New Arrivals For December

We’ve just had Black Friday, and Christmas is right around the corner.

I’m keeping my eye out for anything unusual, interesting or an outright bargain, but in all honesty, there isn’t going to be much left over to spend on gear after Christmas shopping for my family.

Rode M5 Matched Pair Microphones

One of the things I want to do with my revamped home studio is record a lot more acoustic guitar. And I’d like to try my hand at doing it the old-fashioned way, by micing up the guitar.

Reading around, it looks like the Rode M5 is a good compromise between price and performance. For less than a pedal(!!), I’m going to get a matched pair of microphones that’ll certainly be good enough for my level of recording.

They’re on back-order at the minute, but hopefully they’ll arrive in time for me to use them over the Christmas holidays.

Abasi Pathos Overdrive Pedal

Yes, I bought something because it was heavily discounted in the Black Friday sales.

But hey – it’s a pedal designed by Brian Wampler. It had been reduced to less than these things go on the second hand market. And I doubt that it sounds like anything else I’ve tried this year.

Why not take a punt?

Tone City Wild Fro Rabea Massaad Distortion Pedal

I’ve pre-ordered this entirely on the strength of the demo that Rabea posted onto YouTube.

Since getting my Sage Green Strat, I’ve been playing my Strat a lot more recently. I like the idea of a drive pedal that’s been tweaked to deliver low-gain tones for a Strat. Hopefully it’ll pair really nicely with the Keeley Oxblood, giving me a fantastic complementary tone palette to record with.

It should arrive just before Christmas, unless the first batch had already sold out before I got my order in.

Tone City Durple Overdrive Pedal

I’m sorry – Danish Pete is a fantastic musician – but I thought his YouTube demo of his signature Tone City pedal didn’t sound good at all. So why did I pre-order this one too?

I think when it comes to capturing tone, demos shot by Andertons can be very hit and miss, and I’m hoping that’s the case this time around. It’s just my personal opinion.

These signature pedals – the Wild Fro and Durple – are existing Tone City designs that have been tweaked to suit Rabea and Pete. In Rabea’s case, the Wild Fro was tweaked to suit his Strat, and it would make sense that Pete’s Durple was tweaked to suit his Telecaster.

That’s got to be worth the punt, right? I’ll find out when it arrives.

Fulltone OCD v1.4 Overdrive Pedal

The Fulltone OCD is a legendary pedal, right up there with the Klon, King of Tone, and Timmy as one of the greatest and most revered pedals ever created. As a result, it’s a pedal that’s been cloned many, many times. It’s also a pedal that’s been revised many, many times.

They hold their value very well on the second hand market, and the older revisions can be highly sought after. But I finally have one 🙂 And boy, was it worth the wait.

Unlike the clones that I’ve played or heard, the real thing isn’t harsh at all. It’s got a little less bite than a plexi tone – more chunk than crunch, to my ears, but without sounding like a Honey Bee, Sweet Honey Overdrive or other Tweed-inspired tone. Definitely its own sound.

I’m looking forward to spending a lot of time getting to know this one better.

Lovepedal Champ Pedal

I bought a (very cheap) clone of this pedal earlier this year, but it arrived DOA. Since then, I’ve been on the lookout for an original to try. One turned up on the second-hand market this month, and now it’s here.

First impressions? This might just be right up there with the Sweet Honey Overdrive and Uber Bee as my favourite tone for me.

The thing that really stands out to me is the clarity of the sound. There’s a simplicity and directness to the tone that really works for me. It doesn’t have the thick mid-range of other pedals – and I think that’ll turn out to be a good thing.

Still, early days 🙂

Alexander Jubilee Overdrive Pedal

This is another pedal I’ve been after for most of the year. There were a bunch of them on the second hand market at the start of the year … and then nothing until just before Christmas.

I’m looking to pair it with the Lovepedal Jubilee that I picked up earlier this year. I’ve heard them described as emulating the Silver Jubilee’s rhythm (Lovepedal) and lead (Alexander) channels.

New Arrivals For November

My home studio revamp is in full swing. I’m hoping to complete it this month, so that I can spend the winter months getting to grips with it all and starting to record music for myself once again.

The second hand market on eBay has picked up a little since the horror show that was October. It feels like the number of items is up a little, but I haven’t really felt tempted by any of the items put up for sale.

Focusrite Clarett OctoPre

When I bought the Universal Audio Apollo x6 last month, I screwed up. For some unknown reason, I thought the Apollo x6 came with four mic preamps. It does not; it only comes with two.

That turned out to be a happy accident. It made me start looking around at the market for dedicated mic preamp units for the first time. And it turns out that it was cheaper to buy the Clarett OctoPre than it was to return the Apollo x6 and pay the extra for the Apollo x8. Cheaper, and now I’ve got 10 mic preamps.

I’m going to say a lot more about that over on the Studio Diary.

Roland SPD-SX Percussion Pad

I hate programming MIDI drums. I’ve always struggled with anything beyond very basic 4/4 rhythm patterns. I can play drums a bit (although I’m very rusty). I’d love to be able to play my MIDI drums in.

The Roland SPD-SX percussion pad is a compromise. I simply don’t have the space for a proper set of MIDI drums – otherwise I’d definitely have gone that way. The SPD-SX will hopefully give me something I can play for now.

Roland KT-10 Quiet Kick Trigger

There’s no way I’m going to play drums without having a kick drum of some kind. The very concept seems totally alien to me.

One of the reasons I went with the Roland SPD-SX is because it’s expandable. It’ll take up to 4 (I think) additional outboard triggers. In other words, I can gradually add more electronic drum bits to it to make it play more like an actual electronic drum kick.

There’s a couple of kick drum triggers available for it. I went with the KT-10 partly because it was the quieter of the two, and partly I found it a little easier to play. It uses a reverse action. That means that the beater has a shorter throw, and it felt like it took less physical effort too.

Roland PDS-10 Percussion Pad Stand

I’m going to be sat in front of the Roland SPD-SX percussion pad, as if it was an actual drum kit. It’s going to have to go on a stand.

There’s not much more to say about that, to be honest.

Two Notes Torpedo Captor 8 Ohms

I’ve already got two of these. So why have I bought a third one?

When I was wiring up my stereo Synergy amp, I decided that I wanted it permanently wired up into the two Captors that I already have. That way, if I make a mistake and switch on the power amp without a speaker cab attached, the Captor will take the load and I won’t damage the SYN 5050 at all.

Problem is, I’ve gotten used to running my Marshall Origin full-on for the better dynamics and power amp sound. The only way I’ve been able to do that at home is by running it through one of the Captors. Getting a third Captor allows me to keep on doing that with minimal fuss.

Fender MTG Distortion Pedal

This one is a treat for myself for the end of a busy and demanding last couple of months. I’m a huge fan of Fender’s new line of drive pedals, and I’m determined to collect them all.

The MTG has a real valve inside it, which gives it this thick and very impressive sound straight out of the box. Start fiddling with the controls – especially the Tight knob – and there’s a lot of rhythm and lead tones to be had out of this unit. It’s going to be a pedal that I record with, for sure.

It eats weak guitars for breakfast and spits them out in a very unforgiving manner. Feed it a great guitar, and it’ll make that guitar sing. That’s probably going to limit how well it sells, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

I can’t wait to get my hands on the MTG:LA, when that finally reaches local shops.

CoffeeAndKlon #23: Drums For The Home Studio

This conversation was originally published on my Twitter feed.

For today’s #CoffeeAndKlon, I’ve switched instruments entirely. These are my first impressions of the Roland SPD-SX sampling pad, KT-10 kick trigger, and the PDS-10 stand.

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I know it’s cool to hate on things like Toontrack’s Superior Drummer. And yeah, it does take something away when you hear the exact same drums on every track from every band.

I don’t really have any choice in the matter though.

I’ve gone with the Roland SPD-SX because it’s the only thing I’ve got the physical space for. I can’t fit an electronic drum kit in here, never mind a real drum kit. And a physical kit would be too loud for a home studio setup.

The Roland SPD-SX Doesn’t Trigger Reliably

In person, the SPD-SX is a little larger than you might think. That makes the pads pretty easy to hit accurately, even for a hack like me. There are six main percussion pads & three trigger pads on the top row.

The percussion pads are nice to play. They fire reliably, and the 3×2 layout is nice and flexible. The velocity sensitivity feels stiff. Some of that will be my playing.

The trigger pads … are a problem. They all take a lot more force to trigger than the six percussion pads, even after tweaking in the menus. And they don’t seem to fire reliably at all.

(For testing, I’ve got the MIDI monitor open in Mainstage 3. This allows me to reliably count how many times each pad triggers. Each test run is 20 strikes from a sitting position. The SPD-SX is hip-high, and tilted at about a 30 degree angle.)

If I strike them with the tip of my sticks, they fire less than 30% of the time. One pad is noticeably worse than the others, managing around 10% trigger rate. With the same velocity strike, 100% trigger rate on the six main pads.

If I strike them about a third down my sticks, things improve. I can get up to a 70% trigger rate. That’s not enough to be usable.

So far, the only way to get 100% strike rate is to hit the trigger pads about 50% down the stick. And to hit them quite a bit harder than the percussion pads. I’m finding that difficult to do atm.

The transition between percussion pads and trigger pads requires a noticeable shoulder extension (to go from stick tip to 50% down the stick) and a grip change (a tighter grip needed to get the extra velocity). Maybe it’ll come with time?

It Needs A Lot Of Setup To Use

Out of the box, the Roland SPD-SX isn’t setup to be a MIDI controller. Nor is it setup to be a drum kit once you get it into MIDI mode. It took about 3 hours of reading & watching third-party YouTube tutorials to sort that out.

It Gets Beaten-Up Very Quickly

Dry flaky skin (like mine) sticks instantly to the rubber strike pads. Same with any dirt or dust on your sticks. If you were in the room with me, you’d think I’d had this for a year or more. It looks that worn that quickly.

The PDS-10 Stand Is A Necessary Evil

The stand is essential. Mixed feelings about it – because it’s expensive. It’s solid and sturdy, but I was annoyed by the head design. It’s single-axis, with no way to correct for an uneven floor surface. I feel the angle difference more than I see it. Wish I could adjust it.

Roland’s own website says that this stand is both cheaper and has an improved head over the previous model.

The KT-10 Kick Drum Trigger Is Very Nice

I do like the kick drum. The acoustic noise is low, the reverse throw is great for a part-time drummer like myself, and both the sensitivity and velocity detection straight-out-the-box felt spot on.

Why Am I Doing This To Myself?

This whole adventure is because I hate, loathe and detest programming MIDI drums. I’m just crap at it. I want the feel that comes from a real person striking the drums. I played drums in the early 90s. I’m looking forward to playing again.

We’ll see how it goes. Right now, I’ve got to knock the rust off, and get used to playing the SPD-SX. The layout’s very different to a real kit.

I think I’m going to end up with a hybrid approach. Tracking individual loops and fills instead of a full performance. And then using a MIDI editor to fix velocity values and missed pad triggers.

Am I going to get better drums out of it? Probably not. I’m not a very good drummer. And did I mention the rust? I should be happier with the feel, and some of the off-beat timings should be easier to capture. I’ll happily settle for that.

I hope you enjoyed this different #CoffeeAndKlon. Let me know what you do about drums for your home recordings. I’d love to hear how you’ve gone about it, any why.

Studio Diary #14: I Didn’t Need To Cable Up The SYN-1 FX Loops

I’m currently getting my home studio more organised, and along the way I’m sharing my thought process, decisions, discoveries and regrets.

One of the main reasons I’m doing this studio revamp is so that I can use my stereo Synergy Amps rig regularly again.

I’ve got a pair of SYN-1 enclosures, sat on top of the rack. This allows me to run two Synergy amp modules at the same time in stereo. There’s some really cool guitar tones you can only get by running a dual-amp setup.

On the back of each SYN-1 enclosure, there’s a whole bunch of inputs and outputs. Most of them are there because the SYN-1 was mainly designed to run entirely in the FX loop of a traditional amp. The idea is that you can use the SYN-1 to add an additional preamp, and it uses the traditional amp’s power amp section for amplification. It’s pretty cool.

I’m just using it as a straight-forward preamp though, running it into my Synergy 5050 stereo power amp. Which means that I can route the output of the SYN-1 straight into my delay and reverb pedals, without needing to put those pedals into the SYN-1’s FX loop.

And yeah, I only figured that out after having made up the four cables needed for the SYN-1 FX loops … and after getting it all cabled up.

Rather than rip out the cables (which would be a waste of cable) and having to reconfigure the Neutrik NYS SPP L1 (which would be a major pain), I’ve just unhooked them from the back of the SYN-1 for now.

That way, if I run into any pedals that must go into an FX loop for some reason, I’ve still got the option.

Studio Diary #13: The Planet Waves / D’addario Cable Station Cables … Aren’t Very Reusable

I’m currently getting my home studio more organised, and along the way I’m sharing my thought process, decisions, discoveries and regrets.

For the past few years, I’ve been using the D’Addario (formerly Planet Waves) Cable Station system to make my own solderless patch cables. I like it because it gives me the convenience of making custom-length cables, and I rarely make a dud cable.

I used to have a huge pedal board with 20 pedals on it. I tore that down earlier in the year, giving me a lot of Cable Station connectors and cable to try and reuse – along with some new connectors that I ordered in for the studio revamp.

The results have been mixed.

The Planet Waves-Branded Cable Is Too Fat

I’ve got a mix of connectors. Some are the older, larger Planet Waves connectors. The rest are the slimmer, low-profile D’Addario connectors. Most of the cable I’ve got is the older Planet Waves-branded cable. And that older cable is a bit of a problem.

It turns out that the Planet Waves cable is a bit fatter than the D’Addario branded cable. It barely fits into the Planet Waves connectors, and doesn’t fit at all into the D’Addario connectors.

That means that I can’t use my spare Planet Waves cable at all for this build.

I tried, but the cables I made up just didn’t work. The rubber outer sleeve just wouldn’t fit into either connector, and that prevented the inner core getting far enough into the connector to make a good connection. It’s almost as it the old cable has expanded since I got it?

Fortunately, I’ve got a completely unopened spool of the newer D’Addario-branded cable to use instead.

The D’Addario Cable Is A Joy To Work With

The D’Addario-branded cable is noticeably thinner. It fits easily into both brands of connectors, without feeling loose or insecure at all. I found that made it very quick to make up cables, and I had no reliability problems at all.

I had to get this cable from eBay. Although D’Addario still advertise and sell the Cable Station connectors, they don’t make it easy to get additional cable atm. That’s a bit of a worry for the long term.

Perfect For Home Use

These single pin-type cable kits are perfectly reliable when the cables are just sat at home and not getting moved about much. That’s going to be doubly true because these cables are going to be permanently fixed inside my studio rack.

If I was building a pedal board or rack for gigging, I would spend the extra money on something more robust and rugged. But that’s a huge step-up in cost, and it’s simply not needed for home use.

Studio Diary #12: The Neutrik NYS-SPP-L1 Is A Pain

I’m currently getting my home studio more organised, and along the way I’m sharing my thought process, decisions, discoveries and regrets.

I’ve spent the last two days getting the studio rack wired up at last. And, during the process, I’ve grown a bit frustrated with the Neutrik NYS SPP-L1 patchbay that I bought for this project.

As I’ve put gear into the rack and wired it up, I’ve discovered a few mistakes in my wiring plan. There were a couple of gear input / outputs I’d forgotten to put onto the plan, and some where I’d got the inputs on the top row of the patchbay instead of the bottom.

This has meant that some of my jack pairs had the magic jack in the wrong place. The only way to sort that out is to take the whole patchbay out of the rack, disassemble it, flip the card(s) as needed, then put it all back together.

Now, it’s only the 3rd or 4th time I’ve had the Neutrik NYS SPP-L1 apart to do this, but I’m sure it’s getting harder to put it back together. It took me a good 15 minutes to get all the PCBs lined up so that the front case would go onto it this time.

That’s on top of the time it takes to uncable it, remove it from the rack, take it apart, flip the PCB(s), screw it back into the rack, and cable it back up.

I wish it had a switch that I could push to change the mode. It would save me so much time.

The Bottom Line

I have no complaints or concerns at all about the audio quality of the Neutrik NYS SPP-L1.

If you think you’re going to be changing the jack pair modes at all – and especially on a regular basis – you’ll probably get frustrated at how much time it takes to do that.

I know I have.

Studio Diary #11: Thunderbolt 3 Brings A New Problem

I’m currently getting my home studio more organised, and along the way I’m sharing my thought process, decisions, discoveries and regrets.

When I traded for the Apollo x6, I couldn’t test it right away. Universal Audio don’t include a Thunderbolt 3 cable with their Apollo units. I had to buy one separately from somewhere.

It’s frustrating that UAD (and their competitors!) don’t include an essential cable in the box. But I already knew that they didn’t. That’s an inconvenience, not a problem.

The problem is that Thunderbolt 3 cables are much shorter than Thunderbolt 2 cables. The Apollo x6 is in a studio rack about 3-4 metres away from where my computer normally sits.

Thunderbolt 3 cables come in two types:

  • “Passive” cables are incredibly reliable, as there are no active electronics involved. If they’re only 0.5m long, they can deliver the full 40 Gbps throughput of the Thunderbolt 3 spec. A passive cable between 0.5m and 2m only delivers 20 Gbps throughput.
  • “Active” cables are available up to 2m. Very roughly speaking, it’s the equivalent of adding a buffer to a long audio cable run. They deliver the full 40 Gbps throughput.

Unfortunately, not only are “active” TB3 cables rare – and very expensive – they get absolutely terrible reviews online. Whether it’s just early days, and they need to improve the manufacturing design or quality control, or whether there’s just a problem with compatibility, it doesn’t matter – I don’t want unreliable gear in my home studio.

And besides, a 2m cable is still about half the length that I need.

For now, I’m going to have to use a 2m passive cable, and simply string it through the air in a straight line over to my computer. Hopefully one day someone will release an affordable, reliable, 4m active cable that I can upgrade to.

Studio Diary #10: Cables – Build Or Buy?

I’m currently getting my home studio more organised, and along the way I’m sharing my thought process, decisions, discoveries and regrets.

With so many extra cables needed for the studio revamp, I’ve had some choices to make.

  • When do I just use standard-length, off-the-shelf cables?
  • When do I get cables made up to a specific length?
  • When do I make my own cables?

Here’s what I’ve decided, and my thinking behind each choice. It’s too soon for me to say whether or not I’ve made good choices 🙂

Off-The-Shelf Cables

I’ve decided to use off-the-shelf cables whenever I have a longer cable run:

  • Instrument to the pedal board
  • Stereo run from the pedal board to the patchbay
  • Stereo run from the patchbay to the pedalboard and back again for pedals in the FX loop
  • Cables out to the amp inputs and the amps FX loops
  • XLR cables from mics and my acoustic amp into the patchbay

All of these are longer cables to make things as flexible as possible. They don’t need to be secured and tidy; they need to reach to wherever I need to run them, and they need to have a bit of spare play in them in case I move amps or mics around in the room.

I’m going with off-the-shelf cables because they offer the best quality / price ratio. They’re going to be very reliable, while also being cheaper-per-metre than any made-to-length cables.

Made-To-Measure Cables

I’ve decided to use made-to-measure cables (made for me by my local store AStrings.co.uk!) for the XLR cable runs inside the rack. They’re going to go between various items in the rack and the XLR patchbay.

This is a home setup, and that means I’ve battling the noise that inevitably comes from a dirty domestic electricity supply and everything else that’s plugged into the same ring main. Rightly or wrongly, I understand that having a rats-nest of cables inside the rack will only make the noise problems worse. That’d make the whole thing unusable.

The cables need to be corralled and routed away from the power cables.

Off-the-shelf cables are much cheaper, but they’re either too short for my setup, or they’re too long and would end up cluttering up the back with extra cable loops that I just don’t need.

It seemed like a false economy to go with off-the-shelf cables here. I have spent more than I needed to, because I got extra cables made. If any of the cables fail for any reason, I’ve got spares to hand. And if I get add any extra gear – or simply decide to change how I’ve got my existing gear cabled up – I’ve already got the cables I need to get up and running.

Self-Made Cables

I’m going with self-made TRS cables for everything else.

  • Patch cables for the pedals
  • All the inputs and outputs between the patchbay and the various bits of gear in the studio rack

I’ve already got a lot of the old Planet Waves / D’Addario solderless cable kits that I can reuse from the old monster pedal board I used to have.

It looks like they’re gradually discontinuing this stuff; I had to resort to eBay to find more cable for the connectors, and at the time of writing this, I’m not sure if the spare connectors I’m after are going to come back in stock or not.

There’s a few reasons why I’ve gone with this rather than the made-to-measure route:

  • It is a bit cheaper, because I can reuse the Planet Waves / D’addario connectors I already have.
  • Most of these cables are going to be odd lengths, and that’s really hard to measure accurately enough to place an order.
  • Made-to-measure TRS cables often come with the larger Neutrik connectors, which are too fat to fit into the available space behind the patchbay.

These will be the majority of the cables at the back of the rack. I need them to be as neat and tidy as possible, both to keep the noise down and to avoid creating a complete rats-nest.

Making my own cables seems to be the best way to achieve this.

Studio Diary #9: The Cost Of Cables Really Adds Up

I’m currently getting my home studio more organised, and along the way I’m sharing my thought process, decisions, discoveries and regrets.

One of the things I didn’t budget enough for is cables.

A big reason for the studio revamp is to have (almost) everything cabled up all the time. I won’t have to unplug stuff and swap cables around any more. And (I hope) I won’t have gear gathering dust because it isn’t cabled up at all.

That means adding cables – a lot more cables.

According to my preliminary plan, I’m going to have 11 jacks free on my main patchbay when I’m done. It’s a 48-port patchbay. That’s 37 TRS cables that I need to make or buy.

Thankfully, I don’t have quite so many XLR ports to manage. The Kemper has 1 XLR input and a couple of outputs. The dbx vocal compressor has 1 input and 1 output I think? (It hasn’t had enough love since I got it). And we’ll use at least 3 XLR preamps when we’re rehearsing.

Thunderbolt 3 cables deserve their own special mention, in more ways than one.

When you throw in speaker cables and IEC power cables too, it all adds up. And this is just for a home setup. It’s nothing like what you’d find in even the smallest professional studio!

I’ve probably spent the best part of £500 on cables alone (so far!) during this studio revamp. Ouch! You can buy a decent valve amp for that kind of money.

Studio Diary #8: The Cheapest Way To Expand A Universal Audio Rig … Is To Buy From A Competitor?

I’m currently getting my home studio more organised, and along the way I’m sharing my thought process, decisions, discoveries and regrets.

I’m a huge fan of Universal Audio’s Apollo series of interfaces. I’ve been using an Apollo Twin for the last three years, and I’ve been delighted with the results. And, while the plugins cost serious money, they’re a damn sight cheaper than buying the genuine analogue outboard gear.

What I’m not a fan of is the cost of the hardware for home users like myself. And, specifically, what it costs to get more mic preamps.

Four Preamps Are A Sweet Spot …

… for home hobbyists. It’s just a shame that Universal Audio don’t have anything for that spot that’s worth the cost.

Two mic preamps are fine for most home musicians. You can track one mono source, two mono sources, or a single stereo source at a time. That’s enough for most electric guitar, or even recording an acoustic guitar with a stereo mic setup.

I feel that I’ve outgrown that.

  • I’m in a band now, and we perform better when we’re recording a live take. I need three preamps for that (two vocal mics, one guitar DI), and preferably four preamps (two vocal mics, stereo mic’d guitar).
  • I’m getting into mic’ing up mismatched speakers for electric guitar. I need four premaps for that (two mics per speaker), or three preamps (one mic per speaker, and one room mic).
  • I’m inching towards making demo videos. I need one close mic for me to talk into, and I’d love to have a stereo pair as a room mic to blend in too. It’s one of the secrets to why That Pedal Show sounds so good, after all 🙂

The studio refresh seemed like the perfect opportunity to make this happen. Unfortunately, I had to go away from Universal Audio’s hardware to do so.

The Universal Audio Choices

When it comes to Universal Audio gear, four preamps falls in between their existing offerings:

  • The Apollo x6 only has two mic preamps. The other four inputs are TRS-only. I can make use of those (for example, having the Kemper permanently cabled up).
  • The Apollo x8 does have four mic preamps – but it costs a good £500 more than the Apollo x6. That’s a lot of money for two extra preamps. And you don’t get any extra processing power to help you make the most of those two extra preamps either.
  • The Apollo x8p has eight mic preamps – but it costs £1000 more than the Apollo x6. It’s (slightly) better value than the x8, if you’re able to spend nearly £3000 on an audio interface.

What about the Apollo x4? It has four preamps, right?

Why I Don’t Like The Apollo x4

Like all Universal Audio products, it’s a superb piece of kit. My problem with it is that I think it’s a bit of a dead end product.

The Apollo rack units are expandable (more on that in a moment). The desktop devices … aren’t. You can slave them to a rack unit. You can’t slave other things to them. Well, technically, you can, but practically? No, not really.

The problem is the optical out. It only has one optical out, which places limits on the number of channels you can send out, depending on the recording rate you’re using.

  • At 44.1 kHz and 48 kHz, you can send 8 channels out over the optical link. That’s the four channels of the Apollo x4 itself, plus four more channels from a slaved device. Any more than that, and you’ve outgrown the Apollo x4.
  • Up to 96 kHz, you can send 4 channels out over the optical link. At that point, you’ve already run out of channels for audio from any slaved unit.
  • Up to 192 kHz, you’re down to just 2 channels out over the optical link. You can’t even use all of the Apollo x4’s preamps as a slave device.

Why does that matter? As a home hobbyist, it might not.

44.1 kHz is perfectly fine for many recordings – both as a home hobbyist, and even for releasing for sale. If you’re looking to record and sell music beyond the streaming services, 192 kHz is becoming the standard that these potential customers want.

The Apollo x4 only has 2/3 of the processing power of the Apollo x6, despite having two more mic preamps. I’m concerned about running out of processing power when trying to use all four preamps at once.

That’s not going to be a problem with the Apollo x6. Once a year, Universal Audio run a promotion where you can get a free Satellite when you buy any of their rack units. That adds a lot more processing power – at least the equivalent of adding an Apollo x4 – to the whole setup, for no extra cost.

At launch, the Apollo x4 was priced at around the same price as the Apollo x6 – and that’s when I was buying. It has come down to around £200 less than the Apollo x6, at the time of writing.

Given that I’ve outgrown the Apollo Twin, I don’t want to spend Apollo-rack levels of money on another device that I’m worried about outgrowing. Not when there’s another option available.

ADAT To The Rescue

The Apollo x6 has two ADAT input ports on the back, as opposed to the single port that the Apollo x4 has. This allows me to go out and buy an external mic preamp unit and slave it to the Apollo x6 … and still get up to 192 kHz recording.

It’s not without its own limitations. The two ADAP inputs can only carry a total of four channels at 192 kHz – and only if the external mic preamp supports S/MUX. That still gives me a total of 6 mic preamps that can do 192 kHz. 6 mic preamps is definitely enough for me.

To do better, I’d need to spend about £1000 more and get the Apollo x8p.

And that gives me my budget. Are there any external mic preamps out there that support ADAT, S/MUX, and come in well under £1000?

Turns out there is … just not from Universal Audio.

Focusrite Is The Answer?

Focusrite is a brand that’s well established in the home tone, home studio market. Many of us got started on their Scarlett audio interfaces, and many people never feel the need to move away from them.

They actually got started as a manufacturer of pro-studio gear, and their Clarett line is regularly spotted in YouTube videos shot inside professional studios. So why not throw them into the mix?

All I want is something that’ll give me 4 or more decent mic preamps, with dual-cable ADAT out so that I can slave it to my Apollo x6. That’s exactly what the Focusrite Clarett OctoPre does.

Now, it’s not perfect. They’ve made an odd design decision that means you have to be a bit careful whenever you use the Clarett OctoPre.

For some weird reason, you can’t switch phantom power on and off on a per-preamp basis. You can switch it on and off for channels 1-4 as a bank, and/or channels 5-8 as another bank. I think that’s a crap design, because it only takes one mistake to trash a mic by accidentally sending phantom power to something that can’t accept it.

But … I want those extra mic preamps.

Why Is UAD Leaving Money On The Table?

There’s no two ways about it: the only reason I’ve spent money with Focusrite is because Universal Audio don’t make their own equivalent to the Focusrite Clarett OctoPre.

The thing I find weird is that Universal Audio do put a lot of effort into marketing their products at the home hobbyist market. They just don’t seem to be able to sensibly plug the gaps in their product line at the right price points.

It’s not about whether their products are worth the money. It’s more about whether home hobbyists have the disposable income to afford the hardware at all. And whether or not that buys you a viable upgrade path.