Arturia's audio interfaces just keep getting better.
When it appeared in 2017, the Arturia AudioFuse was probably the most versatile desktop audio interface ever made. Not only did it combine mic and line-level audio I/O with digital inputs in S/PDIF and ADAT format, it also offered a blizzard of additional features. These included monitor control, talkback and a built-in USB hub, along with re-amping capability, insert points on both analogue ins, phono inputs and an earth terminal that could be used for connecting a turntable, mini-jack MIDI In and Out and both full-sized and mini-jack headphone sockets. The AudioFuse also sounded very good, thanks in part to Arturia's class-leading DiscretePRO mic preamp design.
This cornucopia of features was, however, accompanied by a few quirks. Some of these have been ironed out in firmware updates, but I never grew to love the AudioFuse's unusual hybrid direct monitoring system, its rather crowded layout, or its dependence on generic audio drivers. And, with my reviewer's hat on, I could never quite figure out what sort of user this incredibly comprehensive feature set was aimed at.
The AudioFuse remains a current product, and was joined last year by the AudioFuse 8Pre. The 8Pre showcases Arturia's mic preamps in a much more streamlined interface targeted squarely at bands, drummers and other people needing to record multitrack audio. By ditching some of the original AudioFuse's more unconventional features, simplifying others and repackaging the whole thing in a spacious and smart 1U format, Arturia really allowed its good qualities to flourish, and the 8Pre seems to me an extremely strong product.
A Longer Fuse
This year finally sees the AudioFuse relinquish its crown as the most versatile desktop interface ever made, but only because Arturia have made one that's even more versatile. The AudioFuse Studio replicates all of the AudioFuse's many and various I/O options, adds some new ones of its own, and packages the sum in a larger desktop case that is, to my mind, both better looking and better laid-out. If the original was the Swiss Army knife of audio interfaces, its new sibling is an entire central European cutlery drawer.
The original AudioFuse was designed to be bus-powered, but in practice this isn't possible on some computers and requires some compromises in performance. Sensibly enough, Arturia haven't tried to make it an option on the Studio, which is powered instead from an external PSU with a locking adaptor. The Studio also doesn't have the AudioFuse's rigid lid to protect it on the road, presumably reflecting the fact that you're less likely to be using it on roads. However, permanent powering means the AudioFuse Studio can be used as a standalone mixer/ preamp/ format converter/ multi-bladed implement without a computer attached, which is probably more useful. When you do attach a Mac or PC, you do so through a USB 3 Type-C socket, but the Studio is fully compatible with USB 2 and comes with both types of cable.
As on their 8Pre, Arturia have binned off the AudioFuse's direct monitoring system, which is no bad thing in my view. What you get instead is a more conventional internal digital cue mixer, controlled from the AudioFuse Control Center utility. Where this differs from the 8Pre's version is that there are three separate mix panels. Labelled Main, Cue 1 and Cue 2, each of these can draw on all the available analogue and digital inputs. This addresses one of the 8Pre's few shortcomings, allowing you to send different cue mixes to the two headphone outs and to the main outputs.
One of many very nice touches is that the signal feeding Headphones B — which can be any of these three sources — can also be made to feed the second pair of speaker outputs, with its level governed by Headphones B's level control. So not only could you choose to feed a different mix to your alternate speaker pair, if desired, but you also gain independent volume control for the main and secondary speakers. (That's in addition to the already thoughtful option to apply a fixed volume offset to the second speaker pair...)
Front To Back
The AudioFuse Studio has four identical front-panel inputs on combi XLR/jack sockets. Like those on the 8Pre, each can operate as a mic input or a high-impedance input, and connecting a line-level source bypasses the mic preamp for the cleanest possible signal. Each also has its own dedicated insert point on the rear panel. What's new compared with other AudioFuses is that each channel now has a latching/momentary Listen button in addition to its phantom power, pad, polarity and source selection buttons. Depending on how you have things configured in the Control Center, this either triggers the Solo function for that channel in the cue mixer, or sends the input to a separate PFL bus. The PFL bus bypasses the channel faders in the mixer, and can be routed to any or all of the speakers or either headphone output. I think this is a great addition, allowing the anxious engineer to check up on any suspect sources in his or her mix during a take, without affecting what the musicians are hearing.
As well as the four front-panel inputs, there are four further analogue input paths, all of which do double duty. Each has a quarter-inch, line-level balanced jack, but if you use the turntable inputs, those override inputs 5/6, while 7/8 share a two-lane computer highway with yet another input type: Bluetooth. Pressing the button at the top right of the main panel causes the Studio to proffer itself for pairing, and I had no trouble playing music into it from my phone. Bluetooth input seems to blithely trample upon everything that's going on in the Control Center mixers, though.
The Studio's three pairs of quarter-inch output jacks are as versatile as you'd expect, especially the 'auxiliary' outputs. Both of these can be switched into a re-amping mode, allowing you to feed a DI'd guitar recording out to an amplifier at the correct level and with the appropriate source impedance. Routing the DI'd input directly to an auxiliary output during tracking allows you to record both direct and miked sounds, with minimal monitoring latency. This output pair is also DC-coupled, meaning they can be used to generate control voltages for use with a modular synth.
Compared with the AudioFuse, there's no new digital I/O as such on the Studio, but a second pair of optical sockets allows the full eight-channel ADAT count to be maintained at 88.2 and 96 kHz.
I liked the AudioFuse Studio a lot, and although I didn't get the chance to test them together, I think that adding an AudioFuse 8Pre as an ADAT expander would give you a killer setup for many band and location recording duties.
Light The Fuse
As I've already mentioned, the original AudioFuse is extraordinarily comprehensive, and the Studio version even more so. On paper, though, the differences perhaps don't seem as great as all that. Isn't the Studio version just a double-width AudioFuse with an extra pair of mic/line/instrument inputs and a pair of auxiliary outputs? And given that this makes it much less portable, is it really worth spending the extra to get the Studio?
To my mind, it certainly is worth the difference, but that's not so much because of the relatively modest expansion in I/O. It's because the Studio is much more pleasant to work with. The form factor is a big improvement, the new cue-mixing and direct monitoring arrangements are excellent and the PFL option is really handy. Along with numerous smaller enhancements, it all adds up to a feeling of refinement and ergonomic design that was slightly lacking in the original — while, of course, the Studio version retains that device's excellent sound quality.
Arturia are still offering generic drivers with the AudioFuse range, rather than coding their own. These will never quite match the performance offered by rivals such as RME, MOTU or Focusrite who use custom drivers, and that's a shame, but at least the Studio's improved direct monitoring features mean you're less likely to need to run it at super-low buffer sizes. I liked the AudioFuse Studio a lot, and although I didn't get the chance to test them together, I think that adding an AudioFuse 8Pre as an ADAT expander would give you a killer setup for many band and location recording duties.
Most audio interfaces these days come with software to sweeten the deal, and Arturia's offering in this department is particularly toothsome. Analog Lab Lite is a virtual instrument which collects together some choice presets from their V Collection, but you also get Arturia's 3 Preamps You'll Actually Use, plus their Minifilter, Comp FET‑76, Delay Tape‑201 and Reverb Plate‑140. In each case, you're getting the full version of the plug‑in rather than a taster course, and if you were to buy all of these separately it'd cost you a significant chunk of the price of the AudioFuse itself.
- Amazingly comprehensive feature set.
- Excellent sound quality.
- More flexible and ergonomically better than the original AudioFuse.
- With so many features on offer, it's probably inevitable that you'll end up paying for some you never use.
- Generic drivers offer adequate rather than stellar low-latency performance.
Creating an interface that's even more feature-rich than the original AudioFuse was a challenge, but Arturia have done it. More importantly, they've also ironed out some of its quirks, and the Studio is a pleasure to use.
£799 including VAT.