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Focusrite Liquid Channel Shootout

15 Feb 2012

Since its launch in 2003, the Focusrite Liquid Channel has been a force to be reckoned with. Designed using real samples of classic studio gear and a revolutionary dynamic convolution audio-processing engine, it enables you to apply the characteristics of the most iconic and sought-after mic preamps and compressors in the history of music recording. Despite being around for nearly a decade, it still stands as the most sonically versatile channel strip on the market.

We've always known it was good; it's been winning awards since we released it and for the past two years running (2011-2012), it was voted 'Best Microphone Preamp' by readers of Sound On Sound magazine. But we also know that some people still aren't aware of the power and potential of Liquid Channel. So we decided to put it through the ultimate test: an old versus new shootout and blind test.

 

"Everything I've heard through this sounds good!"
Marco Pasquariello

 

To judge the shootout, we needed some golden ears: impartial professionals who would honestly evaluate the sounds they were hearing. Enter Guy Massey and Marco Pasquariello. Guy is the GRAMMY-winning recording engineer who earned his stripes at London's Abbey Road Studios before going to remaster the Beatles for the immense 2009 'The Beatles Stereo Box Set', which sold more than 30 million copies. Aside from that, he's recorded with Manic Street Preachers, Paul McCartney, Ed Sheeran and The Coral. In 2011, he won the MPG Recording Engineer Of The Year award.

Marco Pasquariello is chief engineer at the award-winning Snap! Studios in London. Snap! was built in 2010 from the ground up to be a state-of-the-art recording and mixing facility. Among its exquisite gear collection is a Fairchild 670, 16 channels of original ISA110 modules from the Focusrite Studio console that was originally commissioned for Metropolis Studios, a Neve 5316 console (the broadcast version of the revered 80-series), and a plethora of other highly desirable outboard hardware.

The test would involve putting Liquid Channel head-to-head with the gear it's designed to emulate, sending exactly the same signal to both units, recording the outcomes, then running a blind test to see which version Guy and Marco prefer.

We paid extra special attention to ensure the signal chain to all the pieces of equipment on test was the same. The signal from a single mic in the live room was split after the patchbay using a broadcast-standard XTA DS800 audio distributor, then cables of the same type and length were used to feed the signal to the inputs of the gear on test. The outputs from all the units were connected directly to the A-D converter, avoiding patchbays, additional connection points and multicore cable runs. All the gear was powered from the Snap! balanced mains supply.

To line the units up, various noise signals were played out of a speaker in the live room. The input and output of each unit was adjusted manually to ensure that gain discrepancies would not affect Guy and Marco's perception of the sound.

During the session, Guy and Marco used the talents of singer/songwriter Amy Turnnidge (aka Theoretical Girl) to play guitar, sing and play percussion for the tests. This would give us a range of sounds — from smooth and tonal to fast and transient — to form an impression of the accuracy and performance of each unit. Also helping Guy and Marco was Snap! assistant engineer Ben Mclusky, who would ensure all signals were coming in to Pro Tools as expected. As an impartial individual, he would also conduct the blind test to ensure there was no bias from the Focusrite team!

Once all the signals were recorded into Pro Tools, Ben played back the recordings from each unit in random order, switching between them and simply calling 'A' and 'B' each time he switched. Ben noted all the reactions from Guy and Marco, and you can see from the chart here just how effective Liquid Channel was.

In summary, Guy and Marco seemed to choose the Liquid Channel for the more tonal guitar and vocal material, stating that they preferred the presence and clarity that the Liquid Channel offered. On the percussive tambourine, this presence prompted Guy and Marco to choose the classic gear over the Liquid Channel. This test goes to show that Liquid Channel is a powerful tool in the studio and that it stands up against classic gear, often out-performing it, and it sounds especially good on vocals and guitar.

For more information on Liquid Channel, head to the Liquid Channel page on the Focusrite web site.