Audient MiCO Review. This dual channel microphone preamp offers a compact unit using the same technology as found in the ASP008 and offers a good affordable recording solution.
Being loved by professionals the world over for their high performance multi-channel mixing desks, the UK based manufacturer Audient has a longstanding proven track record in the professional studio. However, times are changing, and within recent years Audient have put their best foot forward to produce a product that offers extreme flexibility and quality to the project studio owner for an attractive price; welcome all to the Audient 'MiCO'.
The MiCO has the same Class A preamp design as seen within the ASP008 and ASP8024 mixing desks and both channels feature balanced discreet dual preamp circuitry, three switchable low-cut filters, -20dB pads, 48v phantom power and 90° phase reversal. Interestingly the MiCO doesn't just stop here, on 'channel one' you have the availability to input what Audient call 'HMX' or 'Harmonic Sculpting technology', which effectively mimics the effect of vintage 'vacuum tube' character, and on 'channel two' you have a 'Variphase' knob. This 'Variphase' feature allows you to tweak the phase alignment so that you record a phase perfect signal without the need to remedy 'in-the-box'. Both of the values mentioned here are not pre selected and you are able to input them with with the turn of a (very nice quality) pot.
Turning our attention now to the connectivity, the MiCO is not short on this; if you have an digital or analogue input available the MiCO will fill it. If you are looking for a preamp that will bypass the low quality pre'eimons, or are wanting a different sonic character option, the MiCO is perfect for this as it does have the standard female XLR outputs. You do also have a 1.4" input instrument input on the faceplate for ease of use. Additionally the MiCO offers a high quality digital output section that is able to be clocked to an external WordClock via BNC cable. Currently, on all digital channels, the MiCO's internal clock can deal with pushing audio at 44.1kHz, 48kHz and 96kHz with the switches located on the back, but when connected to an external clock source it will follow the incremental sample rates up to 192kHz. It is with recommendation that although the MiCO's A2D is capable enough, if you have a higher quality or preferred clock source, then you can improve the A2D performance by connecting the MiCO package in this way.
Moving away from the complexities of a WordClock discussion, the MiCO's digital output configurations is vast. On offer you can either connect both channels digitally via Toslink (lightpipe) output, S/PDIF and even AES/EBU. Remarkably the MiCO has the availability to even be connected to a ground source and here I can truly report that I don't think that I have seen such a comprehensive product that can at all compare to the MiCO package that I have right in front of me; the MiCO is truly a project studio owners dream but I would like to point out here that the input impedance of this preamp is not interchangeable, it is set at 1.8Ω.
Okay this possibly an unflattering affair but it is nothing that I haven't seen a million times before. The MiCO comes in a standard white-label box where it is secure with foam behind an exterior sleeve, there is nothing remarkable here but who needs a million colours on a box when the product is this good. Included is a external 12v laptop style power supply, which is obviously where the MiCO saves some money to put into the 'in-the-box' design, and a plain manufacturers leaflet that spills the usual technical specs and various others. I am not at all disappointed here, I'm actually quite glad that this isn't a marketing 'hyped' product with the MiCO appearing to fly through space or something - this shows Audient are serious about this actually being a professional product!
I have found that the MiCO is of exceptionally high quality, with an dark-grey glossed aluminium shell that bares the Audient 'swoosh' and the MiCO name, you will be satisfied that it can withstand everyday project and professional studio use, but the real pull is with the faceplate. With a textured silver finish, Christmas tree colour 'light-up' input buttons, and exceptionally high quality variable pots, there is the same brand identity and quality as seen with the ASP008 eight channel preamp. In addition all the connectivity at the back is terminated with gold connectors and high-quality Neutrik branded sockets. I must say that the only notable annoyance with the design is that sample rate switches are located on the back of the unit that make you need long fingernails or a small screwdriver to switch. This means that if you have paired two MiCO's to fit in a one unit rack-mount case then you will find changing the sample rate a lengthy process. However, I have found that the MiCO is a very well put together beast that can comfortably withstand a lifetime of use.
Sound Quality and Function:
Right, it is important from the 'get-go' to make you all aware that the sonic signature of everything Audient is typically very neutral. Respectively the MiCO follows suit and has a fixed 1.8kΩ impedance (which isn't very reflective of typical 'neutrality' but it is to be noted), however you do have some fidelity over the tone of the preamp with the 'HMX' input dial and this works quite nicely; as we will come on to later in the article. The basic microphone preamp performance is quite difficult to discuss, it is very much what you see is what you get, almost like looking in a mirror, and actually have to give my respect to the MiCO for this in its basic function. Over the duration of our testing period whatever we put into it just felt right and no instrument, across the board, appeared to be better or worse than each other and it didn't sound what I would call 'sterile' or 'brittle' - just clean with a touch of smoothness over fast transients. I cannot go on forever describing the complex tonal structure of the MiCO because it doesn't exist. I would say that this preamp has enough gain to deal with troublesome ribbon microphones (always make sure phantom power is off) as it solidly performed well with the Beyerdynamic TGV 90r where I was riding on the high end of the gain. Furthermore, what you will notice with the MiCO is that the input gain does not necessarily operate in a predictable linear fashion. This is nothing concerning at all but it does lead us to understand why the 18dB to 66dB input gain is not numbered accordingly. Additionally, the metering on the MiCO is fairly basic and shows orange gain lights that initially leave you a tad phased because if the first two (-36 and -12) were green then you would feel a bit safer with your input. If they kept -6dB VU as an orange LED then this would seem reasonable because when the signal is clipping at 0dB's you are alerted to the danger with a strong red LED indication. Perhaps this is slightly picky but still it might mildly improve the users use of the unit. If we continue from here the fact that the MiCO allows you to pad the signal by -20dB's for when you are recording a loud sources such as drums is an standard feature in comparison to the MiCO's ability to let you use low-cut filer at either 40Hz, 80Hz or 120Hz so that you can be in control of the low end and eliminate floor noise when recording vocals.
When the MiCO is in it's basic function it acts as an amazing pre that effortlessly gives as good as what it gets from the source, but it is the addition of the harmonic distortion is what clinches the deal for me in terms of versatility. On one hand you can have a super clean pre and then you can flick a switch and a full range of creative distortion to the sound that acts as the binder within mix. I did notice a that the noise floor was higher when the 'HMX' circuit was active, and this is something to be expected if you are adding harmonics or extra circuitry, so please don't be too worried about this because it isn't harsh until you enter the third quarter. Ideally the addition of harmonic distortion sounds best when it is applied to vocals or on DI acoustic instruments. However, if you are going for that smooth soulful rich vocal sound then don't feel too pressured to add a touch of the 'HMX'. This is a function that can perform to excess on gritty vocal lines such as seen in Punk, but just remember that you will have to account for the fact that this will be hard recorded to tape is a process that cannot be undone in-the-box... Subtlety is usually the key here. The harmonic distortion feature is such a well thought out process and it is a shame that it doesn't appear as an option on the second channel as it is replaced by 'Variphase' - an equally important professional feature and, function wise, this is an action packed unit that effortlessly caters for the developing producer as well as the professional. When using coincident pairing techniques on instruments such as acoustic guitar (body and neck), the 'Variphase' feature is a lifeline in the form of trial and error with modifying the 'Variphase' value to get the microphones to sing and irradiate minor to moderate phasing issues. During testing I tried to replicate a common phasing issue and the use of the 'Variphase' performed to my expectations; quite simply it worked as intended with just moving a pot instead of using 'in-the-box' plugins that may not be as effective.
As we approach the end of the review the final matter to discuss is the quality of the A2D (Analogue to Digital) conversion and internal clock quality. I feel that having this digital function is a real godsend, particularly as it offers every digital output you could imagine without impacting on the cost to performance ratio. When clocking the MiCO to my Prism Sound Orpheus the 'W/CLK' green indicator lit up to confirm it is acting as slave and performed remarkably when the MiCO's TOSLINK (lightpipe) was connected. Obviously there was a difference in the digital performance when the MiCO's internal clock source is used but this is well above adequate for most users. I feel strongly that the digital output is not an afterthought by any means, this is a very well constructed package that has been meticulously planned and it clearly shows in features and performance.
With features aplenty, the Audient MiCO is an astounding preamp that compliments, functions and performs exceptionally well with almost any audio source that you can possibly throw at it. With beautiful clarity and depth you are able to hear the instruments for what they are at the source, and with the flick of a switch or the turn of a dial, you are able to add in some of that lovely round vintage vibe to your channel. Overall this is a product that performs way above what is expected of it at its current price-point and we cannot award it with less than a full five star rating.