Audient iD44 by Arthur Stone
Intro: The iD44 is a desktop audio interface and monitor controller; it connects to a computer via USB2 and after a smooth driver install it's ready to act as the centrepiece for small to medium size studio operations. Based on the existing Audient iD range, the '44' offers a fuller compliment of features and capability than it's older siblings; also, with parallel chips something new in analogue-digital conversion.
The iD44 is billed as 20-in/24-out although this with the full ADAT expandability for which you'll need extra ADAT-equipped preamps or mixer. Stand-alone, the iD44 has four preamp/line input channels (Combi XLR/jack) and 4 main outputs (2 impedance-balanced stereo pairs), all analogue and sharing topology with the top-of-the-range ASP8024 console. Channels 1 and 2 have electronically-balanced insert send and returns (pre-conversion) and two tasty JFET DI's.
Like the preamps, the iD44 monitor section is trickle-down tech from the large flagship Audient consoles: it features 2 pairs of outputs via jacks (controlled by the large dial) which would normally be connected to monitors, and two independent headphone outputs each with a level knob; the monitor section also offers coloured backlit buttons for dim, cut, mono, and talkback (external mic required) and 3 programmable buttons F1,2,3 (e.g. switching monitor outputs) and a third button which activates the monitor dial as a scroll-control and clickable mouse for the software environment.
The iD 44 works with PC (W7 and up) and Mac (OSX 10.7.5 and up).
Price (at time of review): £499, $699 US, 568 Euro
Black is Black: Normally a theme emerges when reviewing gear: a kind of 'gear character' or personality even; sometimes, metaphors are a good way of conveying the user experience to interested parties who cannot get a hands-on demo. The iD44 was subtle and honest in character: it is unobtrusive (into the recording workflow) and doesn't demand attention; the form and function assist in the recording process and it has a classic form that fits in well on a shelf or desk or as part of a more modular desk environment. Light and highly-portable.
Two words that emerged from the review were 'zen-like' and 'velvet.' In close-up, the iD44 fascia appears to have a light-absorbent quality, similar to Vanta Black but more velvet-like. It gives a sense of discreteness to the iD44's visual position on the desk. Velvet is also a good metaphor for the sonic character of the iD44; smooth, comfortable, frictionless. The iD44 doesn't leave any trace of itself.
The milled aluminium knobs have a smooth feel, the buttons and switches are solid and all well-spaced. More luxury car than low-cost interface.
'Zen-like' refers to the layout, control positions, the software and the general user experience of reliable simplicity; it's calm and wise.
The Software: The software continues the 'zen-like' theme: really stable driver (on a 10 year-old i7 PC running W7 and Reason DAW). Install was sweet and speedy. There is a pop-up menu: sample rate up to 96kHz and buffer size down to 16 samples (if your device can achieve that); also the menu enables updates and web/help.
The software mixer has 3 main sections: the channel strips for the analogue and digital (optical) inputs and the DAW inputs (usefully these can be folded to save screen space); a cue section (x4); and a master section with hardware controls replicated plus a low-resolution, but very useful, scrolling meter showing level (y axis) over time (x axis). Basically it's like a level meter with memory of past state; a simple but thoughtful design touch which is characteristic of the iD44.
The bar/LED style metering was good for getting the job done without trying to be Ozone...kinda subtle and just doing a basic and honest service; a handy hint if levels are awry. The faders, rotary dials, buttons, panning, mute, solo, mono etc. were all clear and well-spaced and I never felt like I was squinting to see detail or find a function.
The software probably does a lot more than I discovered or used during the review; for example, there is a neat IO window for patching and routing, also: digital settings, input-to-talkback, IO trim, mono mode, clock source, etc. Channels can be named an colour/size customised. Presets can be saved/recalled and the current setting are usefully stored to stand-alone mode when the iD44 is used without a computer.
There's also a software bundle accessible after registering the iD44: the Audient website has an Arc Creative Hub with the extra software: Two-Notes cab emulator; Loopmasters sample packs/credits; Waldorf Edition 2 softsynths inc. PPG Wave, Attack and Dpole; Cubase LE and Cubasis 2; LANDR mastering and distribution credits; and Producertech online tutorials.
The software is straightforward and not demanding; I was able to concentrate on music-making rather than getting bogged down with trivia. Like the hardware, the software is quality and good value.
The Audient mic pre's were better than expected, although despite the 60dB of gain available I still opted to use the Simply Sound SS-1 'cloudlifter' when using the SM58 and PG58 dynamic mics (I'm not a powerful singer though). As the pre's are transformerless they have RF immunity so less buzz and crackle or radio noise and the noise floor is “30,000 times quieter than signal level.”
Mic preamps require low resistance and high current to keep the noise floor down. The iD44's preamp components are part surface-mounted in a modern way and Audient also use larger 'traditional' metal-film resistors originally designed for vinyl reproduction. Dave Dearden of Audient says that he “thinks like an electron” and with this in mind (zen-like) care is taken with the design and manufacture of the PCB board to optimise the classic circuit.
Clipping the input seems to smooth and filter the signal – not 'musical' but OKish in the sweet spot where the tone of clipping is almost inaudible (for example, on a drum transient rather than sustained clipping on a smooth, clear ballad vocal). I'm not advocating clipping but it does happen and the iD44 seems more forgiving than other interfaces; possibly connected to the new dual-chip conversion (or perhaps the preamp too)? The 126dB of dynamic range is healthy and it didn't feel like there was a lack of headroom.
The dual-conversion technology is worthy of further discussion: you can read more here at the Audient website: What Is Dual Converter Technology? - Audient
Audient say: “we have used a technique called Channel Summation to allow for lower noise and an increased dynamic range. In basic terms, for each input, we use two converters, sum the two outputs together and then average out the data from the two ADC’s...
...As the two ADC’s are receiving identical inputs, when the two outputs are summed together the signal power will increase by a factor of 2, or simply be doubled as you would probably expect. However the noise added during the conversion stage will be random in nature (as noise tends to be) and the noise outputs of the convertor will therefore be dissimilar from each other at the point of summing.
Because the noise signals aren’t alike, when the signals are summed together you don’t get a magnitude increase of x 2. Instead, an increase of 1.414 is seen due to a mathematical concept known as a Root Sum Square. As the signal power increases by 2 but the noise floor only effectively increases by 1.414, an increase in signal noise to noise ratio is seen, which in turn, increases the dynamic range of the ADC.”
The unit runs warm but never hot or uncomfortably warm; the review period coincided with the hottest UK weather for 100 years or some such nonsense but the iD44's warmth remained consistent. The warmth is a by-product of the Class A circuitry, which is reassuring, but if you have an already hot environment then the iD44 is another source of heat.
Unlike some similarly-sized audio interfaces the iD44 needs a mains power supply too. No power via USB (which would not sufficiently power the Class A circuitry); I guess this leaves the USB free for data transmission.
Build quality is very good. Folded metal (steel alloy?) with an acrylic legend fascia. We can talk about mil-spec but the iD44 is more elegant whilst still maintaining a robust feel. Great design and engineering. The unit sits solidly on the desk with a gravity beyond it's modest weight. The iD44 feels like it will last a lifetime with care; also, solid enough to go live or on location.
The main output metering – small lights embedded in the fascia, one row for each L and R output – is marked from -36 to 0 with -36 to -12 as 4 green lights; -9 to -3 in orange; and a 0 red light. Signal present is denoted by a single green light and a red over light, on each of the four input channels. Usefully the inputs will also be metered on the L/R output meters if routed through it. The meters also momentarily switch to show the level of the monitor dial.
One final point of note is that there is no S/PDIF digital IO on RCA phono (a feature I personally find useful for connecting gear in a small studio) and also no MIDI facilities. Nowadays many controller-type devices operate independently of the audio interface via a separate USB cable so no problem there but some studios will have some 'analogue MIDI' gear that requires old-school DIN connections and the iD44 doesn't offer this. On the plus side maybe you're not paying for features that you won't use.
In use: The only slight annoyance was the button and switch (click) noise resonating the case – the larger main dial (with mouse click) being the worst culprit; not the end of the world at all and one can argue: better a slightly noisier button then one of lesser reliability. Most likely scenario is to set and forget switches and buttons during tracking so the noise is unlikely to interfere with recording; likewise, the larger rotary dial can be clicked on e.g. a DAW fader, and then silently scrolled using the dial.
Perhaps more of an issue is the horizontal control fascia of the iD44; it's OK if you have a low desk and the unit within arms reach but even at arms length I usually prefer the visibility of a tilted control panel. The flat control surface with it's small switches and legends, and brighter LED buttons and metering, can be difficult to navigate in the dark or dusk; no one wants to turn on phantom power to high end outboard. Of course, with time, one learns the ropes with new gear and the inserts are available for safe input but in twilight sessions I nearly hit phantom, twice.
The metering was really useful – clear but not demanding attention or blinding me with science (ha!). The software metering was equally useful and the small scrolling timeline meter provided some history of events.
The headphone output sounded good: Audient use Burr Brown op-amps for detail and punch then two Class A/B transistors in series, per channel, to create the right impedance for a range of headphones (32-600 ohms); DA conversion at 24-bit/96kHz. On AKG K702 headphones I heard a crisp clear sound without harshness or fatiguing buzzes; the bass was tight. The level knob didn't feel gain-bunched.
I really liked the classic Audient preamps – the same pre's as most/all of their gear range including the larger consoles. IMO the price is worth it just for the pre's. If the Audient were my only preamp then I'd be looking to the source material and/or plug-ins or hardware tone boxes to add diversity to the sound; Audient do have transformer technology HMX in other gear ranges but not in the iD range. Ideally I'd use the Audient pre's as my main 'utility' preamps alongside more characterful preamps e.g. Neve-style; and I'm sure they would be used frequently in more prominent roles on specific sources, mics, and styles, that suit them. The more I used them the more I liked them.
With multiple uses of iD44 conversion and Audient preamps, on many tracks, and for summing, I noticed a healthy 'air presence' which was revealing in the mix stage (as I wasn't expecting that amount of detail there); I thought it helped me focus on the sibilant areas well. I also enjoyed the representation of the low-mids and upper bass. I liked the bite on the bass guitar from the JFET DI.
Sonically I would make a comparison between the Sound Devices 7-series preamp and the Audient pre: a crystalline, clear sound without harshness that allows in warmth without generating it. The Audient could be accused by some (you know who you are!) of slight thinness but only if you frame it that way. In fairness, the Audient pre does lack some of the weight, authority and rich-transformer harmonics of expensive and boutique units, but I'd rather have a clean signal to process further than an inferior 'warmer' or less-flexible signal.
If someone doesn't make a hit record with these pre's then I'll eat my hat...oh wait...John already did, sort of.
Making music with the iD44: For better or worse, I like to make music with the gear I'm reviewing; this is revealing (e.g. how quick is it to adapt to/workflow/ease-of-use) and whilst it's not x factor or Eurovision material, it does perhaps capture some of the character of the Audient pre's and conversion. I used the iD44 as an interface for tracking and monitoring; transferred the stems to RADAR Studio and added slide gtr and re-tracked strings and drum using the Audient pre's stand-alone. I recorded a bass gtr using the DI. The stems were converted to analogue via RADAR and into a DAV Electronics passive mixbus with the make-up gain coming from the Audient pre's and the converted back to digital by the iD44.
The Old Man & the Sea
NB: The occasional clipping/crackling is something downstream like a guitar or mic cable - nothing to do with the iD44
Tracking gear: Vocal (WeissKlang V13 w/Audient pre and Warm 76 compressor on insert); Taylor 414ce gtr: DI (iD44) and stereo gtr/room (Rode NT4 w/Audient pre's); slide gtr: DI (BAE) and mic on amp (V13 w/Audient pre); Strings/drum: re-tracked from Reason DAW MIDI instruments (V13 w/Audient pre).
In Tech We Trust: Should we be concerned about the controller being dual use? In comparison, the Audiolinear Axis is a high-end monitor controller specialized for the role - as is the iD44's monitor section. The Axis's expensive Elma rotary dial and resistors and specialized passive circuitry create a wonderful backdrop for the music; the Audient does so too but differently. The iD44 has an active monitor control and the design allows for that dual-use. The Audient soundstage seems a bit 'fresher' than the Axis-RADAR combo but it never sounded unpleasant or wrong.
Dual use. Does this compromise the audio path? Not on the iD44 but maybe I am unduly concerned about a dual-use control at a critical point in the audio path.
Whereas the Axis dial felt like holding a smooth pebble purring through the resistors like an Aston Martin, the iD44 dial feels more 'hot-hatch' – quite light, nifty and fun to drive. The smooth-detented rotary dial feels light but right.
Sound Quality: 5/5 Clear; pro-sound. Will suit many styles of music. Engaging representation of the source. Non-fatiguing. Limited to 96 kHz maximum sample rate – but hey...Dan Lavry ;D
Ease of Use: 5/5 Enjoyable. Not too complex. Very good unit for starters. The software/drivers were a pleasure to use. Simple and effective; good control functionality for the modest size. The iD44 is highly-portable (anywhere with a power supply) and this is aided by the ability to programme internal hardware routing via a software mixer and save that state for stand-alone operation. Good metering and tactile feedback.
Features: 5/5 The absence of MIDI and S/PDIF connections are an indicative of a new generation of devices and studio connections that transfer the data by other means e.g. direct USB or optical. On one level the scroll wheel makes a lot of sense: a dual-layer assignable tool that saves deskspace; the potential downside is that the monitor dial is in a critical position in the signal path and this is reliant on the mechanical efficiency of the dial and associated electronics.
Bang-for-buck: 5/5 The iD44 represents excellent value-for-money: the four, fully-featured Audient preamps are worth the price alone IMO and this fact gives the iD44 a longevity and usefulness even if you decide to upgrade your interface at a later stage. The ADAT expandability will suit some more than others. There's also a good-quality software bundle. Various USB cables are included.
Conclusion: The iD44 has a specific purpose as the centre-piece or control hub of the studio and it is very well-equipped for that role; the iD44 also offers a lot of utility besides being a primary interface: preamps, mini-mixer, headphone mixes, IO for outboard gear, etc. From that perspective it's a great starter unit and a useful problem-solving audio toolkit that won't be a weak link when connected to high-end gear; but 'starter unit' doesn't do it justice. The iD44 is thoroughly professional and everso useful. It is a credit to Audient that they can manufacture products of this quality at the price; great value and gear to be confident in.
Credits & Links:
iD44 (Audient site): Audient iD44 - 20in / 24out High Performance Audio Interface
iD44 manual (PDF): https://d9w4fhj63j193.cloudfront.net...1.0%20(en).pdf
Vanta Black (CC BY-SA 3.0) Surrey Nanosystems
Images used with permission of Audient;
additional images by Arthur Stone.