Competition has skyrocketed in desktop interfacing, with multiple manufacturers developing proprietary DSP-powered plug-in technology while simultaneously pushing better quality into smaller, feature-laden boxes. These companies are scrambling to not only meet demand, but also to edge out rivals with more than just a “studio in a box” concept – they’re giving away the fun stuff for free! So let’s open the goodie bag first – 37 Synergy Core real-time analog-modeled DSP/FPGA effects. My favorites include modeled versions of the ever-popular vintage program and midrange Pultec EQs (VEQ-1A and VMEQ-5), a classic FET compressor model (FET-A76), a gorgeous optical compressor (STAY-LEVIN), a diode-bridge compressor (Diode609), and a prominent German tube preamp (BA-31). In addition to vintage EQ, compressor, and mic preamp effects, you even get a built-in software tuner! These all offer imperceptible latency while tracking and monitoring. Antelope’s own AuraVerb is also included and allows for deep reverb tweaking (monitoring only). More than 50 (and growing) additional effects are available from the Antelope store. Third-party developers like Antares and Inertia are also jumping onto the AFX platform.

The Zen Go Synergy Core is just a few inches larger (and taller) than an average external hard drive – perfect for on-the-go recording and mixing. Despite its unassuming size, there’s a robust pro-grade feel to this USB-C desktop interface (adapter cable for USB-A included) housed in an brushed black all-metal enclosure. Inputs include two combination XLR/TRS/TS jacks for mic, line, and DI-levels. Stereo TRS and RCA connections are provided for monitoring (intended for either/or use), and two 1/4-inch headphone jacks allow for separate level controls. A second USB-C port accommodates an external power supply, portable battery, or reverse charging, but the big surprise here is S/PDIF input and output. Atop the angled face, buttons select Gain for the two built-in discrete linear low-noise mic pres (65 dB of juice), and headphone/monitor (HP/MON) options. A big rotary knob controls levels and muting for the aforementioned selections, with an attractive/dimmable IPS display for visual cueing.

Antelope claims that the Zen Go Synergy Core – their most compact and affordable unit to date – offers the studio quality you can expect from this brand by featuring premium AD/DA converters (127 dB headroom) with their trademark 64-bit AFC (Acoustically Focused Clocking) running the show. During high-resolution playback, I can’t refute these claims – it bums me out that the little Zen Go Synergy Core sounds better than my current rack interface! I recorded a few songs with my partner/wife in overdub fashion. She’s an excellent electric guitar player, with a collection of tube amps at her disposal. However, for convenience (and our neighbor’s ears) we recorded direct into the Zen Go Synergy Core while utilizing the AFX guitar amp and cabinet models. We’re old picky dogs, so we’d be liars if we didn’t say we missed the overtones and harmonics of her extremely loud Fender ‘67 Pro Reverb. However, genre-appropriate amp and cabinet emulations allowed us to get ideas down quickly until we could re-amp later. The impressive collection of vintage EQ and compressor effects immediately won me over. In the course of song production, you can print these via the monitor mixer before executing a final mix, which is a huge bonus if you don’t own high-quality versions already. Note: AFX real-time analog-modeled effects are tethered to the monitor mixer.

The Antelope Synergy Core system was a bit of a learning curve for me, but after a few YouTube videos, and recording just one song, I was good to go. Live streamers will love the Zen Go Synergy Core’s Loopback function – you can run your backing tracks while performing live through the tasty DSP real-time analog-modeled effects (and AuraVerb) for a stellar finished sound. The few issues I had with this box are minor considering all that’s included in the purchase, quality of conversion, and price of entry. Bottom line: You’re getting everything you need in the Zen Go Synergy Core to start creating rich-sounding home recordings right out of the box.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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