By John Krogh
For those of us going mixerless in our studios, Octane could very well be the missing link. It combines eight channels of mic preamplification with lightpipe out, so you could patch it directly into a MOTU 2408 or other lightpipe-equipped audio interface. Additionally, Octane can function simply as an A/D converter.
Microphone channels 1 and 2 also sport instrument inputs; channel 1 has a low-cut switch, and channels 2, 4, 6, and 8 have phase inversion switches. Phantom power can be turned on for channels 1–4 and 5–8; all mic inputs feature a 20dB pad.
On the rear you’ll find word clock input and output, as well as eight balanced 1/4" line inputs and outputs. Here’s where things start to get interesting. The outputs can function as channel inserts for the mic inputs, so you can add analog compressors and EQ to the signal path, and return them to Octane via the line ins, which get routed directly to the A/D converters. This adds up to enough mic preamps (and the option to add whatever outboard) to track a small ensemble or multi-miked drumkit straight into the computer.
There are a couple of drawbacks, though. Plugging a connector into the line in will interrupt the signal from the corresponding mic input. Ideally, I’d prefer to leave gear patched into the line ins, and switch between the mic preamps and 1/4" inputs as I wish.
But instead, users will have to repatch cables, depending on the kind of source they’re working with.
We’re lead to believe the preamps are descendants of M-Audio’s Tampa mic pre/compressor; however, Octane doesn’t offer variable impedance. What it does have is a set of very nice, uncolored preamps. With vocals and acoustic guitar, I was impressed by Octane’s focused, clear, and open sound. Patching a synth into two 1/4" ins revealed no additional character whatsoever (a good thing!). This is not a color crayon nor is it a glorified low-pass filter, as some budget preamps tend to be.
M-Audio’s product designers seem to have an uncanny knack for recognizing what musicians and project studio owners want, and giving it to us at a price that’s hard to beat. Octane is a perfect example. If your studio is lightpipe-equipped, Octane will be one of those Swiss Army knife-like tools for which you’ll find numerous uses.