Antelope Audio Orion Studio 2017 by rmri
TLDR: A missed opportunity: great hardware, horrible software
Antelope had a brilliant concept with this product.
- 12 Class A preamps
- Amazing clocking
- Fantastic AD/DA conversion
- 16 outputs on D-Subs
- 2 re-amp outputs on the front
- Flexible internal routing
- Tons of emulations of legendary hardware EQs and compressors free of charge, all running without any latency
I could not find any other product with this type of flexibility, but it turned out to be too good to be true.
I think they did a great job with the hardware, it does what was advertised.
- 4 inputs accessible on the front
- nice big detented knob to set monitor/line/headphone levels
- 2 headphone outs
- look out for display burn in: I personally use the black screensaver and set it to the lowest value to extend the lifetime of the display
- there's no way to edit the preamp input type from the front panel (Hi-Z, line, mic), it would be really handy
- There are some buttons with no labels that you have to figure out every time you use them, kind of annoying
- only 2 rack screws, meh
Overall solid build and usable interface.
This is where the problems begin. All the processing power in the world doesn't matter if you cannot easily and conveniently access them. And that's where this product falls apart.
There are three components of the software stack:
- I'm running MacOS with a Thunderbolt connection and had no issues with the drivers
- People on Windows are reporting flaky drivers on Thunderbolt, but that can be either Antelope or Thunderbolt port related. Look into the forums to get more info on this.
- On Mac it will run a web server on your machine all the time even if the app itself is not running
- It will always be in the background consuming resources even if you are not doing anything related to the unit, I'm definitely not happy not having control over this especially on a laptop I take everywhere
- There's no way to turn off launcher updates in the app. It means that if Antelope releases a new version that has bugs, it will be installed and you can not roll back easily. Very annoying and unnecessary. You have to turn off your wifi or have to use other solutions to prevent updates.
- In a recent update the options were added to prevent driver, control panel updates, but not the launcher itself.
This is the software where you can set up your routing matrix, set levels, assign effects.
- Mixers: you have 4 mixers that you can route any inputs to and route the mixer out to any other mixer or to your recording channels
- Built in reverb: nice reverb, but only available on Mixer 1 and you don't have separate output from it that you could route. I ended up dedicating Mixer 1 to just the reverb so I can use it flexibly. Unfortunately this only leaves you with 3 mixers left.
- No send channels/ auxes. If you want to create busses you have couple of mixers left, no too flexible for realtime use, but you can do that after recording in your DAW.
User interface annoyances are everywhere:
- Mixer fader issues: dragging the mixer fades will step in 3-4 dB increments. There's a shortcut to fine adjust it by pressing CTRL, but it's very annoying you have to do that in the first place, so you end up holding CTRL all the time
- Preset saving: You have 16 effect channels with 4 slots each. You can assign a lot of real time emulated effects to them, but you can only save the whole effect channel at once, no way to save presets per effect. So you cannot have a list of your own settings per compressor to speed up workflow. Very annoying
- Preset saving not reliable: You can save your 4 effects together but unfortunately recall is not reliable. Some effects come back bypassed even though the visuals indicate it being active. After 3 month of use I concluded it just cannot be trusted, so keep that in mind while spending hours with fine tuning.
- Annoying animations: every time you switch to another mixer or effect there's an panning animation horizontally, it's extremely annoying, disorienting and just slows down your workflow
- The app doesn't follow UI conventions: you can drag the window grabbing it anywhere, not just the titlebar. The problem with this is you end up dragging the window all the time: you want to change an EQ but don't hit the pot with your mouse properly? Dragging the window. Since the plugins mimic a wide variety of hardware EQs with funky controls and pots, with different hit areas, you will drag the window a lot.
- Level monitoring: there's a wide range of compressors available, but I found the refresh rate of the gain reduction indicators are just not fast enough to consider them usable. They just become a distraction because they don't really give you precise information. In some cases they don't even work.
- Saving device presets: there are 5 preset slots on the unit that you can recall on the hardware. The idea is that you would have 5 presets with different routings for your use-cases, mixing, tracking etc., good thinking.
You can save presets to these 5 slots on the Control panel, but there's no mention how. You have to hold CTRL then click the preset number. If you forget to hold CTRL or hold any other modifier key, you just recalled the previous preset stored in that slot, no undo, no confirmation, you just lost everything you wanted to save. What were they thinking?
- DEL ALL: the interface has many DEL ALL buttons, usually very close to frequently used functions, like Bypass. If you accidentally hit them, you will delete your effects that you tweaked so carefully, no confirmation, no alert, nothing. You lost your work.
- AFX2DAW: this is the software that enables you to use the plugins from your DAW like you would with UAD. However it's only available for MacOS, and it costs an extra 2-300 Euros. It suffers from the same preset saving problems, so don't even bother.
I probably forgot some other annoyances, but the point here is that the user interface is just very annoying and frustrating, if you had a good creative flow it will probably disrupt it.
But hey, nothing is perfect, so I reported all of these issues to support with detailed explanations, but that just leads me to my next point.
Online support: Antelope has chat support on their site and they seem to be responsive, they will solve setup issues, even using remote sessions. This is all great, they will get you up and running in reasonable time.
However I cannot recall any product in this price range where I had to contact support so many times. Even if you get an answer in half a day, you just wasted that day of productivity.
- Tickets: I mentioned I submitted tickets for the issues with the Control panel, dozens of them.
They all got closed with a simple answer "Forwarded to developers". No follow up when any of them were fixed, nothing.
- Issues just don't get fixed: I was hoping these easy fixes would be out in no time, but that's not the case. None of the mentioned issues were fixed in the 3-4 month since I reported them. Other users had the same exact issues reported even years before me.
Antelope Facebook group: this is a place where users share ideas, workarounds, issues. However if you say too many negative things about the products, you will get banned being "negative", even if it is completely valid. They seem to want to paint a rosy picture of this company. There are many Antelope employees in this group and they just don't reply to any valid concern. Extremely frustrating.
Manual: just an afterthought, don't even bother.
I would never buy anything in the future from this company.
They have a winner on their hand with the hardware but they are just arrogant and not fixing anything after years of complaints and def to user feedback.
This is by far the worst experience I ever had with any pro audio company and product, especially in this price range.
This company is in denial of the fact that they have serious issues and seem to be focusing on new sales and not keeping existing customers.
My suggestion: only buy their products if you are buying it for just the conversion and don't plan to do any serious mixing with their plugins. You can setup one routing that works for you and never touch the control software again.
But if you want just that there might be alternatives from more reputable companies, so look around.
I really wanted to like this product and still think the concept is amazing, but all the bugs combined with the way they treat their customers completely reversed my opinion.