Gear reviews

review: Antelope Orion32 converter

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From the page:
Orion 32 is a 32-channel A/D & D/A converter and audio master clock, supporting both MADI and USB interfaces, clocked by Antelope’s renowned 64-bit Acoustically Focused Clocking (AFC) technology.

Orion 32 allows 192 kHz I/O streaming of 32-channel digital audio via USB, providing seamless connectivity to any USB-enabled DAW, computer or iPad. The converter also provides 32 channels of 96 kHz audio through its Fiber Optic MADI I/O connections, which can be used to connect with any suitably equipped MADI device.

Orion 32 also supports ADAT protocol by offering 16 I/O channels, for even greater compatibility with a large number of audio devices. The multi-channel converter inputs and outputs pass the analog signal through 8 D-SUB 25 I/O connectors.

Why test the Orion32:
I use an SSL alphalink AX and had not enough outputs/inputs for my setup (I use a hybrid-setup, with a summingbox). The Orion was the latest contendor in the converter market. As I am not able to buy a Burl Mothership or Prism ADA8 due to the price, I was lurking after converters with more ouputs. Antelope is known for their good converter designs. Their marketing manager is btw a nice person talking to and he was able to handle all my complaints and questions.

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Technicalities:
The unit features 32 analog in/outs, 16 ADAT in/outs, USB (32 channels), Madi in/out (one optical SC connector), 2 Wordclock in/4 WC outputs and an SPDIF with dither. On the front panel you can dial in antelope presets for the mixer (you can program them trough the Orion control panel), you can change the sampling frequency and you got a meter (which is actually quite helpful). I hooked my unit up via USB (and I had a try with my MADI SSL xtreme card as well).

what you can do: use direct monitoring via software mixer (thanx Antelope Support), you can route any input to any output, you can use a maximum of 32 input AND outputs channels via USB, you can use whatever clock you want.

what you can’t do: make coffee, stack 2 Orions via USB (only one USB device at once on a machine), you need to buy an RME MADI card or SSL xtreme card 128 to stack 2 units via MADI.

Installation:
I unpacked the unit, hooked it up via USB to my PC (i7 2600k, win7 64bits, Cubase 7 64bits, Asus Mobo),  downloaded the newest drivers and control panel software, created an account on antelopaudio.com (the control panel told me to do so), recived an activation code, activated my Orion32, the controlpanel told me that there is a new firmware (it automaticly downloaded the new firmware), waited 3 minutes, unplugged the unit, replugged it and I was up and running in 10 minutes. Another 5 minutes later I had figured out why I had no sound. I needed to route the USB play inputs to the outputs (pretty simple) and everything worked as advertised in 15 minutes.

I went into my DAW software and choose the Orion driver, made the output routing according to my needs (8mono outs, 16 stereo outs) to my summingbox and there was sound!

The sound:

The orion has a nice topend with plenty of midrange. The bass is very stable.  The topend is smooth and open sounding, the midrange is there but not as present as with the SSL (DA conversion) and there is enough but less bass then with the SSL Alphalink. I was able to get a good sound out of it in no time.. altough my latest mixes sounded different. The instruments are more defined and I needed less EQ. It seems that the SSL has a better transient response but it can be too much sometimes. That means I work a lot with snare and kick replacement samples and I was able to recreate all the attack I want with the Orion and had problems integrating them with the Alphalink. Seems like the DA is more reactive on the SSL but the Orion “glues” the sound more.  Compared to the SSL the Orion is like the fashion girl from the neighbour hood. Very nice looking, intelligent capabilites (routing, installation, support) and more style.

On the AD-conversion side of things, I found the Orion more similar to the SSL. I did track the output of my summingbox/FX and did the same with the Mytek AD96 as well.  The Mytek is my personal reference (I know there are better converters out there but I love the conversion and they feature a trim and internal SRC for final masters). The Mytek does have all the bell and whistles, while the SSL narrow things a bit, doesn’t have the punch and the power of the original. Similar things happens with the Orion but I liked the midrange better on the Orion.

 

Going hybrid:
I use a Vintagemaker 40×4 summingbox (8mono inputs, 32 stereo channels, 3  outputs, 2 send returns on the master and 8 inserts for the mono channels), so what I do right now is running 24 channels out of the Orion straight into the Vintagemaker, use the other 8 outputs for going directly out of the converter into my coleman monitoring controler with one pair, going directly into a Mytek 96 ADC for recording the sound after the summingbox and use the third output for feeding a third party monitoring system (actually my Dads old HIFIdeck) as I am pretty paranoid if it comes to appropriate monitoring.

DAW (Cubase or Samplitude) => USB Orion => DAC output => Vintagemaker (VM) Summing inputs 1-24 =>VM output 1 goes to Coleman/VM output 2 goes into Mytek ADC96 => ADAT to Orion input => back to Cubase and record a stereo track. The routing of the Orion comes in very handy.

 

Routing:
The controlpanel has metering on top (all in and outputs, followed by a line of clock source, presets and down there is the routing or metering (one click changes from routing to metering). You can drag and drop the inputs on the outputs and assign the channels.
orion32mixer

 

Clocking:
I tried to use a Mytek ADC96 to clock the Orion but was not successful so far.  There is an internal clock called Oven (and if you use USB, the control panel says USB). Another possibilty is to hook up the Antelope M10. I am not a clock fanatic, that’s why I safe typing space to save the rainforrest and don’t tell you how great external clocks are. Maybe I will become converted one day and I will write an article about it.

 

Drivers:
The drivers for PC are stable. The USB driver causes a high latency (standard mode 50ms). I had several problems when changing the routing within cubase (F4/input and output assignement). The Orion would “unlock” the unit and there was either no sound. This happend a lot more with Cubase 7 64bits then with my Cubase 6 32bits. This seems to be an incompatibility between the Orion driver and my system setup (USB chip and or Windows/Cubase installation).

Ther is another interesting bug, which makes channel 4 ADC peak from time to time. You can not hear it, it seems to be a monitoring anomality which should be removed by a future firmware upgrade.

I still haven’t figured out why I have 50 ms latency with the Orion via USB (extra safe, 2048 samples) to have enough ASIO headroom before the project starts to crackle. If I use MADI (SSL xtreme to Orion) I can play back the same project at 512 samples and approx 18ms latency.

 

conclusion:
At that price there is nothing better. The DA is superb in the 32channels/3k$ converter-range. I prefer the Orion to the Lynx Aurora 8 which is collecting dust since a few years and it’s up there and it’s a clear step up then my SSL alphalink if it comes to routing and DA-conversion.

Go buy it.

 

ps: after one month of having in the studio I sold my SSL alphalink.

2 Responses to “review: Antelope Orion32 converter”

  1. Hi George!

    Very nice and helpful review indeed!
    I also liked the ideas in comparing to the fashion girl, gives a wider picture somehow.

    I only have one question. I have an Mac Pro and Avid HD Native pci card. Can I hook it up to the Native and will it all play nice together?

    Otherwise I am buying the Avid 8x8x8 to run with my old Digidesign 192 or the Lynx Aurora 16.

    But this one is for sure the best value and if it works with my set up then I am making that buying call!

    Thanks a lot!

  2. Matt Hopkins says:

    Hi George,

    Great review. Just wanted to let you know that I have a very similar PC setup to you Asus X58 i7 and the Orion 32 with Cubase 32bit running on Windows 7 64 bit and I could get the USB working really well, so good that I can play virtual instruments via a midi keyboard with no latency that I can sense even while playing back many recorded tracks.

    There are several things to do.
    1.Change the default ASIO setting on the Orion control panel. The safe option that you have yours set to adds a lot of buffers and checks but to do that adds a lot of latency, set the option with the fewest samples and then Cubase will show a much better latency in its asio dialog.
    2. I had a lot of junk on my PCs USB ports, wireless keyboard dongle, midi interfaces, backup disk etc. Internally these all feed the same USB controller, and some devices even act as legacy USB 1 devices. the Orion has a massive I/O count and to get that throughput it needs a clean USB bus. The X58 has a spare PCI slot, so I just added a 2 port USB card to the PC just for the Orion. It is much happier on that card :)
    3. Use the supplied USB cable, no extension cables or anything like that. Again, it’s the USB limits that make this so important.

    I bet if you follow the above, it will work like a dream.

    I have had a lot of USB sound cards over the years and they have all suffered from stability problems. I didn’t really think the Orion would be different, but it really is.

    Hope this helps,
    Matt

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