Review; TC Electronic Studio Konnekt 48

MULTIFACETED FIREWIRE AUDIO INTERFACE HAS MORE PERSONALITIES THAN THE WU-TANG CLAN
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It seems that every pop singer wants to act, every rapper wants to sell you energy drinks and vodka, and every star athlete starts a clothing line. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned one-trick ponies? Even in the world of audio gear, it seems that one discipline is not enough to stand out. TC Electronic's latest flagship rackmount recording device, the Studio Konnekt 48, has the look of an audio interface, but the mind of a mogul.

Fundamentally, Studio Konnekt 48 is a 30-in/28-out FireWire audio interface built for high-level professional demands, with its four proprietary Impact II mic preamps and excellent sound quality coming from its 24-bit/192 kHz operation. From there, Studio Konnekt 48 branches out. It also acts as a 24-in/8-out digital mixer with 56-bit internal processing and 48-bit double-precision summing on its mix buses, DSP plug-in hosts, precision clocking device, monitor management system…hell, it even has a built-in guitar tuner.

The bridge to all this functionality is the Konnekt 2.0 software, including the TC Near control panel, which runs on your PC or Mac when the Studio Konnekt 48 is hooked up over FireWire. TC Near is the software face of the device; however, the Konnekt 48's digital mixer is powered by the unit's internal DSPs, making it available at all times, whether linked to a computer or not. If you want to use the Konnekt 48 as a stand-alone device, you get three scene memories that can instantly recall all the saved mixer settings, routings and DSP plug-in settings that you have set up with the software.

THE CONNECTOR

The magnificently spec'ed Konnekt 48 begins with four front-panel input channels with balanced combo XLR/¼-inch line-level/¼-inch instrument level inputs, Gain/Trim knobs and selectable -20 dB pads. A single switch turns on phantom power for only the XLR portion of all four inputs, which will not harm dynamic mics, so you could use condenser and dynamic mics simultaneously. These four inputs auto detect whether an instrument-level guitar or bass is attached and if so, route them to a separate internal circuit.

Two individual headphone outputs on the front have their own level controls. Phones 1 has its own digital audio converter (DAC), and Phones 2 uses the same DAC as line out 11/12. Using the TC Near mixer, you can route two separate signals to the left and right headphone channels; for example, a DJ could route the main out to the left and the cue track to the right for mixing.

A grid of LEDs includes input meters for the four preamped front-panel inputs, as well as paired input meters — 5/6, 7/8, 9/10, 11/12 — for the total of eight balanced TRS analog inputs on the back. With six LEDs each (three green, two yellow and one red), these meters are sufficient for most tasks, and you get more detailed metering in the software. The LED grid also gives you indicator lights to show when you have an active FireWire connection to a computer or locked digital connections with ADAT, S/PDIF, TOS and MIDI In/Out (those lights blink if the connection isn't locked).

In addition to the eight balanced TRS inputs (for a total of 12 simultaneously streaming analog inputs), the Konnekt 48 has eight balanced TRS outputs on the back. Next to those are the main XLR outputs; they are analog but have precision digital control, which allows for flexible routing.

The digital I/O section on the back includes two channels of 24/96 S/PDIF I/O on RCA connections and two sets of ADAT/Toslink connectors. Those can be used as four channels of optical S/PDIF I/O over Toslink; or, if used as ADAT, you can get 16 channels of I/O at the standard sampling rate or eight channels at 96 kHz.

Studio Konnekt 48 includes Word Clock In so you can sync to an external word clock generator, as well as Word Clock Out and a DICE II chip for stable audio streaming, so you can use it as a master clock generator for other devices. It also includes jitter elimination technology (JET) to manage the delays (jitter) that can occur due to varying digital clocks in a studio setup, which can lead to reduced dynamic range and smaller stereo fields.

Two FireWire ports let you connect to a computer and hook up other FireWire devices, such as another TC Konnekt interface, which the TC Near software will combine with the Konnekt 48 into one system. TC Near also lets you set up a surround-sound speaker set, set up bass management with selectable filters and crossover points for subwoofer systems, or assign as many as three monitor sets so you can switch between them when mixing.

THE FACILITATOR

The TC Near 2.0 software handles all the programming, routing and other set-up tasks for the digital mixer and the DSP plug-ins: the Fabrik C channel strip and the Fabrik R reverb. You can route any of the physical inputs to any of the physical outputs or to DAW inputs and outputs, provided that your DAW is running and recognizes the Konnekt 48 as the audio interface. I tested it primarily with Ableton Live 7, and the integration was fairly seamless except that in its Preferences, it did not label inputs and outputs with their names (such as S/PDIF), but rather only gave them numbers. TC Electronic told Remix that some other DAWs, such as Apple Logic, have a tighter integration that recognizes and lists the labels of the inputs and outputs.

If anything, the massive routing possibilities of TC Near can be a bit dizzying, and that was one area in which the included PDF manual could have provided a lot more explanation of the functions. Still, I'd rather suffer from too many options than too few.

One cool feature to TC Near is that it will incorporate as many TC Electronic Konnekt units that you chain together. I hooked up a second unit, a Konnekt 24D, and TC Near integrated it into one virtual system that expanded the available inputs from 30 to 48.

THE UNSUNG HERO

A critical link between the rack unit and the software is a very handy mouse-size remote called the Studio Kontrol, which attaches to the Konnekt 48 with an included Cat-5 cable. This is almost like having full control over the digital mixer at hand and is the kind of thing you may pay a couple hundred bucks for as a separate device.

At the center of the Studio Kontrol, a 27-segment LED ring surrounds a single push-button encoder knob that controls the master output by default. To control other settings, you press one of the buttons on the Kontrol, and then the encoder will control two parameters, the second of which you access by pushing in the encoder. For example, the Effect button lets the encoder control the reverb level and decay time by default, but you can set it to control other things within the software. Press Shift and then one of the buttons to access a second set of parameters; for instance, Shift + Effect selects the Aux 2 channel. There are six user buttons accessible from the Shift key that you assign values to in the TC Near software. So for example, you could set the user functions for the Mic 1 and Mic 2 buttons to control Mic 3 and Mic 4, respectively.

The Studio Kontrol also houses the talkback mic that you can use to communicate with a vocalist in a booth or another room. The talkback mic can also be routed to your DAW like any other channel, so you can use it as a lo-fi mic or a convenient way to record notes to yourself within a session. Additionally, the remote can activate the guitar tuner. The TC Near software has a tuner component, but in Tuner mode, the Kontrol's LED ring indicates note deviation, and pressing the button generates a reference tone.

A convenient Panel button on the remote maximizes the TC Near software window when opened, and then minimizes it if you press the button again. With the Studio Kontrol, you can select which of the three possible monitor sets you want to listen to. Press and hold the button marked with a speaker icon, and then you can choose Speaker Set A, B or C with the bottom row of buttons. Finally, the Prog button lets you select P1, P2 or P3, the three mixer snapshot presets that you configure and save within the software, so you can instantly recall them if using Studio Konnekt 48 as a stand-alone piece.

THE GUY BEHIND THE GUY

Studio Konnekt 48 gives you the effects power of a hardware rack unit with the detailed graphic interface of software plug-ins. The DSP plug-ins it hosts include Fabrik C Studio, a channel strip with 4-band EQ, de-esser and a 3-band compressor/limiter; and Fabrik R Studio, a reverb with nine TC algorithms. Both effects are based on classic TC hardware: Fabrik C is based on the System 6000, and Fabrik R is based on the TC Reverb 4000.

I covered these plug-ins in some more detail in the TC Electronic Konnekt 24D review in the Remix February 2007 issue (available at remixmag.com), but I'll sum them up briefly. You set them up in TC Near to be used either internally (for processing a signal during recording) or as a VST plug-in with a DAW (which is still hosted on the Konnekt 48's DSP). Their graphical interfaces are based on the unique MINT technology, which represents parameters as icons in a triangular grid, which you can drag around to morph between two or three settings simultaneously.

Two native (non-DSP-hosted) plug-ins also come in the package (one of which, the amazing Assimilator Konnekt, was also covered in more detail in the Konnekt 24D review). Assimilator Konnekt basically analyzes the full-spectrum EQ curve of any audio file and then applies that curve to any other audio, so you can “borrow” the EQ curve of your favorite songs for you own tracks. It's quite a shortcut.

But you also get the ResFilter plug-in. Featurewise, this resonant filter plug-in wears few frills, but its sound packs a wallop. ResFilter is easy to use, with filter cutoff and resonance controls and selectable lowpass or highpass filters with slopes of 6, 12 or 24 dB. You really hear a wide variation between the different slope ranges. This filter's sound ranges impressively from subtle and creamy lowpasses to aggressive, screaming shrieks. A Drive control helps you dirty things up, and a welcome Output control can tame the volume when it gets out of hand. Fitting of its name, the resonance of ResFilter sounds very sharp and present. It's a great add-on plug.

Finally, one of my favorite and innovative bonuses to the Konnekt 48 is the Integrator plug-in. This is simply a liaison between a DAW and the hardware that lets you route audio out to any outboard processor and back in through the Konnekt 48 to be used as a plug-in effect in your DAW. Basically, it can turn older, underused rack effects into “virtual DSP units” by letting you use their outboard processing power as plug-in effects. For example, I have a couple of (coincidentally) TC Electronic rack effects that are still very nice-sounding processors, but because I rarely used them, they were maybe a few weeks away from an eBay listing. But now they've been resurrected. I took the D-Two multi-effects unit and connected it over S/PDIF to the Konnekt 48 (finally, a use for S/PDIF), and connected the analog outs of the M-One reverb unit into Konnekt 48 inputs. In Ableton Live, I put two instances of Integrator on two Return tracks. For each instance, you have to choose which Konnekt 48 channels are being used, such as S/PDIF 1/2 and analog 5/6. Also, in TC Near, you have to set up the physical I/O to connect to the DAW channels you want them to for Integrator to work. Again, for that task, I thought the manual needed a much more detailed explanation. I had to seek outside help when confusion struck. However, once you've got it running, it feels great to rejuvenate older effects units that still have a lot of life in them.

THE WORKAHOLIC

Although both the Studio Konnekt 48 and the Konnekt 24D I reviewed earlier are both 24-bit/192 kHz machines, TC improved some of the other circuitry of the Konnekt 48, such as the Impact II preamps. I was happy with the sound of the 24D, and I would by no means categorize it as noisy, but when compared side-by-side, the Konnekt 48 preamps do come off as slightly more clear. While instruments and vocals recorded through both interfaces at the same sampling rate through the same mics sounded very similar, the 24D recordings have a slight fuzzy edge to them that the Konnekt 48 cleared away.

However, I heard an even bigger difference in the DAC quality. Again, no big complaints about the 24D's sound quality, but the Konnekt 48 is a step up. When listening to reference CDs and my own tracks through each interface through the same headphones, the Konnekt 48 seemed to expand the stereo image and separate the frequencies in a mix a bit more. Bass had just a bit more boom, distorted guitars crunched a bit louder, the high end shined a bit brighter, etc.

Studio Konnekt 48 brings a professional sound, a wide array of useful features, tight software integration and rock-solid performance. I loved the Studio Kontrol remote for convenience, the DSP plug-ins for power and the Integrator plug-in for innovation. And if you're using a small-format mixer in your studio that runs into a 2- or 4-channel audio interface for recording, the Konnekt 48 has enough I/O and internal mixing abilities for you step up in sound quality, streamline your setup and increase your mixing flexibility to and from your DAW at the same time. With its built-in talkback mic and speaker management, it also replaces a monitoring station that could cost hundreds of dollars as a stand-alone unit. To anyone interested in this well-designed, full-featured system, I recommend that you check out the full specs on TC's Website. Small studios in these times are looking to produce more professional results in a more efficient manner, and the Studio Konnekt 48 is a modern device for those needs.

TC ELECTRONIC STUDIO KONNEKT 48 > $1,745

Pros: Excellent sound. Onboard DSP for the very capable digital mixer and the reverb and channel-strip plug-ins. Three sets of monitor switching with built-in speaker management. Very capable remote control with built-in talkback mic. Three mixer snapshots for stand-alone use. Sophisticated control panel software. ResFilter and Assimilator Konnekt native plug-ins included.

Cons: No locks on the XLR connections. Sparse documentation for the TC Near software.

Contact:www.tcelectronic.com/studiokonnekt48

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS

Mac: G4, G5 or Intel/1 GHz; 512 MB RAM; OS 10.4.10 or later; available FireWire port

PC: P4/1.6 GHz; 512 MB RAM; Windows XP SP2/Vista x32; available FireWire port