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The great thing about recording to a DAW is simplicity, but at times getting a good tone from the start gets overlooked, and means relying on plug-ins to fix things that weren’t well-recorded to begin with. The Cloudlifter Zi can help dial in a great tone from even inexpensive dynamic mics, before your tracks hit the DAW.
It’s about the size of a standard DI box, with a combo 1/4” and XLR input and an XLR output. The big knob on the front handles the impedance, with a range of 150 Ohms to 15K Ohms. This part of the circuit uses a Cinemag Transformer, and it acts as an attenuated tone control of sorts. The lower ranges seem to enhance the midrange frequencies and brings in a more focused bass response, and as it’s increased the mids start to drop out, while opening up the high and low frequencies.▼ Article continues below ▼
There are only two switches, the first being the 3-position variable gain control, with Minimum, More and Maximum settings. This helps bump up the overall signal, especially on instruments with passive pickups.
The hi-pass filter is continuously variable. When it’s on, the impedance control interacts with this in a nice, musical way. It can help cut out any boominess on an acoustic guitar. With ribbon mics, it can also start to tame any proximity effect.
Like a DI, place it between an instrument or microphone and the recording device. The idea is the Cloudlifter Zi provides additional clean gain and tone shaping for microphones. In other words, it lets the preamp do its job and handle the natural sound of your microphone without adding in its own noise to the signal. Now it does require phantom power, however it does NOT provide phantom power to mics. So, during our testing we placed it in between a mic pre, and the DAW, to compensate for mics that needed phantom power and had no issues. With mics that didn’t need phantom power, we placed it after the mic, before the DAW.
Sound wise, it was really musical – that’s the word that we kept circling back to. The frequency range is very full overall, and dialing in that little “extra” that makes a big difference during a session was really easy. It’s like a nice audio spice, just keep adding a bit until you’re satisfied. It worked well as a DI with acoustic piezo pickups, bass guitar, and pretty much every mic we put through it. Audio-Technicas as well as tried-and-true SM58’s really opened up nicely – it was great to hear an added level of clarity to mics we thought we were familiar with.
All in all, the Cloudlifter might seem like a gimmick if you haven’t actually tried one yet, but it really helps get a decent tone right from the start even from cheaper gear, and will help tame any audio fuzziness or hazy frequencies that would normally “get fixed in the mix”. Its small form factor and simple controls make it perfect for a studio that may not have a great (or quiet) mic preamp available to do tonal shaping at the source.
One of the only downsides is the graphics, which kind of makes reading the values for the impedance control difficult, even in bright light. A minor quibble, considering how well the rest of it was thought out, so isn’t a deal breaker at all.
Home studio users take note: if you want better recordings with your current setup, the Cloudlifter might just be the secret tool you didn’t even know you needed.
Simple to use, excellent way to bring up a signal without a lot of noise.
Graphics are a tad hard to read from above.