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Antelope Audio Zen Tour

Antelope Audio Zen Tour

4.6 4.6 out of 5, based on 3 Reviews

An awesome interface that gives you tremendous I/O and crystal clear conversion with a price tag that won't destroy your budget. Also includes near zero-latency effects such as modern and vintage eq/comp simulations, several cab/amp + mic combo simulations, and more DSP plugins to come.


26th July 2016

Featured Antelope Audio Zen Tour by Dowsed

  • Sound Quality 5 out of 5
  • Ease of use 5 out of 5
  • Features 4 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 5 out of 5
  • Overall: 4.75
Antelope Audio Zen Tour

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:

Inputs

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

Outputs

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.

Features (4/5)

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.

  • 3
6th July 2016

Antelope Audio Zen Tour by AudibleSilence

  • Sound Quality 5 out of 5
  • Ease of use 5 out of 5
  • Features 5 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 5 out of 5
  • Overall: 5
Antelope Audio Zen Tour

I know there are many people wondering if this interface is a good choice, and hopefully this initial impressions review will help you make your decision. I’ve been too busy with things going around my recording space to have ample time really putting down good recording tests for comparisons, but I will have more time to do this in the near future, and will update reviews with samples that I’ve recorded.


First Impression – Packaging and appearance:
The Zen Tour comes in a black cardboard box with a laminated sleeve on the outside. Inside the box are the unit itself, power adapter, USB 2.0 A – B cable, and the necessary paperwork. The packaging isn’t the most attractive thing I’ve ever seen, but it is more than sufficient to protect the interface from any bumps or falls during transport. The cables are all neatly tied and separated from the unit itself.
As appearance is concerned, it looks like everything I’d want in an interface. Brushed nickel finish against black with distinct edges (but not sharp to the touch), good heavy feel, concentric brushed metal wheel, all I/O clearly marked in small sharp text. All I would ever expect a high-end interface to look like, and also very much in tune with other design elements from Antelope. The overall dimensions of the product are: 10" W x 2" H x 6" D (25.4cm W x 5.1cm H x 15.2cm D).


Setup:
I have a Windows-based studio, and as a result, primarily operate on the USB connectivity platform. Setting up the Zen Tour was an absolute breeze. I had already downloaded the drivers, conveniently bottled up in an executable file for windows users (I believe there is a DMG file for mac users as well), and the program sets up the necessary drivers and the Zen control software. After software setup is complete, hardware setup is as simple as plugging in the Zen Tour to USB/TB port, hooking up the power and following the activation instructions. I will make a special note here that I love the screw on power adapter on the unit, as it will now be near impossible to accidentally unplug power from the backside of the Tour. Total setup time for me was about 5-7 minutes, since I also had to register with Antelope.


Hardware control:
Controlling features from the interface itself is pretty straightforward. There’s a capacitive touchscreen that’s pretty responsive and accurate, 3 buttons, and a giant knob that controls all of the settings available from the hardware side (there’s also a talkback mic button, but this serves no other purpose than talkback). The buttons have an excellent tactile response to them, requiring a bit of pressure and pressing with a satisfying click. The knob is also excellent. It is well centered, and is stepped (a major plus for me). Step sizes are delightfully small, and the knob itself has a good resistance to it, giving it a very premium feel.
You can control all kinds of settings directly from the interface itself, including preamp gains, input signal types (Hi-Z/line on the instrument amps, and line/mic on the combo jacks in the back). The display defaults to the current mix levels, and accessing gains are as simple as hitting the “Gain” button next to the display. The “HP” button allows for control of gain on the two headphone amps. I would like to see the ability to cycle through the monitors as well from the HP button, as currently, the only way to set monitor levels directly from the unit is to go into the touchscreen menu and select the current active monitoring output. The other feature (and maybe it’s there, but I just can’t find it) I would like to see is the ability to activate phantom power directly from the interface. When it is activated from the software, the gain for that preamp shows up with the text “48V” to the left of the gain circle, but I can’t find a way to interact with it.
Switching monitor outputs (the Zen Tour has two sets) is done by tapping the A<->B soft button at the top of the screen. Monitor signals change with the satisfying click of a relay switch.
I/O on the unit comes in the form of the following.
Front: 2x headphone amps, 2x ReAmps, 4x Line/Hi-Z inputs
Left: 2x ADAT ins, 2x ADAT outs
Back: Power, USB 2.0 (Type B), TB 1.0, two sets of TRS monitor outputs, 4x combo XLR/TRS preamps, S/PDIF in/out, D-SUB 25 for 8 analog outputs
All in all, a more than sufficient amount of I/O for a unit of this size. For my personal use case, I would have loved MIDI I/O but that’s just because I’m lazy.


Software Control:
The Zen Tour software operates very quickly and has non-existent delay between on-screen adjustment to signal changes. Most of the software side is pretty standard stuff, but where it really shines is the routing tab and the effects tab. Antelope has done a fantastic job with internal routing. Every channel type is color-coded and each individual channel can be renamed for easy recall. You can save as many routing setups as you want on your computer, and up to 5 can be stored as presets for quick session changes.
The effects window is also very well put together, with each input channel getting its own zero-latency fx chain. The vintage comp and eq models were quite great, giving the tone I was looking for in recording a solo violin, but unfortunately, I don’t have access to a physical Pultec for comparison. As I am not exactly a guitar player either, I can’t comment on the different cab and amp models, but I have a couple contacts locally who might be able to assist me in trying out different setups. These models not only allow choice of mics, but also placement relative to the cabs/amps, resulting in much greater control over smaller nuances of simulation. My personal favorite of the plugins was honestly the Antelope modern compressor. It is extremely easy to use, looks elegant, and works like a charm.
A note here: When setting up monitor outputs, it is very important to remember that your outputs L/R should be panned to +/- 30 (maximum left and right) in the mixer. If you don’t do this, you’ll suddenly feel like your speakers have the world’s worst phase issues.


Integration into DAW:
I use Studio One 3 Pro, so my experience might vary from someone else. The DAW picked up the new interface instantly, and expanded my sample rates to 192kHz, as I would expect. The input channels are labeled as 1-24 (for USB only as TB has 1-32). These 24 inputs are setup in the routing section of the software under the input line “USB Rec”. Outputs are found in the output line “USB Play”. Any music played on your computer outside of your DAW will automatically be routed to USB Play Ch.1+2. The only thing to watch out for when using the software control in tandem with DAW is buffer sizes. I found that at 96kHz, I had to maintain a buffer size of 512 samples. Upping the rate to 192kHz required me to set my buffer at 2096 samples minimum, and completely stable at 4096. This may also have to do with my USB settings, which I haven’t spent too much time fiddling with. I figured out the problem. It was with my computer and a different USB device that had been plugged in before. I am now able to track at 64-128 samples no problem (depending on other plugins). There are settings that allow you to adjust for a range between maximum speed and maximum stability. I imagine this affects the host controller’s polling interval (USB 2.0 standard is 125µs but can be adjusted ±13.33333µs), so results may vary by user.


Sound Quality:
Sound quality is of course the most important of all topics. If you’re familiar with Antelope, you know that they have fantastic sound quality, and the Zen Tour is no different. Mixes come through clean with fantastic detail, without being overly clinical. I use a pair of PreSonus Sceptre s6 monitors and I can clearly place every instrument in a mix with no problems whatsoever. For those that have tried it, I have found that the conversion is very similar to that of the Antelope’s Zen Studio, and slightly better than that of the UA Apollo series. My mixes have translated very well, and in the off-chance that I have to use headphones (not something I much like to do, but necessitated by other people), the headphone amps are full and clean. I perceived no coloration on my Focal Spirits, even at higher gains. The preamps on board the Zen Tour are fantastic and provide plenty of crystal clear gain with an extremely low noise floor. Even at very high gains, I had trouble hearing any kind of noise in the back of my cue mixes that wasn’t caused by the microphone itself. The only point at which I could actually hear background noise was when the preamp was driven past 50dB, something that should be pretty rare.

For simulations of guitar FX, check out the bottom of Sweetwater's page for the Tour:

Antelope Audio Zen Tour | Sweetwater.com


Closing Thoughts:
This little interface looks innocent but it packs a serious wallop in performance. From my preliminary tests, sound is as crystal clear as I’d expect out of an Antelope product, and I haven’t had a hiccup with my unit yet. One thing to note is that the interface gets quite warm to the touch very quickly. It stays warm, but in my experience so far, it’s never gotten outlandishly hot. I have zero regret in purchasing this product and look forward to really putting it through its paces in the future. When I get the chance, I will update with samples comparing different microphones on the interface.

Appearance and feel: 10/10
Functionality: 9/10
Ease of Use: 9.5/10
Sound: 10/10
Final Score: 9.5/10

--
Ravi Vemula
www.soundcloud.com/AudibleSilence

The following links are for screenshots and pictures. I don't have rights yet to post images, so these will have to suffice for now

Routing Setup
http://i.imgur.com/fLiLwU0.jpg

FX Chains
http://i.imgur.com/DMjsiks.jpg

The interface on my desk (sorry my camera is junk)
http://i.imgur.com/AmrKgXv.jpg

  • 2
14th February 2017

Antelope Audio Zen Tour by olofd

  • Sound Quality 5 out of 5
  • Ease of use 3 out of 5
  • Features 5 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 3 out of 5
  • Overall: 4
Antelope Audio Zen Tour

(Disclaimer: I have only used this unit with macOS 10.12.3 and Logic Pro 10.3)

TLDR;
It’s a good unit that have the potential to become great. I do believe Antelope has something special here. And if you're on a budget, and needs the I/O or any other feature advertised. This is the one to get.

So I bought the Zen Tour three weeks ago. I was really hesitant about this piece of gear after some concerns about Antelope mainly here on Gearslutz, but decided to give it a go.

The unit is not perfect, but it's really good in my opinion. It's really does sound amazing.

Here are my pros and cons:


Notes for my review:
- When I mention the control panel, I mean the piece of software that you control the unit with. This is the only graphical software that is supplied for this unit. I do not mean the driver.
- UI and GUI is graphical user interface. Where you click buttons and pull faders.
- UX stands for User Experience, and sums up the design of the software, eg. how easy, but powerful is it to use?


Pros:
- Sounds really transparent.
- Great I/O and options.
- The plugins are just what you need for tracking and let's you track great sounding direct monitoring at almost zero latency.
- The touchscreen works well, and the knobs feel solid.
- It's very flexible in it's routing. You can really configure things the way you like them.
- It's stable, I know people have said different things here, but on my MBP over thunderbolt, I have zero issues and can record and play back at low latency settings and have had no stability issues with the driver. I would however like to see Antelope write their own in-house TB-driver, like Apogee. Mostly because I have a hard time trusting OEM-drivers for future updates. Mostly because Apple has seen some de-PROing of their products lately.

Cons:
- Control panel: As I said in the pros, I've had no issues with the driver. But the control panel is not prefect. I'm also a software developer and I can see some shortcuts happening here. I would have liked it to be native to my platform for instance. It seems like it's a cross-platform piece of software (QT?). This means it's not as efficient as it could be. The GUI is not fast, and lags quite a bit, when you for instance move the window around. This causes CPU-spikes and often causes pops and clicks. (Not from the driver, it's my CPU being hogged down).
The control panel is also quite cluttered and I don't like the look of it. To put it simply: The Zen Tour looks like some guitar/rock-design piece of gear. I'm not a fan of that and would like more of a professional look of the software.

- Control panel: They have really tried to cramp a lot of options, knobs and faders into a relatively small area. Not great UI-design in my opinion. I sometimes needs to lean forward and look closely to find the fader/option I'm looking for. Not great.

- The routing in the unit is powerful, but the UI to handle it is really bad in my opinion. It's slow and hard to get an overview of. You'll find yourself wanting to reset the routing and start over often because i'ts easy to loose track of it (Only then you realize that there is no way of resetting the routing without doing a factory reset or loading a preset). It’s small things like this that makes the control panel feel like an unfinished piece of software. I believe that when you have a unit that need to be configured in software, that is as powerful and flexible as this device is, the software really needs to deliver in terms of UX.
For instance, why not have routing options in the iPad app. The app you have is really limited and yet again I feel that the software for this product is not where it needs to be.
So my tip for antelope is to invest in some UX-experts and better UI-programmers. Let me add that I’m really picky about UI/UX. And in my setup, with macOS and Logic Pro, Zen Control Panel does not hold up.

- I do think the headphone amps are on the weaker side (Yes I have raised te output from the -30db default). It's not so much that you can't get them loud, it's more that you can't do it while leaving a bit of headroom in the control-panel mixer. This leads to some balancing issues between the DAW and my monitoring. At least for me. But it should be said that I really like having faders low and having a lot of headroom for adjustment.

- The USB-driver is not as good as the TB-driver on my MBP. For instance I had issues with the unit getting found after being unplugged when using USB. No such issues over TB though.

- You can only use 4 instances of the Vintage compressor (1176) at once. And the software really does not help you here, for instance, the compressor needs to be removed from a specific channel to be able to be added to another channel. It's not enough to bypass it.

- Antelope is really pushing their plugins, I do understand that from a business point of view, but the rest of the software around the sound of the plugins needs more focus imho. And it would be a great idea for them to invest in remote-controllable au/vst shells to recall and control and route audio through. This would make them competiative with uad in terms of mixing. Right now, I'll gladly use the plugins while tracking. But not while mixing. The current incarnation puts them more head to head against RME imo.

- For mixing I would really need better options for saving presets as songs and recall my song. Not only have the 4-presets that I have at the moment.

- I have external preamps and When I connect them to Zen Tours Mic Pre-inputs in line-in mode, these inputs are really really hot. And even tough I turned down the input to -6 db, I could not get the preamp to not clip. The HI-Z inputs set to line-in mode does not have this problem at all.. So I can really only use my external preamps on input 1-4 without the need for some line attenuation on input 5-8. Would have liked to have these inputs with pads. Has anyone else had this issue?

- The Unit runs "very (IMO)" hot. This not might be an issue, and I get that there is a lot of things in this small box, but I still feel uneasy about the temperature.

- I like the eq’s and plugins, they sound fine. I’m however not a fan of the built in reverb. I’ve heard others say they like it, but I think It sounds thin and is hard to get where I want it. At least on vocals.

Bottom line:
I might seem critical in my review, but I do like this unit. It sounds good and is very flexible. My issues are mostly related to software. It feels unfinished. I have not decided If I’m keeping mine. It would be really great if I had an insight into what Antelope is working on and what the roadmap is. As I see it, software needs to be on par with hardware in this day and age. And as I said before, being a software engineer myself, I know this is how software works today. Agile, time to market and all that. But hope Antelope invests in quality software engineering during 2017 and shows transparency and takes user feedback in the process.

For software geeks:
My best guess after my fast overview of the Antelope software package (Something I always do when evaluating a product) is that it's drivers sits on top of OEM drivers supplied by the operating system. And that all programs by Antelope written to control the unit, is written in Python (Both their server, and the Control Panel-client). Their GUI's uses QT I think, with bindings to Python via PyQt. From what I can see, their hardware is controlled by sending JSON-encoded messages. So no rocket science here and a third-party COULD decompile and create their own software for the unit somewhere down the line. And that's a good thing in my book, even though the code/protocol is not open sources or anything. If any Antelope-employee think I'm wrong in my analysis, please let me know and I'll correct.

(Side note: How cool would it be for a company like Antelope, who has some issues with longevity-trust to open source their control and driver software, not the plugins (From a business pov), only the protocols, and driver parts. This would be huge, at least in my geeky mind and would save them from having to defend themselves).

  • 1
 
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