MH ULN-2? Apogee Ensemble? A&H ZED R-16? So confused!
MatrixClaw
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#1
5th June 2012
Old 5th June 2012
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MH ULN-2? Apogee Ensemble? A&H ZED R-16? So confused!

It's about time for me to upgrade (from a Saffire Pro 40), and I'm still confused on what I should buy.

The ULN-2 seems to have the best pres and conversion of the bunch, and is obviously the least expensive, but it can only be expanded up to 10 channels via ADAT (as far as I can tell?) and it only has 2 preamps stock, with no analogue inserts, to add preamps directly to the interface (the Ensemble has 4). The DSP really intrigues me, but it seems like it's a bit limited (especially when running Reverbs).

The Ensemble seems like a good choice, but the lack of physical knobs and buttons and having to do everything digitally kind of turns me off. I control my monitors right now digitally (connected through S/PDIF) and that alone is a hassle for me However, this one has 2 more preamps than the ULN-2, plus the inserts, so I can get 8 channels without even having to use ADAT. It's also significantly more than the ULN-2, and since I can't afford to immediately spend money on new preamps, I'm not convinced the stock ones are significantly better than those in my Saffire (though, they have a lot more gain, which is nice, cause I might actually be able to use an SM7b at a proper level). I'd likely get an API 3124+ to plug into the inserts down the road.

However, since I'll most likely be running a Hackintosh (unless I can find a used iMac in good condition, for cheap), using a Mac-only interface kind of scares me for stability's sake. I know a lot of guys are using them for audio production, but most I've seen aren't using Mac-only gear.

The ZED I really like the idea of, and I thought I'd crossed it off my list, but for the same price as the Ensemble, with 12 more preamps, plus analogue EQ, it's kind of hard to dismiss it. I could also use it live, as I'll be running live sound for my friend's band. I'm just concerned that the preamps and conversion aren't up to par against the other two, plus the fact that it'll take up a lot of real estate on my desk - Not to mention, I do most of my work ITB, so I'm not sure how much of the features I'll actually use, let alone know HOW to use


Certainly open to different ideas. The MH 2882 would've made my list, but I just don't think 42db of gain is going to cut it.



Some info:
  • Mainly recording metal.
  • Recording at 41k/48k.
  • Tracking instruments direct w/ amp sims, and reamping later.
  • I'd like to be able to track live drums, but obviously that's not going to be possible for a while if I get one of the first two interfaces - Unless I use my Behringer ADA8000 through ADAT, which kinda defeats the purpose of upgrading to a better interface IMO.
  • Must be expandable to AT LEAST 10 channels, preferably 12.
  • Main concern right now is preamp quality and conversion.
  • Mainly running Cubase 6.

Here's a fairly complete list of my gear (if it matters):

Sanctity Studios - Gear | Sanctity Studios

Thanks guys!


P.S. I am a college student, so I can get a discount on the MH stuff

P.P.S. If you'd like to recommend something different - I've already owned an RME UFX and certainly wasn't impressed for the price, so I'm not looking to get another :P
#2
5th June 2012
Old 5th June 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MatrixClaw View Post
The ULN-2 seems to have the best pres and conversion of the bunch... but it can only be expanded up to 10 channels via ADAT (as far as I can tell?) and it only has 2 preamps stock, with no analogue inserts...
Just to pick up on a couple of details...

ULN-2 does have balanced analogue inserts on the two analogue inputs - very few interfaces offer this feature.

You can expand it with 8 ADAT inputs and another 2 via AES or SP/DIF, so 12 simultaneous total.

Of course, you may want a bunch more preamps in one box right away, in which case the ULN-2 definitely isn't the right spec for you, but it's a high-quality box that can form the hub of a little studio and grow with your input needs as and when you're ready to expand. You can plumb in your ADA8000 right away (mine works great clocked from the ULN-2) and replace that when the time comes, using the ULN-2 pre's on critical sources like vocals and guitar overdubs etc. The MIO software makes it very easy to line up all your inputs in Logic/Cubase. The tactile interface and the dedicated Monitor Outs (with analogue control pot and discrete Headphones pot) seem like they would also be useful to you.
#3
5th June 2012
Old 5th June 2012
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Mmm, well, the ULN-2 DOES have sends and returns on both input channels where you can add a line level input, but you can't have both that and the internal preamps at the same time.

You can also go into the ULN via SPDIF or AES, as well as ADAT, so that would get you 10 external channels as well as the two internal ones, assuming you had conversion.

I know what you mean about physical knobs; I actually have two ULN-2s in part because I just like the physical controls, including the headphone and monitor volume.

Really, you have three pretty good options there; it kind of comes down to how much quality vs. quantity you want to invest in. I haven't used the Ensemble or Zed, but I've been thrilled with the ULN preamps; tons of gain and no issues with noise. Not sure if it makes a difference to you, but the Metric Halo effects are pretty great - you get a small sampling for free, and can add the full package anytime with a download. The Character plugins might give you some of the color you're looking for in an external pre, and the amp sims are quite good - I love how my bass sounds DI'd.
MatrixClaw
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#4
6th June 2012
Old 6th June 2012
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Yeah, I'm aware of the send/return on it, but I'd want them separate so I can add another preamp to it, like the Ensemble has (ie: I could "expand" it with more preamps, without having to do it via ADAT or S/PDIF.

I guess right now I'm struggling between whether I should:

1) Sacrifice inputs for superior conversion and stock preamps, while saving some money, which means I'll be able to upgrade my ADAT device sooner (while still only going with ok preamps - even at ~$2000 grand, you don't get much in an 8 channel pre, and I can't really afford to sacrifice half the total ADAT inputs, to go with something better, unless I buy a 2 channel one to go in the S/PDIF input, which will add significantly to the overall price).

2) Go for lesser preamps and conversion, while being able to utilize the 4 inserts on a nice preamp (API 3124+), plus the ability to use my ADA8000 for 8 extra tracks on drums, that I can just trigger samples.from the audio with, if worst comes to worst. Then wait to upgrade ADAT later.

3. Go with a board that has a more hands on approach that I really like, though I have no idea how to utilize, and has more than enough preamps right off the bat. I've heard the preamps and conversion are just as good as the Ensemble, though I'm hesitant, since they cost the same and the ZED clearly has a lot more to offer. I find it very hard to believe they are comparable, some corners had to've been cut somewhere, otherwise everyone would be using them...

In the end, the initial cost of the Metric Halo is certainly cheaper, but once I start expanding it, I think it'll end up being potentially more expensive, since I don't really NEED all my channels to be super high quality (ie: 8 good channels on the Ensemble and 8 I could just trigger from). The Ensemble would be second most expensive, while the ZED clearly the cheapest.

I really can't afford to do any upgrades past the interface now. So with the MH I'd have 2 great preamps + 8 lowend, the Ensemble would have 4 good preamps + 8 lowend ones and the A&H would have 16 good preamps. I'm mainly focused in sound quality. I can program drums until I can afford upgrades, if need be, but overall price is certainly a concern, because I'd like to do my upgrades sooner than later.

Do you think the quality is worth it versus the price?
MatrixClaw
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#5
7th June 2012
Old 7th June 2012
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Anyone? Going to be selling off a bunch of gear within the coming weeks so I can make the upgrades. Which would you rather have?

1) 2 great preamps and conversion + 8 mediocre preamps, with (potentially) most expensive expansion plan. Cheapest initial cost.

2) 4 good preamps and conversion + 8 mediocre preamps, with ability to add 4 extra high end preamps without using digital connections. Most expensive initial cost, along with the A&H (but potentially cheaper on the used market, since there's more out there). Second most expensive expansion plan.

3) 16 good preamps and conversion, with analogue EQ & summing and DAW control. Cheapest expansion path, but takes up the most real estate. Same cost as Ensemble. Uncertainty behind driver support and whether the preamps and conversion TRULY stack up to the other two.

Quality vs. Price, would you rather spend a few grand more for better quality, that may not actually be such a huge difference, but only marginal? I really want to go the MH route, but there's so much hype behind there stuff, I'm not sure the preamps and conversion are really THAT much better than the other two?
#6
8th June 2012
Old 8th June 2012
  #6
Sounds like your workflow is itb so I would not spend money on a board yet for analog eq, unless you have a a fairly big budget to go outboard(like 10k). Plus I would start out with Otb compression and not analog otb eq. Although, I am going to contradict myself and tell you to check out the Yamaha n12. Look like a nice board with firewire and analog eq. But its not expandable.

Everyones goals and workflow is different so you need to prioritize your money to go where it needs, and only you can decide that!

My priorities were to have 6 really nice preamps and 8 o.k. channels for none important stuff. I also wanted to have 2 high quality pre's. My work flow is quite different because I do a lot of overdubbing and production stuff. I ended up with the set up below and its and nice blend of quality, performance and value. Lots of great devices out there that could be swapped out.

my set up :

Apogee ensemble $1300 used
m-audio 2626 $350 used
Neve portico 5012 $1200 used

But to be honest if you do not think the the Rme UFX is not a big step up, you may not be ready for a high end device. I may be wrong though so take that with a grain of salt! I have owned Rme devices and they have always rocked and held there own.
MatrixClaw
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#7
9th June 2012
Old 9th June 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tribedescribe View Post
Sounds like your workflow is itb so I would not spend money on a board yet for analog eq, unless you have a a fairly big budget to go outboard(like 10k). Plus I would start out with Otb compression and not analog otb eq. Although, I am going to contradict myself and tell you to check out the Yamaha n12. Look like a nice board with firewire and analog eq. But its not expandable.

Everyones goals and workflow is different so you need to prioritize your money to go where it needs, and only you can decide that!

My priorities were to have 6 really nice preamps and 8 o.k. channels for none important stuff. I also wanted to have 2 high quality pre's. My work flow is quite different because I do a lot of overdubbing and production stuff. I ended up with the set up below and its and nice blend of quality, performance and value. Lots of great devices out there that could be swapped out.

my set up :

Apogee ensemble $1300 used
m-audio 2626 $350 used
Neve portico 5012 $1200 used

But to be honest if you do not think the the Rme UFX is not a big step up, you may not be ready for a high end device. I may be wrong though so take that with a grain of salt! I have owned Rme devices and they have always rocked and held there own.
Yeah, the N12 I don't think is going to cut it for what I want. I've heard good things, but I want something that's expandable, if I ever need it; plus the consensus seems to be that the A&H has better preamps and EQ, from what I can tell, plus it has 16 built in preamps, and an additional 8 ADAT inputs.

About the UFX - It's not that I didn't hear an increase in quality; the conversion was definitely better and the pres a bit better as well, but was the difference in quality worth $1800 more? Hell no :P That plus the fact that I've always heard RME have some of the best drivers available, and I had nothing but issues getting that thing to work. Tons of jitter and dropouts on both the USB and Firewire connections. For $2000+, I was expecting a lot more. The DSP was REALLY cool, though; which is why I'd really like to get my hands on an MH, but I don't think they're going to really suit my needs right now, unless I could afford a more expensive one, or with the 2882, which won't have enough gain for some of my mics...

I think I may be decided on the Ensemble right now; unless someone can still convince me on the A&H. Seems like I can get it for a similar price to the ULN-2 on the used market, and it has much more expansion options. The quality of pres and conversion might not be as good, but I think in the long run it'll be cheaper to expand and I doubt the conversion is that much better.
#8
9th June 2012
Old 9th June 2012
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i'm using a Zed R16, connected to a ULN2 via ADAT. The ULN2 is my front end, the difference between the convertors is night and day. As far as inputs while tracking are concerned i can have 12 when the ULN2 is my front end, 2 from the ULN2 interface plus 2 AES digital (Neve 1073 DPD) and 8 from the Zed. Likewise i could use the Zed as my front end and have 20 inputs, 16 Zed, 2 from ULN2 plus the Neve 1073 DPD via AES.

The possibilities with the Zed are endless, it's just a question of using your imagination.
MatrixClaw
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#9
9th June 2012
Old 9th June 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by malfunction View Post
i'm using a Zed R16, connected to a ULN2 via ADAT. The ULN2 is my front end, the difference between the convertors is night and day. As far as inputs while tracking are concerned i can have 12 when the ULN2 is my front end, 2 from the ULN2 interface plus 2 AES digital (Neve 1073 DPD) and 8 from the Zed. Likewise i could use the Zed as my front end and have 20 inputs, 16 Zed, 2 from ULN2 plus the Neve 1073 DPD via AES.

The possibilities with the Zed are endless, it's just a question of using your imagination.
So you're saying the ULN-2's conversion is vastly superior to the ZED? What about preamps?

Any experience with the Ensemble vs the ULN-2?
#10
10th June 2012
Old 10th June 2012
  #10
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If you are doing mainly metal the pres on 2882 will have more than enough gain.
I own a ULN-2 and face the same input dramas you are discussing but get by with a Digimax FS via ADAT: I probably would have gone for the Apollo if it had been around at the time.
Having said, that the MH is a great pro sounding device that you won't 2nd guess; I use a BAE 1073 into an insert return for coloured stuff and the MH pres if I want clean.
The ADA8000 is better than it has a right to be but you'll find with heavy hitters that you'll overload the inputs and they have no onboard way of padding them down.
Cheers, Ross
#11
10th June 2012
Old 10th June 2012
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it's a lot better, and the preamps are too, the ULN2's are very clean but also punchy. The Zed's preamps are nothing to whine about though, very nice too, excellent utility preamps.

No experience with the Ensemble.

Quote:
Originally Posted by MatrixClaw View Post
So you're saying the ULN-2's conversion is vastly superior to the ZED? What about preamps?

Any experience with the Ensemble vs the ULN-2?
MatrixClaw
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#12
10th June 2012
Old 10th June 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by reddirt View Post
If you are doing mainly metal the pres on 2882 will have more than enough gain.
I own a ULN-2 and face the same input dramas you are discussing but get by with a Digimax FS via ADAT: I probably would have gone for the Apollo if it had been around at the time.
Having said, that the MH is a great pro sounding device that you won't 2nd guess; I use a BAE 1073 into an insert return for coloured stuff and the MH pres if I want clean.
The ADA8000 is better than it has a right to be but you'll find with heavy hitters that you'll overload the inputs and they have no onboard way of padding them down.
Cheers, Ross
The 2882 should have enough gain for most applications, but I'll likely be using an SM7b for mainy vocalists, as well as ribbon mics on guitar cabs to supplement an SM57/e609; I have trouble right now driving an SM7B through the 60dB preamps of my Pro 40 on quiet vocalists, 40dB isn't going to cut it for most vocalists in the "-core" genres, since they're using Fry vocals, which tend to be very soft.

Many of the vocalists I've recorded recently through an SM7b barely created a visible, let alone audible, waveform - Unless I cranked the preamps high on the Pro 40, which creates a lot of noise and artifacts. That's the reason I've actually owned 3 SM7bs and sold every single one of them; they sound great with a proper preamp, but not much better than an SM58 through what I'm running now. I suppose I could use a Fethead or something (as well as the GAP PRE-73 I have on the way), but I don't want to have to be forced to use either.

I'll look into it more though, but opinions seem to be mixed on the quality of the preamps in the 2882. Some people are saying they're the same, just with less gain, while others are saying they're not nearly as good sounding. Not sure who to believe, and since I can't try one before I buy it, I'm not sure if I'm willing to take the chance

Quote:
Originally Posted by malfunction View Post
it's a lot better, and the preamps are too, the ULN2's are very clean but also punchy. The Zed's preamps are nothing to whine about though, very nice too, excellent utility preamps.

No experience with the Ensemble.
Interesting.

I guess if the difference is that extreme, then I should cross it off my list for now. I'd love to have the hands-on approach, but I'm thinking of just buying a Mackie Control Universal for that. The major draw to it for me is that it has 16 preamps for about the same price as the other two interfaces I'm looking at, plus I can add 8 more via ADAT (not that I'd really need it), and use it as a live mixing board. Not to mention, it's not Mac only like the other two, so I can record directly to my laptop at shows and for mobile recording (I don't own a Mac laptop).



I guess now I just need to find someone who's used a ULN-2 and an Ensemble and get a comparison!
#13
11th June 2012
Old 11th June 2012
  #13
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I've just bought a 2882 secondhand and easily would have enough left over from that compared to a new ULN-2 to buy 4 nice pre's. Worth keeping your eye on in the secondhand market if you don't mind the useless pre's (which can be switched out). No inserts, but you would have extra channels to play with...

hl
MatrixClaw
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#14
15th June 2012
Old 15th June 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by miles_stevens View Post
I've just bought a 2882 secondhand and easily would have enough left over from that compared to a new ULN-2 to buy 4 nice pre's. Worth keeping your eye on in the secondhand market if you don't mind the useless pre's (which can be switched out). No inserts, but you would have extra channels to play with...

hl
Definitely do mind having useless pres. If that weren't the case, I'd just buy a high end converter and go completely outboard; but I can't really afford that route. The conversion and preamps are my main concern; and is really the only reason I'm considering the ULN-2 at this point, because I hear both are excellent; but the lack of expansion in comparison to others in the price range is the main reason I'm on the fence at this point.

I suppose I could add the UA Apollo DUO to my list as well, though I was planning on buying used, and finding a used Apollo for a decent price might be a bit of a task.

I saw some posts on here about Apogee releasing an updated version of the Ensemble with Thunderbolt support and better pres/conversion. Though, doing some more research, this seems to be completely speculation... Can anyone say otherwise?

Another option - There's a MOTU 2408mk3 on my CL with the PCI-424 card for $475. I could probably afford that and a nice ADAT preamp, but I have my doubts that the conversion is much better than my Pro 40; though it's nearly an even swap price-wise, once I sold my Saffire.

Alternatively - I could go for a used Focusrite Control 2802 or a Tascam DM3200; which would be cool, cause I could use them live (and wouldn't have to buy a Mackie Control), but I'm sure most of the price is for the digital effects and controls, rather than the preamp and conversion quality.



I certainly don't mind waiting a bit if there's potentially something coming out soon that would make the interfaces I'm looking at somewhat obsolete for what I want. In the mean time, I could focus on buying nice pres.
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