Manufacturers are still pumping out recording interfaces during this global pandemic, but self-imposed isolation has many of us contemplating and planning how we might best move forward with audio production. Still, music-making continues. Here's the good news: Healthy competition among manufacturers is definitely inspiring innovation in this category, and Arturia's new AudioFuse Studio throws down with smart design, ease of use, attention to detail, a high-quality build, and good looks to boot – they were obviously paying attention to musicians and engineers when they designed this interface!

Initially, before even powering up, I was impressed with AudioFuse Studio's small touches: two front-facing headphone jacks for both standard and mini sizes; a wall-wart power supply with four lock-in adapters (US, UK, Europe, Australia/New Zealand, and South America/Asia) connected via a sturdy 16AWG shielded locking barrel cable (perhaps suggested by Dana Gumbiner in his review of the original AudioFuse [Tape Op #123]), a non-slip neoprene base, a built-in three-port USB2 hub (for my two iLoks and portable bus-powered hard drive), two included braided and not cheap USB-C cables, plus necessary MIDI I/O adapters. Thank you for remembering all the accessories and features we've been asking for!

Secondly, I noticed the crazy amount of I/O (18 in/20 out) in this compact (10.4 x 6.3 x 2.8-inch) desktop interface. Under standard protocol, I wouldn't bore you here with a list of holes, but given its size, AudioFuse Studio's connectivity is noteworthy. On the front side of the interface, to the left of the aforementioned headphone inputs are four XLR/TRS (mic/line/instrument) combination jacks below their corresponding input controls on the face-up side. The rear panel offers TRS analog connections for four line inputs, four line inserts, two DC-coupled aux line/re-amping outs (more on this later), and options for two sets of stereo monitors. Toslink connections are provided for up to an additional 16-channels of ADAT I/O at 44.1 or 48 kHz, or 8-channels of ADAT S/MUX at 88.2 or 96 kHz. Other holes offer S/PDIF Word Clock I/O, MIDI I/O (via the included mini jack to 5-pin adapters), and even RCA stereo Phono/Line inputs – what the hell? This thing has more connectivity than most rack interfaces! But there's more...

The face-up top of this interface has a Bluetooth button on the upper right panel that will pair with any portable compliant device and can stream audio directly to an input! Next to that are subtle yet easy to see blue/white LEDs that indicate digital connectivity. AudioFuse Studio's form factor takes design, style, and convenience to an elevated level. Each of the four primary analog input channels have dedicated input sections including backlit buttons for +48V phantom power, Instrument/Line level toggle, a 20 dB pad, and phase invert. Below each of the four sections is a brushed chrome .75-inch rotary knob for preamp gain and a LISTEN button that bypasses DAW levels and muting.

When you plug in an XLR cable, AudioFuse Studio automatically detects it as a mic input and switches on one of Arturia's DiscretePRO mic preamps that offer a super low noise floor, huge dynamic range, zero perceptible harmonic distortion, and an almost totally flat frequency response. Dana Gumbiner had this to say about Arturia's preamps in his evaluation of the AudioFuse interfaces; "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." I found the DiscretePROs to be similar to the transparent "non-sound" of my Grace Designs m101 [Tape Op #68] pre – quiet, open, and very natural sounding. This is what I want in an interface preamp! I've come to expect disappointment when using built-in pres, so these are refreshing. If I need color, the available line inputs give me plenty of options to plug-in a character pre if needed. Mic and Line/Instrument level pres are actually two separate discrete preamps. If a quarter-inch connecter is detected at the jack, the AudioFuse Studio switches pres and indicates LINE or INST level on that channel. The INST button sets impedance for the input and can be toggled between INST and LINE, which the user must select.

Dominated by a large 1.5-inch stepped rotary Output Level knob, and surrounded by blue iridescent LEDs, the AudioFuse Studio's monitor section is impressive considering its small footprint. Playback mode switches for DIM, MUTE, and MONO are provided with options for monitoring the main mix, or two separate cue mixes through a primary or secondary set of speakers. The two independent headphone outputs have dedicated volume knobs and buttons for MAIN, CUE 1, and CUE 2 playback selection. Next to the headphone section is a TALK switch (momentary and latch with a red indicator) that activates the AudioFuse Studio's surface mounted talkback mic – yet another surprising pro level feature for an interface with such a minimalistic footprint.

Kitty-corner from the monitoring section is a small Arturia button, allowing for quick access to the popup AudioFuse Control Center. Here you digitally control most of the front panel features, configure Main and Cue mixes, view signal routing, and interface settings, manage firmware updates, etc. The GUI is super easy to navigate – nothing is hidden, and I didn't have to read 20 pages of the manual to get to work. I enjoyed how the channel mix faders in the GUI snapped to a "virtual" detent at 0 dB (would love to see that implemented by other manufacturers).

The two aux/re-amping ports are wholly unexpected. These outputs are impedance switching and include output level controls (managed via the AudioFuse Control Center). With a simple GUI button push and slider control, you can send out any recorded signal (mono or stereo) at instrument level. At home, I DI'd at night, and re-amped the next afternoon so I wouldn't bug the neighbors (too much). Because these outputs are DC coupled, you can also use them to send control voltage from your DAW to modular synths – I don't have any of those that work right now, so I wasn't able to try it, but very cool! Oh yeah, these are plain ol' Aux outputs too.

After unpacking, I followed the quick start instructions on Arturia's web site, and with a few installations on my MacBook Pro, was ready to work in minutes using Pro Tools and Ableton Live. Not once during the process of recording three songs did I have to refer to any documentation – totally intuitive and ready-to-go. As stated earlier, preamps were fabulously transparent, and switching between mic, line, and DI (instrument levels) was a snap. Building song projects was quick work, and the AudioFuse Studio proved to be a creative enabler in every way. One more thing: This box can work in standalone mode (without a computer), and I took full advantage of that by setting up the AudioFuse Studio next to my turntable for home listening. Wow! I can listen to vinyl with the Phono inputs, and stream from phones and iPods via Bluetooth – separate headphone outputs and level controls are perfect for isolated, late-night listening sessions with a partner.

If you're asking yourself "which interface is the best choice for me in these changing times," that's a question you'll have to figure out on your own. But the AudioFuse Studio ticks all the boxes for my professional audio, music creation, and listening enjoyment needs – high-resolution, ease of use, flexibility, portability, and damn good sound. I owned four recording interfaces before starting this review; now it might be five! AudioFuse Creative Suite is free (valued at more than $800) with the purchase of any Arturia interface, and includes these software tools: TridA-Pre (A-Range style preamp/EQ plug-in), 1973-Pre (British style preamp/EQ), V76-Pre (German tube style preamp/filter), Mini-Filter (recreation of Moog's Ladder Filter with LFO, envelope, and step sequencer), Comp FET-76 (Class A FET compressor), Delay TAPE-201 (tape echo), Rev PLATE-140 (plate reverb), and Analog Lab Lite (software instrument with a selection of more than 100 Arturia V Collection patches).

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

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