As promised after teasing it in my recent RØDE NT1 microphone review, here is the RØDE AI–1 interface—preamp and bidirectional A-to-D/D-to-A converter. For the newcomers, A-to-D means analog-to-digital… and D-to-A means digital-to-analog. Since you already heard how it sounds with little stress in my recent NT1 microphone review, in this article I’ll share a test recording done with a dynamic microphone to stress the AI–1 to its worse case scenario, together with a video from RØDE. I’ll also share a comparison chart with the iRig Pre HD from IK Multimedia I reviewed recently and with the Tascam US–1X2, so you can see how the compare spec-by-spec and feature-by-feature.
Features and published specs of the AI–1
Simultaneous I/O—1 x 2
Number of Preamps—1
Sample Rates—44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz
Analog Inputs—1 x Neutrik XLR–1/4” combo
2 x 1/4” (impedance balanced)
1 x 1/4” (headphones)
USB—1 x USB Type C
OS Requirements—macOS 10.10 or later/Windows 7 or later
Depth—100mm total (with knobs), chassis: 88mm
Weight—560g (1 pound 3.7 ounces)
Equivalent Input Noise @ Maximum Gain (Source Impedance 150 ohms, 20Hz–20kHz, A-weighted)
Frequency Response (Measured after ADC)—20Hz – 20kHz better than ±1dB
Gain Range—0dB – >45dB
Input impedance—1.3k Ohms
Frequency response (Measured after ADC)—20Hz – 20kHz better than ±1dB
Gain range—0dB – >45dB
Input impedance—900k Ohms
Maximum Output Level— –6dBu
Frequency response—20Hz – 20kHz better than ±1dB
Max output power at 1% THD—32Ohms – >210mW
300Ohms – >390mW
| iRig Pre HD
|Max gain||60dB est.||45dB||57dB|
|Supports 48 kHz & more sampling frequencies||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Supports 24-bit resolution||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|48-volt phantom power||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Separate output for powered speakers||No||Yes||Yes|
±US$80 in kit
*See the next section to understand what I mean about latency-free monitoring.
What I mean by “latency free” monitoring from a digital USB microphone, interface or mixer
To be extremely conservative, the only situation that is really “latency free” is when the signal remains analog. However, that’s not then way we use the term “latency free” when discussing digital USB microphones, interfaces or USB mixers on a practical level. When I refer to “latency free” monitoring in the devices I review (or in workflow articles like Monitoring challenges when using multiple digital USB mics simultaneously), I mean latency that is so low that it isn’t noticeable, as opposed to devices that are host-dependent and software dependent for monitoring.
If you read and heard my recent Review: RØDE NT1 studio microphone, shockmount and pop filter, you already know how clean the AI–1 sounds with an electret condenser microphone with a high output level. However, the best way to test the quality of a preamplifier is to do so with a dynamic microphone, so the preamp will have to work much harder.
Here is the test recording I made with the Pyle PDMIC78 dynamic microphone (see Build your dynamic microphone modularly: Pyle PDMIC78 with Shure accessories):
The above recording was made at the video standard of 48 kHz and with 24-bit resolution (See my Understanding 24-bit vs 16-bit audio production & distribution. It is an uncompressed WAV, so listen via Ethernet or WiFi, unless you have an unmetered data plan on your mobile device. The original recording was made at –12dB and it was later normalized to –16 LUFS, at 16-bit.
As indicated in the recording, I had to crank the AI–1’s gain potentiometer to 100% to get a –12dB recording level, because the maximum gain available from the AI–1 is only 45dB. In Erik Vlietinck’s review in Red Shark, he made a similar test with the RØDE AI–1 and a sE Electronics V7 dynamic mic and found that even after cranking the AI–1’s potentiometer gain to 100% (as I did with the Pyle PDMIC78), Erik unfortunately got an even lower level than the desired –12dB. Fortunately, even though I had to bring the AI-1 to 100% to achieve -12dB in the raw recording, the signal is extremely clean.
The RØDE AI–1 (Amazon — B&H) makes most sense with a microphone that have a very high output level, like the RØDE NT1 (Amazon — B&H) I recently reviewed. That is especially true since RØDE offers the AI–1 as a kit with the NT1 (B&H), where the AI–1 effectively ends up costing ±US$80, rather than ±US$129 if purchased by itself. If you already own a microphone you would like to connect via an interface (preamp with A-to-D converter) with a single XLR input, there are other highly-rated options, including the ones compared above, which offer more gain for much less than US$129. Those include the ±US$100 iRig Pre HD from IK Multimedia (reviewed here, Amazon — B&H) and the ±US$100 US–1X2 from Tascam (B&H). Of course, if you want to get an interface or mixer with two —or more than two— XLR inputs, you can consider one of the many I have reviewed or am about to review. Be sure to be on my mailing list to be notified of new review and workflow articles I publish.
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