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Audient Mico

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Audient Mico

Postby Dave B » Tue Aug 19, 2008 2:54 pm

Bizarrely, there has been no review of the latest offering from Audient. Despite this, I went out and bought one anyway!

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Preamble

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!

Overview

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.

In Use

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.

Summing up

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!
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Re: Audient Mico

Postby Rattic » Tue Aug 19, 2008 4:24 pm

I've just been browsin at these today. Seem to be really well priced. Any chance of some sound samples/comparisons to the saffire?

Cheers for the review btw. theres defo very little about it around atm.
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Re: Audient Mico

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Tue Aug 19, 2008 5:34 pm

Dave B wrote:Bizarrely, there has been no review of the latest offering from Audient. Despite this, I went out and bought one anyway!

It's here and in the queue to be done in the next week or so...

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).

I do -- I think it's fab. Don't have one myself, but persauded a friend of mine to get one and he loves it to bits too.

Both channels use the same mic pre circuitry from Audient's desks to give up to 66db of gain.

The clever Mr Dearden has found some small but worthy improvements to the Audient mic pre design, so these are fractionally better than the desk

I'd be interested to know if anyone else has that problem.

Ohhh.. I'll have a play and let you know if the review unit is the same...

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.

Hmmm.... correcting for different mic spacing is a time delay issue. Phase shifts normally affect different frequencies by different amounts. I'll look into this aspect too.

All in all, thoroughly recommended!

Nice review. Well done. Hope mine is as good...

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Re: Audient Mico

Postby Dave B » Thu Aug 21, 2008 7:35 am

Rattic, I can possibly bung some files up, but I'll trim them down a bit beforehand as they are 24/44 wavs. I should have some time this weekend.

Looking forward to a proper review now!
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Re: Audient Mico

Postby Wonks » Thu Aug 21, 2008 11:21 am

Dave, did you you use chocolate hob-nobs or the budget custard creams whist writing your review? You can bet that Hugh will be using hob-nobs (if Paul hasn't eaten them all).
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Re: Audient Mico

Postby Dave B » Thu Aug 21, 2008 2:05 pm

It's ironic that you'd ask that Wonks : I had neither - it was Carrot Cake all the way!!
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Re: Audient Mico

Postby Wonks » Thu Aug 21, 2008 5:58 pm

Carrot cake! Thump thump thump!

Very good review BTW.
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Re: Audient Mico

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Tue Aug 26, 2008 10:41 am

Dave B wrote: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 review model was the same -- a large 'dead zone' on the cotnrol from abut 11 oclock through to about 3 o'clock
where the gain barely chanegs, and then a mad rush inthe last 5 degrees of travel where the gain suddenly jumps 15dB.

I've raised it with the designer, and await a response.

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Re: Audient Mico

Postby Dave B » Tue Aug 26, 2008 12:00 pm

Interesting. It wasn't completely dead on mine, just less responsive. But yes, a sudden rush at the end is what I have. Let's hope that the chaps can shed a little light on why that is...
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Re: Audient Mico

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Tue Aug 26, 2008 1:43 pm

I've just spoken with David Dearden, the designer, who is -- at this very moment -- sat at the test bench pulling production units apart and check the pots. It looks like the pots installed in manufacture aren't doing what they are supposed to be doing... and it's definitely not right. I'll let you know more when I know!

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Re: Audient Mico

Postby Dave B » Wed Aug 27, 2008 7:56 pm



Good thing that I held onto the box. Mine could be due for an exciting trip to Audient land ....
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Re: Audient Mico

Postby sampo_v2 » Sat Aug 30, 2008 5:16 pm

Hi,

My Mico has the same gain control issue. The pot is not dead in the center either, the gain just increases very gradually and there is the 15dB jump at the end.

If someone is in contact with David / Audient about the Mico, could you also ask them about the power draw of the device? There is no mention of it in the manual or on the device.
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Re: Audient Mico

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Sun Aug 31, 2008 1:29 pm

I think you misunderstood what I meant by a 'dead zone'. I don't mean that it all goes quiet and stops working. Perhaps ai should have used the car throttle analogy and said 'flat spot'. What happens is that as you advance the gain control from minimum, the gain rises normally, and then from about 9 o'clock to 3 o'clock the gain increases very little. After this range it starts to rise more progressively again, before going completely mad right at the end.

More by luck than judgement, the 'flat spot' area is actually across the gain region you are likely to use most of the time, so it makes fine gain adjustments quite easy... but it's not right.

I have no idea yet whether Audient will be offering a retrofit-fix for this. It's quite an expensive modification to have to make, and it may harm the circuit board in taking the old pot out. Watch this space.

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Re: Audient Mico

Postby sampo_v2 » Sun Aug 31, 2008 7:24 pm

Hi,

Nope - at least I understood you loud and clear

By dead I didn't think you meant that the output goes quiet, I did assume you meant that the gain did not change at all when turning the pot in the area in question.

Thanks for investigating this issue!

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Re: Audient Mico

Postby SonGokou » Thu Sep 04, 2008 3:46 am

Hi everyone,

I'm new to the forum, but I signed up just so I could comment on this problem.

I think I'm one of the first Mico owners, I bought mine last year some time. I have to concur with all comments on this post regarding the pot issue. My mico does the same thing suddenly jumping up significantly in gain right at the end. I had emailed Audient and they had said this was a "design compromise" but now that I'm reading what you guys are saying, especially the fact that someone on this forum talked with Dave Dearden himself, leads me to believe that this is a design flaw and should be rectified. I hope this is the case because I was thinking of selling my Mico and getting a different 2 channel front end. Aside from this issue, I love the way the Mico sounds, the first guy who posted was right about the tonality. I use my Mico alternatively with my Blue Robbie tube pre, when I want total clean, and they complement each other nicely. Another interesting note about the mico is that it will not play nice with the FMR audio RNC using a different pre. I.e., If I want to use my Robbie>Rnc> to mico to take advantage of the A to D, I have to go in through the Direct input on the front, not the line level input. Oddly enough, the gain lights on the front of the mico sync perfectly with with pro tools when it comes to clipping or what not when going in through the direct input like this. If you want to use the RNC or any other compressor with the Mico pre, simply run out of pre one into the RNC and then into pre 2 and it works beautifully. This unit is clean and open and great sounding and packed with features for a great price. I sincerely hope the folks at Audient will address this issue with the pots. When recording acoustic guitars, I have to gain it up all the way (to right before the gain jumps up like crazy) and even if playing loudly my levels are below half on my meters in pro tools. Anyway, I hope this helps, and I hope they plan to fix this prob.

Best to all,

Sean
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Re: Audient Mico

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Mon Sep 08, 2008 11:52 pm

Audient are currently awaiting a new batch of pots from their supplier to test and see if they cure the problem. We should know in a couple of weeks. If they do, then all future production units will be fitted with the revised pots and the problem will go away.

However, I don't know whether Audient will be able or willing to offer a fix for existing units. It would be nice if they could, but it may not be an easy or cost-effective thing for them to do. It's not a big company... I'll keep you posted as and when I know more.

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Re: Audient Mico

Postby Dave B » Wed Sep 10, 2008 7:39 am

I know that some people may be upset on principle - and to a certain degree I sympathise - but after thinking it over and having a chat with various people who are used to this kind of thing, I think that I'd be ok living with this. I don't consider it a show-stopper really. The question is whether the ramp up in gain is in an area that will be used a lot. I don't own any mics that require a huge amount of gain (although I would like to try some ribbons at some point) and I tend to close mic when working. Plus the ramp up is a little more extreme than I'd expect, but not totally unworkable. I think that I can consider this a 'quirk' rather than a complete failure.

Saying that, if it is possible to fix then I'd probably go down the path. But I won't lose any sleep if it isn't. I love the sound and the features on this (and the price) which is what is important to me.
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Re: Audient Mico

Postby Dave B » Wed Sep 10, 2008 7:47 am

SonGokou wrote: When recording acoustic guitars, I have to gain it up all the way (to right before the gain jumps up like crazy) and even if playing loudly my levels are below half on my meters in pro tools.

Sean, one thing I'd ask is what the actual levels are? I'm not au fait with Pro Tools so I'm not sure how the meters are calibrated, but any acoustic instrument needs a good amount of headroom (lots of long posts in the main forum about digital recording / headroom) so I expect the signal not to be peaking too high. I run my Mico via s/pdif straight into the DAW and don't compress on the way in these days (clean recording,etc) so I tend to leave a goodly amount of headroom in recordings anyway.
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Re: Audient Mico

Postby SonGokou » Thu Sep 11, 2008 8:08 am

Dave,

I'm have to say that I wholeheartedly disagree with you about this matter. While I see your points and that may be cool for you, I'm not accustomed to spending 1100 dollars on something to have it work "mostly right". Furthermore, even if the unit sounds great, we don't know that the tone might be "better" with the pots fixed. I also stand on principle that if you release a product that has a design flaw you should not expect the consumer to just "deal with it". Audient is a pro company that releases pro gear, and if this pre amp cost say 250 bucks I'd live with it, maybe, but not at 1100... But if you're cool with it, more power to you. I personally expect products I buy to do what they're supposed to from the get go, then maybe break later...

Defective pots are definitely a deal breaker for me...

Best Regards,

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Re: Audient Mico

Postby SonGokou » Thu Sep 11, 2008 8:11 am

The levels are below "half" even when playing loud. The reason I try to get as high levels as possible without clipping is that i'm trying to capture more bit depth and more digital info in general.


Also would just like the thing to work like it's supposed to, ya know?

Best,

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Re: Audient Mico

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Thu Sep 11, 2008 8:22 am

SonGokou wrote:While I see your points and that may be cool for you, I'm not accustomed to spending 1100 dollars on something to have it work "mostly right".

That's an understandable position... but it begs the question as to why no one -- not a single owner/user -- has contacted Audient to complain about this gain control action. The first they knew of the issue was when I raised it. Which either means I'm a very fussy and demanding reviewer, or it's not really a problem for anyone.

Furthermore, even if the unit sounds great, we don't know that the tone might be "better" with the pots fixed.

It won't affect 'the tone' in any way. This is a very simple issue concerning the gain control law on the potentiometers.

I also stand on principle that if you release a product that has a design flaw you should not expect the consumer to just "deal with it".

Being pedantic, it's not a design flaw, but a supply of components which appear not to meet the specs. And you are hunping the gun a little here. We don't yet know what the outcome of the investigation will suggest and what approach Audient will take. But I'm sure it will want to keep its customers happy in whatever way it can...

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Re: Audient Mico

Postby sampo_v2 » Thu Sep 11, 2008 10:06 am

Hugh Robjohns wrote:
SonGokou wrote:While I see your points and that may be cool for you, I'm not accustomed to spending 1100 dollars on something to have it work "mostly right".

That's an understandable position... but it begs the question as to why no one -- not a single owner/user -- has contacted Audient to complain about this gain control action. The first they knew of the issue was when I raised it. Which either means I'm a very fussy and demanding reviewer, or it's not really a problem for anyone.


I was looking for an email address to ask about it when I found this conversation. Afterwards I didn't feel that I needed to contact them because you already had.

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Re: Audient Mico

Postby SonGokou » Thu Sep 11, 2008 6:07 pm

I did not mean to imply that Audient would expect me to "deal with it" per se. I was simply saying that in general I don't like it when companies do that. I have had excellent contact and customer service in general with Audient, and I have confidence they'll offer a good solution. So no hungping or jumping the gun here... just saying what my general attitude is...

On a side yet related note, an audio engineer friend of mine believes the problem is one of it being an "audio taper pot" vs. a "linear taper". So I agree it is not a design flaw, but perhaps a production flaw at the factory. Regardless, it is something that may be able to be fixed locally or easily by audient, but I really wouldn't know ultimately because I'm not an electrical engineer...

I await a response from Audient...

I will say that overall I love Audients approach to sound and I think more people should buy their gear.

Best to all,

Sean
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Re: Audient Mico

Postby . . . Delete This User . . . » Sun Sep 14, 2008 1:38 pm

Which either means I'm a very fussy and demanding reviewer,.


errr...

or Dave B is
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Re: Audient Mico

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Tue Sep 16, 2008 10:56 am

SonGokou wrote:On a side yet related note, an audio engineer friend of mine believes the problem is one of it being an "audio taper pot" vs. a "linear taper". So I agree it is not a design flaw, but perhaps a production flaw at the factory.

I only it were that simple! The pot in question is actually a reverse log pot, and was supplied by a different company to the one that makes the reverse log pots used in other Audient products using the same basic mic preamp design. The problem is that the trimming of the reverse log resistance track is out of spec, particularly near one end. So not a design flaw, or a production flaw, but a source manufacturing one.

The annoying and frustrating thing is that the problem escaped the notice of the Audient QC department because the pot measures correctly at each extreme end as well as in the middle -- which is all that the QC program was configured to check (and not unreasonably so, in fact, as this would have revealed such errors as a linear taper pot in place of an audio taper pot, or pots of the wrong nominal value etc, which would be the expected errors).

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Re: Audient Mico

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Tue Sep 16, 2008 10:58 am

idris y draig wrote: or Dave B is

true -- he definitely got there first and all kudos to him for spotting it... although even he didn't complain to Audient about it!

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Re: Audient Mico

Postby Mus » Wed Sep 24, 2008 12:42 pm

The Audient Mico sounds interesting, once they fix the pot thing. Where would it be in the PC compatible pre/converter quality pecking order with the Apogees (Mini Me), Focusrites and RMEs of this world?

Ta

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Re: Audient Mico

Postby Dave B » Thu Sep 25, 2008 8:09 pm

Mus, I'd say above the Saffire and RME but then I'd stop as I don't have an Apogee to hand. You'd need an s/pdif soundcard of some kind to get it into the PC but as that would clock to the Mico - and I'm assuming that the clock on the Mico would be superior to a cheapee - you'd get a decent signal in that way.
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Re: Audient Mico

Postby Mus » Thu Sep 25, 2008 10:54 pm

Cheers Dave. Actually, would slot nicely into the s/pdif of my Hammerfall...

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Re: Audient Mico

Postby dickiefunk » Tue Sep 30, 2008 3:43 pm

Hi Hugh,

Will the review of the Audient Mico be in the next issue of SOS?
I'm keen to find out more about this pre!
I currently use an M-Audio Tampa, DMP3 and Yamaha MLA-7 preamps.
I tend to use VSTi's for 90% of my work and only need a mic preamp for vocals (generally 1 lead and 3 backing vox).
The Tampa is my favorite out of what I own for vocals. I occasionally record acoustic guitar which the DMP3 does well at.

If I were to upgrade I would have to sell all my current pres to buy one higher quality pre. Would the Audient Mico be a worthy upgrade?
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