MINDPRINT | T.R.I.O. | 509ELM-Mindprint p&c.indd

FIG. 1: The MindPrint TRIO
combines input and monitoring
functions that might otherwise
be missing from a mixerless
personal studio.
An audio-routing nerve center for
your mixerless studio.
By Orren Merton
udio-hardware manufacturer MindPrint first
established its reputation with the well-regarded,
tube-based EnVoice channel strip. More recently,
MindPrint introduced the TRIO, which stands
for Total Recording solutIOn. Resembling a tabletop navigation console on the Federation Starship
Enterprise, the TRIO serves as an input and monitoring station for studios that don’t have a mixing
console, offering all the analog and digital I/O that
the budget-minded recordist might need.
The TRIO functions as a channel strip and
as an instrument preamp, and it has talkback
to multiple destinations, which might include a
pair of powered monitors, a subwoofer, a cassette
recorder, and a home-stereo receiver.
Despite its novel appearance, the TRIO’s layout is
straightforward and logical. The front panel’s left
side houses all the controls relating to the input and
signal-processing functions, and the middle and
right side allow access to monitoring functions (see
Fig. 1). The rear panel supplies jacks for all the I/O
connections, which follow the layout of the frontpanel controls: the input jacks line up with the input
controls, and the output jacks line up with the monitor controls. Between the rear
panel and TRIO’s underside are
two sets of DIP switches and three
recessed screws to make additional adjustments to the S/PDIF,
speaker, analog I/O, and recordmonitor sections.
The TRIO has a generous complement of input and
output connectivity (see Fig. 2). In addition to a ClassA XLR mic input, it has a 1 MΩ, a ¼-inch instrument
The TRIO has a far more robust metering
system than many other units.
communication, headphone monitoring, computer
DAW connectivity, and more. Four pairs of outputs
allow it to simultaneously route stereo signals
FIG. 2: The TRIO’s rear panel has jacks for connecting two pairs of headphones, three pairs
of speakers, a tape recorder, a computer audio interface, an outboard processor, a stereo
keyboard, a guitar, and a microphone—all at the same time.
input designed by Hughes & Kettner
that, according to MindPrint, avoids
loading or degrading the signal from
guitar and bass pickups. When I
plugged in my Gretsch Duo Jet with
Filtertron pickups, the signal was
strong and noise free.
Because the instrument input
has priority over the mic input, you
can leave a mic plugged in, and the
TRIO will automatically switch to
the other input when you plug in a
guitar. You can set the DIP switches
on the unit’s underside to either
distribute the signal evenly to both
channels or route the mic and instrument signals to the left recording
and monitoring channel.
In addition to the mic and
instrument inputs, the TRIO supplies a pair of unbalanced ¼-inch
line-level inputs. The input section
has unbalanced ¼-inch send and
return jacks, which let you insert
a signal that bypasses the TRIO’s
processing. Although it would have
increased the cost, having balanced
inputs would have been preferable, because many signal processors and line-level sound modules
have balanced outputs. A stereo
auxiliary input on unbalanced RCA
jacks accommodates consumer-level
devices such as CD players. I prefer ¼-inch jacks for the auxiliary
inputs, so I wouldn’t need TRS-toRCA adapters to connect additional instruments, mics, and so on,
but RCA jacks are more typical for
devices such as CD players.
The TRIO can interface with
your computer’s DAW software using
either optical S/PDIF I/O on Toslink
connectors or stereo analog I/O on
unbalanced RCA jacks, both of which
you can use simultaneously. DIP
switches on the rear panel let you
select the sampling rate (44.1-, 48-,
88.2-, or 96 kHz) and internal or external sync. I wish MindPrint had used
coaxial S/PDIF connectors (which are
more common on pro gear) or had
offered ADAT Lightpipe connectivity.
The TRIO’s output section
has two ¼-inch stereo headphone
jacks, three pairs of speaker outs,
and a pair of Direct Out jacks. The
Speaker A output is on a pair of
unbalanced ¼-inch jacks, whereas
Speaker A and Speaker B are on RCA
jacks. The main volume knob affects
all three outputs.
Speaker A’s outputs are the
only monitor outs connected to the
Volume control. Speaker B’s outputs
are on RCA jacks, and you can adjust
the level with a screw on the unit’s
underside. Speaker C and the Direct
Out are also on RCA jacks and don’t
have any level control.
The TRIO’s monitoring section
is almost perfect for some recordists. For my studio, which has balanced connections throughout, I
prefer balanced TRS outputs for at
least the Speaker A outputs and for
the Direct Out jacks as well.
All Hands to the Bridge
The leftmost column of buttons
and dials on the TRIO’s front panel
control the mic and the instrument input signals. When engaged,
the 48V button supplies phantom
power to the mic input. The Low Cut
button inserts a highpass filter into
the signal path, centered at 80 Hz
with a 12 dB-per-octave slope. A
steeper slope would be more effective at removing rumble and hum.
The Gain knob controls how
much preamplification is applied,
adding as much as 60 dB of gain
to the mic signal or 54 dB to an
instrument-level signal. The preamp has low noise and a neutral
sound, though it is noisier at the
highest gain settings. I compare
it favorably with the preamps
on M-Audio’s FW1814 and other
interfaces, but it didn’t have quite
enough gain to power my Royer
R-121 ribbon mic.
The TRIO furnishes two bands
of equalization. On the mic/
instr ument inputs, the highfrequency shelving filter is centered at 7.5 kHz, and the lowfrequency shelving filter is centered
at 100 Hz. Both have 12 dB of boost
or cut and a vintage frequency-dipbefore-boost design. The EQ section
cannot be removed from the signal
path; luckily, each knob features a
detent at 0 dB.
The high-frequency EQ was
surprisingly good at adding sheen
to vocals, but it was less effective
on acoustic or electric guitar. I used
the low-frequency EQ to effectively
cut boominess from vocals, electric, and acoustic guitars. I didn’t
like using it to add lows, however,
because it was too pronounced,
even at low boost settings.
After the EQ section, the TRIO
features a soft-knee compressor
with an automatic-gain makeup
stage and program-dependent
attack and release. The compressor’s
only user control is a single knob
labeled Fat, which simultaneously
Analog Inputs
balanced XLR mic with 48V phantom power,
¼" unbalanced high-impedance instrument,
(2) ¼" unbalanced line, ¼" unbalanced insert
return, (2) RCA unbalanced auxiliary,
(2) RCA unbalanced DAW
Analog Outputs
(2) unbalanced ¼" monitor, (4) unbalanced RCA
monitor, (2) unbalanced RCA DAW,
(2) unbalanced RCA direct; ¼" unbalanced insert
send, (2) ¼ " stereo headphones
Digital I/O
24-bit optical S/PDIF
Sampling Rates
44.1-, 48-, 88.2-, 96 kHz
Maximum Input Levels
4 dBu (mic), 14 dBu (instrument), 21 dBu (line),
12 dB (aux)
Mic Input Gain
–74 dBu to –14 dBu (with compressor),
–74 dBu to –10 dBu (without compressor)
Instrument Input Gain
– ∞ to +19 dB
Maximum Output Level
2 dBu
Dynamic Range
>105 dBa
10.24" (W) ✕ 2.60" (H) ✕ 7.68" (D)
3.42 lbs.
controls the amount of compression and the timedependent parameters. You can’t remove the compressor from the signal path, but turning the Fat knob fully
to the left turns off the compression. The compressor
was useful for taming vocal and guitar dynamics, but
it was definitely not transparent. It sounded like a
midrange boost when turned up higher than halfway.
If you want an easy, one-knob approach, you can’t go
wrong with MindPrint’s method, but I prefer the control that I get with outboard compressors.
The Rec Vol (record volume) knob controls the
mic/instrument level sent to your computer’s DAW,
independent of the signal sent to the monitors. That
control is a welcome feature that is missing from
many comparably priced units.
The second column of buttons on the TRIO’s left
side has two EQ controls and a Rec Vol knob for the
stereo line inputs. The shelving filters in for the line
inputs function similarly to the mic/instrument EQ
filters, with the high-frequency shelving filter centered at 9 kHz and the low-frequency filter centered
at 120 kHz. I ran a soft synth from my RME Fireface’s
line output to the TRIO’s line input. The high-frequency EQ sounded almost too high; it would have
sounded better if it had the same frequency as the mic/instrument’s high
EQ. The low-frequency EQ did a good job
of fattening up synth bass sounds without making them muddy, and it was also
effective at removing boominess in the
low end of a lead patch.
Next to the line-level controls is a
Talkback button that cuts the monitor
signal by 12 dB, as well as a small talkback microphone that is routed to the
headphone outputs. The usefulness of
the talkback section depends on how you
work. If you have a large room or recording
booth, it is a welcome addition that’s well
implemented. If you’re recording a singer
or an acoustic musician who’s wearing
headphones, it’s a great convenience even
if you have only one room. If you record
only yourself or someone in the same
room that is not wearing headphones,
however, you won’t need talkback.
multifunction audio I/O
PROS: Lots of inputs and outputs. Excellent
metering. Zero-latency hardware monitoring. Well-written manual. Good value.
CONS: No balanced line inputs or outputs.
Too little control over the compressor. No
separate headphone mix.
Over and Output
The Final Frontier
At the front panel’s bottom center is the Zero Latency
Monitor section, which has three knobs for controlling
mic/instrument, line, and auxiliary levels sent to the
monitors. On the right, separate buttons engage the
three speaker banks, collapse the signal to mono, attenuate the master volume by 20 dB, and switch between the
monitor and computer return signals.
A large Volume knob adjusts the master level, and
the TB Vol and Phones A and B knobs adjust the talkback
and headphone levels, respectively. You cannot send
separate mixes to the headphone outputs. Considering
that most audio interfaces give you zero-latency hardware monitoring, the ability to send a separate headphone mix would have helped the TRIO stand out from
the crowd.
The TRIO’s stereo 10-segment LED meters have a
button to switch between metering the input or the
output. In Input mode, the left channel shows the
mic/instrument level, and the right channel shows the
summed level of both line inputs. Although it might
not seem ideal, the TRIO has a far more robust metering system than many other units in this price range.
Anyone using an audio interface without meters will
appreciate the TRIO’s excellent metering.
The TRIO is part channel strip, part DI box, part
monitor and output router, part talkback unit, part
headphone amp, and part A/D/A converter. Its
affordable price, flexibility, solid construction, and
excellent manual make it compelling. It isn’t designed
for everyone, and it isn’t necessarily the best device
for any single task, but it does furnish a broad range
functions for anyone who needs them. Unless your
computer already has built-in S/PDIF I/O, it does
not eliminate the need for a dedicated audio interface, and many interfaces provide at least some of the
TRIO’s capabilities.
By adding so many features to the TRIO, MindPrint
had to make compromises in order to keep the price
attractive to nonprofessional recordists. Unbalanced
analog I/O (other than the XLR input) might keep
the TRIO out of some better-equipped project studios. Nonetheless, for personal-studio recordists who
want all its functionality, the TRIO is in a league of
its own.
Orren Merton recently coauthored Logic 7 Ignite! (Muska
& Lipman, 2005), and has authored Logic Pro 7 Power! and
GarageBand Ignite! (Muska & Lipman, 2004).
Download PDF