With a laptop, recording software and the right accessories, making professional audio recordings in the field is a breeze. Many engineers use USB microphones, but that can limit your options. If you want to use the full spectrum of mics, including condensers, then you need a sound card that can take multiple mics and give you a USB 2.0 output.
Digigram enters the market with two new products, the Cancun 442-Mic (four in/four out) and Cancun 222-Mic (two in/two out) series of mobile USB sound “cards.” Both also provide simultaneous analog and digital AES ins and outs, up to actually streaming 4 in/4 out and 8 in/8 out. Analog input gain is adjustable from 0 to 55 dB in 1 dB steps. A 30 dB pad may also be inserted into each mic channel.
Cancun 442/222 devices are compatible with SMAART software, which enables live sound and audio engineers to analyze room acoustics and optimize the linearity of sound reinforcement systems. Included with Cancun is a breakout cable that goes from a 44-pin D-sub connector to 12 Neutrik XLR connectors for analog and digital ins and outs. Phantom power (48 V) is available on all mic inputs. A standard 6.35 mm/1/8-inch jack is provided for headphone monitoring. MIDI, S/PDIF and ADAT I/O is optionally available for both devices via a software upgrade. A carrying case is also included.
Digigram has also released monitor/control software for Cancun, allowing users to monitor information such as gain values, driver setup, current state, VU meters and phantom power status, while simultaneously using their favorite desktop audio software. The software is available for both PC and Mac, but the Mac version was not available at the time of this review, so no comments can be made on its effectiveness. The software is not necessary for laptop operations, Cancun operated quite well with a MacBook Air and Audacity.
The first thing you notice about Cancun is its user interface. With no power applied, it looks like a plain white monolith. But jack it up to USB for power, and voila!, LED level indicators, and touchpad switches all come to life. When you’re finished getting things set up, just swipe your finger across the lock pad so your settings won’t be disturbed. It all seems futuristic and cool, and it is, unless you are recording outdoors on a sunny day. The LEDs simply aren’t bright enough to compete with the sun, and the display becomes invisible. I had to construct a sun shade out of an old cereal box for outdoor recording sessions. (Editor’s Note: Digigram has acknowledged the problem and is modifying the Cancun shell to provide increased LED lamination and installing brighter LEDs. The reviewer was using a preproduction model.)
Digigram Cancun Sound Card/Interface
• Both analog and AES/EBU I/Os in a compact package
• Works on both Mac OS and Windows platforms
• Novel interface with touchpads and LEDs
• Low latency (<4 mS)
• LEDs not visible in direct sunlight
• Carrying case too small for accessories
Price: $790 / $1,190 for the two models respectively
That said, the sound quality of the test recordings was excellent. I recorded live outdoor concerts of singer-songwriter and blues music using the Cancun, MacBook, Audacity and four Shure SM-57 microphones. The sound is best described as transparent, careful listening reveals more issues about microphone selection and placement than might be noticeable with a less transparent box. Powering Cancun off the laptop’s battery will reduce your field recording time, but I was able to make one hour recordings with some juice left over.
From a more objective perspective, the mic preamps boast a flat response from 20 Hz – 20 kHz, +0/-0.5 dB. THD+N on analog inputs at maximum gain is rated at -105 dB unweighted, EIN is -128 dB, according to Digigram.
Cancun comes with a well-made vinyl carrying case. Sadly, it is a bit too small. There’s just barely room for the 422 and breakout cables. Most engineers pack their favorite adapters, instructions or other personal doodads. You’ll need to find another place for your personal accessories, because they won’t fit in here.
Cancun provides excellent sound quality in a small package. Its USB, analog and AES/EBU outputs can deliver simultaneous audio feeds. The case appears to be rugged enough to handle the accidental dropping and occasional abuse that all field recording equipment is occasionally subjected to.