box above to view the Audient Zen product page.

Click on the Product Summary box above to view the Audient Zen product page.






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