The Audient iD14 brings Class A preamps and excellent Burr-Brown DAC to the the budget USB interface market, delivering sound quality that is unrivalled at this price.
Audient were founded back in 1997 in Hampshire, England, and went on to develop a respected reputation for the quality of their consoles. The flagship ASP8024 was renowned for its clear, open and ‘pure’ sound, and these are characteristics that have persisted through their designs over the years, aligned to their ethos of delivering high-end pro audio equipment, cost-effectively. They have, more recently, made a move into the lower end of the market, aiming to retain these core values to deliver breakthrough products to a new market.
Just like the iD22 that we’ve reviewed here before (see http://theproaudiowebblog.com/audient-id22-review.html), the iD14 oozes quality from the moment it is unboxed. The all-metal casing is robust and the aluminium knobs refined, yet sturdy - aesthetically the device is sleek and in no way overstated, projecting a very professional feel for such a small unit.
As a desktop based device, the upper panel hosts the rotary preamp gain controls, phantom power switches for each of these preamps and a useful metering section. The right section of the panel hosts a large silver dial which is multi-functional and can be switched using the three buttons below it to handle either main output gain, headphone gain or (newly introduced on the iD14) the ‘iD’ function.
At the front of the unit is an instrument input to the left, and headphone out to the right, and to the rear of the device can be found the remaining connections - combo XLR/Jack inputs to the 2 preamps, 2 balanced monitor outputs, USB 2.0 connection and power input. Power is needed from the supplied PSU to drive the unit when phantom power is engaged, but the unit can be powered by USB where phantom power is not required. Finally on the rear, an unassuming yet powerful optical input that supports S/PDIF and ADAT, enabling the unit to be expanded with an 8-channel mic pre (such as the Audient ASP880).
Software and Drivers:
The software that controls the unit is elegantly designed, with a ‘collapsible’ design meaning only the channels/sections applicable to your setup need be shown (and can be saved as a default configuration). Here, I have hidden the digital I/O (as it is not in use), and the DAW channels are set in stereo mode (with a single fader). This makes for a neater display, and less wastage of screen real estate (an important factor for those of us that have far too many plugin windows open at once!). Changes to phase and -10dB pad buttons allow for further manipulation of incoming audio,and cue and headphone mixes are easily configured.
Latency settings are managed from the same interface, and any updates to the device’s firmware are automatically downloaded and can be installed as required. This process takes less than 15 seconds, and during the review period two separate firmware updates were released and installed without a hitch (although a reboot of the unit is required).
It is in the software area that the only quibble I had with the iD14 surfaced - there are a couple of issues with the drivers (on Windows 8.1, at least) that mean on occasion the device needs to be rebooted because the sound breaks up (usually immediately after booting the PC. This may be down to the way the encoder presents itself to the system as a ‘mouse-like’ device, as the software to control my mouse did crash at a similar time which seemed to cause the issue. On the plus side, the support team responded immediately and assured me this would be resolved in an update, being something that hadn’t cropped up before. At the time of writing, the Audient team were busy developing the upcoming Windows 10 compatible driver (due end of August 2015), which is also designed to further reduce latency and hopefully address this issue.
If you have become accustomed to the sound of the devices that have proliferated the market at this price in the last decade, prepare yourself for something special - the Burr-Brown convertors present the kind of focus, clarity and stereo image that you would expect from units costing several times the price. The low end is tight, the mids and highs super-clear and transparent with no hint of smearing, and the whole spectrum has a pure honesty to it. Driving a pair of Adam F5s, the soundstage is wide and open - and you can focus in on the smallest detail across an impeccable stereo image. The headphone amp, likewise, stacks up wonderfully - crystal clear throughout the spectrum, with real assurance and body. My Grado SR80s were handled wonderfully, with real power.
As for signals going into the unit - once again, the iD14 excels. The pres are renowned (being exactly the same as those found in Audient’s high-end consoles) for their clarity and neutrality. Tests with my preferred condenser mic yielded a highly detailed signal, whilst remaining transparent and clear from low to high gain - and that dynamic workhorse (the Shure SM58) has never sounded so confident. The device continues to impress with the JFET-based instrument DI, which is very chunky and solid - the feeling that there is no dead air, and the signal is being handled incredibly efficiently is ever present. When recording guitar, this unit delivers a lush signal for in-the-box processing and amp simulation (not something that can be said for a lot of the ‘cheaper’ DIs found in similar units).
This large multi-functional dial on the right of the device is a very nice feature. Aside from handling monitor/headphone gain duties, the additional ‘iD’ option is unique and over time cements itself as a very natural workflow extension to using the mouse and keyboard during DAW operation. By default this changes the main rotary dial to act as a ‘Scroll Wheel’ (to manipulate parameters as you hover over them - great for writing automation curves, and manipulating soft-synth parameters). Other options include setting the button to act as a Mono, Dim or Talkback switch - simple but very useful tools to be able to draw on during a mix in an instant.
Despite the aforementioned issues with the Windows driver (which should hopefully be resolved with the forthcoming update), it is very difficult to convey just how professional this box sounds for such a diminutive device. The DACs deliver every nuance of the sound, every tiny detail in an assured and refined way. The stereo imaging, clarity and focus are all on a par with interfaces that cost significantly more - and the wide gulf in sound quality between this and other devices in the price bracket is clear. Further, with the digital input allowing for later expansion to a total of 10 mic pres, the unit is a sound investment for those who may one day require the flexibility, but are not quite in need of it yet.
If you are looking to spend up to £200 on an audio interface for recording, you cannot afford to not put this on your list to check out. Audient are sure to have a winner on their hands here and I would expect the iD14 to shake up the ‘budget’ end of the USB audio interface market in a very positive way indeed.