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Prism Sound Orpheus Interface Review

prism sound orpheus review

Renowned for superior state-of-the-art technology, the British born company 'Prism Sound' has always set a precedent amongst even the most disconcerting audiophile. With a name heralding from the legendary Greek musician and prophet, Orpheus (Ὀρφεύς), my initial analysis of its performance reveals that this flagship FireWire interface well deserves his mythical seal of approval.

​In the box the 'Orpheus'  comes with a couple of rack 'ears' so that you can either have it as a desktop pet or a rack mounted beast, either way its design is highly polished and does every bit correlate to its high end status and price tag.

In the hand the 'Orpheus' feels like a very well solidly made machine. Notably on the front of the interface both headphone pots have a really nice slick and smooth resistance about them which allows you to easily feel the quality in your fingers.  However, with regards to the monitor output volume control this feels a little less polished and a bit more flimsy although this isn't really something that detracts from its stunning first impression.

As we take a look at the front we notice some sort of decibel meter which the user can choose between seeing the output and input levels from the Orpheus User Interface. This is the most annoying part of it, that the metering just shows a rainbow of colour so the user just has to guess what the actual levels are or go into the 'Orpheus' UI. In some sort of way the pretty colours do make up for it even if we do see more accurate front panel meter readings from interfaces of much lower value unit.

prism sound orpheusConnectivity: Here we see the following: 4 x High End Solid State Mic Preamps with switchable phantom power (48v) and MS Matrix processing, 8 x High Quality D2A (Digital to Analogue) and A2D  (Analogue to Digital) coveters, 2.0/5.1/7.1 surround sound output configuration, 8 x Prism Sound Overkillers  (Soft Input Limiters to control transient input overloading), 8 x Balanced Line Inputs (with stereo channel RIAA equalisation on inputs 1&2 for all those attaching vinyl players), 2 x Instrument Inputs (on the front for easy access), ADAT In and Out support for an additional 8 channels of 44.1/48 kHz or 4 channels of 88.2/96kHz recording, 2 x Independent Headphone Outputs,​ ASIO and WDM drivers for the Windows and OS X operating systems, a Large Front Panel Volume Control, MIDI In/Out Ports (a welcome addition if you have external technologies that can be controlled by MIDI signal and/or MIDI controllers, such as an external faders/pots to control your DAW functions) and S/PDIF input and output (another digital input and output). In addition to this you have the capability to daisy chain 1,23 or 4 Orpheus' together... If you were rich.

​With the above mentioned we can see that the Orpheus has a slew of impressive connectivity options, something you would expect from an audio interface at this price point, yet it is important to acknoledge that this amount of connectivity should not be considered as 'show off' point for quality - many other lower priced interfaces have all of this... But as we find out in the following review, this material input/output quantity is reflected within its innards with a high class, well engineered circuitry design.

As we remain on the above point, the dual Instrument inputs on the front of the interface is a welcome addition to all those who dread having to go behind the back to rummage about for the right input. This is especially so for the producer come home musician who wants to quickly record a moment of musical inspiration without hassle and with haste.

Microphone Preamps: The microphone preamps that come built into the heart of the Orpheus are simply awesome. Within the Orpheus' dedicated UI (User Interface) there is an option to enable the solid state 'OVERKILLERS', which is a type of soft limiter which intuitively kicks in if you start to run out of headroom on your mic signal (when the source is too 'hot'). These bad boys are actually part of the hardware... there are no digital curves here, just pure analogue and they sound really very nice, just so long as you don't push them too hard. As soon as you do that you record a 'squashed' signal and that makes mixing a hell of a job. Trust me.

Moving on from the mighty 'OVERKILLERS' we start to get into how the preamps actually sound and here it is, neutrality central, with the Orpheus' pre's make for an amazingly clean and transparent sound that adds a hint of sparkle to make the signal just sound... Bigger? Moving on, out-of-the-box these pre's are fast to react to transients in your recording and work great on a wide range of instruments, especially in an acoustic setting. With this being said occasionally you may find yourself reaching to add some warmth in the form of a, dare I say it, plug-in. In regards to this, it is all up to personal preference and taste, whatever you want to call it, but it is to be noted that the pre's themselves are not noisy at all and allow for some respectable headroom. These are, in my book, Grade A Pre's and ones that I would happily reach for in many recording settings.

Digital to Analogue and Analogue to Digital Conversion (D2A/A2D): If you are a novice to the industry then you may not know what these are or why they are important so I shall briefly explain. D2A is the process in which the digital signal from your computer (ie. all 1's and 0's) is converted into an analogue one (an electrical current) so that your (typically analogue) monitor speakers can reproduce the sound into a physical means by moving the air. As we reverse this, A2D is when an analogue signal (typically from a microphone or instrument) is fed into the interface and is converted, or processed, into a digital one - so that your computer can read it.

With that aside the D2A and A2D shines in the Orpheus and it has been stated that the Orpheus can seem to outshine Prism Sounds standalone £8k ADA-8XR. Saying this, the majority of Prism Sounds highly esteemed reputation was built on the back of just how good their D2A and A2D converters are. I remember one experience, at the infamous Abbey Road, where I noticed racks upon racks stacked up of Prism Sound A2D and D2A coveters so I asked technician (who was currently working there) what he thought of them and without any moment of hesititation noted that they were 'exceptionally good'. As we review these converters I can only see one other competitor within this price range. This is the Universal Audio - 'Apollo', another interface named after another Ancient Greek god. From research I can see that its A2D and D2A converters are highly rated, coupled with the renowned quality of Universal Audio's microphone preamps (albeit a very different sound to the Orpheus' pre's).

Wordclock: Here we have another exceptional point, the Orphus' wordclock, something which is extremely important to those who are connecting external devices, such as extra preamps, digitally to the Orpheus. On the Orpheus it can act as the master clock where it synchronises your external connections via the BNC socket/ADAT output/S/PDIF output or the Orpheus can be synchronised by an external clock source meaning that all your clocking capabilities are looked after.

With any audio interface the quality of the wordclock is highly important, as even if you have the very best preamp with the very best A2D linked to your interface via an inexpensive (or built in) wordclock, you will find that it would have been pointless in splashing out the cash as the sound would degrade. This is because an inexpensive or inaccurate word clock source would have inability to synchronise the point in which the digital signal regularly arrives at each sample rate. To put it simply, you want your signal to arrive at a precise synchronised time so that it is accurately replicated when recorded and that your equipment speaks to each other to work in unison.

In practice, I have found that the Orpheus' 'local' clock to be of high quality and when it was pared with a Focusrite 'Octopre MKII' via lightpipe (or ADAT), it seemed to set the quality of these standard pre's to a higher president. On its own Prism Sound are renowned, once again, for the quality of their clock sources and I would highly recommend clocking all of your digital connections to the Orpheus' local clock. Immediately you will notice a difference in the clarity of your recordings.

prism sound orpheus control pannelUser Interface: For an interface that oozes quality on it's interior and exterior it is a slight disappointment when you boot up the UI (user interface) on your computer to find that the controller doesn't really win any competitions for its aesthetics. In addition to this the UI is quite complicated to get your head around, especially if you are used to using RME's UFX user interface with TotalMix. The Orpheus' user interface will leave you reaching for the laminated user guide and you may need to have it handy for the first week you use the Orpheus.

When we look at the mix window it does offer you a number of important options such as low-latency 'direct monitoring'. If you are multichannel recording, this 'direct moitoring' will allow you play with the stereo parameters as well as the mix levels in the 'Mix' window.  This will help you out especially for tracking and overdubbing tasks, where the latency needs to be kept to a minimum. In regards to the latency itself, the Orpheus, in my opinion, is very respectable. Depending on the quality of which you are recording at and your DAW.

More options we see in the 'Mix' window is the availability to change the input and output levels to either the professional standard +4dBu or consumer -10dBu which means that this unit can work in a variety of settings.

Conclusion: The Orpheus is one pricey piece of kit. Racking in at over £3,000 it can make your eyes water but the quality of the hardware is superb and second to none. It has an air of quality within almost everything it does - apart from the UI where Prism Sound really need to do some serious remodelling but somehow, to me, it does't distract from its charm.

The Orpheus is one slick, smooth and powerful beast and is one of those pieces of studio tech that you will never want to get rid of.  So far it has indeed been around for a good number of years now and Prism Sound are definitely not quick to retire it as it has recently become a father to two sister interfaces - the Lyra ( or λύρα) 1 and the Lyra 2. These are the children, and after a name derived from the 'Harp' constellation, they are undoubtably going to continue to reign. So far Prism Have not revealed too much information other than that they are designed for consumers who don't need as much connectivity and that the technology is exactly the same as in the Orpheus... There is just less of it. Currently Prism Sound state that the Lyra 1 shall price in at around £1,614.00 and Lyra 2 at £2,214 and be available in and around January 2013.

Edd Harris

Edd Harris - 26th November 2012

US RRP: $4495.00 | UK RRP: £3114.00

Editors Rating:

Five Star Award Outstanding Badge Editors Choice Award - The Pro Audio Web Blog