TC Electronic's Konnekt 24D is an impressive new 24-bit, 192 kHz FireWire-based audio interface. It features two outstanding mic preamps, stellar audio converters, a wide range of I/O (up to 14 ins and 14 outs, including ADAT/Toslink and S/PDIF digital connections), anti-jitter technology, and direct hardware monitoring. You also get two high-quality built-in effects, designed for use in both tracking and mixing scenarios. The unit can also function as a standalone digital mixer.
Konnekt It Up
FIG. 1: The Konnekt 24D offers superior sound quality, built-in effects, and flexible I/O options.
The Konnekt 24D's front panel (see Fig. 1) has two combo connectors that each accept XLR or ¼-inch jacks. Each input has a switch labeled Pad/Inst, which behaves differently depending on what's connected to it. Plug in a mic, and it attenuates the signal by -20 dB; plug in an instrument, and it routes the signal through a separate high-impedance input stage. Each front-panel input has a gain/trim pot and 3-stage input LEDs. A front-panel switch globally turns on the 48V phantom power; there's no status light for that switch on the unit itself, but there is one on the software control panel. The mic pres sound clear, clean, and detailed.
The rear panel (see Fig. 2) sports four balanced ¼-inch analog outputs and four balanced ¼-inch analog inputs. The Line In button switches the active inputs for channels 1 and 2 between the front- and rear-panel jacks; this is handy if you have a sound module or some other source you don't use often. The 24-bit S/PDIF I/O can be configured as a digital insert. ADAT Lightpipe I/O can accommodate up to eight channels. If you want to use both ADAT and S/PDIF, your ADAT channel count drops to six.
The Konnekt 24D has no word-clock I/O, but it can lock to external clock using its digital inputs. According to TC Electronic, its new DICE chip and antijitter technology create a very stable platform. I can attest that the converters sound worlds ahead of just about everything else in this price range. (TC also offers the less expensive Konnekt 8 [$375], which has a lower I/O count and no built-in effects.)
For the ultimate in portability, the unit can operate on FireWire bus power. However, I was unable to get the bus powering to work reliably on my aging Apple iBook, nor did it work on my G5 desktop. According to TC Electronic's tech support, many computers, particularly laptops, do not meet the FireWire bus-power specs. Be sure that yours does before taking the Konnekt 24D into the field. Be aware that when running on bus power, using the phantom power will accelerate the rate of battery drain. For in-studio applications, the Konnekt 24D can be powered with its included 12 VDC adapter.
In the Cans
The Konnekt 24D handles monitoring in a couple of interesting ways. First is the analog output-level control. Unlike the digital controls found in most interfaces, the Konnekt's output level comes after the converters, ensuring that you will hear all your precious bits. Two headphone jacks let you and a colleague listen simultaneously. The upper headphone jack instantly mutes the main outputs, so you don't have to turn off the monitors when tracking.
FIG. 2: Other than the front-panel combo jacks and the headphone outputs, the Konnekt 24D''s I/O is all located on its rear panel.
The Source Level knob controls the level or pan of the various input channels. It's encircled by bright red LEDs, referred to as the Light Ring, which gives a good visual indication of your settings. The Ch Select button lets you choose which input to adjust. You can select channels 1 and 2 and the channel 3/4 stereo pair, or a User option that recalls assignments made using the TC Near Control Panel software. One very handy feature: three user patches with all your software settings are instantaneously available, even when the device is in standalone mode.
The Konnekt 24D's direct-monitoring option lets you listen without latency. What makes it a cut above what you get with many other audio interfaces is the Fabrik R reverb — the same innovative reverb found in TC's PowerCore effects system — and Fabrik C channel strip. These effects are part of the Konnekt 24D's built-in DSP, so they'll work even when the unit is in standalone mode. When it comes time to mix, both effects can be accessed as plug-ins by any recording software that supports VST.
Konnekt the Dots
The TC Near Control Panel software is the heart of the system. Here you change routings, adjust effects parameters, set the sampling rate and clock sources (in most Mac applications, you set these in your DAW), and tweak the presets to be recalled from the device.
The initial version of the software that I tested (1.03) required a lot of CPU power — TC recommends at least a 1 GHz PowerPC or Intel Mac or a 1.6 GHz Pentium 4 PC. I experienced glitches and audio dropouts in several audio applications on my 2.1 GHz Apple iMac G5. Running MOTU Digital Performer 4.6, audio playback became unstable as I added the TC effects or upped the track count. In Steinberg Cubase LE or Apple GarageBand, opening a second application (such as Adobe Acrobat, needed to read the Konnekt manual) led to audio dropouts.
A TC product specialist confirmed my hunch that these glitches were likely related to the CPU drain from the TC Near Control Panel software. A new driver (version 1.10) became available just as this story went to press; I haven't had a chance to thoroughly test it, but it appears to be much more efficient.
Feel the Effects
In the version 1.03 software, the two built-in effects could be configured as send/return effects in your sequencer. With version 1.10, the scheme has changed and the effects now appear as conventional VST plug-ins. According to TC, by the time you read this, AU support will have been added as well.
Fabrik C is a terrific front end for your recordings. In addition to a flexible 4-band parametric EQ and de-esser, the compressor may be configured for full-band or 3-band operation. Taking advantage of standalone operation, I used the Konnekt 24D as both an acoustic guitar DI, and as a mic pre with the effects optimized for my vocal idiosyncrasies on a gig.
Fabrik R sounds great. It's far richer and more transparent than all but the best high-end native reverbs. I really like that it can be used with Konnekt 24D's direct monitoring (nothing turns off a singer faster than a dry vocal). I wouldn't hesitate to use Fabrik R on a mix, either. It's that good.
The unusual interface design shared by the Fabrik effects is a model of simplicity: instead of tweaking dials and inputting numbers, you just grab a colored ball and move it around a triangular grid (see Fig. 3). Considering that the PowerCore versions of these two effects retail for $375 each, their presence adds tremendous value to the Konnekt 24D.
Another addition in the version 1.10 software is Konnekt Tuner, a guitar tuner. You can tune onscreen as part of the control panel, or on the front of the interface itself, with the Light Ring serving as the display.
You Will Be Assimilated
Konnekt 24D owners are entitled to download TC's Assimilator Konnekt plug-in, a match EQ that can be accessed only through the software control panel. Assimilator analyzes the sonic fingerprint of a reference file and applies it to another — in essence letting you clone the EQ of the source file. If you have ever tried to match your mix to the sound of a commercial CD, you'll appreciate this effect.
I was skeptical, so I gave it a hard test. As a reference, I took a guitar track recorded and mixed by a golden-ears engineer using the kind of boutique microphones and gear we home-studio owners can only dream about. Then I applied it to a similar track recorded at home on an inexpensive desktop DAW I had reviewed earlier (see Web Clips 1a through 1c). Same guitar, same player, vastly different recordings. Did the Assimilated track sound as good as the reference? No, but it sounded terrific. I could not believe how much Assimilator improved the recording — all the woodiness and harsh midrange I had struggled to tame vanished in a flash. I'm curious to hear how Assimilator will work on better material.
Assimilator Konnekt operates as a normal VST plug-in. Although it is not mentioned on the download page, you need TC's VST wrapper application to use it as an AU effect.
FIG. 3: The two built-in effects — the Fabrik R reverb (shown here) and the Fabrik C channel strip — can be tweaked using the software control panel.
Konnektions Are Everything
Overall, you get a lot with the Konnekt 24D. The stellar mic preamps and quality converters provide impressive sound quality. The flexible and plentiful I/O is more than ample for most small studios. (Although I did not test it, multiple units can be daisy-chained to increase I/O count without sacrificing direct monitoring.) Assuming your laptop has sufficient bus power, the Konnekt 24D is an excellent solution for a portable recording rig. The unit's ability to handle high sampling rates and its stable clock are also pluses. However, the lack of word clock might be an obstacle in some setups.
The built-in Fabrik C and Fabrik R effects add a lot, and when you factor in Assimilator Konnekt, you have almost $1,000 in extra value. The effects are so good that I would be willing to buy a Konnekt 24D for them alone.
With the version 1.10 software, the Konnekt 24D's performance appears to be greatly improved. On the downside, I had to try numerous stupid computer tricks like rebooting, cycling power on and off, and unplugging and replugging the USB cable before I could get the 1.10 TC Near Control Panel software and the Konnekt 24D to recognize each other. TC promises additional software fixes in the near future, as well as the aforementioned AU support. Assuming the company delivers, the Konnekt 24D could well become the benchmark audio interface for small and not-so-small studios.
Mark Nelson is the author of Getting Started in Computer Music (Thomson Course Technology, 2005).
FireWire audio interface with effects
|EASE OF USE
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Excellent mic preamps and A/D/A converters. Built-in effects add value. Many I/O options.
CONS: Bus powering doesn't work on all FireWire-equipped computers. No word clock.