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PCRECORDING.COM - Swissonic USB Studio D:

Manufacturer: Swissonic
Product: USB Studio D
Website: www.swissonic.com
Email: infousa@swissonic.com
Price: MSRP $849.00 (US)

USB is all the rage in the digital audio world these days. With manufacturer's jumping at the opportunity to exploit this interface technology, it is no surprise that there are a number of options available to DAW users. One of the most intriguing is the Swissonic USB Studio D, a rack-mountable 11 channel stereo mixer with on-board 20-bit converters. The Studio D features:

  • 11 channel, 2-bus stereo mixer
  • 2 microphone preamplifiers (48v phantom power, phase inversion)
  • Combined level/gain controls on mic and line inputs
  • 2 high impedance instrument jacks
  • RIAA phono preamplifier
  • 4 stereo line inputs
  • 20 AD/16DA converters to/from interface
  • 2 insert jacks for external effects
  • Headphone jack
  • TOSLINK and S/PDIF I/O
  • 1U rack-mountable
The Studio D controllers are on the front and the inputs/outputs are on the back. At the far left of the front are two microphone preamp control knobs. These feature automatic adjustment of gain and input levels to maximize SNR and limit distortion. Directly below each control knob is a phantom power LED and next to each is a Rec En (record enable) button. Next to the right is a set of high-impedance instrument inputs with similar "rec en" buttons. Then, is a combination line/phono, 4 stereo inputs, and a digital in control all with a "rec en" button associated with each.

Next is a Computer level control that adjusts the level of the signal going through the Studio D and is routed to the monitor bus. Next to it is a record level knob that adjusts the signal level that goes to the computer via the USB interface and can be monitored with the LED meter next to it. Finishing at the right of the interface, is a digital out knob, monitor out knob, headphone level knob and a headphone jack.


 
The rear panel of the Studio D has all the input jacks. Beginning at the right, two XLR microphone inputs with invert and phantom switches, insert jacks (associated with the XLR inputs only), line/phone RCA inputs, 4 stereo 1/4" input jacks, Line out, Mon out, and Rec out RCA outputs. Next to these is a set of digital I/Os including TOSLINK and S/PDIF jacks. Finishing all the way to the left is the USB connector jack.

The Studio D specifications are:

  • USB interface 8, 11/025, 12, 16, 22.05, 24, 32, 44.1, 48kHz sample rate
  • 20 bit A/D bit resolution, 16 bit D/A bit resolution
  • A/D Signal to Noise ratio - 95 dB
  • A/D Dynamic Range - 90dB
  • D/A Signal to Noise ratio - 92dB
  • D/A Dynamic Range - 89dB
The Studio D mixes all inputs down to 2 tracks at 20 bit resolution and sends them to the computer. The data stream is sent back to the Studio D as a stereo 16-bit resolution file.

Installation:

One of the beauties of USB interfaces is installation. I plugged in the Studio D to my USB jack on my computer, hooked up a set of microphones and some line inputs and turned on the computer. The computer recognized that a USB device was connected and requested the Windows 98SE installation disk. I put the disk in the CD, the installation program found the necessary files and I was up and running. I checked Settings and saw that the device was working correctly. This took about 3 minutes.

Useability:

The Studio D is designed to work with a wide variety of equipment, including phono inputs (read DJ ready). The Mic Inputs, with phantom power and USB connectivity make this an easy unit to use for live gigs. How does it work in the studio? I opened up Sek'd Samplitude 2496, n-Track Studio, and Cakewalk 9.03 and the Studio D was recognized in all. Since the Studio D uses the Windows USB drivers, it appears as a simple USB Device.

 

I wanted to monitor my input and output signals simultaneously. The Studio D design allows for patching into the signal path with jumpers. Per the manual, I removed the cover with the included Torx wrench, located jumpers for each input control and made my changes. After I replaced the cover, I put the Studio D in my studio rack.

 

I wanted to test the microphone preamplifiers first. First, I hooked up a set of microphones into my mixer and plugged the mixer outs into the line ins on the back of the Studio D. I adjusted the input level for the line in and the computer level together to set the level that went to the computer. By monitoring the LEDs on the front of the Studio D I was able to get an acceptable setting. It was convenient, easy and accurate to set levels this way. I was set to go.

Testing:

I booted up Samplitude 2496 and made my settings in the program. It is important to note that the Studio D plays back only at 16-bit. In a program like Samplitude, it is necessary to set the output levels at 16-bit in its preferences section before it will work with the Studio D. In Cakewalk and n-Track this was done automatically. Nonetheless, I made the settings and recorded a vocal/guitar track. The result was quite pleasing. I unplugged the microphones from the mixer and plugged them into the microphone inputs on the back of the Studio D. As a side note, I really appreciated the XLR jack Swissonic uses here, it has a snap button the locks in the microphone just like a professional mixer. I pressed the phantom power switches next to the XLR jacks and the "rec en" buttons on the front for my set of Marshall 2003 microphones. I then adjusted the microphone levels with the microphone knobs - - though it was tremendously convenient to have one knob to combine level and gain settings simultaneously, it was a bit disconcerting because it is one element of control that is taken away from an experienced user. Nonetheless, it seemed to set the levels appropriately. Having left the microphones in the same position, I recorded the same vocal/guitar track as before. I then did some A/B listening tests for the two tracks. I preferred the direct Studio D XLR input tracks, the preamps for the microphones are very good sounding, clean and accurate. They sounded a bit cleaner and more detailed than the preamps on my mixer that I used for the line in test.

Next I did some general testing of sounds to hear how the system recorded random sounds. As is my practice, I recorded a variety of environmental sounds in the studio and found that the card was accurately captured whatever I was recording, including crumpling paper near the microphone, my chair squeaking, shuffling equipment on my studio desk, etc. I recorded a couple of accompanying tracks for the vocal/guitar track above - - acoustic guitar, slide guitar and some bamboo flute. Lastly, I threw in a bass line using a new product I just received for review, the MAM MB33 II Analog Bass Synthesizer. I plugged that puppy into the line ins and had thick fat analog bass sounds. The Studio D handled all of this easily. Throughout, I was able to monitor everything in real time with the headphone jack and set my personal monitoring levels with its volume knob.

The Studio D has insert jacks by the XLR inputs, for using external effects devices. I hooked in my Lexicon MPX 100 and recorded some music with added reverb and echo on my acoustic guitar. It was as easy as plugging and going to work. This is a nice addition to this setup.

Sound quality:

The Studio D accurately captured what I was playing and was very clean. Each of the input channels can be monitored in with the rest of the mix, with levels changes made in real time. The 20-bit converters provide enough headroom to capture wide dynamic input ranges into the computer. While some might argue that the 16-bit playback is limiting (and it can be to an extent), it sounded very good. Overall, the Studio D sounded very good on everything I recorded. Is it going to blow away some of the high-quality 24-bit cards I have tested? No, but it is not designed for that. Bottom line, this system does a good job of recording audio.

Concerns:

I noticed an audible, low-level hum coming from the Studio D internal power supply. This could prove to be an intrusion if one is not careful to deal with it. Though handy, I was a bit uncomfortable with the one size fits all microphone input controls. They work very well but because of their design limit some flexibility for the user. It would be handier to have little "monitor" switches on the front of the Studio D to patch in for real-time monitoring rather than removing the cover and setting jumpers. I imagine this would incur significant extra cost however.

Conclusions:

The Studio D works very well. It is exceptionally easy to use,fun to play with and sounds great. Installation could not be easier, it is straightforward and compatibility is virtually guaranteed because it uses the native Windows USB drivers. The inclusion of the various inputs, especially the phono inputs makes this an ideal unit for a DJ setup. Though I am no DJ, I can see a DJ running some tracks and adding in some scratch sounds from a record player in real-time while adding some real-time vocals with the on-board microphone inputs. All in one 1u package.

If all you need is stereo I/O at 16-bit and do not want to hassle with taking your computer cover off, this is a great choice. Congratulations are due Swissonic for a winning combination in the burgeoning USB device market.

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