Review: Audient ID22 June 29, 2015 21:47
If you're recording live instruments with a microphone or using line inputs for external drum machines & synths you need a way to get audio into your D.A.W and you need the cleanest signal you can get, that much is obvious, but what if you're only using internal synths and instruments for all your sound? Well, you still need to hear what you are doing and to hear it well you need a decent digital to analog converter (DAC) to feed your headphones & or speakers.
Many cheaper interfaces can suffice for this but if you can manage to pay for a higher quality DAC you will experience a higher quality sound, which can help greatly to hear stereo imaging information, distortion and other artifacts, and help generally to distinguish different parts of the mix better.
Another aspect of this, and this applies especially to Windows users, is you need a good audio driver to run your software instruments and effects efficiently. You may have a good CPU but your ASIO driver can become a bottleneck, holding your systems performance back. That said, the most highly regarded drivers today are the ones RME make for their interfaces, but most decent interfaces will have a supplied driver that will be an improvement over what is built into Windows. What you buy in the end must be determined by budget considerations and feature requirements
- 2 Channels of classic Audient Mic Pres (the same pres as the ASP008 rack)
- 2 in/6 out at 96kHz
- Class-A JET DI input
- Optical I/O for S/pdif & ADAT connectivity (allows the unit to accept 8 extra ins)
- High current headphone amp with dedicated DAC
- Send and Inserts pre A/D & D/A stages
- USB connectivity
- Mac & Windows compatible
On the back you have your power connector (but curiously no on/off switch) USB 2.0 connector, Optical I/O which allow for another 8 inputs via ADAT (you will need an 8 channel A/D converter for this though) & 6 analog outs. There are also 2 combo mic/line inputs, along with a DI that when used overrides mic-line input 2.
Note that there are only 2 A/D converters here & 6 channels of D/A. The first 4 are labelled 1-4 on the panel & DACs 5+6 dedicated to feeding the headphone amp.
There are another 4 jack connectors here, balanced sends & returns, these come before the A/D and D/A stages, and can be used to patch gear directly into your signal, or to create cue mixes. You can also use the inserts to totally bypass the mic-pre's when using line-level inputs.
The mixer allows you to route the audio in a number of ways. The second pair of outs can be used to drive another pair of speakers, and you can use the software mixer to A/B between the two pairs, or you can create cue mixes to drive an external headphone amp. Remember, these 4 outs can be used as mono outs, as well as in pairs.
Looking at the routing matrix options can quickly make this clearer:
The build quality is superb, no sharp edges anywhere on the unit that could cause cuts on the hands. The large volume knob is solid, with a great feel that is both firm and easy to turn. The smaller knobs for headphone out and mic gain are likewise high quality.
There are two buttons on the unit that act as Dim and Mute controls and three which are user definable. They have a slight click which gives you the feedback you need to know that you’ve pushed them in adequately, but their not so loud as to be distracting. One neat feature that I discovered in use is that if you push the buttons down and then release them quickly the button with latch but if you hold them down they will be active only as long as you keep them held.
The switches which control settings for the Mic-Pres have a nice chunky feel to them, and give a quiet click when switched. They are also slightly recessed which means there is little chance of them getting damaged when the box is packed up and on the move. It’s nice that you can access so many functions from the front of the box itself, rather than having to do it from the software. The actual Mic-pre inputs use Neutrik connectors and likewise feel expensive and tough.
So, overall, very high marks for build quality, although one odd thing I did notice, as I mentioned earlier, is that there is no power switch to turn the unit off. At first I just left it on overnight, but the next morning I noticed the unit was quite warm, so I now just pull the plug at the end of the day and plug it back in the next morning.
The ID22 arrives in an attractive box, offering decent protection of the unit. When I first opened mine It was nice to see that the ID22 looked every bit as good in real life as it did on Audients website.
I found it odd that it didn't ship with an installer for the mixing software or drivers, but I quickly got what I needed online. Apparently it used to ship with a stylish bespoke USB key which had the installers, but no longer. I don't think I've ever received any software that came with an installation CD that wasn't already out of date anyway by the time I got it anyway, so this is really not surprising. Once installed was able to check out the mixer interface and it's a great GUI, very user friendly with smooth animation. It doesn't seem to be any kind of resource hog either. The controls are large and very easy to use. It also has a more informal look without appearing unprofessional.
When hooking up the interface and installing the ID22 software I immediately got sound coming through the main outputs when playing media files in Windows, however I did have to turn up the gain on the DAW return channels before I got audio from Cubase, and I had to pan them both L & R. One thing that surprised me was the lack of a CD installer for the drivers, I had to go online. Not a problem for me at all, but some people don’t use their work machines online, so just something to be aware of. The installation of the drivers however was smooth and the drivers seem to operate well with no hiccups so far.
This box is actually a little more complex than it might at first seem, it amazes me how much Audient have thought of and how much functionality is stuffed into this little box. For an extensive overview of all the features I’d have to refer you to the manual, fortunately for those who don’t like or don’t have the time to read manuals Audient have extensive online video manuals, which is fantastic!
I am happy to report that the sound quality is absolutely great. The mic-pres are the cleanest I’ve used and the A/D & D/A are transparent. The D/A offered an immediately noticeable improvement over the UR28M, it was similar to going from a reasonably good quality MP3 to a wave file, in that the signal became much cleaner and better defined. I was very pleased with the improvement, and at this point I began to notice distortion and artifacts in recordings that I did not know were there before. Stereo width & imaging also improved greatly. The signal to noise ratio seems great, I didn’t notice any noise added even when the gain was cranked up high on either the main outs or the headphone amp. Mic-pres seem dead quiet too and the high-pass filter is very smooth and very effective. The volume knobs do not shift the stereo image a low settings like so many volume controls do, even the headphone knob keeps the correct balance all the way.
As for the A/D, I was convinced of it’s quality when I did my first loopback recording of my DAW. This went out of the D/A and back in through the A/D. This was the first time I’ve done this without noticing degradation.
I did experience a snag initially. When attempting to update the firmware the installation froze on me. I crashed out and tried it again but still had the same problem. To make matters more confusing there is nowhere in the software that tells you what version of the firmware you are currently running and there are no change logs that I could find anywhere on the Audient website to tell me why I even needed to update the firmware.
At this point I contacted Audient and got a prompt response. I eventually had to download the firmware update instead of letting the Audient software retrieve and install it for me. This finally worked, although I also had to restart my computer, but the whole procedure might make some people a little less confident in the unit. As for me, I quite understand that not everything goes smoothly with a new product like this and it’s only had Windows drivers for a few weeks at the time of this review. The important thing for me is Audient was there to help, and I got a working solution. Besides this, the unit was already working fine on whatever firmware version it shipped with.
For anyone looking for a more mid-high end interface there has never been a better time as there are plenty of choices. The two alternatives that stood out to me were the SPL Crimson ($699) & the RME Babyface ($749).
Both were attractive options, but in end I choose the Audient over the RME because it's a nicer looking desktop unit to me, with more dedicated front panel controls and a larger volume knob. It also does not have to use a break-out cable. I chose the ID22 over the SPL mainly because the SPL does not offer an option to expand it's inputs via ADAT, so had I chosen the SPL I would have to change interfaces again if I did need more inputs in the future.
The ID22 is an excellent interface in every way and well worth the asking price. Having high quality D/A alone is worth the $699 asking price, but the pres and A/D are super as well and having a great monitor controller on the desk is great for ergonomics. It’s sends and inserts mean you can easily patch in outboard, if you’re lucky enough to have any, and it ADAT expansion serves to greatly expand it’s usefulness too. The manual is well written, and Audient are on hand for support. I highly recommend you check this out if you’re in the market for a sub $1k interface and don’t require a huge amount of analog I/O right out of the box.
If you need any proof of the sheer quality of the ID22’s conversion and Mic-pres I suggest you check out their videos where they make great recordings using it.
Audient is a British company, founded in 1997 who have a reputation in the pro-audio industry for their top flight analog consoles and their ASP008 Mic-pre racks (now updated to the ASP880). They have recently taken their expertise in high end audio and applied it to creating the new, relatively affordable at $699 & high quality audio interface the ID22.