Antelope Zen Tour by AudibleSilence
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).
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.
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.
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 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
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
Ease of Use: 9.5/10
Final Score: 9.5/10
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
The interface on my desk (sorry my camera is junk)