Antelope Audio Zen Quadro

Is Antelope Audio’s ZEN Quadro the best audio interface under $600?

With some seriously impressive technology and capabilities, you might have trouble finding a better audio interface at this price range.

Antelope Audio ZEN Quadro. Image: MusicTech

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Whether you’re a producer or musician, a podcaster or streamer, or just someone who revels in high-quality sound, your choice of audio interface is vital to the success of your projects. However, in such a busy and crowded marketplace, it can be hard to know where to start and the questions can seem endless: Does an interface have enough inputs and outputs for my needs? Will the preamps complement and support my mics and instruments? What difference do the converters make? Should I get the red one or the black one?!

Faced with such myriad choices, options and variables, many of us simply set a budget and then buy whatever feels right in that budget. After all, you get what you pay for… right? Well, not always — sometimes you get a lot more.

Take, for example, ZEN Quadro Synergy Core, the latest interface from pro-audio experts Antelope Audio. Built into a smart, compact and rugged casing, the ZEN Quadro is laden with high-end features normally found only on expensive pro-studio grade hardware — in fact, some of its capabilities outstrip even these high-cost options! Yet despite this, the ZEN Quadro is just $599/€599.

Flagship converters

The most important factor that determines an audio interface’s sound quality is the analogue-to-digital and digital-to-analogue converters. Antelope Audio has some prestige in this field, with much of its reputation built on its impressive converter and clocking technology.

This expertise is present in ZEN Quadro, which comes loaded with the exact same converters as found in Antelope’s high-end Galaxy interfaces. These have been paired with the company’s proprietary 64-bit AFC™ (Acoustically Focused Clocking) digital clock technology, ensuring hyper-accurate wordclock timing and ultra-low jitter.

Sonically, this translates to tremendous audio detail and clarity, accurate and spacious aural imaging, and an astonishing 130dB of dynamic range when operating at 192kHz/24-bit. This easily outperforms all other interfaces in its class (not to mention many in higher classes!).

Console-grade preamps and generous I/O

To maximise the power of the superb converters, Antelope Audio looked to the preamp designs of high-end mixing consoles of the 80s and 90s. The resulting 6-transistor design recreates those classic consoles’ clarity, colour and character while delivering up to 75dB of near-noise-free gain.

Antelope Audio ZEN Quadro. Image: MusicTech
Antelope Audio ZEN Quadro. Image: MusicTech

ZEN Quadro boasts four console-grade preamps, one for each analogue input channel. All can be switched to line mode for connecting to synths and other line-level sources, whilst the first two – conveniently located on the front of the unit – can also switch to a Hi-Z mode for use with electric guitars, basses and the like.

In addition to these four analogue inputs, ZEN Quadro can handle an additional eight channels of digital input via its optical ADAT port, plus a further pair of digital channels served via a coaxial S/PDIF input.

Output provision is similarly generous: Alongside the main left/right monitor output jacks there’s a stereo coaxial S/PDIF digital output and pair of secondary line outputs, useful for feeding signals to external effects or for providing different monitor mixes to different performers. There’s also a pair of headphone outputs, each of which carries its own mix and is powered by its own independent headphone amp.

All of this adds up to an impressive 14 input channels and 10 output channels, more than enough for everything but the largest, most complex sessions. Moreover, all analogue ins and outs can be switched to DC-Coupled mode, allowing them to send and receive CV signals from analogue and modular synths.

Synergy Core

Some high-end interfaces feature onboard DSP to add audio effects and processors directly within the hardware. This takes some of the effect processing strain away from the host computer and allows effects to be applied to input signals without introducing any significant latency. This is useful for input conditioning with EQs, compressors and the like, and to ensure performers can hear properly how their performance will sound, which is crucial for vocalists.

What’s particularly exciting about ZEN Quadro is Antelope Audio’s Synergy Core’s processing power. ZEN Quadro’s unique combination of FPGA and DSP chips allows effects chains to be added to any of the interface’s analogue and digital input channels, as well as to the main DAW playback busses – ideal for monitor-calibration EQ and mastering processors.

Antelope Audio ZEN Quadro. Image: MusicTech
Antelope Audio ZEN Quadro. Image: Antelope Audio

The interface comes pre-loaded with 37 effect processors covering all important bases – preamp emulations, EQs, dynamics processors and such – with more than 50 additional processors available. Many Synergy Core effects are modelled on classic boutique hardware too, injecting tons of class and character into your recordings.

Guitarists are particularly well served by Synergy Core, with a large collection of classic guitar amps to choose from, along with a stack of cabinet emulations that are so detailed they even allow the type and position of the (virtual) mics to be adjusted.

Synergy Core is made even more compelling by the interface’s ability to run fully standalone. Impressively, you can recall up to five custom-made presets, with many of your routing, parameters, and mixer channel settings accessible directly via the unit’s high-res colour display. This is perfect for live performances, allowing ZEN Quadro to act as the mixer for an entire band, or for it to take the place of large, bulky and expensive guitar rigs.

Multiple Hosts

As a USB Class Compliant device, ZEN Quadro will work with any host computer, operating system or device that supports the standard. If you’re on Windows, you’ll need an additional ASIO driver, which can be installed separately.

Antelope Audio Zen Quadro
Antelope Audio Zen Quadro

The interface has rather a special trick up its sleeve here too: it sports a second USB-C port that can be connected to a second, simultaneous host, which allows audio signals to be routed between those hosts.

This unique feature is a big deal for podcasters and streamers, massively simplifying tasks such as routing audio from phone-in guests into the main program stream, or playing in music and sound effects. It is also ideal for musicians who use synths or effects running from a tablet as part of a performance.

Overall, then, it is clear that ZEN Quadro is punching far above its weight. No interface of comparable price can match ZEN Quadro’s impressive feature set and stunning audio fidelity, and no interface with comparable features can match ZEN Quadro’s amazing asking price.

So, perhaps all of those confusing audio interface buying questions can be boiled down to just one: “Where can I get a ZEN Quadro?!”

Learn more at Antelope Audio.

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