I've had my ZED14 for about 2 months now and here's a little review I did soon after I got it. I like this board a lot and have gotten so much more out of the preamps than I ever expected really. It's been kicking butt on my guitar amp tracks as well. FWIW check the review I wrote up:
I recently bought the Allen & Heath ZED14 for myself and found very few hands-on reviews by non-industry people. I don’t sell gear or work for a manufacturer. I’m just a home studio enthusiast and I also use my studio for voiceover work for my business as an Astropsychologist (and business is busy lately).
First impressions: My first impression when I took it out of the box was “wow”, it’s a lot bigger than I thought it’d be; largely due to the full 100mm faders, which is a first for me. The ZED14 comes with 6 mic/line pre’s and 4 stereo input channels, 2 busses. The power cord is 16AWG and very thickly insulated, it’s not your average power cord, it’s very sturdy and durable. It also comes with a USB cable but I’m not going to get into reviewing the USB features here, sorry. The board feels rather substantial when you pick it up but it’s not burdensome. Dare I say it’s a “pretty” board, yeah the top panel is dark gray but the knobs and faders are all red, white and blue, the side panels are a brick red and make handy grips for moving it around comfortably. The stenciling on the board is high quality embossed letters and numbers.
Powered up: I powered it up, plugged in an EV N/D 267 dynamic mic for a voiceover session I’d already scheduled for the day. Just to test the boards self-noise I listened to channel 1 with the fader at 0dB, the main bus at 0dB with the gain on the channel set to 30dB – no audible noise there. I then unmuted all the other channels and set the faders to 0dB – no noise there, the board was silent. I unplugged the mic and ran the gain up to it’s max of 63dB and still there was no noticeable noise – sweet. Dropped the gain down to 40dB, plugged the mic back in and started to be able to hear a bit of the ambient room noise through the mic. During sound checks I notice a huge difference in the power of the board’s gain between 40dB and 63dB. There’s plenty of gain here guys and the board is extremely quiet, which is great for all the critical applications I need it for – mostly voiceover and acoustic instruments.
[BTW, the interface I use for my DAW is the M-Audio 1814FW with the Black Lion Audio “Tweakhead” mod which upgrades the AD/DA converters, the entire analog path (including electrical stuff for the pre’s), the power rails and power supply.]
The Preamps: The output I decided to work with first was the RCA “Recording” Outs which are simply L/R mono sockets, connecting to 2 x 1/4" mono Inputs on the 1814. I opened a new project in Sonar and began the first VO session. The sound was what I would describe as solid and detailed. I could hear the full quality of the 267 (which gives me really solid mids and presence but stays warm and tight on the bottom end with no sibilance issues in the upper mids or high’s). The sound was not colored in my opinion but it did have a quality that usually indicates there are at least output transformers in the path; but the circuit doesn’t include tranny’s, just opamps. Nice job here, I thought. Transients were fast, the acoustics of my room were accurately represented and the detail and clarity was not just “there” but there was a very obvious “dimensional” quality that you usually expect only from mic pre’s in higher price ranges. That tells me the mic pre’s are fast and the components used are of a quality that’s much better than average. I don’t just mean “better than average”, I mean “much” better than average – I’ve had enough of my gear modded by professionals by now to be able to hear the difference. So far so good. That session lasted about 3 hours, the material turned out great so I printed it and was done – sweet.
The next day I decided to do one of my typical acoustic guitar/vocals sessions to see how the tracks stack up. The mic I chose for this was a single AT 4033, 4” away and aimed at the 14th fret, no hi pass filter. The guitar is a Martin OM16GT. The first 2 tracks were simply acoustic rhythm guitar, the first track being a simple strummed progression, the second track was just accentuating the root chords of the progression. On playback there was that dimensional quality that lets me hear the sweet tone of my Martin small body that has this nice little harmonic thing that always swirls around underneath everything when you listen to it’s sustained chords. The clarity was there that reminds me why I bought this mic to begin with; the lower mids weren’t smeared or muddy in any way, the mids had a smooth edge with no harshness and the upper mids were nicely present without being gritty, grainy or hyped in any way – the mids weren’t weak either. No hype in the high’s and there wasn’t the brittleness you can get sometimes with slower opamps. Also testifying to the quality of the components was a nice tight bottom end that didn’t get boomy, soft, or mushy. Don’t look for a lot of balls either because there’s not really any color with these pre’s, just solid quality. I layed down a single vocal track that has a decent range and is pretty dynamic and used the 4033 again, no hi pass filter. While listening to the playback I noticed each track didn’t take up very much space on the overall sound canvass. The signals were strong, yes, everything was there that I wanted in the track but none of the tracks were hogging space on the canvass. This is the quality that impresses me so much about the Electro Harmonix 12AY7 Tube Mic Pre and reveals the true nature of a well designed architecture and man does it make mixing so much easier. I recorded a simplistic acoustic lead to throw in another track on that session and it took to the mix right away. No mud, fast transients, clarity, dimension, small footprint on the sound canvass, no unwanted color, and quiet enough for critical applications – that’s a good deal in any price range. These are just quality pre’s that’ll give you a nice, lively sound that’ll compliment (not flatter) your mic collection.
Surprises: The LED indicators on the Main bus are way cool, they’re solid, individual LED’s that flow really nicely when tracking and work smoothly and accurately. I’ve never really cared too much about the LED indicators on my mixer but these drew my attention right away. I played around with the EQ during setups and warm ups and found the EQ didn’t suck like most of the boards I’ve used in this price range. The EQ doesn’t add any noise in the signal path and is extremely transparent to my ears. It doesn’t take much to attenuate a nice roll-off on the high’s for vocals and boosting was smooth and powerful without getting gritty, spitty, or brittle. The low boost and cut were just as transparent and noiseless, a lot of power here as well. The kicker for me was that the midrange is sweepable all the way from 120Hz to 4kHz…that’s right…from 120Hz to 4kHz. That makes me smile. For grins I engaged the (100Hz) Hi Pass filter, auditioned it, recorded it, and on playback liked what I heard. I’m not a huge fan of using a Hi Pass on my recordings because it adds an [unnecessary] component in the path; a component that’s usually of mediocre quality, inherently sort of “softening” my low’s a bit (to my ears). But the hi pass on the ZED seems to do it's job without mucking up my signal.
In case you didn’t know: Each fader, knob, jack, and XLR socket is secured to the top panel instead of the PCB and instead of one big PCB for the whole board, each channel has it’s own PCB mounted vertically, all connected by a ribbon cable – like the big consoles - hello. Again, I smile. There’s also a Mono Sum jack on the board which played a part in my decision to buy it. It grabs a post fade mono sum and sends it to a single stereo ¼” jack. For the first time, I wanted to get into mixing totally outside the box and a mono sum was exactly what I wanted to play with for dumping to tape and for dumping to DAW.
The ZED14 streets at like $399, you can find them new on ebay from dealers for $369 as well, and I only paid $339 for mine – new in the box – from an authorized A&H dealer. The board is worth the $399, it’s definitely a deal at $369, and it’s a steal at $339 if you can bargain or “make an offer”. I’ll write more reviews as I get into electric guitars, bass, hand percussion, etc.