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Universal Audio Volt Review | Engadget


The 21st century gave rise to the bedroom product. And in 2020, the music industry finally acknowledged that songs recorded in someone’s bedroom were just as viable as those captured in a studio filled with millions of dollars worth of equipment. This has of course led to many high end studio equipment makers trying to get into the home studio game.

The latest to make the leap is Universal Audio. It’s a brand with over 60 years of experience, and their equipment has been used to record some of the most iconic albums of all time. But, until recently, the most expensive interface the company made was the $699 Apollo Solo — hardly the kind of money a novice or casual hobbyist would run down. However, the Volt series is ditching the company’s expensive DSP chips and focusing on offering the basics with some unique twists. The result is a suite of affordable audio interfaces that should be on the shortlist for any home studio setup.

Positives

  • Vintage mode adds character
  • low noise
  • Better latency than the competition on Windows

Negatives

  • A little more expensive than similar devices
  • Modest software package
  • There is no combination of direct monitoring
Volt 276

Positives

  • Vintage mode adds character
  • 76 excellent compressor
  • The controls are large and spaced for ease of use
  • Attractive design

Negatives

  • Modest software package
  • There is no combination of direct monitoring

The Volt lineup includes five models from the single-entry Volt 1 $139, all the way to the $369 four-entry Volt 476. Some features vary and the number of internal functions and outputs varies from model to model, but they share the same core including 24-bit/192kHz audio transducers and amplifiers with a “vintage” mode that attempts to recreate the sound of the classic UA 610 tube amplifier.

I tested two mid-range models: the $189 Volt 2 and the $299 Volt 276. Both are dual-input interfaces. What separates the ’76’ versions from the base models are a few ergonomic and design modifications, and the inclusion of a built-in compressor modeled after the company’s signature 1176 tweeter.

hardware

Universal Audio Volt

Terence O’Brien / Engadget

Even before you start thinking about the compressor, the difference between the Volt 2 and the 276 is immediately apparent. Number 2 is simple and utilitarian. It looks like most other interfaces in the sub $200 domain. There are a pair of TRS/XLR inputs up front, along with knobs for controlling each channel’s gain. There are buttons for turning on the 48V phantom power for use of condenser microphones, Vintage mode, and for switching between line level and instrument level signals. Finally, there is the monitor’s volume knob, headphone jack, and a button to turn the live monitoring on and off.

At the back are the MIDI ports for in and out (something notably absent from the company’s high-end Apollo interfaces), balanced ports for connecting studio monitors, a USB-C port, a 5V power jack (necessary when used with an iPad or other mobile device) and the rather odd On and off switch.

Universal Audio Volt

Terence O’Brien / Engadget

The rest of the Volt 2 is a regular box. On the plus side, if you have limited desk space, you can stick the Volt 2 in tight places or put things on top of it and still have access to all the controls. On the downside, it can feel jarring, especially when you’re trying to monitor your input levels. There are two small LED lights next to each entry that light up to warn you when you’re about to start cutting.

276, on the other hand, is handsome and broad. But you will need additional desk space since most of the controls are on top. At the top right you’ll find large five-segment LEDs to check your levels. The gain knob and screen level knob on top are also much larger, making it easier to get things into.

In addition, everything has much more style. The scale LEDs are angled slightly to make it easier to see, and the sides are nice wood. Are those aesthetic booms and amenities alone worth an extra $60? Honestly, they might as well be.

The competition

Universal Audio Volt

Terence O’Brien / Engadget

Once you have the compressor in mind, I think the choice between the two here is clear, as long as your budget can handle it. The Volt 2 (and therefore Volt 1) is reasonably priced, and the audio interfaces are perfectly serviceable. But they don’t necessarily stand out from the crowd. The Focusrite Scarlett series is well established, competitively priced and shares many of the same features. The third-generation Scarlett 2i2 at $170 ($20 less than the Volt 2), shares all the same connectivity options and has “Air” mode, which is comparable to UA’s Vintage.

Most importantly, you’ll be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the two if your goal is to pick up clean audio. With the Air and Vintage turned off and the speakers’ gain set to lower levels, both interfaces produce crisp, clear results. Are there differences? surely. but they until far away Fluent. I wouldn’t be able to separate Volt, from Scarlett, from Arturia Minifuse on a blind taste test. I doubt that the target audience of amateurs and beginners will be able to.

(If you’d like information on signal-to-noise ratio, noise floor, and frequency response, I highly recommend Julian Krause’s YouTube channel.)

Universal Audio Volt

Terence O’Brien / Engadget

The latency between all of those is very similar as well. I collected the interfaces I had — Volt 2, Volt 276, Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 2nd generation, Arturia MiniFuse 2 — and connected them to my MacBook Pro (2019, quad-core Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM) and a Dell XPS 15 (2019 , quad-core Core i7 processor, 32 GB of RAM), set the sample rate to 44100 Hz, the buffer size to 128 samples, and the total latency measurement in Ableton Live 11. All four interfaces provided the exact same 12.2 ms latency on the Mac . On Dell, both Volts came in at just 8.89ms, MiniFuse came in at 9.89ms, and Scarlett came in behind at 12.9ms. While lower response time is clearly better, none of these numbers are particularly alarming.

This difference starts to show a little more when you move the gain and drive the amplifiers on these interfaces. I hooked up my Fender Toronado with Atomic utilities directly into my Volt 2, Volt 276, 2i4 and MiniFuse. I bumped the preamp gain all the way up and got them into Ableton’s basic clean amp simulator. The differences here are more obvious, but they aren’t that dramatic — at least until you’re running a 276 compressor.

The MiniFuse at full gain is a bit shaky and feels like a full fuzz pedal. The Scarlett has a bit more lower limb and a little scooped middles, but is still a lot aggressive. Whereas the Volt 2 is thinner to the touch at the lower end and places more emphasis on mids and highs. The compressor in the 276 though, makes a huge difference here. It softens the edges a bit and tames a bit of the harsher frequencies. It is worth noting that all of these sounds very harsh at higher frequencies as the gain increases even higher. Then again, it’s unlikely anyone would crank these blasters to the max on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have SSL2+ on hand for testing, which could have been better compared to the Volt 276.

compressor 76



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