The Orion 32+ is the follow up to the Antelope Audio Orion 32 released three years ago but offers a considerable increase in connectivity options. The sheer quantity of I-O would be ideal for a user who is tracking live acts, mixing on a console or using hardware inserts in their mix. Not only does the unit boast extensive high quality conversion but also a low jitter master clock using Antelope's 'Acoustically Focussed Clocking Jitter Management'. Antelope, of course, suggests the addition of its 10M atomic clock rack to further increase accuracy. The unit boasts sub-millisecond latency when used via Thunderbolt also.
The Orion 32+ contains mixers for super low latency monitor mixes including dynamics and EQ processing plus a very nice reverb dubbed AuraVerb. Antelope offers a preamp rack to accompany the Orion 32+ called the MP32. This is a USB controlled rack of 32 preamps packed into a 2U; ideal for studios that choose not to employ a mixing desk or for mobile rigs.
The Orion 32+ front panel is slick satin-feel metal with stylish machined recesses for rack screws. Legending is in black print and is fairly clear. On the left we start with the circular power button — this allows a fade-to-standby mode when pressed, but also opens up the menu on the main screen when held. Sub-menus include connectivity options and other functions including screen saver and brightness modes.
Next we have a set of three white recessed LEDs — Oven mode, Lock for external sync lock, and 10M which indicates connection to the Antelope 10MHz Rubidium atomic clock. It is difficult to define why any convertor sounds the way it does but it appears that the internal Oven clock does an excellent job. Playback was incredibly clear and recordings were of excellent fidelity. When A/B tested against other major brand convertors the Orion 32+ sounded excellent, it allows very fine EQ movements to be heard clearly in the mix process and reverbs were very easy to sculpt and level.
Antelope Audio Orion 32+ rear
Adjacent to the indicator lights we have two small circular metal buttons arranged vertically that are labelled Frequency. These toggle 32kHz through 192kHz in the normal increments, displayed via a white seven-segment display. Next to this is a more detailed display that shows 32 level meters that can be selected from various I-O options via software. The display is housed behind a slick looking black trapezium-shaped window.
To the right we have a button labelled with the Antelope logo. When this is held it allows access to another menu in the display section, controlling I-O trim functions, clock options, etc. which are selected with the frequency buttons. Finally a row of five buttons permit the recall of user presets; these can be saved in the software control panel. These are useful for setting up a dim volume when working without a console or for quickly recalling monitor mixes for tracking sessions.
The rear of the unit is jammed with connectivity, so much so that the IEC power connector is positioned vertically to allow space for the huge I-O count. Sync connectivity includes Word Clock and 10M inputs, two Word Clock outputs. There are a pair of monitor outs on 1⁄4-inch TRS, digital connections are SPDIF I-O, 16 Channels of input and 16 output across four ADAT lightpipe plus MADI.
There are Thunderbolt and USB connections able to stream 32 channels each way without tripping up; an impressive feat. MADI connection allows for 64 channels of connectivity (16 at 192kHz). The remaining analogue I-O is handled via the eight D-Sub 25-pin connectors totalling 32 inputs and 32 outputs. These conveniently line up with the connectors on the MP32 unit which comes bundled with D-Sub patch leads.
Antelope Audio MP32 rear
The MP32 has a similar feel front panel to the Orion 32+ but is populated with 32 Neutrik XLR/TRS combo connectors. An illuminated red logo in the centre indicates power and a black triangle motif mirrors the Orion 32+ screen. The rear panel offers the outputs via four D-Subs, a USB port for control of the preamps and an IEC power connector.
The preamps are nice and clean with a pleasingly low noise floor. Although they do not offer the transformer vibe of a nice vintage design preamp, they are very useable and are ideal for tracking an entire band with maybe a few character preamps used for vocals and key instruments. Conveniently the first four inputs allow a high impedance input for direct instrument recording. Again these inputs are clean with a good deal of headroom and sounded great for reamped and modelled guitar and bass tracks. Some HiZ inputs on interfaces and preamps can tend to sound and feel a bit ‘floppy’ when playing but these were excellent. The unit offers plenty of headroom and enough gain to comfortably deal with ribbon mics.
Both units come with a downloadable software control interface that also manages firmware updates. The MP32 control panel presents a set of 32 vintage style VU meters and LED type Peak meters. The VU is designed to make digital clipping more obvious. Phantom power, gain control pots and Mic, Line or HiZ input selection are also present. Usefully three presets are available to save settings, though it does seem strange that unlimited saves as files are not available via a browser interface.
The Orion 32+ software panel has extensive control offered across the Routing, Mixers and Effects Pages, plus two selectable 32 channel metering displays and clock control. The Routing page allows any input and output to be linked with drag and drop; monitor output source is selected here too. The Mixer page shows each of the four mixers with faders, pan and send to AuraVerb plus its parameters.
The Effects section shows the patchable AFX processing, 16 channels of 5-band Parametric EQ and Dynamics that can be stereo linked and switched around in the signal chain. These are clean, effective processors and could be routed to print if required. The Dynamics offers several detector options and a little tweaking allowed several of the old faithful compressor behaviours to be approximated. Ideal for an artist used to tracking through an 1176, for example.
Finally we have the five preset slots that are recalled via the front panel buttons, a master volume control and a mute. Having the master volume control in the software only could be a nuisance when mixing purely in-the-box, since the software doesn't have a ‘float on top’ mode like Antelope's Satori Monitor controller. The Orion32 and MP32 retail as a bundle at UK£3913 (+ VAT), the Orion32+ alone for £2537 (+ VAT) and the MP32 for £1995 (+ VAT). These units are certainly placed competitively in the market against other high-end convertors and preamps. The Orion 32+ may well make you think about your own convertors in a different way. It is absolutely worth a listen.