TC ELECTRONIC KONNEKT 24D - EMusician

TC ELECTRONIC KONNEKT 24D

Remix reviews the TC Electronic Konnekt 24D FireWire audio interface with DSP. This review includes hardware specifications, lists and descriptions of features and company contact information.
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Every once in a while, entire categories of music gear become stale and subsequently evolve in order to stay interesting. And it's lovely to behold. Several years ago, menu-oriented synthesizer and MIDI-control keyboards beefed up their hands-on controls to make accessing parameters much more immediate. Currently, these same devices are innovating their integration with computer software to better fit into DAW-dominated studios.

It's these very studios that made USB and FireWire audio interfaces so common that they saturated the market. Now, audio interfaces are standing upright and growing opposable thumbs, so to speak. This year, top manufacturers are spicing up audio interfaces with inventive features such as controllers assignable to nearly any command on your computer system or optional remote-control boxes for managing the I/O channels.

One of the first — and possibly the greatest — of this new wave of interfaces we've seen comes in the form of the TC Electronic Konnekt 24D. This 14 I/O 24-bit/192 kHz FireWire audio interface includes built-in DSP for using real-time reverb and channel-strip plug-ins when connected to a computer or during stand-alone use. Its three preset memories that store the full routing, mixing and DSP settings make the Konnekt 24D a treat for live use, while the excellent programmable software utility, built-in effects and very low latency designate it as a studio mainstay, as well.

THE BRAWN AND THE BRAINS

Every detail of the Konnekt 24D suggests a tradition of excellence, as well as forward-thinking ingenuity. All the components, including the anodized aluminum shell and steel back plate, are constructed for durability, yet the interface is elegant in looks and concept.

Channels 1 and 2 have phantom power and combination balanced XLR/unbalanced ¼-inch inputs on the front panel for mic and instrument-level inputs, as well as Gain Trim knobs and 20 dB pad buttons for instrument inputs. In addition, there are balanced ¼-inch line-level inputs for channels 1-4 on the back. The monitoring section of the front panel includes a multidestination push-button/endless-rotary knob with an LED ring for showing the current value. A Ch Select button assigns this knob to the level (and panning when pushed in) for channels 1, 2 or 3/4, as well as a user setting that can control reverb level or digita-output levels according to its designation within the control-panel software. There is a main Output Level knob and two ¼-inch headphones jacks, of which the top one will mute the main outputs. Finally, a DSP button selects one of the three Konnekt 24D program presets that you edit through the software but can access at any time (including stand-alone use).

NEAR THE TOP

Before hooking up the 24D, I installed the requisite drivers and TC Near Control Panel editing software and then downloaded the latest updates from the TC Electronic Website. On the first attempt to connect the hardware, I received error messages. After some troubleshooting, it became clear that the problem was having external hard drives hooked up to my iMac 2.1 GHz G5. The drives were on a different FireWire port, but still on the same internal FireWire bus. The FireWire 400 bandwidth is not enough to have the Konnekt 24D and external drives run successfully on the same bus. Once I disconnected all other devices from that bus, the 24D ran smooth as a baby's ass. FireWire bandwidth is an issue with other devices as well, so it's no mark against TC Electronic. Still, it's a bummer to not be able to connect FireWire hard drives if you're working on machines with one FireWire bus, like many laptops.

You don't need to use the 24D with the TC Near Control Panel open, but it is a nice way of working, as well as the place to program, save and/or load the 24D's three preset setups that can be instantly activated at any time (including during stand-alone use).

The presets include all the mixing and routing settings. To program those, TC Near includes tabs across the top where you select a corresponding window, such as the Mixer window. Here, TC Near detects which of the 24D's inputs are in use. For the Channel 1 and 2 combo inputs, it shows whether an instrument- or mic-level device is connected; it won't activate the channel for an instrument-level device until you press the Pad button on the interface. For each input, the Mixer window shows input-level meters with clip indicators, output-level meters, Mute and Solo button, panning and send levels for the Fabrik R reverb. There's also a master-level meter and Fabrik R return level. All the changes made in TC Near reflect on the 24D (when applicable) and vice versa. In my testing, these changes occurred with zero noticeable latency.

Settings for all the I/O, along with clock settings for optionally locking the 24D to incoming digital signals from the optical or S/PDIF inputs, reside in the Setup window. The software can link channels 1/2, 3/4 and the optical and coaxial S/PDIF inputs as stereo pairs, and that is done with Stereo Link buttons in the Setup window. When linked as a stereo input, those pairings will appear as one channel strip in the Mixer window. The 24D has eight total digital channels, and in the Setup window, you choose whether to reserve all eight for an ADAT optical input, use six ADAT optical channels and two for the coaxial S/PDIF or use two optical S/PDIF and two coaxial S/PDIF channels. You also choose the source of outputs 3/4 and the digital outputs from your DAW, the mic/instrument/line inputs, the Konnekt mixer output or the mixer sends. The Setup window can turn direct monitoring on or off and sets the User function of the hardware Monitor knob to control the level of reverb or a choice of various output levels.

In this window, you also set the 24D's sampling rate from 44.1 kHz to 192 kHz. At 44.1 or 48 kHz, both the Fabrik C and Fabrik R DSP effects are available; at 88.2 or 96 kHz, only one of them is; and at 176.4 or 192 kHz, neither effect is available. Below this setting you can choose which effect will be active at 96 kHz and also choose whether the effects will be routed internally (applied to incoming signals) or will be accessible as send/return effects in a host DAW, such as the included Cubase LE.

THE FABRIK OF OUR LIVES

In this window, you also set the 24D's sampling rate from 44.1 kHz to 192 kHz. At 44.1 or 48 kHz, both the Fabrik C and Fabrik R DSP effects are available; at 88.2 or 96 kHz, only one of them is; and at 176.4 or 192 kHz, neither effect is available. Below this setting you can choose which effect will be active at 96 kHz and also choose whether the effects will be routed internally (applied to incoming signals) or will be accessible as send/return effects in a host DAW, such as the included Cubase LE.

Those effects-routing settings are also available from the individual Fabrik C and Fabrik R windows of TC Near. These windows show an imaginative, visually oriented interface for effect configuration.

Beginning with the Fabrik C stereo channel strip, there are three sections, each with its own Bypass button: EQ, Compressor and De-esser. Inside the x-y EQ axis, you can grab a symbol for each of the four frequency bands and move it around. The EQ curve follows accordingly, showing you your changes. The great thing is that for each band, you can select the type of filter used. Bands 1 and 4 (low and high) can be several varieties of cut, shelving, parametric and notch filters, while the midrange bands 2 and 3 have parametric and notch options. Underneath the EQ, the De-esser section is a simple slider going from 0 to 100 percent.

Fabrik C's compressor can act as a full-band or 3-band processor. In 3-band mode, you have four parameters, each represented by a lettered symbol that you drag around a box to set. For the Source, you choose from a grid of 16 input types — female vocal, piano, bass, snare, etc. — to help Fabrik C choose a combination of compressor attack, release, threshold and ratio. You drag the Gain control through an x-y axis to choose input and makeup-gain value. The Compressor and Level controls use a triangular grid to move through the compression amount and levels for each of the three bands. In full-band mode, you set only the Source and Gain.

Fabrik R adheres to a similar layout but with only one parameter grid. In the box to the left, you choose from four Fabrik reverb types: Live, Hall, Plate and Club. For each one, there are four editable parameters. The Reverb and Modulation controls use x-y axes for changing predelay and decay or depth and rate, respectively. The Color and Distance controls use the triangular grid to change values. Color is an advanced yet subtle control for changing the character of the reverb. Its values are LoColor and HiColor for adjusting the decay and HiFactor for enhancing or attenuating the frequencies set by HiColor. The Distance control defines the perceived distance of a source with the values of Dry, Early and Reverb. Fabrik R also has Kill Wet and Kill Dry buttons.

All the changes you make with the effects grids can be auditioned in real time. Pressing the Alt key (PC) or Command key (Mac) lets you move the parameter symbols in straight lines in several directions. There are also fields below the parameter boxes for keying in specific values or dragging with the mouse to change only one value at a time. Both effects can save settings to presets and come with about a dozen factory presets each.

I loved the flexibility of the EQ and the easy visual editing of the compressor and reverb. I must admit a fondness for TC Electronic reverb going back to the M-One rack unit. That fondness hasn't waned with Fabrik R. It's capable of quick, bright, metallic plate reverbs; huge, far-stretching, lush hall reverbs; and everything in between. It's got a creamy sound to it that I found lovely for sweetening up vocals and drums, especially. The warm-sounding EQ, compressor and effective de-esser combine to make a fine addition to the signal path for recording tracks or as a finishing tool for DAW mixing.

Using the Fabrik effects as send/return effects in a DAW is a vital addition to 24D's functionality. Although the PDF manual is a little spotty on how to do it (it covers only Cubase), walk-throughs for individual DAWs are popping up on TC's growing online knowledgebase. Basically, 24D can stream 16 I/O channels to a DAW, and the 5/6 and 7/8 I/O pairs are reserved for Fabrik C and R, respectively. In most cases, you'd use Fabrik C on a single channel for a single track or a full mix and Fabrik R on a send channel to use throughout a session's tracks.

IMITATION IS FLATTERING

Although it may seem tucked into the package as a small bonus among so much else, the Assimilator Konnekt VST/Audio Units plug-in actually will be invaluable to many independent musicians who purchase Konnekt 24D. The plug-in analyzes the EQ curve of one track or a complete mix, so you can save that curve and apply it to your own tracks or mixes. It's extremely easy to do once you figure it out the first time. After loading the “reference” track you want to copy and applying Assimilator Konnekt, you press a Learn button and then save the EQ curve. You then load your own “target” track, press a Learn button and save that EQ curve. You then start your track with the reference and target EQ curves loaded to hear the reference EQ on your song. The Apply slider lets you drift between different amounts of the reference EQ to find your preference. When you're satisfied, you render the song to disk to apply the new EQ to an audio file. You can also draw and save your own EQ curves.

I was astounded by how much professional polish Assimilator Konnekt can put on a mix in just a few minutes of work. Old recordings I'd left for dead were instantly revived after finding the right EQ curve for the job. It's a great way to gain confidence in your mixes if you are inexperienced and can't afford a professional mixer. If this sounds like cheating to you, maybe it is, but you can always use the plug-in to apply your own EQ curves from other songs to new songs. Because the plug-in is very visual, it's also a good way to learn from your favorite records what to look for in your EQ. It's hard to imagine not applying other EQ curves with this tool on every song I mix from now on — either to see how they compare, blend them, or use them outright. The one catch is that Konnekt 24D has to be connected to the computer to use Assimilator Konnekt. The plug-in runs natively — not with the Konnekt 24D's DSP power — but when you run one instance at a time for full mixes, it hardly makes a dent in CPU power.

LOTTA BOUNCE FOR THE OUNCE

On the whole, the Konnekt 24D hardware/software package not only performed solidly, but it also produced impressive results. It's a lot of machine in a small box for a reasonable price. Its preamps are clear and transparent, which is all I can ask for in a nondedicated preamp at this price. While sometimes “transparent” preamps can be harsh — like a fluorescent light that exposes your blemishes — the 24D's preamps were more soft and pleasant.

Once in a while some hiccups occurred. For instance, when powering up the Konnekt once with iTunes running, the Mac froze up. Upon rebooting, I had to disconnect the FireWire cable and reconnect it before TC Near recognized the interface. A couple of times TC Near crashed, but that did not effect the Mac, other applications or the Konnekt 24D. And occasionally, the hardware had to be powered off and on again for the software to recognize it. I can't imagine anyone familiar with the much more dire consequences that can occur in computer production being upset with these occasional glitches.

TC ELECTRONIC

KONNEKT 24D > $625
If you're looking simply for an interface to input audio to a computer in small-studio or mobile situations, the Konnekt 24D fits the bill. You can even expand by connecting as many as four of the interfaces and still monitor them all from a single source. However, its tremendous value doesn't stack up unless you take full advantage of the excellent channel strip and reverb effects. The fact that they remain active in stand-alone use tips the scales for recording on the go or for live performances, and the amazing Assimilator Konnekt native plug-in is another huge bonus.

Pros: Built for travel. Smart use of the compact hardware control panel. Flexible mixing and routing options through the software control panel with three program presets. Excellent sound quality. Built-in DSP channel strip and reverb effects for input recording or DAW mixing. Awesome Assimilator Konnekt native plug-in. Useful as a stand-alone device. Systems can chain up to four Konnekt 24Ds.

Cons: May not run with other FireWire devices (other than daisy-chained Konnekt 24Ds and certain hard drives) connected to the same FireWire bus. Limited use of the DSP plug-ins at sampling rates above 48 kHz. No Undo command in the TC Near software.

Contact:www.tcelectronic.com

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS
Mac: PowerPC of Intel Core/1 GHz; 256 MB RAM; OS 10.3.9 or 10.4; FW400 port

PC: Pentium 4/1.6 GHz; 256 MB RAM; Windows XP; FW400 port