Audio-hardware manufacturer MindPrint first established its reputation with the well-regarded, tube-based En-Voice channel strip. More recently, MindPrint introduced the TRIO, which stands for Total Recording solutIOn. Resembling a tabletop navigation console on the Federation Starship Enterprise, the TRIO serves as an input and monitoring station for studios that don't have a mixing console, offering all the analog and digital I/O that the budget-minded recordist might need.
FIG. 1: The MindPrint TRIO combines input and monitoring functions that might otherwise be missing from a mixerless personal studio.
The TRIO functions as a channel strip and as an instrument preamp, and it has talkback communication, headphone monitoring, computer DAW connectivity, and more. Four pairs of outputs allow it to simultaneously route stereo signals to multiple destinations, which might include a pair of powered monitors, a subwoofer, a cassette recorder, and a home-stereo receiver.
Despite its novel appearance, the TRIO's layout is straightforward and logical. The front panel's left side houses all the controls relating to the input and signal-processing functions, and the middle and right side allow access to monitoring functions (see Fig. 1). The rear panel supplies jacks for all the I/O connections, which follow the layout of the front-panel controls: the input jacks line up with the input controls, and the output jacks line up with the monitor controls. Between the rear panel and TRIO's underside are two sets of DIP switches and three recessed screws to make additional adjustments to the S/PDIF, speaker, analog I/O, and record-monitor sections.
The TRIO has a generous complement of input and output connectivity (see Fig. 2). In addition to a Class-A XLR mic input, it has a 1 MΩ, ¼-inch instrument input designed by Hughes & Kettner that, according to MindPrint, avoids loading or degrading the signal from guitar and bass pickups. When I plugged in my Gretsch Duo Jet with Filtertron pickups, the signal was strong and noise free.
FIG. 2: The TRIO''s rear panel has jacks for connecting two pairs of headphones, three pairs of speakers, a tape recorder, a computer audio interface, an outboard processor, a stereo keyboard, a guitar, and a microphone—all at the same time.
Because the instrument input has priority over the mic input, you can leave a mic plugged in, and the TRIO will automatically switch to the other input when you plug in a guitar. You can set the DIP switches on the unit's underside to either distribute the signal evenly to both channels or route the mic and instrument signals to the left recording and monitoring channel.
In addition to the mic and instrument inputs, the TRIO supplies a pair of unbalanced ¼-inch line-level inputs. The input section has unbalanced ¼-inch send and return jacks, which let you insert a signal that bypasses the TRIO's processing. Although it would have increased the cost, having balanced inputs would have been preferable, because many signal processors and line-level sound modules have balanced outputs. A stereo auxiliary input on unbalanced RCA jacks accommodates consumer-level devices such as CD players. I prefer ¼-inch jacks for the auxiliary inputs, so I wouldn't need TRS-to-RCA adapters to connect additional instruments, mics, and so on, but RCA jacks are more typical for devices such as CD players.
The TRIO can interface with your computer's DAW software using either optical S/PDIF I/O on Toslink connectors or stereo analog I/O on unbalanced RCA jacks, both of which you can use simultaneously. DIP switches on the rear panel let you select the sampling rate (44.1-, 48-, 88.2-, or 96 kHz) and internal or external sync. I wish MindPrint had used coaxial S/PDIF connectors (which are more common on pro gear) or had offered ADAT Lightpipe connectivity.
The TRIO's output section has two ¼-inch stereo headphone jacks, three pairs of speaker outs, and a pair of Direct Out jacks. The Speaker A output is on a pair of unbalanced ¼-inch jacks, whereas Speaker B and Speaker C are on RCA jacks. The main volume knob affects all three outputs.
Speaker A's outputs are the only monitor outs connected to the Volume control. Speaker B's outputs are on RCA jacks, and you can adjust the level with a screw on the unit's underside. Speaker C and the Direct Out are also on RCA jacks and don't have any level control.
The TRIO's monitoring section is almost perfect for some recordists. For my studio, which has balanced connections throughout, I prefer balanced TRS outputs for at least the Speaker A outputs and for the Direct Out jacks as well.
All Hands to the Bridge
The leftmost column of buttons and dials on the TRIO's front panel control the mic and the instrument input signals. When engaged, the 48V button supplies phantom power to the mic input. The Low Cut button inserts a highpass filter into the signal path, centered at 80 Hz with a 12 dB-per-octave slope. A steeper slope would be more effective at removing rumble and hum.
The Gain knob controls how much preamplification is applied, adding as much as 60 dB of gain to the mic signal or 54 dB to an instrument-level signal. The preamp has low noise and a neutral sound, though it is noisier at the highest gain settings. I compare it favorably with the preamps on M-Audio's FW1814 and other interfaces, but it didn't have quite enough gain to power my Royer R-121 ribbon mic.
The TRIO furnishes two bands of equalization. On the mic/instrument inputs, the high-frequency shelving filter is centered at 7.5 kHz, and the low-frequency shelving filter is centered at 100 Hz. Both have 12 dB of boost or cut and a vintage frequency-dip-before-boost design. The EQ section cannot be removed from the signal path; luckily, each knob features a detent at 0 dB.
The high-frequency EQ was surprisingly good at adding sheen to vocals, but it was less effective on acoustic or electric guitar. I used the low-frequency EQ to effectively cut boominess from vocals, electric, and acoustic guitars. I didn't like using it to add lows, however, because it was too pronounced, even at low boost settings.
After the EQ section, the TRIO features a soft-knee compressor with an automatic-gain makeup stage and program-dependent attack and release. The compressor's only user control is a single knob labeled Fat, which simultaneously controls the amount of compression and the time-dependent parameters. You can't remove the compressor from the signal path, but turning the Fat knob fully to the left turns off the compression. The compressor was useful for taming vocal and guitar dynamics, but it was definitely not transparent. It sounded like a midrange boost when turned up higher than halfway. If you want an easy, one-knob approach, you can't go wrong with MindPrint's method, but I prefer the control that I get with outboard compressors.
The Rec Vol (record volume) knob controls the mic/instrument level sent to your computer's DAW, independent of the signal sent to the monitors. That control is a welcome feature that is missing from many comparably priced units.
The second column of buttons on the TRIO's left side has two EQ controls and a Rec Vol knob for the stereo line inputs. The shelving filters for the line inputs function similarly to the mic/instrument EQ filters, with the high-frequency shelving filter centered at 9 kHz and the low-frequency filter centered at 120 kHz. I ran a soft synth from my RME Fireface's line output to the TRIO's line input. The high-frequency EQ sounded almost too high; it would have sounded better if it had the same frequency as the mic/instrument's high EQ. The low-frequency EQ did a good job of fattening up synth bass sounds without making them muddy, and it was also effective at removing boominess in the low end of a lead patch.
Next to the line-level controls is a Talkback button that cuts the monitor signal by 12 dB, as well as a small talkback microphone that is routed to the headphone outputs. The usefulness of the talkback section depends on how you work. If you have a large room or recording booth, it is a welcome addition that's well implemented. If you're recording a singer or an acoustic musician who's wearing headphones, it's a great convenience even if you have only one room. If you record only yourself or someone in the same room that is not wearing headphones, however, you won't need talkback.
Over and Output
At the front panel's bottom center is the Zero Latency Monitor section, which has three knobs for controlling mic/instrument, line, and auxiliary levels sent to the monitors. On the right, separate buttons engage the three speaker banks, collapse the signal to mono, attenuate the master volume by 20 dB, and switch between the monitor and computer return signals.
A large Volume knob adjusts the master level, and the TB Vol and Phones A and B knobs adjust the talkback and headphone levels, respectively. You cannot send separate mixes to the headphone outputs. Considering that most audio interfaces give you zero-latency hardware monitoring, the ability to send a separate headphone mix would have helped the TRIO stand out from the crowd.
The TRIO's stereo 10-segment LED meters have a button to switch between metering the input or the output. In Input mode, the left channel shows the mic/instrument level, and the right channel shows the summed level of both line inputs. Although it might not seem ideal, the TRIO has a far more robust metering system than many other units in this price range. Anyone using an audio interface without meters will appreciate the TRIO's excellent metering.
The Final Frontier
The TRIO is part channel strip, part DI box, part monitor and output router, part talkback unit, part headphone amp, and part A/D/A converter. Its affordable price, flexibility, solid construction, and excellent manual make it compelling. It isn't designed for everyone, and it isn't necessarily the best device for any single task, but it does furnish a broad range of functions for anyone who needs them. Unless your computer already has built-in S/PDIF I/O, it does not eliminate the need for a dedicated audio interface, and many interfaces provide at least some of the TRIO's capabilities.
By adding so many features to the TRIO, MindPrint had to make compromises in order to keep the price attractive to nonprofessional recordists. Unbalanced analog I/O (other than the XLR input) might keep the TRIO out of some better-equipped project studios. Nonetheless, for personal-studio recordists who want all its functionality, the TRIO is in a league of its own.
Orren Merton recently coauthored Logic 7 Ignite! (Muska & Lipman, 2005), and has authored Logic Pro 7 Power! and GarageBand Ignite! (Muska & Lipman, 2004).
Analog Inputs (1) balanced XLR mic with 48V phantom power, (1) ¼" unbalanced high-impedance instrument, (2) ¼" unbalanced line, (1) ¼" unbalanced insert return, (2) RCA unbalanced auxiliary, (2) RCA unbalanced DAW Analog Outputs (2) unbalanced ¼" monitor, (4) unbalanced RCA monitor, (2) unbalanced RCA DAW, (2) unbalanced RCA direct; (1) ¼" unbalanced insert send, (2) ¼" stereo headphones Digital I/O 24-bit optical S/PDIF Sampling Rates 44.1-, 48-, 88.2-, 96 kHz Maximum Input Levels 4 dBu (mic), 14 dBu (instrument), 21 dBu (line), 12 dB (aux) Mic Input Gain -74 dBu to -14 dBu (with compressor),
-74 dBu to -10 dBu (without compressor) Instrument Input Gain -∞ to +19 dB Maximum Output Level 2 dBu Dynamic Range >105 dBa Dimensions 10.24" (W) × 2.60" (H) × 7.68" (D) Weight 3.42 lbs.
multifunction audio I/O
OVERALL RATING [1 THROUGH 5]: 3.5
PROS: Lots of inputs and outputs. Excellent metering. Zero-latency hardware monitoring. Well-written manual. Good value.
CONS: No balanced line inputs or outputs. Too little control over the compressor. No separate headphone mix.