Recently, I've been looking for something that will give me a couple of channels of good quality mic pre. I have 8 channels in my Saffire Pro and, whilst I am happy with them, I am aware that you can buy better for more money. A surprise summer bonus has left my cash burning a hole in my wallet, so I started looking in earnest. I wanted two channels, nice sound, good features, known manufacturer and preferably s/pdif so that I can make full use of my audio interface. SSL was looked at but their Alpha was either a single channel or a quad so that was out. For a while I was going to get a DAV BG1 and use a couple of 'spare' channels on my converter. The DBX 386 was a goer as well, but for some reason didn't ring my bell - probably not enough people round here singing it's praises (although I've just read that Hugh seems to like it). Then I noticed the Audient Mico. I am familiar with their desks and everyone is full of praise for their ASP008 unit. The Mico looked very nice and so, after some hard searching (that includes a gold medal for Gary at SVC for finding the last one in the country at the back of the office) I joined the Audient owners club!
The Mico itself is a two channel mic pre with inbuilt AD conversion capable of working of sample rates up to 192k when clocked externally or 96k from it's own clock. Each channel is fed from a combi connector allowing either XLR or jack connection. Both channels have a switchable hi pass filter that can be off, at 40khz, at 80khz or 120khz based on combinations of the two push buttons. (As a side note, all of the buttons light up when pushed in so it looks very groovy!) Each channel also has a 10db pad and can deliver 48v phantom power down the xlr connection. The unit can function as a standalone mic pre courtesy of the two audio outputs as well. All of the i/o (bar the DI input for channel 1) is on the back and the Mico's digital interfacing can be on either rca or lightpipe with a bnc connector for wordclock. Additionally, the Mico can terminate the clocking.
Both channels use the same mic pre circuitry from Audient's desks to give up to 66db of gain. This is a respectable figure and is handy for ribbon mics. One problem that I have found is that the trim pot, whilst being very firm and nicely finished, seems to bring the gain up quite smoothly until the very end when there is a sudden leap in gain. It caught me out the first time that I tried setting levels, and could well be an issue on my unit so I'd be interested to know if anyone else has that problem. The levels are shown on a 4 segment led indicator which lights up values for -30, -12, -6 and overload.
Each channel has slightly different features in addition to the standard mic pre. Channel 1 has both a DI input, which is suitable for guitars and basses, and another knob to control how much 'HMX' is applied to the sound. This is Audient's 'Harmonic Sculpting' system which is used to bring in a more 'valve'-like sound. Channel 2 has a control for changing the phase of the incoming signal. This isn't just a 180' switch, but is a switch and a knob which means that the incoming phase can be anywhere from 0' to 180' and back again to 360' using the phase reverse. This is designed to give very precise phase alignment between the two incoming signals. So if you have two mics on an instrument, you can ensure that the sound is phase aligned pretty much perfectly before you start recording.
All of the above is housed in a smart 1/2u case with an external power suppy which is fed via a standard 'figure 8' power lead. There is no on/off control on the unit itself, neither is there any independent power indicator light. On my unit, I have mine left to clock from my audio interface, so the 'external clock' led performs this function.
Once my Mico was home and installed, it was time to set up some tests to see what it could do. The first test was very basic : I plugged an electric guitar - a Gordon smith Graf - into the DI input on the front and set the levels. The Graf is a bright, yet full, guitar and that came back perfectly over my monitors. A quick recording test showed that the sound of the guitar was preserved exceedingly well which was good for re-amping in my Powercore.
Whilst the guitar was plugged in, I also tried the HMX control. My logic was that it's effect would be more obvious on guitar. The result was a very pleasing, fairly soft distortion and was mild enough that it gave some character to the sound without overly changing it. A quick vocal test later confirmed this. The fact that it is fully variable and not on/off is a bonus as it will allow me to try dialling in small amounts and backing off if I do not like the resulting sound.
Next up were some mic tests. I have a matched pair of SE3s so they were connected to both the Mico and the Saffire Pro. The first thing that I noticed was that the hi-pass filters' flexibility was a handy thing to have. I don't suffer from much outside noise at home, but suddenly my single filter frequency on the Saffire seemed to be a compromise.
Once the levels were matched and the mics in a parallel array on a stereo bar, a quick vocal test was tried. Both mic pres delivered excellent results but there was a small difference in the Mico. The low end was slightly less boomy and the mid-hi end clearer which gave a slightly more open sound. I was surprised at how small the difference was though and this is more of a testament to the Saffire than a failure of the Mico.
The last test was to try acoustic guitar as this is very good at showing differences between pres. My acoustic had just been restrung so was fairly 'zingy' sounding which is ideal for testing. Here the difference was more marked - the Mico giving a sharper sound to the acoustic with a clearer top end and, again, a more controlled bass response. The clarity in the low end made it easier to eq to tidy up which in turn gave a more natural sound. Again, the difference was not amazingly big between the two units, but enough for me to make the Mico my 'go to' unit for acoustics.
I have to say that I am very pleased that I bought a Mico. Not only does it have some good features, but, most imporantly, it sounds really good. As most retailers are knocking these out for around £400, it seems incredibly good value for money. Other than the slightly strange gain control (which could well be a fault in my particular box), I can't really fault it as a unit. Even the power supply is nicer than the average wall wart. Plus this is really solidly built and yet it still feels smooth in use. All in all, thoroughly recommended!
Veni, Vidi, Aesculi
(I came, I saw, I conkered)