Research & Development: Antelope Audio Zen Studio — Portable Audio Interface

Zen – it’s a school of Mahayana Buddhism; a meditative state; an audio interface.

If that last category seems out of place, you may not know the thinking that went into making Zen Studio, the portable audio interface from Antelope Audio. But this unit was designed to satisfy and soothe every stress test that comes with recording – in the studio or on the move.

Upon its introduction at MusikMesse, Zen was a surprise coming from a company that built its reputation on master clocks like the prized Isochrone 10M AKA The Atomic Clock, converters like the Eclipse 384 Stereo AD/DA, and Orion32 multi-channel AD/DA converter and USB interface .

With Zen Studio, Antelope has debuted something different: the first professional portable solution that provides 12 mic pres, 20 analog ins and 14 outs, DSP effects. 24 channel low-latency PC and Mac connectivity is also part of this powerful package. In all, 38 simultaneous inputs and 32 total outputs are available, along with the same clocking and conversion from the 32-channel Orion interface.

For artists, engineers, and music producers, the interface remains one of the primary considerations for creating a recording setup. What’s the thinking that goes into a next-generation entry for this crowded sector? In our latest “Research & Development,” Antelope Audio CEO & Founder Igor Levin reflects on the Zen of Audio Interface Design.

You CAN take it with you: Connectivity, clocking, and conversion are all hallmarks of Antelope Audio's portable Zen Studio.

You CAN take it with you: Connectivity, clocking, and conversion are all hallmarks of Antelope Audio’s portable Zen Studio.

Until now, Antelope Audio has primarily been known in the Pro Audio market for its high-end converters and master clocks. What made this the right time for Antelope to branch out into a portable audio interface?

First, I would like to make it clear that we do not completely differentiate our high-end converters from the portable audio interfaces we design, since both products share the same core technologies and high-quality components. ZEN Studio perfectly illustrates that high-end sound and extreme portability are not contradictory.

The question has been asked “why now?”: With our last product, Orion32, we proved that we can fit 32 channels of great sounding AD/DA and an Antelope master clock in a 1U chassis. We knew we could do the same with 12 mic pres, and put it in an even smaller box.

From there, what was the hole in the audio interface market that you felt you could address with a new offering?

We noticed that there are a large number of portable USB audio interfaces on the market, but they either offer a low-channel count or a pretty fair sound quality. Most of them might be OK for some basic home recording purposes, but not offering much of the flexibility and functionality one needs when going deeper into creating music.

Zen Studio fits in the market where people are looking for a portable multi-channel recording solution with proven studio quality clocking, conversion and processing.

Cocktail napkin origins: Some of the first schematics, drawn out by Levin. (click to enlarge)

Cocktail napkin origins: Some of the first schematics, drawn out by Levin. (click to enlarge)

I know that portability was a high priority for you in designing Zen studio. Have you seen additional demand from engineers and artists for a portable interface?

Today, producers and artists are constantly traveling and often working on the go. They need an interface that allows them to be creative not only in the studio, but also in a hotel room.

At the same time, others need to maintain sound quality while moving from one location to another. An indie band may want to record with the same high quality that an expensive studio may offer, or have access to a high quality monitoring and recording system for their live gig. Younger audio professionals may require an easy to use device so they can learn the basics of recording and mixing. Independent filmmakers, meanwhile, are looking for high quality in an easy to carry recording device.

Zen Studio fits all these needs and situations. It offers almost unlimited options and possible applications and is designed to be the ultimate solution for a garage band, an established producer or an experienced field-recording engineer.

Zen Studio gets a great deal of connectivity into its form factor. How did you decide what was the ideal amount of inputs, outputs, and mic pres for the unit?

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