Prism Sound Orpheus by FireMoon
In a sense this is not your typical review. It could almost be labelled a retrospective review as the Prism Orpheus, in terms of music gear age, is almost reaching the point of being referred to as "venerable". I've owned an Orpheus for some nine months now and I am way past the "Whiz bang, it's new, it's pretty expensive , I'm blinded by it and its' makers reputation". Ergo, this is very much a "thoughts on owning such an interface" and how I feel its' purchase stacks up both fiscally and qualitatively.
"Buyer's regret", I'm sure we've al had it at every level of the gear world. From something which cost relatively little to exotic desks and outboard that cost many thousands. You use it for a while and it suddenly finds itself relegated to "emergency use" and the old "If I run out of I could always patch the so and so in". You stare at the piece of gear and can't help imagining what else you could have done with the money you invested in it. It's even worse if you have knowledgeable people drop by who ask in that pointed manner "Oh, you bought one of those did you?" and the conversation is effectively ended there. One feels the blush spread across one's visage as the inevitable only possible follow up question arrives. "What do you use it on/for?"
It's at this point in the proceedings, one usually conveniently remembers a particularly funny anecdote you need to regale the visitors with that has nothing at all to do with your purchase. So, the Orpheus and here's where those working on limited and or, strict budgets are probably wanting to know the answer. Not a hint of regret here in fact, the more I use it the more I enjoy working with it, for all its' foibles and like anything that connects to a computer, it has its' foibles.
Conversion, I'm not an electrical engineer I can't hold forth about slew rates, op amps etc etc. Be that as it may, my ears tell me that the Orpheus' conversion is very good and then some. I could travel down the path of trying to describe how it sounds and it will be personal opinion and the descriptions will mean different things to different people. Put simply, the Orpheus converts analogue to digital and digital to analogue in a way my ears and brain finds wholly conducive to recording and mixing. Now maybe it does use the same chips as the radio alarm clock your granny still hasn't managed to set the alarm on, that's really not the issue. The issue is that the Orpheus uses those chips in such a way within its' architecture that, they just simply work. Work in such a manner that facilitates mixing something that sounds of a "professional standard" a pleasure not a task. Let me give you an example that might seem a tad controversial at first sight and yet, to my mind shows how good the Orpheus is. Make a mix of a track you;re working on as a 24 bit wav file and one as a 320kps mp3 file. Play them both and the difference is quite obvious. It's subtle and yet, you will hear how the Bass seems to have lost something, the treble seems truncated and and a tad splashy especially on heavy cymbal work in a dense rock mix. Particularly on busy rock or EDM mixes there seems a slight phase shift with the mp3, it's as if there's something you can't quite put your finger on has slipped out of phase across the upper bass and mids. It's not huge and you could probably live with it however, if your ears are leaden let alone golden, the difference is there.
If you record things with a shed laod of upper mid and top and then hammer them with compression, you will hear exactly that. In fact, across the whole frequency spectrum it just seems to have a certain "rightness" about how it goes about its' duties. I started out with a "Soundlbaster back in the late to mid 90s and actually had several tracks commercially released recorded and mixed wholly on one of those cards. I moved to Echo Audio then to Steinberg interfaces. Each time there was a noticeable improvement in the sound or pre recorded music via them and each time I learned more about mixing in the digital domain. Had I stared with the Orpheus I'd have learned far more far quicker. By that I mean this, I'd have been able to step down, if one will pardon such a description, to the likes of a Steinberg interface and have been able to work past it's inherent limitations and would be happy to recommend it to people as "A piece of kit well able to produce a fully professional mix". That might sound a tad contradictory however, it does make sense. What the Orpheus does, is provide an education for the ears that will stand one in good stead for as long as one chooses to work seriously or, for that matter, dabble in the field of recording and mixing music.
I have found I can concentrate on tone and performance without worrying about the Orpheus at all. It's there, it does its' job so well, I know 100% that, any cock ups are mine and mine alone. The on-board Preamps are clean without being overtly sterile, the software seems fine and stable with Win7 and I actually quite like the feel of the volume control although, I do understand how to some, it might feel a tad flimsy.
The downsides? Well, it's total pain in the proverbial butt that, you can't use direct monitoring with Cubase, even at the lowest latency settings without a slight off putting delay. Two milliseconds in and 2 milliseconds out might sound impressive however, it is off-putting, in particular when using phones and I have to resort to the age old work round of muting the DAW's monitoring as I record. I reality, it's not that much of an issue and the work round hasn't as yet, thrown up any unexpected nasties. The headphone outputs, on the Orpheus are very clean yet, a tad underpowered. My Grado 80s and AKG 701s both have more all round presence, bass etc, for the same volume, from a decent kit built head phone amp. Then again, the Lynx Hilo seems to be the only interface that truly sports a serious headphone amp. It's not a deal breaker by any means, although I do see Prism have addressed this "problem" on their later releases and the phones amp has apparently, a tad more welly to it.
Which brings me to the nub of this review. If you're thinking are the Orpheus and its' fellow interfaces truly worth the outlay, new or second hand?; then the answer from me is an unequivocal yes. If you are truly serious about your recording and are looking for something in this part of the market, that is pretty much, "an all in one solution", then I doubt you wil be disappointed. Even through modest monitors and speakers, the Orpheus does it's job without fuss and with no little charm. I enjoy mixing ITB using it and more importantly, I have truly learned more about how to mix this last nine months in the sense of, understanding what professionals are talking about when they say... " I think this track is a little too bright/mid heavy etc".
I can only applaud Prism for bringing out less expensive versions that cater for different parts of the market. The question really comes down to this? Given the like of Steinberg/Focusrite et al, are no slouches in terms of their sound quality and all round features, is the Prism range truly worth the extra fiscal outlay? My reply to that question would be this. If you truly take yourself and your music seriously and it's not just a "hobby" or some passing fad, then the answer is and unreserved yes. Whatever music field you work in, the Prism with let you hear more and understand more, in a wholly non capricious manner.
Let me end this review by saying this. Back in 1982 I first dipped my toe in the world of recording on an 8 track, TAC desk and KEF monitors that cost the same to buy second hand then, as the Prism costs new now. Both systems were/are ostensibly, 8 in 8 out systems. Now, I love tape, for all its' foibles and faults and yet, the Prism Orpheus is "better" on just about every level you can measure. Given that, one has to say, although Prism products are to the "hobbyist" "expensive", the reality is, for what one actually receives they are actually, dare I use the term? A bit of a bargain.
I hope then that, this review has helped those who are wondering "Is the Orpheus and it's brethren really worth it?" rather more than, those who have always had access to more esoteric conversion and are, quite possibly, only interested in the pure conversion side of an interface. You know, I reckon the smile on Mark Knopfler's face in those adverts he did for Prism converters could well be genuine.