IK Multimedia’s mini Axe has everything you need for recording solo guitar.
The Axe I/O One bus‑powered interface is the little brother to IK’s Axe I/O and Axe I/O Solo. It offers just a single combi mic/instrument input connector and three outputs, but still retains all of its big brother’s optimisations for use with guitars, such as a fully discrete input circuit with switchable Pure and JFET input stages to give the choice of transparency or a little added warmth.
Conversion is 24‑bit at up to 96kHz and the tech spec is impressive, with a frequency response from 11Hz to 45kHz within 0.5dB at the 96kHz sample rate option. There’s also a generous collection of software bundled with the interface, most impressively IK’s Tonex SE and AmpliTube 5 SE.
To keep the unit compact, the rear, top and front edges have been utilised for controls and connectors. The front edge houses the combi input, a quarter‑inch TRS headphone output and the Amp Out jack. The rear panel hosts a USB‑C connector, which also provides the power for the device, a security chain slot, 5‑pin MIDI I/O and the two audio outputs. Two further TRS jacks can accommodate switches or expression pedals.
On the top panel, rotary controls address the input gain (with a five‑section level meter alongside), Z‑Tone adjustment from Sharp to Bold, monitor direct/DAW balance, phones level and master level. A button enables phantom power, with status LEDs relating to instrument, mic, USB, MIDI in and MIDI out. The last three light up automatically when a USB or MIDI connection is detected. A toggle switch optimises the input for passive or active pickups, with a second toggle switch selecting between Pure or JFET for the input when Passive is selected.
IK’s Z‑Tone impedance‑adapting input circuit is designed to present the guitar (or bass) with a load similar to that of the input stage of a real tube amplifier, which is important in retaining the correct playing feel. Here it can be adjusted to taste over a range from 1MΩ right down to 2.2kΩ. The instrument input is the jack socket in the centre of the combi connector, while the XLR section functions as a mic input with 48V phantom power, switchable either from the front panel or from the free controller app.
The dedicated Amp Out of the larger model is retained, making reamping easier, or for when using the included Tonex SE software, with which you can capture Tone Models from your own choice of amplifiers with your preferred settings and miking arrangements. There’s also a generous library of Tone Modelled amps you can use right away. We ran a full review of the Tonex software in the January 2023 issue of SOS so I won’t go into too much depth here, other than to say that it is impressive.
The Amp Out features a floating output with ground lifting switchable via software. This is independent from the two main outputs and is designed to allow the interface to feed guitar amps or stomp pedals without the risk of ground loops causing hum. As it is independent of the main outputs, it can be used to feed a DI‑recorded guitar to an amplifier or stompboxes for reamping, while monitoring via the main outputs. It also simplifies using the Tonex amp capture software. Both of the main outputs are electronically balanced and may be used with balanced or unbalanced connections with no change in signal level.
Hooking up the Axe I/O One couldn’t be simpler: it just needs a USB port with power, and as the device is class compliant, it springs into life without the need for drivers. However, the Mac OS/Windows control program can access all the functions of the Axe I/O One. For example, there’s a switch on the control software screen that sends the instrument input directly to the Amp Out, with no latency, via a level fader and mute switch. Ground lift is also activated from here.
Given the quality of the included software, this interface has to be considered a real bargain.
While having only a single input may be limiting for those who want to play the guitar and sing at the same time, I suspect that many electric guitar players will keep the two tasks separate, in which case the Axe I/O One is a perfect fit as its guitar‑friendly features make it easy to dial in the right kind of sound by selecting from the Pure/JFET options and then adjusting the Z‑Tone control until things feel right. As long as you ensure your input is not clipping on the loudest parts, you can then open Tonex SE and start browsing its library of amps and cabinets right away before trying your hand at capturing your own favourite settings. Given the quality of the included software, this interface has to be considered a real bargain.
For recording single sources, especially guitar, the hardware and software on offer here represent very good value for money.