REVIEW: CENTRANCE'S MICPORT PRO
PRODUCT: CEntrance’s MicPort Pro
- no added noise
- portable & easy to use
- affordable price
The MicPort Pro by CEntrance is a professional 24-bit/96kHz USB microphone preamp. Its intended use is as an extremely portable microphone preamp/output mixer that will work with any computer via a USB port, any microphone (XLR) and a pair of headphones (mini-jack). The short story is that it is extremely easy to use, sounds excellent and is priced very reasonably ($199.99).
The concept of the MicPort Pro is that it functions both as the microphone preamp, to record live tracks into your recording software, and as the monitoring system, mixing the live signal with already recorded tracks. Headphones are plugged into the MicPort Pro and not the computer or a mixing console. There are two small knobs on it: one to adjust microphone input level, the other to adjust headphone level. Also included is a phantom power switch for condenser microphones and a mini-jack for headphones. The overall size is roughly 4.5-inches-by-1-inch. One obvious application would be to record high-quality tracks remotely: voiceovers in a hotel room, a band in a nightclub, or sync sound anywhere. But, obviously, it has the potential for many recording applications.
THE TEST ENVIRONMENT
I plugged it into my MacBook Pro, which recognized it instantly after connection and asked if I wanted to use it. There is a white ring on the MicPort Pro that illuminates to indicate that it is connected. I used Apple’s Garage Band for this review, and the MicPort Pro adjusted itself to the default sample rate. In order to compare it with my standard method of recording audio, I set up a test comparing it to a Grace Design 201 preamp recording into Cakewalk Sonar 6 on my PC, and then replayed the same parts using the same microphones fed through the MicPort Pro and Garage Band. My final comparison monitoring was done through my mixing console in order to level the playing field. The instruments recorded were solo vocal, nylon acoustic guitar, nylon bottleneck guitar and trumpet.
For microphones I used a Neumann U87 (condenser) and a Coles 4038 (ribbon). In general, I would say that the MicPort Pro compared incredibly well. At times it was difficult to hear any difference at all. The MicPort Pro seemed to be very neutral, with a flat frequency response curve, while the Grace tended to warm things up a bit by softening high end and adding a little to the low end. The MicPort Pro appeared to record simply what was there. It is possible that it added a little accentuation around 10k to 12k, and maybe it rolled off something around 125Hz. But I didn’t find that to be a bad thing. All of the instruments and vocals sounded great using both recording processes.
With the MicPort Pro, the trumpet was round and full, and not piercing; the bottleneck guitar had great definition without too much fret noise; and the vocals were smooth, with a pleasingly bright character. The Coles 4038 has a very low output, and I did need to crank the input level on the MicPort Pro. But there was no discernable added noise. There are many different microphone preamps that add a specific color or sound. The MicPort Pro doesn’t seem to add any character of its own to the sound, which is a good thing. It is, simply put, clean and easy to use.
Before I set up the above test, I wanted to see if it could function exactly like my outboard microphone preamps. I plugged the MicPort Pro into my Windows XP desktop PC, which recognized it but asked to install a driver, which I needed to download from the CEntrance Website. Sonar on the other hand was less kind and refused to operate in standard operating procedure when it came to which driver it would use. After much reconfiguration, I was able to get the MicPort Pro to work in Sonar as an input device while monitoring through a Delta 1010 as the output driver and therefore through my mixing console. This is not what CEntrance recommends, and not how they intend the MicPort Pro to be used. The penalty for my insistence on going against good common sense was that the power supply in my five-year-old PC maxed out and died. It does work fine with PCs in the same fashion as Macs, although you will need to download the driver. CEntrance was readily available by phone and showed great patience in putting up with my questions in trying to connect the MicPort Pro in such an odd manner.
The MicPort Pro comes with a short, one-page, step-by-step instruction manual. I notified CEntrance that I thought the order of connection should be other than what was printed. You should connect the MicPort Pro to the computer first. There will be a short surge within it as it activates (including a phantom power surge). After that, you can connect your microphone and headphones. I believe that they are changing the manual to reflect this. If you do connect a microphone first and then plug the MicPort Pro into your computer, there is the potential to damage your microphone. But turning equipment on in order of what surges is good standard audio practice that we all know and observe anyway.
Tom Phillips is a principal and composer with Boston's OBT Music. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.