Review: Audient ASP880 Mic Preamps

On July 23, 2014

I recently reviewed the fantastic Audient ID22 interface and talked about how chuffed I was about the unit, especially at its remarkable price point. Now Audient are back on the blog with a sister product to give the little ID22 and beastly add-on. However, this unit is much more than a peripheral device for the ID22… much more!

Audient have made a brilliant move on the pro-sumer market. Their flagship ASP consoles have a great reputation for clean recordings and stellar stability, and now they are translating this for those working at home an in project studios. So let’s get down to the core of the ASP range…

Audient ASP880 FaciaThe ASP Mic Pre

Let’s start at the beginning; the ASP880 mic pre is a classic Dave Dearden design with a twist. The unit still keeps with the typical British Class A reputation – clean and transparent. However the preamp circuit employed both on the ASP880 and the ID22 has seen Audient shift towards surface mounting and has seen a circuit redesign that has meant the unit is cleaner than previous models. The DI section has waved goodbye to the TL072 op amp, and hello to a JFET with a 1 Mega-Ohm loading. The input connection on the rear is a neutrik dual XLR/TRS input, normally meaning mic and line cannot be used together (eg. for inserts). Audient have devised a clever method of connecting external processors by utilising a set of DSUB connections on the rear.

audient asp880 backOHM-MY-GOD

Audient have added another little feature to the preamp to mix up the flavour a bit. The Hi/Med/Low variable impedance switch will drive your mic through different resistance. Many mic pres will come with a standard impedance for mics (typically about 1500 Ω)  and a Hi-Z switch (typically about 3000 Ω). These would almost match the medium and high load of the ASP880. Audient have introduced a low impedance setting of 220 Ω. This switch applies for both the mic and line inputs and can make some differences to both your gain staging and your frequency response. If you are trying to figure out the differences and not sure what you’re listening for, Audient have tried to outline this in the following chart:

Audient Variable Preamp

The Burr-Brown Converters

Similar to the ID22, the ASP880 has opted for the BurrBrown digital converters with a fixed 24bit depth and 44.1-96KHz sample rate. The unit outputs ADAT (with SMUX option), AES and S/PDIF connections. The ADAT option is particularly useful given it’s common place on most decent interfaces and recording devices. This make the ASP880 a direct competitor to units such as the Focusrite Octopre, RME Octamic and is a fine replacement for my Art Profire 8. The ADC input DSUB allows direct connection into the A-D converters (bypassing the preamp stage), activated by the A-D buttons on the preamp facia.

The Nuts and Bolts

One of the first things you notice about the unit is the build quality. The finish is really nice and the LED backlit buttons are pretty – and as many have pointed out, the phantom power is now red, not blue; well done Audient! Each mic pre section packs a lot into a small space. You get the usual suspect: Phantom power, phase flip, pad and high pass filter. You will also notice the addition of an “A-D”, routing the mic pre’s to the digital outputs of the unit. Audient could have easily made this an “all to A-D” or “all to analogue” button, but the individual options are a really nice touch. It’s impressive how much they have fitted into a 1u space; each preamp facia is smaller than my car key! They have omitted any sort of fan and taken a hole punch to the casing, employing a convection cooling design – so maybe leave some space in your rack if you can.

Cooling gaps on the audient asp880

Slots on top and holes on the side for cooling the unit

One grumble I have though is the size of the pots – to be more accurate, the space between the pots. It’s sometimes a little frustrating sorting your gain out and your finger can’t fit between the gain and the HPF pot. The previous ASP008 design had the sides cut down to avoid this issue. Still, a minor note to an impressively compact design.

Audient ASP880 Facia

Each pre smaller than a car key…

In the Market Mix…

So where does this product lay in the market? The product is fantastic for both the high-end and the budget conscience studio. It can expand any unit with digital connections or line inputs. Our unit is currently sitting with a Neve 88D – a digital console with no preamps. The ASP880 is providing a great set of inputs to track through.

Audient ASP880 in the Neve 88D

The ASP880 sitting pretty in the Neve 88D

In terms of Price, it is an unbelievable bargain; eight superb mic pres with digital options and inserts as standard at £899 inc VAT. This places it in a great place in the market – priced like a mid-range device but walking with the big boys in terms of build quality and features. Audient have also been clever promoting this as an add-on to the iD22 but also a peripheral to other kit, meaning they won’t alienate themselves from consumers without the former device.

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