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Audient ASP880 Microphone Preamp Review

Audient ASP880

TL;DR:

Audient ASP880 Review. The Audient ASP880 is an astonishing eight channel microphone preamp featuring ASP8024 pres and pristine Burr Brown PCM4220 A2D conversion that surpasses the previous generation ASP008. The ASP880 is a brilliant achievement for Audient and works great with the iD22.


Review Preface:

Founded in 1997, Audient is a well-known multi-award winning British professional audio manufacturer with an exceptional reputation for pristine analogue technology and colourless transmission. Saying this it was, in fact, back in 2007 that Audient marked their first foray into Analogue to Digital conversion with the ubiquitous ASP008; an eight channel microphone preamp based on ASP8024 console preamps with (A2D) digital out provided by an array of Wolfson WM8786 IC’s.


Adopted by studios the world over the ASP008 took off like a rocket, however in 2014 those stunning ASP8024 preamps were crying out for something with more body and resolution. Thus, the ASP880 was born with one crucial change; the replacement of the then WM8786 ADC’s to stunning, no expense spared, smooth Burr Brown PCM4220 analogue to digital converters as used within their 2013 landmark iD22 audio interface. The only difference between the two is that the iD22 operates at 15v whereas the ASP880 operates at 18v which increases the headroom by 2dB and lowers the noise floor.


Unboxing, Features, and Build Quality:

In similar packaging to the iD22, the ASP880 arrives. Internally the 880 is adequately secured with PPE foam and is equipped with both an 1.5m region specific IEC (kettle) lead and quick start guide.


First impressions of the ASP880 are positive. The external steel enclosure is well executed, strong, beautifully finished, and evidently built to last. Moving on to the front, faceplate consists of a 3mm thick brushed aluminium panel with familiar black print screen decals and has rack ears permanently affixed to conform to a standard one unit rack mount size. As Audient opted for a fanless design (unlike the ASP008), the ASP880 sports significant ventilation ports on the top, bottom, and sides of the unit to keep the Class A circuitry cool whether in or out of a rack. In an ambient temperature of 24°c (75.2°f) the highest temperature in a rack was 40°c (104°f), which suggests that the unit is stable and has sufficient ventilation.


Audient ASP880 Connections

On the rear of the unit Audient have included every possible input and output that you could ever want. If we forget about the IEC input and T1A (slow-blow) fuse porthole, there are eight Neutrik branded XLR and Line Inputs, an DSUB (DB-25) line send output connector, an DSUB (DB-35) pre-ADC return input, two ADAT outputs that can transmit 96kHz digitally using both for all eight channels, a BNC wordclock input to lock the ASP880 to your external clock or audio interface (very important), an 9 Pin DSUB (DA-15) AES / S/PDIF output, and finally two physical push switches to select the digital output. All connectors are secured to the chassis well and appear stable. Thankfully the rear panel is well signed and organised to allow for multiple connections to be made without becoming too confusing.


Audient ASP880 front panel

Where the party really happens with the ASP880 is on the faceplate. Divided into eight, each preamp has it’s own space with independent controls. If we begin with the simple facts, each preamp is allocated with phantom power input (48v) for your condenser microphones, a beautifully resistive and smooth gain potentiometer from an impressive 0dB-60dB which can easily handle the least sensitive ribbon microphones, an ‘A-D’ switch to opt to send the analogue signal over to the A2D converters, a simple phase reversal switch for tricky microphone placement issues, and a very simple VU meter of ‘Signal’ (showing at -28dB) and Overload’ (showing at -2dB). If you don’t think that Audient have been generous enough with those offerings, they also include an variable second order 20Hz-250Hz High-Pass Filter (aka. Low-Cut Filter) controlled by the same high quality potentiometer as the gain, and an three-way impedance selector. The impedance selector is not something to overlook, this is a powerful tool to get the most out of your microphones. If you find that the sound you are hearing appears indistinct then you could solve this issue by matching the impedance; ‘Lo’ is fixed at 220Ω, ‘Med’ is fixed at 1200Ω (suitable for ribbon mics), and ‘Hi’ is fixed at 2800Ω (although this is uncommon in a professional environment). Finally only the first two preamps have an -10dB attenuation pad and a quick access DI JFET input. It is clear to see that Audient have managed to put a huge amount of technology and expertise into the ASP880 and it clearly shows.


The above labeled functions are often missed from other products within the same price range so, on paper, the ASP880 is one of the most advantageous eight channel preamps out there. The smallest detail is that the front panel is rather claustrophobic. However the largest barrier is that the ASP880 can only digitally operate at four sample/bit rates from 44.1kHz 16bit to 96kHz 24bit. This will be adequate for most studios, but with clients who wish to record for higher resolution outputs, without upsampling, the Audient ASP880 will have to be operated only via analogue out, missing those brilliant Burr Brown PCM4220 converters, and into a separate converter system.


Sound Quality and Performance:

The fact is that the ASP880 is an excellent distortion free and whisper quiet preamp. Inside it essentially uses the same preamp guts as the classic ASP8024 console and it is very easy to describe the analogue performance in one word; clinical. However, where these preamps are rejuvenated from the digital output, over the previous generation ASP008s Wolfson WM8786 converters, is with those Burr Brown PCM4220 converters. As a converter on its own, the charming PCM4220’s do an excellent job at transmitting the signal faithfully with the added bonus of feeling analogous, smooth, and unfragmented, yet the pairing of these two brilliant technologies seem to support each other in different ways to reach an output signal that is crisp, transparent, and ‘natural’ with a very slight warming and top end emphasis through ‘clarity’.


Something that I have found with the ASP880 is that no matter what microphone you throw, it just works in the way that it should. Basically, the tone that you hear is as a result of the microphone and instrument moreover the colouring of the preamps and converter. On this point alone you can easily define which microphone, or instrument input, works well because each of their charms are presented in a near perfect, sort of floating, environment… and this is why I love the ASP880; nothing is lost, everything is available.


When it comes to instrumentation, everything appears on a level playing field so it is very difficult to describe past what has been said. I do, however, have to note that I was blown away with how the ASP880 performed on instruments with fast and hard attacks. Setting up an SM57 with a snare was beautiful thanks to the 10db attenuation pad and exceptional timing capabilities that led to capturing the snap and simmering transients. Again, vocal performances were pristine, clean, organic, and this made them a pleasure to mix in the box. Strangely, when previously working with the old ASP008 via ADAT, I did find that the performance was somewhat brittle (mild and difficult to place in a mix). With the new ASP880 this sense has been removed and now things feel so much more open. I truly am a fan of the ASP880.


Review Conclusion:

The ASP880 is a brilliant achievement for Audient and works very well with the iD22. The versatility of this unit is unsurpassable and, in terms of sonic performance, represents outstanding British values with a highly detailed and beautifully natural performance. Without doubt, the ASP880 builds upon the success of the ASP008 and takes a big step in the right direction. The Pro Audio Web Blog awards the Audient ASP880 with a full five stars.


Edd Harris

Edd Harris - 5th August 2014

US RRP: $1399.00 | UK RRP: £899.00

Editors Rating:

Five Star Review
Audient ASP880
5/5 stars
The Audient ASP880 is an astonishing eight channel microphone preamp featuring ASP8024 pres and pristine Burr Brown PCM4220 A2D conversion that supasses the previous generation ASP008. The ASP880 is a brilliant achievement for Audient and works great with the iD22.
Outstanding Award - The Pro Audio Web Blog