Featured Antelope Audio Zen Tour by Dowsed
Antelope Audio – Zen Tour Interface
Manufacturer: Antelope Audio
Model: Zen Tour
Product Type: Audio Interface
Website: Zen Tour A king among portable interfaces | Antelope Audio
Price: 1,570 €
When Antelope Audio first announced the Zen series, I was a little skeptical about whether the market needed another small format Thunderbolt/USB Audio Interface, especially one at this price point. It’s not that the unit is expensive for what it is, I have always been a fan of Antelopes gear; in fact, my studio owns two of their Orion interfaces. The question is whether enough people want to carry around an interface this expensive whilst on the road. Time will tell on that.
Unboxing alleviated some of my first concerns, as the Zen tour was built extremely well, ergonomically designed and it felt sturdy. Even the box was designed like it could withstand some force. It certainly seems like it will handle the rigors of being moved around. The only slight negative is that it would have been nice to have a box that would fit into a rucksack. As I worked for several years as a front-of-house engineer for touring bands, I’ve found that minimizing equipment’s footprint is almost as important as its durability.
Spec-wise the Zen Tour is as good as, if not better than, any other USB interface of its size. It includes:
4 x Mic / Line Instrument on XLR combos on the back
4 x Hiz / Line on TRS on the front
2 x ADAT (up to 16CH)
1 x S/PDIF
8 x Lines on 1 x DB25 (8 channels)
2 x Stereo Monitor out on TRS (4 channels, only 1 active at a time)
2 x Stereo Headphone out on TRS (4 channels)
2 x ReAmp outs on TRS (2 channels)
2 x ADAT (up to 16CH)
1 x S/PDIF
One real plus point is that the conversion and clocking are on a par with any of Antelope’s other interfaces, which in terms of bang for buck is what I would consider the best on the market currently.
The setup of the interface was fantastic: easy and stress-free. It was just a couple of simple installations and I was up and running. I was particularly impressed by the fact that, when I first ran the software mixer, it actually checked for the latest firmware and flashed the chip in the interface right there and then!
On the software front, the Zen Tour mixer is laid out in a clear and intuitive way, and, after watching a short video on the routing capabilities, I was navigating the mixer with ease. No need for manuals here. For those of you with tablets or smart phones the mixer can also be controlled with the Zen Tour app, which means that tech-savvy band members can control their own monitor mix! The slightly garish colours of the routing matrix were initially off-putting, but I warmed to this quickly, as it has the benefit of easily seeing what is routed where. Being able to see what is routed where at a glance is extremely important as the Zens mixer is extremely flexible and you can achieve more complex signal flows easily, more on this shortly.
The Zen Touch also includes low latency FPGA-based amp and effects emulators built into its software mixer, including classic guitar amps that are modelled on amps made by such heavy weights as Vox, Fender, Marshall and Mesa Boogie. There is also a small range of EQ and dynamics processors, including a 1073 EQ, a collaboration with hardware manufacturer BAE. These amps and effects all sound great, no problems there. These processors and the Zen Tours software mixer means you are able to achieve some processes and signal flows which you would have previously needed a console or perform after the recording, including:
- Summing mic inputs before hitting your DAW
- Parallel compress drums on the way
- Split the guitar signal to record a clean DI signal and one that was processed with one of their in-built amp models.
My main criticism is that these EQ, dynamics and effects processors can only be used within Antelope’s mixer, therefore are only useful half of the time. You can route from your DAW to the Antelope mixer and back again, but this is a hassle, which I would generally look to avoid (especially as I already own perfectly good plug-ins that are up to the task). This is not really congruent with their tagline for the Zen range: “Forget about buying expensive DSP plug-ins”. The other issue at this moment in time is that the selection of classic hardware available is rather limited; EQ-wise it isn’t too bad (Pultecs, 1073 and API550 are offered), but there is precious little in terms of compression: where are the 1176, LA2A, LA3A, or the Fairchild? However, there is a silver lining! As an owner of a Zen Tour, you get free upgrades whenever new plug-ins are available.
EDIT: I have been told by Antelope that a model of the most renowned FET compressor is well on its way to being introduced.
After only several minutes of playing with the Zen Tour, its place in the market became much clearer. This is definitely not just an interface for those on the road. It is actually the control hub for a project, which is then easily dismantled to take on the road with you. It really feels like the perfect interface for those not wanting to have two different rigs. In terms of I/O and software, it is clearly aimed at the production of guitar music. The in-built re-amp lines and amp simulators are a godsend for myself, as I’m primarily a rock producer. So much so, that it briefly crossed my mind to make the Zen Tour the heart of my rig, even though more I/O’s are needed for all of my outboard.
These sentiments were partly triggered by the fact that the Zen Tour feels as much like a monitor controller as it does an interface. Handily the Zen allows you to A/B monitor switch, which isn't anything I've come across on interfaces this size. Unlike most of their competitors, the Zen has introduced a touch screen, which makes it easier to control various levels whilst viewing the metering.
To those of you looking to purchase a new studio rig, but also value portability, the Zen tour should be right at the top of the list. Combine it with two 8 channel ADAT pre-amps and you can have enough pre-amps for any project studio situation.
Sound Quality (5/5)
As good as any other Antelope product and are always fantastic sounding, especially at their price point.
Ease of use (5/5)
Install is a doddle, mixer is intuitive and touchscreen is very handy. This has to have full marks.
The interface is stacked with features. This on its own would be worth a five out of five, however, unlike their EQs, there is a lack of FPGA compressors and effects modelled on classic gear means that it isn’t quite that appealing…yet
Bang for Buck (5/5)
An interface that’s built so well, has low-latency plug-ins included and ADAT options to expand is definitely well-worth its price tag.