Presonus Audiobox 1818vsl
Hi guys, this is a continuation of my first ever post which has morphed into a full review. I hope that's allowed - apologies if not!
I took delivery of the 1818Vsl last week. Until now I've been using a Yamaha MG166 USB but this only has a stereo bus and I wanted to take my first steps into multi-channel computer recording to record drums (all my experience in the past was using analogue tape machines).
If I'm honest my first port of call was the Focusrite Saffire Pro40 but I found that the firewire port on my HP laptop wasn't up to it. So, I took this straight back and ordered the Presonus.
At the weekend I began to put it through it's paces and all I can say is 'so-far-so-good'.
Firstly just to say that the VSL software is really intuitive and easy to use. The drivers and software all installed first time without any problem and Cubase recognised them too and from Cubase it was very easy to set up all the buses for a multi-channel recording.
I know what some guys are saying about the look of this unit being 'cheap' but in the flesh it has a real feeling of quality about it. Particularly the control pots which are indexed (in my opinion essential when using stereo inputs for getting the input levels balanced) and feel really positive.
After realising that I had to send DAW outputs to output channels 7 and 8 to hear them through the headphone jack, I set up a standard monitor mix for me working on my own and have now set up a second and third mix for me to use with a drummer and bassplayer. The monitor mix doesn't sound quite as 'imediate' as it did from my analogue mixer but what latency there is is practically indiscernable.
First I recorded a sample stereo electric guitar track at the same time as a vocal track and these tracked perfectly with no clicks droputs etc.
Then a friend came round and I used the multiple outs using an ART headphone amp to set him up a headphone mix in another room whilst I had a control room mix and monitored through speakers. This all worked great. In fact it was extremely cool for me to have such control over the monitor mixes in a home set up. If I have one gripe it's that I would have liked the ability to listen into his mix so that I could help him with the levels. He was playing banjo and Irish button accordian using my SE 2200A large diaphragm condenser and the audio quality was really good.
Sorry, I can't really comment on the mic preamps of the Audiobox as I am not an expert, except to say that there was plenty of gain and the sound quality was 'transparent' with no colouring of the sound, which I am led to believe you might get from cheaper preamps.
Since then I have recorded several tracks of acoustic guitar and my own vocals, again in near perfect quality.
The big question for me is can I get true multi-track recording. I have read a few threads elsewhere saying that this is where the 'fun' begins. What I am pretty sure of is that the 1818 can handle it. What remains to be seen is can my pc handle this whilst running the VSL software and Cubase simultaneously.
Tonight I am going on the road to our church where I will be recording 7 tracks of drums and 1 of bass along side my existing tracks. I am going for broke in that to begin with I am going to run my backing tracks with all plug-ins within cubase switched on and hope that I have enough processing power left over but if this doesn't work I have a few tricks up my sleeve, including:
1. Mixing down my backing tracks and re-inputting the stems to new projects within Cubase;
2. Doing the same but using the less system-hungry Studio One software which came bundled with the 1818VSL;
3. Switching off the VSL software and recording everything directly to the DAW whilst reverting to an analogue monitor mix.
Hopefully none of these contingency plans is necessary. By the way my PC is an HP Paviliion laptop with 4Gb of ram, a Core I3 processor and a 320Gb SATA HD running Windows 7 64bit and Cubase is version 6.5 using all native plug-ins.
I hope this helps others deliberations. I will let you know how I get on!
By the way my band uses in-ear monitoring on stage and I my hope is that the 1818VSL will be able to be used to provide us with separate mixes. I had hoped that the Virtual Studio Life software would work with QMIX so we could all control this from iPhones but I contacted Presonus support and they said that they haven't introduced this functionality yet. If they did it would make this an amazingly powerful yet compact digital mixer for small gigs!
UPDATE May 2: Here's the new bit then....the multi-channel recording test. As this was a test recording I used an abbreviated (and imperfect) mic set up using Neuman and SE large diaphragm condensers for overheads plus 3 SM58's for Kick, Snare & Hats. I then DI'd the bass in a 6th channel and used a 7th for a talkback mic.
What can I say, the thing just worked!!
It took a only few minutes to get levels right using the input gains. I was using the VU's in the software at first but found that the clip lights were coming on so I backed the gains up a bit until they stopped lighting up. For my preference LED level meters on the unit itself would be better.
I then set up a monitor mix for the drummer and bass player. This was not problem but again I would like to have been able to patch my headphone signal (taken from the front of the unit) into theirs so I could see what they were getting. Maybe future versions of the VSL software could allow this?
The great thing was that the audiobox recorded all 6 tracks well into Cubase with plugins running on Cubase with no problems at all. In fact I had forgotten to disable some other software running in the background but it still worked with none of the dropouts or clicks that other reviewers have experienced.
On balance so far for a rough set up the sound quality was clean and crisp and I for one am very happy with the results and excited to be taking it to the next level and mic'ing up the drums using 8 mics.
All I can say is 'so far so good'. Except for the one or two preferences (headphone routing and hardware input meters) I mentioned above, I want to give the audiobox 1818vsl a near perfect score for its price point.
UPDATE: May 16 - I have had a question about the monitoring latency mentioned in my first post. I just wanted to say that having used this unit a lot more since then I am beginning to wonder if I imagined the latency first time round, as I haven't noticed any since. My guess is that it is there (just) but how noticeable it is is a factor of the strain I put on the processor as a whole at any given time - i.e. if it's a big project with lots of plug-ins on the DAW then this probably increases. However, I just want to be very clear that none of the latency I have experienced so far is anything close to being a problem. Generally I am critical of gear that doesn't do what it says on the wrapper but in this case I continue to be very happy!
I'll add to this post when I have tested some more....
UPDATE: July 9 - Well, we have now tested this thing almost to destruction. At the weekend using all the same gear we recorded 10 simultaneous tracks of drums (2 via an external Alesis mixer with spdif) at 24 bit 44.1 resolution and again it worked perfectly with no dropouts, clicks or any other issues of any kind. This time we fully expected the laptop to not be able to handle running Cubase with lots of active plug-ins along side Virtual Studio Live mixing software but it didn't and the results were great.
Another thing to say about taking this piece of kit on the road is that it is really small. My friend who helped me engineer this recent recording and is an experienced engineer with a degree in music production commented on how compact this unit is and how well buit for the price.
We are so encouraged by our recent experience we are talking about connecting a further 8 mic pre's by ADAT next to record a band live.
Since my last posting I have also had a lot more experience of using my 1818vsl in my home studio and would now describe it as the audio hub of my whole set up.
On balance I warmly commend the 1818vsl for anyone with a project studio looking to expand the input and monitoring of their set up :)