This handsome little wood-sided box houses what is effectively Universal Audio’s first entry into the low-cost USB audio interface market, representing a bit of a paradigm shift for the company’s approach. Unlike UA’s audio interfaces in the past, the new Volt range has no onboard DSP to run their ever-popular UAD plug-ins. The Volt family are plug-n-play 24-bit/192 kHz audio interfaces that break from the UA Apollo range in that they don’t require proprietary drivers. Although they do not allow for Unison-style tracking through plug-ins hosted by onboard DSP, they have some attractive built-in options evolved from UA’s storied recording pedigree – plus a “curated suite” of audio software to get users into production on day one.
The Volt range of interfaces is functionally close (and in some ways incomparable) to industry-standard USB audio interfaces from Focusrite, MOTU, Audient, and others – all five of the Volts are designed for ease of use and recording quickly. The three Volt models with “76” in their name have a magic bullet: an inline 1176-style FET analog compressor with super-simple one-button presets that range from mild to aggressive compression at the input stage. The version UA sent to us is the Volt 276, with two analog mic/line preamps tuned to emulate the definitive UA 610 Tube Preamplifier [Tape Op #27] when the Vintage mode switch is engaged. I can confirm: Vintage mode has a sweet spot for driven, saturated sounds reminiscent of my rack-mounted 610 hardware, despite the apparent lack of actual tubes and transformers.
The most exciting element for me is that unlike other bus-powered interfaces such as the Apollo Solo [Tape Op #140], the Volt 276 is a fully class-compliant device. In practice, this means no drivers are required for use with Windows, Mac, or iOS devices – it just works right out of the box (UA recommends Windows users install Volt’s ASIO driver for superior performance). I was honestly hard-pressed to find a device that DOESN’T work with it; Straight out of the box plugged into a MacBook Pro? Yep. Okay, what about an iPad Pro bus-powering the Volt 276 for backyard AUv3 (Audio Unit extensions) app sessions? Yep. Hmm, well, what about attaching it to an Akai MPC Live 2 USB host port to use the Volt 276’s AD/DA when sampling vinyl – YES, this box has got it covered, and by the way, would you like that bus-powered and with 5-pin MIDI I/O as well? Cool! Naturally, this flexibility and (ahem) universal interoperability opens up a world of new possibilities, especially if (like me) you’re experimenting with mobile music-making. Having a lightweight and rock-solid 24-bit, 192 kHz I/O signal path for apps such as AUM, Gauss, Samplr, or even GarageBand is a bit of a game-changer. I had a lot of fun tracking vocals and guitar into Samplr in my backyard and found that the Vintage mode preamps paired up nicely with an AKG C 414 B-ULS with the Volt 276’s 1176-style compressor VOC (vocal) preset activated. I tested this interface with several other mics, including a Shure SM7B and a Sennheiser MD 441-U, and found that with a few tweaks to the gain, Vintage coloration, and compressor preset, I had a range in tonal choice that I hadn’t expected in such an affordable package.
But is this something I’d want to throw into my backpack? Given the boxy, retro-ish aluminum enclosure with wood sides it seems it’ll go the distance – only time will tell. The build quality is commensurate with other interfaces at higher price points; everything is clearly labeled, and again, easy as hell to use. Five-segment LED metering is included for both inputs and outputs. There are straightforward, direct monitoring options available with a button press, and the single headphone amp is clear and powerful enough to drive my low impedance IEMs (in ear monitors). I also want to commend UA on a simple but highly desirable design choice – an actual, switchable power button! (Side note: C’mon gear designers, do what UA does: Put a nice toggle switch on that sucker!)
Nice-to-haves? Although I have yet to find something that wouldn’t provide bus power to the Volt 276, the interface doesn’t come with a power supply (buy one separately or use the included USB-A to barrel connector adapter with any standard 5V USB power supply). In addition, I would like to have had the option to enable phantom power individually for either channel (both XLR inputs receive +48V when the phantom button is enabled). And I was surprised to find that UA’s own LUNA recording environment couldn’t address the Volt 276 interface as a hardware interface. Although I’m confident there are valid technical reasons behind this; it seems a bit awkward.
Regardless, this is a solid interface that I would keep handy for the potency of its signal path and ease of use alone, not to mention that it expands my mobile recording palette significantly. It even “legitimizes” my noodlings on the iPad and brings that whole iOS recording habitat into the studio with serious fidelity. High voltage!