Featured Arturia AudioFuse by Funkybot
Arturia has been known for the software recreations of analog synthesizers, but over the last few years they’ve expanded their product offerings and began developing hardware instruments such as the Matrix Brute and Drum Brute, along with controllers like their Key Lab series. The Audiofuse is Arturia’s first foray into the audio interface market, and the features and specs indicate they really swung for the fences with this initial release. The question is: did they knock it out of the park?
First Impressions: Unpacking and Setup
The Audiofuse comes in a few color options from white, a dark gray to black, with a corresponding set of colorful metal lids. Each Audiofuse comes in a nice cube-ish box, with premium packaging reminiscent of an Apple product. Opening the box, each Audiofuse has a nice metal lid that fits snuggly onto the top of the interface which [cleverly] protects the unit during transport. It’s a nice touch, and I wouldn’t be the slightest bit concerned about putting the lid on and carrying the Audiofuse in my laptop bag. Underneath the interface, in a separate compartment, you’ve got the DC power supply, micro USB to 2 USB cable, and a set of MIDI to ⅛” cables which facilitate using the Audiofuse as a MIDI interface while keeping the profile as small as possible.
Audiofuse with travel lid.
The interface itself is astoundingly small. How small? Take 6 CD’s in standard jewel cases and stack them up. That’s about as tall as the Audiofuse is, and the CD jewel cases will be about a half inch wider. In terms of build quality, the Audiofuse itself has a very solid weight and feel. The body is all metal, with a rubber grip-pad at the base of the unit. The knobs are all metal, and buttons have very little travel but have a nice “click” to them as you toggle between settings. That click is a small detail, but you’ll never be left wondering whether or not you made the right contact with a button. Speaking of buttons, there’s a LOT of them. I count 19. And they’re backlit to let you know exactly what each is doing. Along with that, you’ve got 6 knobs. You absolutely could not accuse Arturia of skimping on controls to save a few bucks. The end result: ease of use. Most of the Audiofuse’s features are a knob’s turn or a button’s press away. It’s so small that keeping it within arm’s reach was never a problem.
Included in the box is a certificate for the DiscretePRO preamps in your Audiofuse. This includes a unique frequency response chart, and individual EIN, Frequency Response, and Gain Range settings. You’ve also got a printed manual in English, French, and Japanese.
Setting up the Audiofuse on Windows was a simple as downloading the Audiofuse Control software and plugging in the Micro USB (Audiofuse) to USB (computer) cable. The Micro USB cable was the first thing I didn’t love about the Audiofuse. While the cable doesn’t have any give or play (compared to say my Android phone’s connector), it seems like a flimsy connection method. I’d worry about someone or something pressing up against the cable and damaging the unit.
However, a nice plus is that the Audiofuse can be powered solely from the USB bus, so you don’t even need to plug in the DC power adapter. When being run off of bus power, the I/O runs at +18db versus 24db on DC power, but I otherwise found performance off the USB bus as being completely acceptable. There’s also an additional Low Power mode that is designed to save on laptop battery power at the expense of the analog inputs and phantom power.
Now, the manual recommends using the DC adapter for the best performance, and this brings me to the thing I like least about the Audiofuse. To start, the DC adapter pin in the back of the Audiofuse just looks very delicate, and the DC adapter itself is short enough to make itself inconvenient. An extra foot or two would have been appreciated. When plugging in the adapter, it’s not uncommon to see a small spark. The spark is small enough that there’s no safety concern, but it’s still the kind of thing you don’t want to see in a piece of pro audio gear. I believe this is in part due to the fact that there’s no power button on the Audiofuse so by plugging in the DC adapter you’re essentially turning on the unit simultaneously. What other piece of equipment would you have powered on as you plug it in?
Also, since there’s no separate power button when running off of the USB bus, shutting off the PC automatically shuts off the Audiofuse and results in [multiple] loud pops from my monitors. The solution is simple: anticipate this and get in the habit of shutting off your monitors before turning off your PC, but it’s another example of why I wish this unit had a proper power button, or even better, a ramped down power off mode that didn’t result in pops. On DC power, this is a non-issue as the unit stays on after shutting down the PC, but then again, the unit will always be on.
A point of minor concern is how toasty the interface can become when running on DC power. Arturia warns about this and states the Audiofuse chassis is designed to function as a heat sink, but I still wonder how the solder holding the components on the PCB will hold up after hundreds of power up/down cycles over several years. Perhaps it’s just the problems I had with my X-Box 360 many years ago (that were widely attributed to solder failing as a result of the heat), but I know as a result that heat and solder can be a bad combo if not done right. That said, there have been no issues at all with the Audiofuse to date as a result of the warmth. And just to level set, I wouldn’t call the interface hot (it’s not gonna cause burns or start fires), but the sides get warm to the touch on DC power and it’s a non-issue at all on USB power.
In the end, my biggest Audiofuse concerns ultimately have to do with the lack of a power button and how the unit behaves when using the DC power adapter between the spark I saw and the warmth. However, none of these resulted in any actual performance issues with the Audiofuse but I still worry about the long-term effects these issues may have. If I had the option, I’d have sacrificed some size if it would have resulted in a cooler unit with a proper power button and better DC connection. I’d also have really appreciated a longer power adapter!
I already touched upon all the number of buttons and knobs on the Audiofuse, but let’s spend some getting into what this thing actually does starting with the front of the unit. The Audiofuse includes 2 DiscretePRO combo microphone/instrument/line preamps up front. You’ve also got a pair of headphone outputs, with a set of both ¼” and ⅛” jacks each! No adapters needed. The dual headphone outputs are already appreciated, as is accommodating both sizes.
The rear of the unit is where things start to get really exciting. It sports a pair of TRS inputs, an ADAT in and out, a MIDI in and out (using a ⅛” to MIDI cable adapter), two pairs of speaker outputs, a set of TRS inserts, a set of RCA inputs that include a phono preamp (and ground), and a 3 port USB hub! Did I mention one of the outputs can also double as a re-amp output? I can’t think of another interface on the market that doubles as a re-amp box, a phono preamp, or a USB hub, but they’re all here in this incredibly compact package.
Audiofuse's extensive rear connections.
Just think about the convenience of this feature set, particularly for mobile musicians. The USB hub means you can connect MIDI devices directly to the Audiofuse, or plugin you dongles without having to worry about not having enough ports on your laptop or DAW. The re-amping output is another just amazing feature as it will save you from having to buy a re-amp box. It’s built right in! I totally plan on running a lot more audio through my stompboxes now that the Audiofuse makes it so easy. Lastly, if you’re a vinyl aficionado, or just looking to convert/sample some vinyl, you’ll appreciate the phono preamp and inputs/ground. My home theater receiver doesn’t even have a phono preamp! Now, be warned, all those I/O options on such a small device means things can get a bit cramped in the back if you plan on using some or all of these connections. It may require being selective with which cables you use or how you place them.
The top of the unit includes individual sets of buttons for each of the two preamps for phantom power, polarity, a pad, and a fourth to toggle the TRS input between instrument and line levels. In addition to this, you’ve got big gain dials for each of these inputs. The center of the unit is essentially a monitor controller with a row of buttons beneath it for the volume of the master or one of the two cue mixes. In addition, there is a mono/stereo toggle, dim solo, mute, and a very handy speaker A/B button. Down at the bottom you’ve got two headphone volume knobs, each with a set of buttons to control whether you’re hearing the output on the main bus or one of the two cue mixes, as well as a mono/stereo toggle. Between these sets of controls is a Talkback button which activates the built-in talkback microphone. The talkback microphone is noisy but will do the job as long as the Audiofuse isn’t too far away. There’s an Arturia logo/button on the top left, which you’d think functions as a power button, but is actually designed to launch or close the Audiofuse Control Center software when attached to a PC. The last control on the interface itself is the round dial on the top-right which blends between the monitor output from the computer, and the direct output from inputs for zero-latency monitoring. Here’s how well thought-out the Audiofuse is, the halfway point of the knob to blend between the direct and computer signals is stepped so you can feel your way to the halfway point purely by feel.
Audiofuse view from above.
The impressive feature-set makes the Audiofuse for me! The above combination of features and hands-on control ultimately results in is an extremely well thought-out/engineered audio interface that’s incredibly easy to use. Things like a talkback microphone, the speaker A/B button, USB hub, phono preamp/ground, and re-amping output aren’t commonly found on interfaces, but they’re all represented here. It’s like someone came up with a list of all the possible use-cases for an interface, and successfully crammed them all into the Audiofuse.
Sound and Performance
Arturia’s marketing is making a big deal about their DiscretePRO preamps, so the first thing I did was busted out a Cascade Fathead and recorded some quiet fingerpicked acoustic guitar. The result was a healthy, clean signal, with plenty of gain to spare. In fact, the unit offers 72db of gain, which will comfortably power just about any microphone in any circumstance I can think of. And they’re dead quiet! Using the Audiofuse microphone/instrument/line inputs on a variety of sources from piano, to vocals to banjo to electric guitars/bass (via the Instrument in) and synths resulted in consistently excellent results. These preamps are no joke and I rate them very highly.
When it comes to the DA conversion, in very unscientific listening tests, the Audiofuse didn’t seem as bright as my RME Fireface 800 but the lower end of the spectrum seemed “warmer” (for lack of a better term). This is not a knock on the Audiofuse at all, as it had more weight to the sound which some may prefer, just interesting how these two particular interfaces had very different characteristics.
The latency performance can be excellent for a USB interface. I say “can be” because this will be dictated by what your computer is capable of, but on my desktop, I could set the Arturia ASIO Control Panel USB Streaming option to “Minimum Latency” and drop the buffer to 64 samples without any hiccups. With this setup, Studio One (version 3.5.1) was reporting a Roundtrip audio latency of 6.35ms and an instrument latency of 3.9ms (Low Latency mode enabled in Studio One with Maximum dropout protection). This performance actually exceeds my RME Fireface 800 by over a millisecond in both figures. Now, this was on a modern i7 desktop. My run of the mill laptop will only let me go as low as 256 sample buffer size and results in a very different latency experience as a result. The unit didn’t cause any crashes or hanging with my OS or DAW on either my desktop or laptop (both running Windows 10 and Studio One as the primary DAW) which is expected, but always nice to say. Note however that the Audiofuse will glitch as the sample rate is changed so if you run your DAW at a different rate than the audio on your PC, you can expect to hear glitches as it switches from one rate to another.
The Audiofuse sounds great, is incredibly feature-packed, and has a very well thought out IO setup with some nice surprises. When it comes to connectivity and ease of use, Arturia have raised the bar. In fact, the Audiofuse checks off boxes I never even knew I wanted in an interface (like a USB hub, re-amping output, and phono preamp) all while maintaining a profile roughly the size of a CD jewel case!
I have some concerns about longevity over the long-term due to the power supply connection, heat on DC power, and lack of a power button, but other than some loud scary pops out of my monitors the first time I cut off the USB power to the Audiofuse with the monitors still on, nothing terrible has happened. Most of these concerns can be mitigated by being a bit more careful about how you use the Audiofuse. For example, running the Audiofuse off of USB power or in the Green power mode results in less heat. Powering off your monitors or taking off your headphones before shutting down will save your ears from pops when shutting down your laptop or PC when USB powered. Keeping the DC power plugged in and just leaving the Audiofuse on will draw more power, but prevent the loud pops entirely when DC powered (or shut your speakers off first). The small sparks when plugging the unit into DC power are the only thing that I haven’t found a way to prevent.
I’d recommend anyone looking for a portable interface that sounds great and has flexible I/O options take a long, hard look at the Audiofuse. It’s not perfect, and some people may find any one of the flaws mentioned to be a dealbreaker, but overall, it does so much so incredibly well that I think Arturia has really raised the bar when it comes to what an audio interface should do. In fact, I’m so enamored with the Audiofuse that I hope Arturia is planning on a larger, 1RU interface with even more of these excellent sounding preamps while solving for some of the Audiofuse’s issues.
Bottom-line: I really like the Audiofuse and will be holding onto it. I was looking for a laptop interface that I could transport easily and this exceeds all my requirements. My primary use case for the Audiofuse will be as a laptop/mobile interface running off of USB power and monitoring through headphones. In my experience, this is really where the Audiofuse shines, so it’s meeting and exceeding my needs. If you’re in a similar boat, or are looking for a primary interface and don’t need a ton of analog inputs, the Audiofuse may be just for you.
- Size - impressively small considering all the I/O, buttons, and knobs
- Good feel to the hardware
- Great sounding preamps with above average gain
- Good conversion, unit as a whole sounds great
- Can be powered off USB bus (and additional low powered mode)
- Lots of audio connectivity
- 2 sets of both ¼” and ⅛” headphone outputs - no adapters needed
- Built-in 3-port USB hub
- Built-in MIDI interface with adapter cables
- Built-in Reamping output
- Built-in Phono preamp with RCA’s and ground for connecting a turntable
- Built-in talkback microphone (a bit gimmicky, but still nice to have)
- Direct or software monitoring blend knob on the unit great for easy zero-latency monitoring
- Capable of excellent low-latency performance on the right machine
- No power button
- Glitches and pops when switching sample rates
- If on, monitors will pop loudly when cutting off power to the Audiofuse (due to lack of power button)
- Gets warm when running from DC power adapter
- Micro-USB connection to PC (would have traded one of the ports on the USB hub for a full-sized USB out)
- DC power adapter is very short with a flimsy cable and connection
Sound Quality - 5/5: The preamps sound incredibly good, and audio coming out of the speakers has a nice weight to it.
Ease of Use - 3/5: The large complement of buttons and knobs along with incredibly well thought out I/O make this a joy to use. The required workarounds due to the lack of a power button and power supply issues are the only reason this section wasn’t rated more highly.
Features - 5/5: Easily the most feature-packed interface on the market. Two great sounding preamps, a 3-port USB hub, MIDI in and out, ADAT, phono preamp with ground, ¼” and ⅛” headphone dual headphone outs, ability to be bus powered, and more. Outside of onboard DSP, it’s difficult for me to imagine what other features could possibly be added.
Bang for Buck - 5/5: Price is on par with other higher end, mobile interfaces, but what else has all of these features?