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Allen & Heath ICE 16-Channel Recorder & Interface

In the face of live recording, where the slip of a finger can ruin an entire recording, Allen & Heath’s ICE 16 recorder is cold as ice, and just the right price.

By

12 February 2013

Review: Matthew Dever

For many years, my portable multi-tracks have really pulled their weight; relentlessly recording hours upon hours of audio in all kinds of adverse environments, all without skipping a beat. I had never thought of replacing them until a couple of months ago when I saw an ad for the ICE-16; a sleek 1RU 16-track recorder with its own monitoring system. When I saw the price, I was even more interested!

The ICE-16 is dead simple; it records 16 line inputs to a USB stick, and not a whole lot more (or less for that matter). The simplicity of the device allows for quick setup and operation, it is quite literally a case of plugging it in and pushing record. The unit feels built to last, everything is solid and there is enough weight to instil confidence in the build, but not enough to be cumbersome.

UNBALANCED I/O

Around the back you will find the all-important 16 line level inputs on unbalanced TS sockets, along with 16 unbalanced outputs on RCAs. This basic set of I/O is perfect for pairing the unit with the direct outputs of a mixing console, which is the device’s primary function. While the connections are unbalanced, it’s been designed that way to keep the costs down and work in close proximity to the source. In testing, it was never an issue. In addition to the analogue audio I/O, you will find a firewire and a USB connection that enables the ICE-16 to act as a line level audio interface for your DAW of choice.

The last connection around the back is a Sync In and Out, which will eventually allow multiple units to record together in standalone mode; unfortunately this feature was not fully implemented at the time of testing, and is expected to come online with a firmware update in February. It’s connected via a mini DIN 8-pin cable available through electronic component stockists. According to A&H, “the sync connection will carry transport control data and also word clock sync, so wav files in each recording are lined up and synchronised. You can’t sync the unit from an external word clock using this connector, it’s just for linking multiple ICE’s together.” Assuming this feature functions as intended, it will become a powerful modular recording system allowing owners of multiple units to build racks depending on the number of channels needed for each job.

The front panel contains a USB slot, transport controls, a small display screen, and the monitoring section. Everything here is self-explanatory, with the exception of a few actions that are controlled by different combinations of the transport buttons, such as sample rate selection, and formatting USB drives, but they are easy to remember.

NEED TO KNOW

  • PRICE

    $1595

  • CONTACT

    Technical Audio Group: (02) 9519 0900 or info@tag.com.au

  • PROS

    • Well built, well priced
    • Couldn’t be easier to use
    • Simple but useful metering
    • Built-in monitoring

  • CONS

    • Unbalanced inputs
    • Many USB flash drives won’t be up to task
    • Can’t record less than 16 channels to save disc space

  • SUMMARY

    The ICE 16 is a no frills 16-channel workhorse for live recording from a console’s direct outs. Faultless in testing, and priced so most people can look past the lack of balanced I/O. With an impending sync option you’ll be able to gang multiple units and turn a workhorse into a powerhouse.

ALL ARMED

The simplicity of the unit does come at a price though, and in this case the price is gigabytes. The recorder will record every channel, every time, no matter what. This means that you will get 93 minutes of 16-bit 44.1k wave files onto an 8GB flash drive, whether you are using all, one, or none of the 16 inputs. It would be great to be able to arm each track individually, but I can certainly see why Allen & Heath left this option out; it would complicate the unit both physically and operationally, and no doubt drive the price up.

The positive aspect of this ‘all channels armed’ operation is that you can start a recording in no time at all. I was running low on USB space at my test gig, and rather than having the recording stop during a song, I decided to change the drive between songs. I had already formatted my fresh USB drive on the ICE-16, so I was hoping that the changeover would be quick, fingers crossed! I was able to stop recording, remove the USB, attach the fresh USB, and begin recording again in less than five seconds! I was really impressed by that.

SPEEDY MEDIA

The unit does tend to be picky about the USB storage that you use. The ICE-16 tests the speed of the media, and depending on the results the recorder automatically switches between 16- and 24-bit, or it won’t work at all if the drive is too slow. Not a single one from the handful of flash drives that I already owned worked with the ICE-16; the data transfer rates were too low. I had to take a trip to an electronics store to buy the best flash drives they had, and even these would only work at 16-bit. The unit seems to prefer recording to bus powered hard disks, as it happily recorded to all of my portable hard drives at 24-bit/48k. That’s the sample rate limit when connected to external thumb or hard drives, but it extends to 96k when used as an audio interface.

PEAKS IN PRACTISE

Fortunately I was able to take the test unit into the field while I had it, recording a live show for Mia Dyson that took up all of the 16 channels. In practice, the unit performed flawlessly and was a breeze to get up and running. The monitoring section on the front panel is a nice touch; it allows you to solo one or multiple channels and listen via the on-board headphone amplifier, which had more than enough grunt to drive my hungry 80Ω headphones.

Another detail that I really appreciate is the calibration of the peak light, which tends to light up very slightly below where the signal begins to distort. This seems like a tiny detail, however, on a few occasions recently I have used equipment where the peak light would come on at a level where clipping had already begun; which is simply unusable in a live situation.

CRASH TEST

With a live recorder, I always like to know what happens when the device loses power while recording, so I tested just that. Upon loading the USB from the ‘crashed’ recorder into my computer, everything looked normal; the wav files were all there, and the files had size, however, they were unreadable in all of the software I tried. This is because the recorder didn’t get a chance to write the file header, which is a necessary part of a wav file. Without the header, they are essentially PCM files, so I changed the file extensions to .pcm and used an application from the Mac App Store called ‘Aiff From PCM’ that was able to salvage the files. Success!

FACE UP

Being able to use the ICE-16 as an audio interface is a handy extra. I tested this with ProTools 10 on my MacBook Pro, and it couldn’t be easier to set up. Simply connect the device with firewire, and select the ICE-16 as the Playback Engine within ProTools, no installation or drivers necessary! This is a little different with PC, but everything is laid out in the instruction manual, and looks simple enough.

Something that would really get me excited is if the unit could record to the computer and to the USB drive at the same time for an instant backup, but alas this is not possible.

Overall, the ICE-16 is a solid, simple, and capable multi-track recorder aimed directly at the live sound lovers among us. In this price range, the only comparable devices that come to mind are older second hand digital multi-tracks, but none of these are 1RU and they certainly aren’t as savvy with regard to file transfer and computer connectivity. Well done Allen & Heath!

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Issue 93

REVIEWED

Ableton Live 12
What’s in. What’s out. What to expect.