Audient iD22 USB Audio Interface & ASP880 Microphone Preamp ADC
Audient’s desktop interface and preamp rack combo is closer to the company’s console heritage than it looks.
Review: Andrew Bencina
The iD22 is the first of a new line of Audient audio interfaces. The English-designed, Chinese-built new kid quietly honours the company’s near 20-year heritage in console design and manufacture. On face value the two-in, six-out interface seems like an understated addition to a sector of the market offering plenty of choice. At $999 its price alone suggests there’s a little more going on. Supporting multiple flavours of Windows and OSX (10.6.8 or later), the USB 2.0 device relies on the included 1.5A 12VDC wall wart for juice. A desktop design, the chassis is built like a tank and favours a layout placing monitor control at the heart of operations.
I.D. THANKS, KID
The top panel provides control over two channels of Audient Class A mic preamp (a +/-15V version of their console pres) with switches for polarity, HPF (-12dB/octave at 100Hz), +48V phantom and a -10dB pad. On the rear of the unit two combo connectors offer both mic and line access to these channels with channel two boasting a 1MegΩ discrete Class A JFET DI. Both analogue input paths feature balanced insert pairs prior to the ADC; the first time I’ve seen this in such a model. Two stereo output pairs are delivered via TRS and a third is available via the headphone jack. Both analogue paths and conversion is really impressive and bring some classic console character to a format that often sounds relatively bland. Optical I/O expands the iD22’s capabilities, supporting both stereo S/PDIF and ADAT (eight channels at 44.1/48k, four channels at 88.2/96k via SMUX), making it a viable option for both musicians and small recording setups. During testing I did experience some sync problems when clocking to and monitoring from an external ADAT source at sample rates >48k. It proved to be an unreported Windows specific bug but within a few days a new beta firmware version had been provided to rectify the issue.
GET ON BOARD
A 32-bit on-board monitor mixer is accessible via the desktop application incorporating channels for all inputs and the first six software outputs for the creation of one master and two cue mixes with approximately 1.6ms roundtrip latency. These mixes can then be routed to any of the hardware outputs via a matrix of radio buttons. The remaining eight software outputs, relating to the digital interface, have been omitted from the mixer and I missed them when tailoring monitor mixes using an extended combination of input, playback and effect return channels. Limited DSP power means the iD22 cannot compete with those offering full channel strips and auxiliary effects within their software mixers while the iD22 matrix currently overlooks loopback, mirrored routing and hardware output calibration options that can be very useful. There is however a full complement of monitor switching options that will suffice for most applications, and configurations can be stored in presets. With no current support for iOS/Android or TouchOSC control, the iD22 isn’t optimised for standalone operation. It will remember your most recent mix when you disconnect the USB but if you need to change any settings, including sample rate, you’ll need to access it via the desktop app. However, with the right configuration it can add two standalone mic pres, and six channels of ADAT DAC to any studio; and even moonlight as a powerful ADAT driven monitor control centre. This is valuable multitasking from a portable interface.
The audio performance of the iD22 is worthy of interfaces more than twice its price, but as the first in a new family of products there’s room for the software and interface implementation to grow. At the lowest buffer settings the interface delivers only average stability when placed under serious processing load but it’s certainly not alone here and is simply less suited to live use. At this point OSX seemed to deliver performance improvements against the Windows installation, which has been a more recent development. In practise, I didn’t have any problems when recording and the low latency DSP mixer meant I could back off the buffers if things got edgy without any impact to the monitoring experience.
GIVE ME EIGHT
While the ASP880 can be connected to the iD22 via ADAT to form a potent studio front end, the eight channel preamplifier and AD converter should be very much in demand on its own terms. It features the same ADC as the iD22 while the preamps have been upgraded to run at the full console spec. This update of Audient’s previous ASP008 packs its preamps, dual ADAT/AES digital interface (eight channels of 24-bit/96k via either) and Word Clock sync into a single rack unit and subsequently should be installed with an empty space above it for heat management. Like the iD22 it includes balanced sends and returns on every channel (via two D-Sub connectors) and Channels 1 and 2 include dedicated instrument DIs. All channels feature phantom power, polarity invert, a variable HPF, variable impedance and the option to bypass the preamp entirely and run a line level signal direct to the ADC. Again Channels 1 and 2 are given the special treatment and add -10dB pads to the equation. Personally, I’d have been willing to trade in impedance switching or the variable HPF for pads on at least another couple of inputs. Give me an output trim pot and I’ll trade-in another couple.
At rough count, there are currently at least 40 interfaces from 13 different manufacturers who provide either ADAT or AES as a digital expansion option on their devices. Combine this with outstanding performance and you’ve really got something. Using Radial’s Jensen transformer-isolated microphone splitters, I recorded a broad range of sources through a combination of preamps and DI channels including: the UA 2108, Phoenix DRS1, Daking Mic Pre IV, Quad Eight MM312, and Radial JDV Mk3. The Audient’s were never out of place and in many cases, differentiating between them proved a challenge. In the end, I placed them tonally somewhere in between the 2108 and DRS-1 with a leaning towards the UA. When you consider the standard practice of pairing very neutral preamps with converters, the ASP880 offers something quite different. For under $250 a channel including conversion, they’re also a very viable alternative to those extra 500 series modules you’re lusting after.