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This article was originally published in issue #36
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In Issue 34 I reviewed Audient’s iD22 desktop audio interface and liked it a lot. I was particularly impressed with the quality of its pair of pre-amps and converters, which is all well and good, but sometimes you just need more. The good news is that you can have it, by getting your hands on an asp880 Microphone pre-amp.
The asp880 is a single rack unit device with eight of Audient’s class-A microphone pre-amps and built-in AD converters. Inputs are on locking Neutrik combi sockets on the rear panel, with both analogue and digital output options. Power is supplied via a standard mains lead, though sadly there’s no power switch.
Each channel has individually switched 48V phantom power, 10dB pad, polarity invert, 12 dB per octave high pass filter (sweepable between 25 and 250 Hz), switchable input to the converter (I’ll explain that in a moment), variable input impedance (quoted as 220 Ohms, 1.2 kOhms and 2.8 kOhms) -10 to +60dB pre-amp gain for the mic input (-16 to +44 dB for the line - these figures are a bit different to those quoted for the iD22 with apparently similar circuitry - I think the values are effected by the variable impedance selector) and a pair of signal LEDs indicating signal at -30 to -10 dBu (it glows brighter) and peak at +16 dBu (-2 dbFS). Inputs one and two also have the rather nice Audient JFET instrument DI on the front panel. Eight sets of that little lot pretty well takes-up the front panel, leaving just a sample rate selector and power LED on the far right.
Analogue outputs are on a DB25 connector. Digital options are pretty comprehensive, with ADAT or S/PDIF at sample rates to 96kHz and 24 bit word-length, with internal or external clocking, and a BNC Wordclock input with switched 75 Ohm termination. Also tucked away on the rear panel is a second DB25 connector which accepts analogue input signals which can be routed to the converters. The front panel AD switch on each channel either connects the channel pre-amp or the DB25 input to its converter, so you can take your pre-amp analogue out, run it through an external processor then return it to feed the AD converter, or use the asp880 converter with an external “character” pre-amp. Neat.
In use? Well, basically it does the same job as the inputs that I so liked on the iD22, just more of it. The pre-amps sound very good indeed, and I still consider them to be top-of-class at this price (or any close to it). The variable input impedance offers a nice alternate voice for dynamic mics by tuning the resonance of the circuit (it makes no difference to buffered condensers) though I find its effect to be a bit unpredictable - still, it’s dead simple to try the three settings and choose the one that you prefer. The box is electrically very quiet, and runs fairly cool. As always, I’d prefer to see a power switch, and I actually do prefer the old style (asp800) connectivity, where the mic and line inputs are on different sockets that can be switched from the front panel; it avoids having to mess about with connectors on the back panel which is a pet hate of mine (though in fairness there probably isn’t room to do this as well as having the AD switchable option of this version, which will probably be more useful to more folks). The signal level LEDs do their job, and once you get used to them the variable brightness on the signal indicator works pretty well. A multi LED ladder would normally be more useful, but given the space available this seems like a good compromise.
Like the iD22, the asp880 feels as though it’s been both well designed and well engineered, as though someone has actually taken the time and done the work to make it right. Live with one for a while and you notice how easy it is to use, the channel layout is clear, the knobs are packed close but are well shaped and easy to turn, and have indicator lines both on the top and on the skirt; indicator lamps look as though they belong together - the blue LEDs don’t scorch your retinas and wash-out the rest of the control panel. Internally, the switch mode power supply is clean and quiet, and works with any real-world mains voltage you plug into it. Burr Brown converters do their job well, the DI was re-designed from the older 800 versions to sound better, and the pre-amps are quiet and accurate with plenty of headroom (though they do crunch-up very nicely, just a little bit, at high settings), and they still sound great.
If you’ve got your main channels covered, and you just need to add some extra inputs to your system for secondary instruments, then there are cheaper options available, but if you need a bunch of additional first-call inputs at a very reasonable price then the ASP880 must be very close indeed to the top of the list of boxes to try. It offers a pristine sound, it's easy to use and it's very nicely made, well priced and flexible. Try one.