One of the things I love about studios is the way they grow over time and the delineations in sound that happen due to gear changes along the way. You hear this all the time; "...then we got a 24-track" or "that's when we got a pair of Coles..." etc. Often this is an adaptation to new technology, but other times it may be due to client demand. Sometimes workflow leads the way. Then there are these odd moments when you encounter something you never knew you needed. Such was the case when I strolled by the Antelope booth at summer NAMM in 2013. Coming from an analog tape mindset, I've always looked at digital as a necessary evil. While I still prefer tape when possible, on that day I learned how wrong I was. I hung out at the Antelope booth for what seems like hours and listened to familiar jams while marveling at the detail and imaging –it's the kind of thing you do at these conferences. Later that night Marcel James and I met for beers and talked about the music and records we both loved –that's when I decided to review the then brand new Orion 32 [Tape Op #99]. The effect that piece of gear had on my studio was nothing short of dramatic. A few weeks into the process of having my mind blown and remixing recent stuff before deadlines, another box showed up with the Antelope 10M [#68] in it, and I began the process all over again! That was the day I learned about what next level clocking can do for your studio.
Years later, I'm still working on the same rig and I still love it. So, when the Antelope 10MX came up for review, I was stoked. For the unaware, Antelope makes a full line of audio gear for virtually any situation. From super portable touring interfaces to intense mastering rigs, and now microphone modeling – they do it all. Everything they make sports incredible specs and performance, plus they use technology like oven-controlled discrete transistor crystal oscillators, rubidium cores, and other things I frankly do not understand, that all bring unheard feature sets to any studio scenario. The Orion 32 made a big splash, but right behind it was the 10M Atomic and Isochrone Trinity master clocks. Each one has lots to offer, and with the 10MX you get both the atomic precision of the 10M with the astute jitter-management algorithm of Trinity. It also sports a redesigned smaller rubidium oscillator, new power supply, and a more streamlined circuitry. The 10MX also has ten BNC atomic clock outputs that generate an ultra-stable 10 MHz signal. In addition, you get four BNC word clock outputs selectable to 768 MHz, plus two word clock outputs for both AES/EBU and S/PDIF. All of this flexibility and clocking is wrapped up elegantly in what seems like an indestructible single rack space unit enclosure.
I will assume if you are the type that reads clock reviews, that you know what it is and what it does. If you do not, please refer to Jessica Thompson's excellent review of the Antelope 10M and Isochrone OCX [#68]. She offers a way better description than I ever could. Much the same as that reviewer, this one prefers to sidestep the technological debate and the adjacent hellscape of Gearslutz threads littered with mastering room man caves. I'd rather talk about what matters. As stated earlier, like many engineers in their late 40s I started recording on analog tape and was initially skeptical about digital, but eventually I made the jump. Enjoying the flexibility and ease of digital, I gave up the pleasantries of tape as a trade-off. Then digital seemed to get a lot better, so I upgraded to the Antelope Orion and got a 10M. The difference was dramatic, but since they came as a pair it was hard to separate the two. Switching to the 10MX has been very informative. Like most small studios, there's never a great time to change gear here at High Bias Recordings, so the 10MX was installed while I was in the middle of a few things. While making big changes mid-project can be unnerving, it was also super enlightening.
Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor are a heavy-duty psychedelic band from Canton, Michigan. They sound like the second side of Deep Purple's In Rock meets White Heaven's Out and Rain Parade's Crashing Dream. Good bands hit a sweet spot after a while, where they become a well-oiled machine; the exceptional ones seem to do that without getting stuck in a rut. I was fortunate to catch these gentlemen at just such an interval. We recorded a single of blazing, fuzzed-out psychedelia with some of the gnarliest guitar sounds I've ever tracked. As we started to mix, each song became a fairly tenuous structure between face-melting fuzz and the rhythm section/vocals. It was right before I finished my final mix notes that the 10MX arrived. The difference was subtle at first, but it wasn't until the guitar solo that I really felt the difference. Crazy presence and midrange detail with ripping fuzz felt like it jumped out of my speakers, then started dancing around on the desk. The kick drum seemed placed identically as before, but the whole mix felt extended in the sub territory –not boosted at all – it just seemed to open up all this inky, dark real estate. The mix, which was admittedly a little claustrophobic, opened right up with the 10MX. It's one thing to hear this kind of clarity with an acoustic band or a jazz recording, but with high gain rock jams this can be harder to attain or perceive. The 10MX also revealed some dubious placement and EQ choices I made previously in an attempt to accommodate the intense amount of harmonic information shredding my reality. I appreciated this truthful mirror the same way you thank a good friend who lets you know that you should grab a mint on your way into the club.
Next up was a mixing session for the upcoming Shigeto Live Ensemble record Versions for Ghostly International. This record was a departure for Zach Shigeto, as he used a live band and tracked the jams off the floor. Zach was on drums, Dez Andres on percussion, Brennan Andes on electric bass, Ian Finkelstein on keys, and Marcus Elliot on sax. Should you not be familiar with the Detroit scene, these are all living legends at the top of their games, and the session was nothing short of transcendent. This was the first session I did top to bottom with the 10MX. Because it is a clock, and I'm focused on quite a bit during these sessions, I really didn't notice the difference until the band was up and running. I frontload the recording process wherever appropriate, and we did a creative style of tracking by treating each instrument as I did a quick line check. I was able to achieve this significantly faster with the 10MX and could move forward more efficiently without second guessing myself – all because the material was presented to me with the utmost clarity and truth. On playback Zach exclaimed that it sounded "like a record" and the band agreed that the takes had a more finished quality. When it came time to mix, I spent about half the time I usually do and got heavier sounds much quicker. It just felt like the 10MX broadened, deepened, and widened the canvas while making the mixes higher res sounding. The thing I noticed the most was that the depth of my mixes were more apparent. It's hard to explain, but even in the best control rooms with killer gear, the speakers can sometimes seem to exist on their own 2D vertical plane a few feet away. The 10MX extended the sound field. I felt things moving to and fro across that plane more. A shaker sounded behind the speakers; some of Marcus' sax peaked. Dez's conga fills jumped out and seemed to envelop the listening position. I know this sounds like hyperbole here, but I have a very "real world" control room, and the 10MX made a huge difference in my mixes, cutting my working time nearly in half while providing a better end result.
I just finished tracking the first new Demolition Doll Rods record in what seems like forever. The band sounds like the first Stooges album, White Light/White Heat era Velvet Underground, and Odetta mixed with the sweetness of The Shirelles but better. The sheer prowess and visceral nature of this band is hard to convey, and even harder to capture; this means I need to be on my toes. This pressure, combined with the astute ears of Margaret Dollrod and Danny Kroha, made me a little bit anxious when we listened back in the control room for the first time –all I got was, "Whoa! This sounds great" and, "Those are drums!" A band like this (or any band really) cares little about clocking – to be honest, due to its invisible nature I didn't really think about it until this review happened. What I do care about is my clients and being true to them and their vision. It's this way with gear sometimes. You like (or even love) something as an engineer, but it can be rare that anyone else notices. Then there occasions that your clients let you know how important something is. I've done seven albums and a few singles with the 10MX since that Doll Rods' session – the above reaction happens every time. It's not like we're never stoked at playback around here, but there's usually a lot to review performance-wise, and sometimes the tones aren't always the focus for playback in the control room. It's worth noting, however, that there has been a definite uptick in enthusiasm during playback at my studio since the 10MX showed up!
The above examples happened during my initial experience with the 10MX and in the ensuing months I've had time to really notice its effect. I never turn it off, and since I used my 10M for the last six years, I didn't A/B them. But every session I've done with the 10MX has followed suit: Sounds come together more quickly regardless of genre or source, and the link to source material seems unveiled and immediate while a very truthful and comparatively extended soundstage is presented without being hyped. Every session I've had since the 10MX arrived has garnered noticeably more enthusiasm from the band at initial playback. This can be a pivotal point in sessions and an important place to earn trust from the band – a crucial commodity in record making. Often the trajectory of an album is decided in the control room, and I'm super grateful for this unexpected gift. That difference alone, and the amount of time the 10MX has saved me, justify the price tag when you look at a year of record making. Add to that the psychic benefits of achieving sonic vision sooner, while being genuinely excited and inspired by what's immediately emanating from your speakers –this is priceless. So often, it's only at the end of a record (after many long hours and hard work) that I have a real sense of accomplishment. It's super refreshing to get that feeling earlier in the process, and that kind of inspiration has changed the way I work. When a company starts off great, like Antelope has, you wonder how they'll top themselves. Well, if the Orion, Trinity, and 10M can be compared to Coltrane's Giant Steps, the 10MX is A Love Supreme.