My initial experience with the Studio One DAW by Presonus was nothing short of astounding (see here for my full review) to the point where I’d finally abandoned ProTools for good! In the years since that first use of Studio One tickled my ribs, my analog/digital studio has moved from NYC to Woodstock to now San Francisco. Space has become more of a premium, which means that the AudioBox 22VSL for review could not have arrived at a better time.
This year’s big recordings of my work happened at two major studios: one with Century Club, my full-on rock trio, with Steve Albini engineering at Electrical Audio in Chicago, and two more intimate, acoustic affairs recorded with Jacob Winik at Tiny Telephone, the amazing tape studio run by John Vanderslice. In recording in such a traditional fashion, performances were captured as they occurred in one take. No computer screens were present.
Of course, being the OCD type when it comes to mixing, I left Tiny Telephone with finished mixes of the solo release only to feel I’d left a few things out, arrangement-wise. The question became do I add some subtle flourishes at my home studio, and if so, how?
The AudioBox 22VSL made the decision easy. Recording just two tracks at a time meant tucking in some stereo takes of Rhodes, keyboards, and percussion would be a snap. The preamps did not color the sounds at all, a concern after recording with amazing mics and pres with Jacob at TT. Combined with the new real-time effects of the StudioLive, it allowed me to add effects in real time even as I was laying down takes. While nothing sounded quite like the echo chamber at Tiny Telephone, the reverbs included out of the box were extremely complementary and unobtrusive.
My first round chain consisted of a pair of M-Audio Pulsar II’s running directly into the box. I wanted to hear the most pure sound of mic-to-input to fully gauge the preamps of the 22VSL and it did not disappoint. I ran a track of shaker, recorded about 5 feet away in my loft space, over one of the quieter numbers. The sound of the egg and my room was captured flawlessly with very low noise and no discernible digital harshness. Next up was a mono Rhodes track. For this pass, I mic’d the Rhodes Mark II’s speaker cabinet with a Beyer Dynamic M300. It’s a darker, grittier version of a 57 or 58 and it captures the lower timbres of the electric piano well. This went into my trusty Electro Harmonix 12AY7 tube preamp, plus a Tech21 CompTortion pedal for some extreme compression, coupled with the real-time EQ and some limiter effects of the 22VSL as I tracked. The signal came on strong if not a bit noisy but added grit in a very musical way. This was paramount to complement the sound of 2 inch tape to which the rest of the song was recorded.
The 22VSL had no issues capturing the nuances (and noise!) of the Rhodes. With some additional EQ and a bit of reverb both provided from the VSL’s unique real-time effects as I tracked, I knew instantly I was on the right path. The track sat incredibly well alongside the mix. Tracking with the effects on my old MacBook Pro was no issue, and with the fat channel effects (see video below for an overview) used in real-time, noticed no freak lag. I found myself chuckling recalling the days of my MBox 2 with its latency, stuttering, and digital noise, when I was forced to turn off every effect just to lay down a take. The times, they are a-changing…
For the last taste of the 22VSL, I resorted to the stereo pair of Pulsar II’s yet again for some acoustic guitar on a chorus of one of the tracks. Running clean into the XMAX preamps provided a nice airy take of strumming sheen even with a low budget acoustic in hand — in fact, it captured the sound of a cheap twang almost too well!
The AudioBox comes bundled with a new software called Virtual StudioLive, a program separate from StudioOne which provides a complete visual representation of your virtual mixer. It’s the first application I see where everything related to mixing can be done without having to open other windows or plug ins. It comes with embedded dynamics section (gate, compressor, limiter) and EQ (3-band semi-parametric plus high-pass filter) for each channel, plus sends to the two bus effects (Labeled “FX A” and “FX B”), which handle the Delay and Reverb effects, whose parameters can be easily modified directly in the mixer itself.
Each channel feature crucial phase reverse and pre/post switches. The latter allow you to record the audio with or without effects. If you leave the it on “Pre” and add effects, these will be heard at the monitoring level, with hardly any latency, which is something very useful when tracking, and not very easy to set up in other DAWs. If you switch to “Post” effects will be recorded. Needless to say, all these parameters can be saved for your next sessions.
Those who will get their hands on Studio One Professional 2 will receive a ton of powerful add-ons, starting with Meoldyne Essential, for basic pitch correction/time stretching needs – including the very useful features of transient detection and groove extraction. The collection of native plug-ins in this new version has grown to satisfy any of the modern programmer/mixer’s needs. Besides all the “regular” effect we all have come to expect, the program comes bundled with a very satisfying amp simulation plug in (Ampire XT), a great sounding and very efficient convolution reverb (called OpenAIR), and an integrated “mastering suite,” which includes precious visual plug ins such as spectrum analyzer and peak/RMS level meters among others.
The virtual instrument section comes with 4 plug-ins which will cover your basics for analog synths (Mojito), drum sounds (Impact), samples (Presence and SampleOne). But of course, if you already have a collection of VST instruments and effects, both Studio One Producer and Professional support up to VST 3.0, AU and Rewire.
It’s also important to stress that StudioOne sessions are easily exportable to Pro Tools (see video below)
Obviously, technology has come pretty far for the home recording enthusiast. No compromises were made with the AudioBox 22VSL. It’s rough enough to stick in your backpack, it’s USB powered so it doesn’t take up a wall wart, and its preamps — coupled with it’s real time effects and utilizing Studio One — make for an incredibly compact yet versatile and mobile recording set-up allowing real time effects and monitoring even in the most remote of locations. Nice job PreSonus. You’ve done it again. – Greg Hoy