Audient EVO 4 by Arthur Stone
Introducing...the Audient EVO4 is a 2-in, 2-out USB audio interface. Up to 2 analogue sources can be recorded and converted to a digital signal and transferred to a connected device (phone, tablet, PC); a return signal from the device is converted back to analogue for monitoring via line outs or headphone out. A tasty JFET DI input is included.
The control fascia - the top panel - is a joy to use; very straightforward, good haptic and visual feedback, and not distracting. Great for newbies and everyone else. Aside from all the usual controls and functions one would expect from a USB interface, Audient have included an auto-level feature (which is remarkably useful).
Audient bring decades of audio engineering experience and the latest cutting-edge design to the EVO4; despite it's modest price, and appeal to home-studio budgets, the EVO4 holds it's own with professional interfaces, in terms of sound quality. Talent is up to you.
Tech specs: Audient publishes full tech specs; they highlight 3 in particular: Gain Range 58 dB, Mic Pre EIN -127 dB, and Dynamic Range 113 dB. For newbies this refers to: the amount of loudness available; how quiet the preamp is; and loudness level before hitting the noise ceiling and clipping the output. All these are decent figures for any interface, let alone one sold as 'entry-level.'
In use the latency was never noticed (even on an old, slow Windows 7 laptop); it's there but not a distraction from recording a performance. Using the monitor mix, it's possible to balance the input with DAW backing tracks and get a good headphone mix for tracking.
The full specs are available on the Audient website https://evo.audio/products/evo-4/specs/ and a cool animated graphic showing the internals of the EVO4. Despite it's light weight there is a lot packed in there!
The Software: The EVO app is a simple 2 level toolbar window with options to select: sample rate, ASIO buffer size/latency, loopback source, update check, and link to Audient's Knowledge Base for assistance.
Thankfully there's no additional mixer app; the EVO4 shows as available in the DAW software or devices system preferences. Generous third-party software bundle including Cubase LE DAW, soft synths and instruments, cab sims from Two Notes, samples from Loopmasters, LANDR mastering and 3 Produce Like A Pro courses.
Audient's own website is a good resource for tutorials and general information.
Minimum system requirements:
Windows 7 and above officially supported (32bit and 64bit); PC or Laptop manufactured after January 2006; Intel Core 2 @1.6Ghz, or AMD equivalent; 1GB RAM Minimum
OSX: 10.7.5 (Lion) or later; Intel CPU; 1GB RAM Minimum
Kudos to Audient for the Windows 7 inclusivity; this is a smart move IMO. I used EVO4 with an old laptop and it ran perfectly and smoothly with no CPU strain and low-latency.
Price: £99 - $129 - Euro 119.99
An 4 channel version the EVO 8 is also available.
In Use: Very straightforward, even for beginners. The 6 buttons and their backlit legends are intuitive to use as is the main dial. The metering for inputs and outputs lights around the continuous, rotary, detented dial. The dial can be tapped to MUTE. In all a great ergonomic design with all the necessary functions and connections in a small footprint.
Using the EVO 4 is logical, the only time I needed the manual was to learn the button sequence for the preamp 'auto-level' (which also works with the JFET DI input). There is no menu-diving or small displays; just a few easy-to-remember button pushes in sequence. A joy to use. 10 minute learning curve.
I really enjoyed using the EVO 4 to create music with: primarily as a musician and performer (ease of use, simplicity, metering) but also as an engineer and self-producer (metering, audio quality/sonics, set-and-forget).
When tracking I had certainty (after setting 'Smart Gain' auto-level) that I wouldn't clip or be too faint, and that in this pocket the EVO 4 would capture a great take - the only pressure was on myself as performer, and performance was made easier by lack of distraction on engineering.
From an audio engineering perspective there is no need to fiddle with gain settings and more room for critical listening. If the EVO preamp isn't quite hitting the mark for the source then it's easy to plumb in an external preamp (or tweak plug-ins ITB).
The wet/dry (source or DAW) dial works well and it's easy to set up a monitor mix. Personally I like to hear a lot of the direct signal mixed with the DAW vocal track muted post reverb send - so that only the fx is output. EVO4 made this a doddle and I think it has enough flexibility to fit into many studio roles and scenarios.
The DI is very good (good enough to use as a standalone DI) and has a lot of clarity and well-positioned harmonic distortion when pushed. Flattering to the source without any obvious DI character. DI'd tracks sat nicely in the mix and this was a big help for electric bass guitar. Effortless.
Equally, the DI accomodated a Moog SubPhatty monosynth, a Taylor 414ce electro-acoustic guitar, a Tele (nice DI tone or into an ITB amp sim), a semi-acoustic, lapsteel. The DI is great for full, harmonically-rich sources (like the Moog and bass guitar) as it doesn't smear transients or smudge the low-mids and bass frequencies.
The preamp, although invisible, worked with a range of mics: an SM58, large diaphragm condensers. I might still use a gain-lifter with a dynamic mic but not really needed in a quietish acoustic home-studio setting or working with ITB sources.
I didn't test any high-end mics - I don't have any - but I do have clean mics and good quality mics. The preamp didn't compare with e.g. Neve-style preamp, Bluebox or Sound Devices, but they cost 10x the price, and the EVO4 doesn't sound bad in comparison or have any obvious flaws. It works alongside high-end pre's without fuss.
The EVO4's are definitely amongst the best entry-level interface preamps: clear, detailed, non-fatiguing - bringing out good character from sources without smearing them with a cheap cologne.
Some audio examples: I re-created a song I made for the Weissklang V13 mic review and used the V13 (which is a linear, clear mic designed to be used with Klangformer modelling software). The V13 sounds beautiful solo without the modelling so it's a good indicator of the EVO4's preamp as it doesn't impart too much of it's own character.
The first example is the vocal and acoustic guitar (Taylor 414ce) captured with the Weissklang V13 mic into the EVO4 preamp and A/D conversion: Voc + Gtr Mic
Second, the Taylor DI track from the same take: Gtr DI
Third, the DI'd bass track (Ibanez SR500): Bass DI
Finally, a mix of the three tracks: Mix
The EVO4 and rig recorded everything the way I wanted - all the detail and tone that leads to a good mix. I felt I had good insight and clarity to make production decisions. The DI really stands out as musical and adds value to the experience. The Smart Gain function automatically set the gain level which was lower than I'd normally use but with some ITB processing and summing, the level was good.
One final point: plugging a jack into the headphone socket mutes the main outs. This 'limitation' is specific to the EVO4, not the EVO8. It's worth thinking whether this is a positive or negative. When I discovered this in use I initially thought it was a limitation but perhaps a cost-saving or simplification of the circuitry - but there is an important sonic consideration.
Having reviewed a range of headphones I began to notice how the musical information and soundstage was affected if the main monitors were active i.e. producing sound in the room. The interaction of room sound and the sound within the headphone space, affects the tonality and character of what is heard - and this is especially true of the phase relationship between the monitor and headphone outputs.
For example, perception of bass energy (from the headphone) increases if the main monitors are active - and which bass frequencies are prominent depends on the main monitor level. Similarly, if the signal path to the monitors (or headphone) changes polarity or phase relationship (between headphones and monitors) then bass could be attenuated - or the mid-range disappears...or cymbals disappear.
Using headphones whilst main monitors are active - even if they are closed-back and isolated - affects the reference and leads to inaccuracy, particularly mix translation to other systems. So, what at first appears to be a negative - no simultaneous mains and headphone outs - is in fact, a good thing for your music production.
Conclusion: Highly-recommended as an entry-level device and beyond; sonically there isn't a huge difference between this humble box and higher-end gear. 'Entry-level' doesn't really do the EVO4 justice in terms of it's sonics.
Audient have done a great job: the EVO 4's design and function built on the company's long-standing expertise in audio-engineering and manufacturing - a modern unit using novel technology. The conversion and preamps have the classic high-quality Audient 'house sound'.
The EVO 4 is definitely a product of the time; built for popular music production and media playback: right time, right place.
Sound quality 5/5 Excellent. Smooth, bright sound with a good profile. The DI is good quality. The general media audio from the computer was great.
Features 5/5 All the regular, expected and necessary features plus the Smart Gain auto-level. No MIDI or S/PDIF but I think this is less of an issue for the primary market; many keyboard controllers and instruments can connect via USB.
Ease of use 5/5 It's super-easy. Worth reading the manual. More or less plug-and-play. The firmware update is superbly done. Operation is straightforward allowing the user to focus on music.
Bang-for-buck 5/5 Perfect entry-level starter unit but also, due to simplicity of operation and audio quality, a great interface for anyone. The EVO4 would also make an awesome general media/music playback system or for transferring music from other formats.