Arturia has been building stellar hardware and software instruments for years now, and the AudioFuse is their first ingress into the competitive world of audio interfaces. I was a little uncertain at first what would differentiate this small wonder — which Arturia markets as a future-proof and mobile next-gen audio toolbox with excellent preamps — from the crop of portable USB interfaces available in the current market. Well, after a pleasant, minimalist unboxing experience, one of the most immediate differences between AudioFuse and the rest of the crowd was made abundantly clear. This thing has knobs and buttons and I/O for days!

Let's start with the abundance of physical controls. "Control per function" is rarely a design principle that applies to modern compact interfaces, and often, users are unable to perform certain functions without a bit of menu-diving in an admin app. AudioFuse follows a different approach in that almost every single function of the hardware correlates to a physical control. AudioFuse can even be used in standalone fashion to monitor attached instruments when not attached to a computer. And the I/O! Good lord. There are four analog inputs (two mic/instrument/line–level via combo XLR and two line-level TRS); two separate headphone outs (both offer 3.5 mm and 1/4''); a stereo RCA phono/line in (with a separate ground plug); ADAT/TOSLINK optical I/O; selectable S/PDIF or word-clock I/O; two stereo pairs of switchable speaker outs (TRS); two insert points (TRS) for attaching outboard gear into the analog signal path; MIDI... I could go on — and I will. One of the speaker outputs can send an impedance-corrected signal out for re-amping. Plus, Arturia even wedged a three-port USB Type-A hub into the damn thing; so yeah, you go right ahead and hook up your iLok or USB keyboard directly to the interface — no prob. Sheesh!

All of this tactile control and connectivity is packed into a weighty, handsome, aluminum brick that's smaller than a bento box. Said brick can be bus-powered via the included custom USB cable that fans out to dual USB Type-A ends, which draws power from two USB ports on your computer or powered hub. Or it can be powered with the included wall-wart PSU.

Primarily, two things struck me about this box. First, it sounds excellent (more on that in a bit), and second, it feels like it wants to work with me. What I mean by that is that a number of little fit-and-finish details were apparently added because some musician or engineer said, "You know what I'd like to have available? This thing." For instance, the inclusion of mini-jack 3.5 mm headphone ports right next to the standard 1/4'' ones, or the super-practical USB hub. Or the little button that, when pressed, automatically launches the Control Center application on your computer. Just lovely little workflow-related touches that I haven't seen from other manufacturers. Similarly, I appreciate the AudioFuse cover, also machined aluminum, which fits snugly over the top half, sheltering the controls while leaving the primary audio connections exposed — a nice (and well-designed) touch. The layout of the multitude of controls, while somewhat dense, is easily scannable — everything is clear and easy to access/manipulate, even with my bass-player meat-hooks. Backlit, labeled buttons are dim when inactive, and brightly lit when activated. The AudioFuse comes in three finishes: deep black, space grey, and classic silver. My review unit, in silver, has surface printing throughout that isn't high-contrast — a little challenging for me to read from across the desk in low light. If I had a choice, I'd probably go with one of the darker finishes with higher-contrast labels. But this lack of legibility didn't detract from my ability to identify levels and controls, thanks to the logical layout and backlit buttons.

Initially, with the first iterations of the firmware, I was somewhat unimpressed by the roundtrip latency of the AudioFuse, but the recent release of firmware v1.1 seems to have significantly reduced the latency down to what I would expect from other portable interfaces. Which is to say, it's manageable now. To combat latency issues, Arturia implemented a direct/computer mix knob to blend the signal you're recording with a mix coming from your computer. I found myself sticking to a 50/50 blend for most of my tracking. The class-compliant drivers mean that the AudioFuse can be used in a virtually platform-agnostic manner, from desktop (macOS, Windows, and Linux) to mobile (iOS and Android, if you add a power source).

The AudioFuse sounds much better than I had expected, given its affordable price. To my ears, the quality of its A/D and D/A conversion is on par with what I heard from the Universal Audio Apollo Twin MkII [Tape Op #121] and RME Babyface Pro [#118]. And the two onboard DiscretePRO preamps sound incredible, justifying all of the hype in the marketing literature. I also like that Arturia takes the time and energy to generate a measurement chart for each AudioFuse that passes inspection at the factory, including the preamp's equivalent input noise, gain range, and frequency response. There's enough gain available to capture delicate acoustic and ambient sources with very little noise, even with passive ribbon mics. Note that bus power mode will reduce the maximum input and output levels to +18 dBu, down from +24 dBu. A minor gripe — I wish Arturia would have included a locking barrel end for the PSU, as the PSU's DC plug didn't seem snugly connected to the back of the AudioFuse. One more wishlist item — I love that talkback is available, but I would have liked it better if it had an option to latch on, and if the talkback mic also worked at sample-rates above 96 kHz.

This tiny toolbox is stellar. It's perfect for musicians and engineers on the go, and particularly well-suited for musicians who enjoy collaborating with others, or who work in a variety of studio environments where compatibility and flexibility are of demand. It's stable and sturdy, and its preamps and conversion go toe-to-toe with far more expensive interfaces. Long live knobs and buttons and stuff!

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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