Review: RØDE AI–1 interface—preamp and A-to-D/D-to-A converter

Despite only a maximum of 45dB of gain, the AI–1 is very clean throughout. Is it your best choice in its price range? It depends…

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

Computer Connectivity—USB
Form Factor—Desktop
Simultaneous I/O—1 x 2
Number of Preamps—1
Phantom Power—Yes
Bit Depth—24-bit
Sample Rates—44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz
Analog Inputs—1 x  Neutrik XLR–1/4” combo
Analog outputs:
2 x 1/4” (impedance balanced)
1 x 1/4” (headphones)
Direct Monitor—Yes
USB—1 x USB Type C
Bus Powered—Yes
OS Requirements—macOS 10.10 or later/Windows 7 or later
Power—USB bus-powered
Depth—100mm total (with knobs), chassis: 88mm
Width—124mm
Height—38mm
Weight—560g (1 pound 3.7 ounces)

INPUTS
XLR/MIC INPUT

Dynamic Range—104dBA
Equivalent Input Noise @ Maximum Gain (Source Impedance 150 ohms, 20Hz–20kHz, A-weighted)
–128dBA
Frequency Response (Measured after ADC)—20Hz – 20kHz better than ±1dB
Gain Range—0dB – >45dB
Input impedance—1.3k Ohms
INSTRUMENT INPUT
Dynamic Range—99dBA
Frequency response (Measured after ADC)—20Hz – 20kHz better than ±1dB
Gain range—0dB – >45dB
Input impedance—900k Ohms

OUTPUTS
MONITOR OUTPUTS
Maximum Output Level— –6dBu
Frequency response—20Hz – 20kHz better than ±1dB
HEADPHONE
Max output power at 1% THD—32Ohms – >210mW
300Ohms – >390mW

Comparison chart

iRig Pre HD
IK
AI–1
RØDE
US–1X2
Tascam
Max gain60dB est.45dB57dB
Supports 48 kHz & more sampling frequenciesYesYesYes
Supports 24-bit resolutionYesYesYes
48-volt phantom powerYesYesYes
Android/iOS compatibleYesNo,
per RØDE’s
promotion
Yes
Latency-free monitoring*YesYesYes
Headphone outputYesYesYes
Separate output for powered speakersNoYesYes
Price±US$100±US$129 or
±US$80 in kit
±US$100

*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.

Test recording

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.

Conclusions

The RØDE AI–1 (Amazon — B&H) makes most sense with a microphone that have a very high output level, like the RØDE NT1 (AmazonB&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, AmazonB&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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Born in Connecticut, United States, Allan Tépper is a bilingual consultant, multi-title author, tech journalist, translator, and language activist who has been working with professional video since the eighties. Since 1994, Tépper has been consulting both end-users and manufacturers through his Florida company. Via TecnoTur, Tépper has been giving video tech seminars in several South Florida’s universities and training centers, and in a half dozen Latin American countries, in their native language. Tépper has been a frequent radio/TV guest on several South Florida, Guatemalan, and Venezuelan radio and TV stations. As a certified ATA (American Translators Association) translator, Tépper has translated and localized dozens of advertisements, catalogs, software, and technical manuals for the Spanish and Latin American markets. He has also written many contracted white papers for tech manufacturers. Over the past 18 years, Tépper’s articles have been published or quoted in more than a dozen magazines, newspapers, and electronic media in Latin America. Since 2008, Allan Tépper’s articles have been published frequently –in English– in ProVideo Coalition magazine, and since 2014, he is is the director of CapicúaFM.com. His website is AllanTépper.com.

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