Things have changed in the audio interface world. Rummaging around installing PCI cards inside your computer has mostly been replaced with the ease and simplicity of FireWire or USB, and the traditional in/out device is looking a bit old hat these days too. The latest wave of interfaces aims to do a whole lot more, and the new Alesis desktop units exemplify this approach.
Up for review is the top-of-the-range iO|26. With up to 24-bit/192kHz operation, this unit offers serious spec at an affordable price. Unsurprisingly, connectivity totals 26: that’s eight analogue, 16 ADAT and stereo S/PDIF connections. All pretty standard fare, though this is for the inputs only. There are just eight balanced analogue outputs (so no ADATs), although one stereo pair can be mirrored to the S/PDIF out.
The eight analogue inputs use high-quality Neutrik multi-format connectors designed for mic and line inputs (balanced or unbalanced). The first two can also be switched to high-impedance mode for DI’ing guitars. Round the back you’ll also find stereo phonos for a turntable, and these come up on inputs seven and eight (again, there’s a switch to enable this).
All eight analogue ins include a pre-converter analogue insert point using a typical TRS jack, and phantom power is available on all mic inputs (switchable in pairs). The insert point is perfect for those wanting to patch in hardware – such as a compressor or valve preamp – before the signal hits the digital converters.
The back panel features two separate headphone outs with level knobs (you can send a separate mix to each), and MIDI In/Out. Connection is via standard six-pin FireWire, and power is supplied either by FireWire or the included PSU. Like most FireWire interfaces, sample rate affects channel count, but the iO|26 manages a pretty healthy four channels at 192kHz.
At this price point, interfaces can be flimsy, but the iO|26 is anything but. Its weight and rubberised feet help it cling to the desktop, and a quick tour of the connectors and knobs indicate that this is a solidly engineered box.
To put the iO|26 through its paces, we first tried DI’ing guitar and found the whole setup process to be really simple. Routing the input signal to the output using the HDM software is a doddle, and the dedicated Blend knob means you can quickly get a working balance between computer output and the incoming source. With input metering on the front panel, gain can easily be set without looking at your host software.
Moving on to a mic source, the Alesis mic amp design proves to be clean and unobtrusive. The 50dB of gain isn’t massive, but should be enough for most situations.
Overall, Alesis have made a real stab at addressing many points with the iO|26, and for the most part they’ve nailed them – lots of options, a simple, tidy interface and easy access to the controls and connectors you want. The software end of things could be more feature-rich but, as it stands, it’s simple to get to grips with and does enough for most situations.
Considering what you get, the iO|26 is a great deal.