Audient’s EVO ecosystem grows further with an unusually intelligent ADAT expander!
Audient’s EVO 16 made an immediate splash on its launch last year. Designed to compete against products like the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 and PreSonus Studio 1824c, it offers features not usually found in its price bracket, such as digital control over preamp gain, and a colour display featuring Audient’s Motion UI graphics. With eight mic preamps built in, it also proved the worth of their Smartgain feature: the EVO 16 can ‘listen’ to your sources and set the mic gain automatically, which is a boon for self‑recording musicians in particular.
The EVO 16 also features two sets of optical I/O. Depending on the sample rate, these allow up to 16 additional inputs and outputs to be added, making it possible to record really quite large multitrack projects. However, Audient’s own ASP 800 and 880 expansion units don’t quite fall into the same price bracket, so initial EVO 16 owners might have been driven to explore competitors’ products such as the Focusrite Scarlett Octopre or Behringer ADA8200. Now, with the advent of the EVO SP8, that gap in Audient’s own product line has been well and truly filled.
The EVO SP8 is almost identical to the EVO 16 in I/O complement and appearance. It even has a USB Type C socket, but this is employed only for firmware updates: the SP8 cannot act as a computer audio interface. Consequently, it lacks the EVO 16’s headphone outputs, and its speaker and function buttons. As on the EVO 16, there are eight analogue inputs on combi sockets, the first two of which offer a 500kΩ high‑impedance option for connecting electric guitars and so on. On the output side, there are eight line‑level (+12dBu) outputs on balanced quarter‑inch jacks. It features two optical inputs and outputs, to allow the full eight channels to be transferred at sample rates up to 96kHz, and a word‑clock input.
As on the EVO 16, control is entirely digital. Each input has a button that selects it for editing, whereupon you can manually change the gain, phantom power, mute status and so on. Alternatively, you can engage Smartgain, which works exactly as it does on the EVO 16 (see our review from August 2022 for more details).
The EVO SP8 is compatible with any audio interface that has an ADAT optical input, and if you’ve used this method of expansion before, you’ll be aware that it is fundamentally ‘dumb’. The ADAT Lightpipe protocol allows the transfer of digital audio and clock information, and that’s it. There’s no provision for control data, and in fact the original Alesis ADAT machines had an entirely separate system for remote control and transport sync. So it may come as a welcome surprise to find that Audient have belatedly managed to piggyback a control system on top of Lightpipe.
For this to work properly, Audient recommend that the EVO 16 and SP8 be connected both in‑to‑out and out‑to‑in, even if you’re not using the SP8’s outputs. When you open the EVO mixer on your computer, you’ll see the SP8’s input channels labelled, by default, Digi 1‑8 or 9‑16. These can be incorporated into EVO 16 cue mixes just as you would with any other ADAT expander, but unlike generic expander inputs, these mixer channels also display gain controls, phantom power and instrument buttons. In other words, Audient have somehow implemented two‑way communication between the SP8 and the EVO 16 such that settings made on the SP8 front panel are reflected in the EVO mixer, and vice versa. Even better is that this communication encompasses Smartgain. Press the green button on either EVO unit and you’ll have the option to enable Smartgain on any selection of inputs from both. The benefits of Smartgain get greater the more channels you have, so the ability to do this in a fully expanded EVO rig with two SP8s attached is a pretty persuasive selling point.
At present I have only one negative to report from this, which relates to the way muting is handled. The SP8 and the EVO 16 allow individual inputs to be muted from the front panel, and the EVO mixer also displays mute buttons for each channel. For the SP8, these two mute options are independent: muting the input on the unit itself prevents any sound from reaching the computer, whilst muting the channel in the EVO mixer merely stops it appearing in any cue mixes. On the EVO 16, however, the two are linked, so muting the EVO mixer channel also mutes the input and vice versa. For my money, the SP8 arrangement is preferable, but either way, it’s confusing, especially as there are no visual clues that reveal what’s going on, and no way to see at a glance which inputs are muted on the front panels.
The limitations of the ADAT protocol often mean that preamps added this way feel like the poor relation, but in the EVO system they’re all part of one happy family.
Once you’re aware of this discrepancy, though, it’s easily worked around, and I’m sure there will be scope for firmware updates to make things more consistent in future. It certainly doesn’t undermine the benefits of systemwide Smartgain and two‑way control over the preamp settings in your expander, which are obvious. The limitations of the ADAT protocol often mean that preamps added this way feel like the poor relation, but in the EVO system they’re all part of one happy family. And although you won’t get the same integration with other audio interfaces, the SP8 is very aggressively priced and makes a highly competitive alternative to the ADAT expanders mentioned earlier.
- Offers eight channels of very decent preamplification at a keen price.
- Includes Audient’s Smartgain and Motion UI technologies.
- Integrates with the EVO 16 interface to form a complete system.
- Confusing mute behaviour when paired with EVO 16.
Designed to be paired with Audient’s EVO 16 but also a very capable partner for other audio interfaces, the EVO SP8 is a well‑priced and sophisticated ADAT expander.
£399 including VAT.
Audient +44 (0)1256 381944.
Audient +44 (0)1256 381944.