Sponsored by Antelope Audio

Developing Exactitude

In the 1990s, then-Aardvark Audio designer Igor Levin was working on new digital converter designs when he stumbled upon the opportunity to build a product that you couldn’t buy off the shelf at the time: a standalone audio master clock. It was the birth of the Aardsync, a highly sought-after product that earned Levin his deserved title of "Mr. Word Clock" - not to mention it was then a new flagship product for the company to market. Years later, influenced by new chips and new ideas, Levin came up with a new animal and a new company: Antelope Audio. Since 2005, Levin has led as the CEO and technical mastermind.

Making use of his extensive background in analogue circuitry as well as his advanced knowledge of the digital domain, Levin developed the Oven Controlled Crystal Oscillator - the crystal oscillator being the “heart” of the clock - so its vibrant characteristics would be more stable over a constant temperature, considerably improving jitter performance and thus sound quality. This technology was applied in Antelope’s Isochrone line and made the Isochrone OCX a groundbreaking tool of its time, adopted by top studios and mastering houses (from ancient Greek - ‘Iso’ means ‘equal’ and ‘Chrone’ comes from ‘Chronos’, which means time.)

The Isochrone OCX with Oven Controlled Crystal Oscillator technology

With these advances in mind it is no surprise that Antelope’s interfaces are met with high expectations, and the new Antelope Zen Q Synergy Core USB is no exception. Previously restricted to a Thunderbolt connection, the new Zen Q is equipped with USB-C I/O - but maintaining all the other great features from the older TB version but with the promise of being a little more universal in its connection format.


On the back of the unit there are two combi XLR / ¼” TS/TRS connectors offering ultra-linear mic preamps with 65 dB of gain that can be assigned with Mic, Line or Hi-Z input levels, and are able to supply +48V of phantom power. Furthermore, there are four ¼” balanced TRS outputs dedicated to monitor L/R and Line Outs 1 and 2 respectively.

Zen Q Synergy Core USB back panel

A standard RCA S/PDIF connection provides 2 I/O channels of digital expansion, which can be used for actual channel expansion or just digital clocking. An ADAT IN gives you up to 8 more digital channels and the 16x16 channel USB 2.0 type C computer connection rounds out the back.

The Zen Q also has two more switchable Line/Hi-Z instrument ¼” TRS/TS respectively inputs and a pair of stereo (TRS) headphone outputs under the unit’s Control Panel - adding up to 14 inputs and 10 outputs total. Not bad for a small-footprint desktop box!

Zen Q’s front view

Hardware Control

A tidy panel consisting of a 2.8” colour LCD screen, three buttons and a big pressable rotary encoder is all you need to run the show. With intuitive operability the ‘GAIN’, ‘HP/MON’ and ‘Antelope’ buttons will navigate you through the robust feature set alongside the rotary control knob. Here you’ll be able to change the preamp mode (Mic/Line/Hi-Z), balance input and output levels, switch phantom power on & off, change the sample rate, switch the clock source, store and load presets and also access the System Menu where you’ll find information about the device, system features, change the screensaver style and perform a factory reset if you ever tweak a setting too far and want a clean slate!

Zen Q Synergy Core USB Control Panel

It is important to remember to plug things into their proper places - for example, a combi socket usually has ‘Line’ level hardwired to its ¼” input jack and ‘Mic’ level through the XLR input. The Antelope Zen Q is no exception and choosing ‘Line’ level from the ‘Preamps’ tab in the software while using the XLR input will not prevent you from hearing distortion coming from the saturated Mic preamp.

All these features make Zen Q an incredibly flexible device once you’re familiar with its routing possibilities. The extra outputs (Line Out 1 and 2) can be either used for an extra pair of monitors or as outputs for an external hardware insert, the headphone output’s independent trims are very clever, providing one more stereo output pair without compromising monitoring levels and the simultaneous 4 Hi-Z inputs could save the day while recording or performing with a full band.

The Control Panel Application

In order to get started with your Zen Q interface an online activation is required. During this process you will be asked to download and install the Antelope Launcher application which will provide you the device’s Control Panel app for MacOS and Windows where you’ll be able to perform all the hardware functions remotely through your computer and access each aspect of the interface’s functionality, such as audio mixing, presets, effects chain and metering.

Zen Q’s Control Panel App screenshot

Shuffling through the Control Panel Application we get to know the three ‘View’ modes consisting of ‘Monitor & Headphones’, ‘Digital Outs’ and ‘DAW I/O’ where you will find 16-channel virtual mixers ready to adjust gain, pan, slide faders, assign and tweak the Synergy Core effects for each individual section of I/Os and finally setting up your interface/DAW routing, which will be important in order to make full use of the Synergy Core FX in your recordings considerably lightening your CPU load. You could therefore use this as a live performance tool without needing a DAW connected, as the FX are processed on the interface itself… more on that imminently!

Under the Hood

The coolest thing about the Zen Q Synergy Core interface is happening where you can’t see it. Antelope Audio is known for groundbreaking techniques in achieving near-zero latency and the next-generation tech that does that here is pretty exciting.

The Antelope engineering team, led by Igor Levin, harnessed a unique approach to hardware modeling by applying FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) processor chips, meaning that every single part of the original hardware unit; capacitor, transistor, transformer and valve, could be disassembled and measured before their values were uploaded and emulated on the FPGA in order to reproduce even the slightest non-linearity characteristic present on the hardware being modeled.

Two other critical items are used to improve audio via clocking: the AFC (Acoustically Focused Clocking) technology inherited from Antelope’s award-winning master clocks, and a specialised jitter management process. Both are controlled by a proprietary 64-bit algorithm resulting in (as stated by the manufacturer) “smooth and detailed audio whatever the method of digital connectivity” - with 192 kHz / 24 bit AD/DA conversion providing up to an impressive 127dB of headroom.

All of the Zen Q’s processing power is put to use while tweaking the effects contained in Synergy Core's extensive catalog, which is available for purchase via Antelope’s website. The interface is already bundled with an excellent pre-selected selection of Synergy Core FX for the user to get started with right away - let’s have a look at what’s included.

Included Synergy Core Effects

Once you get your Zen Q out of the box and properly activated you will enjoy the availability of 37 analog-modeled effects running within the interface by a combination of FPGA and DSP chips providing ultra-low latency with no CPU processing overhead. There you will find virtually all the necessary tools for your session, from preamp emulations to different flavours of dynamic processors and an extensive selection of virtual amps and cabinets that will satisfy even the most demanding guitarists. Here’s Zen Q’s list of bundled effects at the time of publication:
  • Gyraf Gyratec IX (Dual Tube Mic Preamp with HPF)
  • VCA160 (VCA Compressor / Limiter)
  • Stay-Levin (Vari-Mu Tube Compressor)
  • FET-A76 (FET Compressor / Limiting Amplifier)
  • VEQ-1A (2-Band Tube EQ)
  • VMEQ-5 (3-Band Tube Mid-Range EQ)
  • X903 (VCA Compressor / Limiter)
  • PowerFFC (Feed-Forward Compressor)
  • Clear Q (Parametric EQ)
  • Power EX (Expander)
  • VEQ-HLF (Tube 2-Band HPF / LPF)
  • Auraverb (Reverb)
  • BA-31 (Germanium Mic Preamp)
  • Power Gate (Noise Gate)
  • A-Tuner (Guitar Tuner)
  • Plexi 59 (UK) (Tube Guitar Amp)
  • Bass SuperTube VR (Tube Guitar Amp)
  • Darkface 65 (US) (Tube Guitar Amp)
  • Top30 (UK) Bright (Tube Guitar Amp)
  • Tweed Deluxe (US) (Tube Guitar Amp)
  • Overange 120 (UK) (Tube Guitar Amp)
  • BurnSphere (DE) Lead (Tube Guitar Amp)
  • Marcus II (US) Lead (Tube Guitar Amp)
  • Modern (US) CH3 (Tube Guitar Amp)
  • Rock 75 (UK) (Tube Guitar Amp)
  • Rock 22.10 (UK) (Tube Guitar Amp)
  • Darkface 65 2×12 (2×12 Guitar Cabinet)
  • Top30 2×12 (2×12 Guitar Cabinet)
  • Modern 4×12 (4×12 Guitar Cabinet)
  • Green 2×12 (2×12 Guitar Cabinet)
  • Vintage 4×12 (4×12 Guitar Cabinet)
  • Green 4×12 (4×12 Guitar Cabinet)
  • Caliper 50 1×10 (1×10 Guitar Cabinet)
  • Bluelux 1×12 (1×12 Guitar Cabinet)
  • Clst 1×12 (1×12 Guitar Cabinet)
  • England 4×12 (4×12 Guitar Cabinet)
  • Bass Tube 1×15 (1×15 Guitar Cabinet)

When it comes time to expand the library of tools, simply browse the Synergy Core Software Store to access Antelope's entire collection, including the ‘afx2daw’ bridge-to-DAW plug-in - soon to be available for Zen Q’s USB users. The afx2daw plug-in makes it possible for the operator to insert Synergy Core FX directly into your DAW tracks without the need to route them through the Control Panel Application, taking full advantage of that extra DSP on the interface.

All these features put together makes the Zen Q Synergy Core USB an extremely powerful interface in all instances. Whether you are playing live, streaming, recording, mixing or mastering, you can count on its flexible routing, super low latency, powerful FPGA DSP and pristine sound quality in a nicely-designed and comparatively compact package.

Price and Availability

Zen Q Synergy Core USB is available worldwide through Antelope’s distributors with the suggested retail price of 899 USD/EURO (local taxes/VAT may not be included, please check with your reseller).

For more information on Zen Q Synergy Core USB and Antelope Audio’s other products please visit: https://en.antelopeaudio.com/