Audient ASP880/Midas XL48 Shootout - The Results

02-26-2015 06:00 PM


Many thanks to everyone who voted. While the two units are of very similar quality, that is not to say that they sound the same. Of course this is a very subjective area but to my ears the Midas was noticeably fuller, with a softer transient response and a pleasing “smoosh” to it which I enjoyed very much. The Audient was faster with excellent clarity and arguably was more transparent.
The files were:

  • Strummed Guitar 1 - Audient ASP880
  • Strummed Guitar 2 - Midas XL48
  • Picked Guitar 1 - Midas XL48
  • Picked Guitar 2 - Audient ASP880
  • Drum Test 1 - Midas XL48
  • Drum Test 2 - Audient ASP880
  • Spoken Word 1 - Audient ASP880
  • Spoken Word 2 - Midas XL48

The results showed the Midas was slightly preferred on strummed acoustic (55%/45%), wheras the Audient was strongly preferred on picked acoustic (68%/32%). On drums the Midas was strongly preferred (65%/35%) and on spoken word (I hope everyone enjoyed my rendition of Pharell as performance poetry) there was no clear preference, with results of almost exactly 50/50.

To complete the picture, I’m sure some people want to know, the microphones used were:
Acoustic guitar (strummed and picked) - a pair of Se1a small diaphragm condensers as an XY pair.

  • Kick - Audio Technica ATM25
  • Snare Top - Beyer M201
  • Snare Under - Rode NT55 Cardiod
  • Toms - MD421
  • Mono OH - 4038
  • Stereo OH - 414ULS Cardiod

Spoken Word - Beyer M201
No filtering, EQ or compression was used on any of these recordings. The only processing used other than level-matching was gating on the tom mics with a splash of Dverb over the whole kit.
So keeping in mind my earlier observation that both units are very good indeed, what have I learned using these units for a few days? What would I wish I’d known in advance if I’d bought them?
Fan noise
The Midas fan noise is very distracting. In my studio the Midas was the noisiest equipment in there, louder than my computer, my interface or my drives. Because of this, if you are looking to upgrade your interface preamps with some higher quality ones, and all of these these preamps are at least as good as the very best interface preamps, then the XL48 might not be the unit for you. If you are intending to use the XL48 as your go-to preamp for overdubs when working at your computer, then the noise will be an issue. The ASP880 is basically silent in operation. This might appear to be a conclusive victory for the ASP880 over the XL48 but I would argue that how serious the fan noise is depends on who you are and what you intend to do with your preamp. If you are buying a preamp to upgrade your interface preamps then you will probably want to use it all the time, including the times when the preamp noise would be significant. If however you already own a high quality preamp then you might well be looking for extra inputs to be used when tracking drums or an entire band. In this scenario I think the noise would be less of an issue. Of course if you are lucky enough to be tracking in a studio with a separate live room the noise would be even less of an issue.

Gain Control
Something I’ve always disliked about the Focusrite Octopre MkII is that the the taper on the gain controls is unhelpful, with the majority of the gain coming in all of a sudden at the end of the knob’s travel. Neither the Midas or Audient units suffer from this and the gain comes in steadily and predictably all the way around. One practical thing I noticed is that while the knobs on the Midas have plenty of room around them to be grabbed and turned, the Audient knobs are too close together to allow turning by rotating the wrist. They are perfectly useable if you grab them “palm up” and rotate between finger and thumb but it took me a while to adapt.
Illuminated Buttons
The Illuminated buttons on the Audient are very bright and while they look striking, under low light conditions I found it hard to read the legending on the front panel, in fact in a dark room they were bright enough to illuminate the entire room, the discreet yet visible lights on the Midas were easily read in daylight but not too bright.

Effect of Variable Impedance
The Audient offers variable impedance on each channel, switchable between Hi (2.8KΩ), Med (1.2KΩ) and Lo (220Ω). I have used variable impedance inputs before and I have always found the effect to be very source-dependent. The overall character of the preamp remains unchanged but the frequency response can shift significantly. The surprising thing about this control is how it can confound your expectations, having more effect on some combinations of mic and source in some cases than you would expect and less in others. It’s a case of experimentation but I have to say I had a favourite which remained broadly consistent across sources, just in some cases it made a significant difference and in others very little but nothing ever sounded positively bad. All examples using the ASP880 in this shootout were done using the medium setting.
Place In Product Lineup
Both Midas and Audient make pro audio equipment. Midas seem more aimed at experienced users and I think Audient are consciously targeting the home recording market and while both units are very capable and more than suitable for professional use, I do feel that Audient are marketing their product more aggressively (and successfully) at the home market. In marketing terms the visibility of the XL48 is poor, awareness of this product was low among the members of the PTE team I spoke to, few of the big retailers seem to stock it. This is a pity as it really is a great product but I wonder whether these days Midas’ focus is on their (world class) digital products and this is why the XL48 isn’t receiving the attention it deserves.
My Opinion

I’ve avoided offering any subjective opinion until the poll was complete but keeping in mind my earlier statements about the quality being essentially identical between these two products but them clearly sounding different, If I was pushed I would have to say I preferred the Midas on everything except drums, probably because of the transient response. However this is a very, very subjective area and I’m probably the least qualified person to comment as I’m the only person who hasn’t done a blind test. I knew exactly which I was listening to. A producer friend has recently retired his Audient console, he’s replaced it with ASP880s and he’s extremely pleased with them, sharing heritage as they do with his old console. In exactly the same way I’m probably influenced by my many happy experiences using glorious old Midas consoles live. Using an XL4 is unforgettable, especially if you have to move it! We are all influenced by brand and we should just admit it.