Turn your laptop into a 24-bit recording studio
By Leanne Lane
As a musician-songwriter with a good ear and a small budget, I have been hard put to find a high-quality, serious recording option without the telltale clicks, dropouts, grainy signal, and line noise associated with many entry-level interfaces. Having heard about Lexicon’s renowned signal quality, I was anxious to see if their affordable USB-powered Alpha Studio could pass the test.
Lexicon’s Alpha Desktop Recording Studio is a complete portable, professional computer recording solution with studio-quality hardware and powerful software. The heart of the Alpha Studio is a bus-powered USB I/O mixer with the professional-quality inputs and outputs, metering, and level controls that computer soundcards or built-in audio connections lack. Alpha Studio can stream two channels of 44.1 or 48kHz audio at 16- or 24-bit resolution to your computer and features one XLR microphone input, two TRS line inputs, a high-impedance 1/4" instrument input, and two RCA and two TRS line outs, plus an 1/8" high-powered headphone output. Alpha Studio includes Steinberg’s Cubase LE production suite software for PC or Mac and the Lexicon Pantheon VST reverb plug-in so you can start recording right away.
The ABCs of Alpha
Inside the box from Musician’s Friend, I found the Alpha desktop audio interface hardware; the installer CD-ROM with Cubase LE, USB drivers, and the Lexicon Pantheon reverb plug-in; and the USB connector cable. It was everything I needed to start recording right away. Weighing in at just over one pound and measuring 6-3/4"W x 1-3/5"H x 6-1/2"D, I could see why Alpha is ideal for portable recording—and you don’t need a power supply since it’s powered by the USB bus.
The sleek front panel of Alpha Studio has a 1/4" instrument input jack for electric guitar or bass, input level controls and peak meters, and a mono/stereo monitor assign button. A monitor mix knob controls the zero-latency analog monitoring by adjusting the blend between Alpha Studio’s live analog inputs and any audio coming back from the computer via USB. The front panel also features a convenient USB LED power indicator, an output level knob to control the line and headphone outputs, and a 1/8" headphone jack.
The back panel features a USB port with support for USB 2.0; two 1/4" inputs for balanced or unbalanced line level sources like keyboards, drum machines, or analog output of a CD/MP3 player; a balanced XLR mic input with a high-quality mic preamp; and 1/4" and RCA left/right line outputs to connect to a mixing board, power amp, powered studio monitors, or another line-level input.
I decided to test out Alpha Studio on a song I was working on with my friend Ben. After installing the Cubase LE and Lexicon VST software on my laptop and connecting Alpha Studio with the included USB cable, I plugged my drum machine into Alpha Studio’s line input and recorded the drum track. I used Alpha Studio’s 1/4" line out to monitor the drums through my powered studio monitors, and I immediately loved the pristine sound. Next I recorded the electric guitar and vocal tracks simultaneously over the drum track, using the Hi-Z and XLR inputs. With zero-latency monitoring, I could sing and play to the drum track without any disconcerting lag.
Now it was time to test out that famed Lexicon reverb. The Lexicon Pantheon VST reverb plug-in offers 35 factory presets and six reverb types and lets you edit 16 parameters per reverb type. I added the Large Hall reverb to the vocal track in Cubase and I could not believe how lush my voice sounded! I can see why Lexicon is known for their world-class reverb.
With a capacity for 48 audio and 64 MIDI tracks, VST plug-ins, full VSTi support, and 24-bit/96kHz operation, Cubase LE is no slacker either. Based on Steinberg’s Cubase SX and SL technology, Cubase LE combines powerful audio and MIDI recording features with professional editing and effects so you can create professional recordings right away. If you ever decide to upgrade from LE, the Alpha Studio hardware can be used with almost any recording software out there, including the full version of Cubase.
Next I was ready for the bass track, which was Ben’s part. Since he was dragging his feet about coming over, I decided to test out the Alpha Studio’s portability and bring the recording studio to him. I packed up the Alpha hardware, my laptop, a pair of headphones, and the USB cable and I was all ready. We set up and laid down the bass track in record time. Alpha Studio is really handy for recording on the go.
I burnt our song onto a CD with my computer’s CDR drive and auditioned it with my car stereo on the way home. It sounded sweet. I am really impressed with Lexicon’s Alpha Studio, especially considering the price tag.
- 2-channel USB interface
- 16-bit/44.1kHz to 24-bit/48kHz audio
- One XLR microphone input
- 2 TRS line inputs
- 2 TRS and RCA line outs
- Hi-Z instrument input (front panel)
- 1/8" headphone jack
- Mono/stereo monitoring
- Zero-latency direct monitoring
- USB bus powered
- Input level controls with peak meters
- Cubase LE
- Lexicon Pantheon Reverb Plug-In