The days of massive recording budgets are mostly over, which often makes interfacing between home studios and commercial recording facilities an essential component of modern record making. This was certainly true when my band, The Trouble With Monkeys, signed a deal with Mi5 Recordings/Universal, and, major-label distribution notwithstanding, I had to manage a tight recording budget by doing some guitar, bass, and vocal parts at home on GarageBand, and then spin the audio files back to the main studio’s Pro Tools rig.
This could have been a rather depressing scenario were it not for the Zen Tour ($1,495 street).
Antelope has a well-earned reputation for quality audio interfaces, and the Zen Tour looks beautiful, is built tough, offers all the I/O you need for small-to-medium projects, and has a large rotary data knob that turns like a dream. Even the tiny Gain, Headphone, Talkback, and Antelope Function buttons look cool and feel expensive. I felt the Zen Tour was rugged enough to use as a rehearsal “mixer” for two guitars, electric bass, and four vocals, and it worked great. See—I found a cool application even before I started recording!
Well, you didn’t think an interface this powerful was going to be plug-and-play, did you? Negotiating the comprehensive routing matrix will likely take a bit of sussing out, but, happily, some excellent tutorials exist on YouTube if you get confused and frustrated. Physical connections are clearly labeled and butt simple, and I didn’t have any issues getting the Zen Tour to talk to different Mac-based DAWs after reading the manual (for set up and troubleshooting tips) and noting the system requirements.
WHAT ABOUT THE GUITAR STUFF?
If you’re a rhythmically precise guitarist, the latency inherent in many digital processors is not your friend. So I tested the Zen Tour by playing to a recorded click track, and skanked along with the clicks. I didn’t feel like my timing was messed with at all, so latency is, in a practical sense, non-existent. Yay. There are a good amount of excellent amp models to deploy. All the usual suspects are represented, so you can choose between Marshall, Fender, Vox, Mesa/Boogie, and other tones. You can also mix and match cabinets (1x10, 1x12, 2x12, and 4x12 options abound), choose between four microphones (ribbon, condenser, and dynamic types) and adjust their positions on the cabinets, and introduce a slew of vintage EQs and one great vintage compressor. It all adds up to an abundance of tone-shaping power, and a massive amount of fun. The amp models are dynamic—they read your guitar Volume adjustments and pick attacks fairly well—and they mated nicely with the more organic “real amps recorded in a real studio with real mics” that were already on some tracks. In fact, it soon became difficult to consistently discern the digital models from the tube amps—at least in how they sat in a complete song mix. And if a digital tone ended up sucking for whatever reason, the Zen Tour’s convenient Reamp output made it easy to replace the model with a miked amp. All roads lead to good tone!
ZEN END GAME
The Zen Tour isn’t inexpensive, so if you simply want some cool guitar models for your DAW, there are certainly more affordable alternatives. That said, the digital processing sounds great, and it offers a ton of firepower for those who dig experimenting for just the right tone. If you’re a producer as well as a guitarist, this could be your favorite guitar box.
Kudos: Extremely versatile. Great guitar sounds. Tough as nails.
Concerns: Software interface can be daunting.