Last year, one of my bandmates got in touch and asked me about an audio interface for his teenage son, who’s become really passionate about guitar. I did recommend him something good and cheap, but to be honest it felt a bit arbitrary selecting one product from a sea of lookalikes (and soundalikes). The democratisation of audio production has led to an explosion of cheap consumer gear.
In practice this amounts to companies just repackaging the same old features and designs under competing brand marquees. Audient’s new brand of EVO interfaces is an admirable attempt to bring some new features to the table. These innovations are not just novelty for the sake of it, they can meaningfully improve the quality of recordings and the device’s workflow.
The most trumpeted of these new features is ‘Smartgain’ – an algorithm that Audient has built into the guts of the device that listens to the input signal and sets the gain at an optimal level for clean recordings. Digital clipping can ruin an otherwise fine recording, and novices often lack the know-how or critical ear to know it until the damage is done.
The claim is that, after pressing the big green button on the front of the EVO 4, you can stop worrying about this issue. Well, I can report that this works well in practice as well as in theory. I tested the Smartgain feature with a bunch of different signals – spoken voice and acoustic guitar via mic, 5-string active bass, passive electric guitar and electric piano via DI – and avoided clipping my recordings in all cases.
It is possible to trick the algorithm into failure by unexpectedly switching up your performance dynamics, but this is an outlier case that wouldn’t apply in the real world. In short, this is a clever, cool and well-executed feature.
The same can be said for the ‘loopback’ feature. Loopback is a kind of audio routing where the system sounds of your host device (anything from a desktop to a phone) are recorded alongside your mic and instrument sources. This is a crucial technical hurdle to overcome in the world of livestreaming and digital content and would usually require tricky hardware workarounds or third-party software.
By building this functionality right into the device itself, Audient has solved this problem in a clean and elegant fashion. This is potentially the ‘killer app’ of the EVO 4 and stands to give it a real edge for aspiring podcasters, Twitch streamers and aspiring YouTube stars. Again, a smart feature implemented in a straightforward way.
The rest of the EVO 4’s feature list is strong, though it lacks a couple of nice-to-have capabilities in favour of keeping the unit light, small and cheap. For example, the fact that it can be powered entirely by the USB-C connection is great, but the protocol is USB 2.0, not the more current USB 3.0. So there’s a small decrease in performance trading off against the portability. And while the EVO 4 is surprisingly inexpensive, look closely at the tech specs: the analog-to-digital converters can only write files at a maximum of 96kbps, whereas most competing products in this price range can extend this to 192kbps.
For the purposes of this review I feel it’s important to be transparent about where sacrifices have been made to keep the cost down. However, when I was using this interface, I didn’t feel like these engineering limitations translated obviously into subpar recordings. The preamps and A/D conversion are transparent, capturing the sound of my go-to instruments without introducing unwanted artifacts or tonal changes.
To be sure, the EVO 4 lacks the musicality of the premium inputs found in the best gear (think Universal Audio, RME, Antelope etc), but holds the line well enough against competitors in the same price bracket. One omission that I don’t think is justifiable: plugging into the headphone jack disables the main monitor sends. It's possible to work around this limitation, but it makes things a little harder than they should be.
Audient has doubled down on the beginner-friendly aspect of the EVO 4 by offering access to their online software portal, ARC, as part of the purchase and registration of the unit. The products on offer, from brands like Steinberg and Two Notes, are ones that would be found in many professional setups. In the bad old days back access to pro software required a massive investment which a newbie simply could not afford. What’s on offer here is plenty to get started with, and there's no need to worry that you’re missing out on the good stuff.
The final thing to say about the EVO 4 is how nice it is to use in an ergonomic sense. I like having notches in the movement of the main volume knob so I can commit a gain level to memory and come back to it. The ‘big knob’ design has been very well implemented. It’s simple to have the EVO 4 sit at one’s workspace with all the controls necessary to engineer at one’s fingertips. Being housed in plastic rather than some kind of metal makes the EVO 4 feel a bit less bombproof than other portable interfaces, but this is a small price to pay considering the price you’ll pay to own it.
- Price: $129 / £99 / AU $199
- Type: USB audio interface
- 2 transparent Audient EVO preamps
- JFET instrument input
- Class-leading conversion
- Ultra-low latency performance
- 24-bit/96kHz sample rate
- Front-panel headphone jacks
- Stereo monitor outputs
- Smartgain automatic level-setting feature
- Loopback functionality
- Included software and plug-ins package
- Power: USB 2.0
- Contact: Audient