Saturday, December 1, 2012

Centrance MicPort Pro - 24/96 Audio On A Stick

This product has been out a while since my review, but people keep asking for this type of solution, so I thought it worth bringing it back to the surface. In my never-ending search for neat audio toys to talk about, Centrance’s diminutive MicPort Pro caused an instant smile. 24/96 audio from any mic level source you can put in your pocket; all for $150.

Product Capsule Centrance MicPort Pro
Mic level 24/96 USB Converter-Works with any XLR mic or mic level
-Phantom Power
-No latency-No power required
I’d been waiting for something like this after looking at USB mics for clients who wanted to bypass the mic-mic preamp-input card topology for something simpler. Rode’s Podcaster mic gets points for solving the USB latency issue by putting a headphone jack on the mic. But what about all the other non-USB mics out there? So many mics, so little time. 
The Centrance MicPort Pro is a simple, four and a half inch long barrel with a female XLR on one end and a USB port, headphone jack and Phantom Power switch on the other end. The Phantom Supply current runs at a healthy 48V DC, 20 mA; more than enough for the hungriest condenser mic. There are also rotary mic gain and headphone gain knobs on the barrel. The headphone amp gain is very healthy. When you plug the USB cable in, a sexy, translucent white ring around the unit lights up to let you know you’re connected. 
You do need to know a little about the sound control panels in your computer and the preferences panels of your applications. They need to be visited to make sure MicPort Pro is recognized. Everything worked fine with my 10.4 Macs, but I did run in to a few small problems with the newer 10.5  Macs. The audio sounded garbled when I tried to record into Quicktime Pro 7.4.5. After I changed the Mac sound control panel to record and playback at 24-bit, 48 kHz Quicktime recorded and played back properly. Curiously, when I recorded into Soundtrack Pro at 24/96 and exported the file, Quicktime Pro recognized the file as 24/96 and played it with no problems. 
Quicktime’s record level metering is overly conservative. Peaking at anything over half scale resulted in clipped peaks. If you have apps that aren’t 24/96 compliant, scaling the system control panel back should work. 
Soundtrack Pro 2.0.2 on my 10.5 Mac had an unusual but solvable latency issue. While monitoring with headphones from MicPort Pro, I selected MicPort Pro from monitoring from the Soundtrack Pro panel. That resulted in delay. Switching monitoring to “none” in Soundtrack Pro got rid of the delay and I could still hear my voice and playback.
Garage Band ‘08 was very obliging, allowing me to record a Sennheiser 421 dynamic mic as a stereo or mono track. SKYPE and Apple’s iChat required that I switch to 48 kHz. 
With the Sennheiser 421, I had to turn the MicPort Pro mic gain control up all the way while I was talking at a subdued conversation level with the mic about two inches from my mouth. Even with the gain full up, there wasn’t a lot of circuit noise. Using iChat and SKYPE, I talked with friends in far away places with better than average quality. In fact, using the Sennheiser, I got comments that the audio I was sending over SKYPE was better than most cell phones. 
More sensitive condenser mics required less gain and could be used at further distances. My Schoeps cmc641 sounded good, but not as good as it sounds when recorded through my studio’s pricey preamps and A/D converters.
In Conclusion
There’s a lot going on inside that little tube. Powering MicPort Pro with USB-available voltages requires two switching power supplies; one for the circuitry and light and one for the Phantom Power. Being able to quickly convert any mic level source, including Phantom Powered mics, to a 24/96 digital signal with input adjustment and headphone monitoring makes Micport Pro a very handy tool. 

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