Acoustic guitar

Universal Audio Volt 276 Review

Generally speaking, audio interfaces are tools that we prefer not to think too much about. Even powerful interfaces like Universal Audio’s Apollo Twin are made as streamlined as possible, so you can focus on the tracking, editing and mixing that happens inside your DAW.

To date, Universal Audio has largely avoided the cheaper side of the interface spectrum, instead focusing on the more professional end of the production equation and leaving the entry-level business to companies like Focusrite. , PreSonus and others. UA’s Volt series of interfaces, which range from the $139 1-in/2-out Volt 1 to the $369 4-in/4-out Volt 476, marks a shift in this strategy.

Entry-level interfaces may be quite similar, but UA’s Volt series aren’t just lookalike/soundalike equivalents of entry-level rivals. And three of the models in the Volt line, including the Volt 276, reviewed here, stand out for including a compressor emulation inspired by the UA 1176. The Volt’s compressor is not one of the great 1176 emulations available. as UAD plugins. Volt lacks the DSP processing chip required to run them (nor is there a direct path from Volt to the company’s superb Apollo and Luna operating environments). But the Volt’s onboard 1176-inspired composition is nonetheless an effective sound sweetener that, along with the onboard UA 610-inspired preamp, makes the Volt a very attractive entry-level interface option.

Black-panel Fender Deluxe Telecaster and Fender Tremolux in UA Volt 276 and GarageBand.

Pretty and powerful

An important part of mid-century design philosophy was to make beautiful, functional things available to consumers on a budget. It would be hard to find audio hardware that embodies this thought better than the Volt 276. The wood and metal casing looks beautiful and timeless on a desk and eschews the ugly, anonymous tech minimalist look that is the dominant design. vernacular for this category of products.

Controls are simplified: two TRS/XLR inputs, a phantom power button, buttons for each input to switch between mic line and Hi-Z impedance, input gain knobs for each input, and monitor and headphone level knobs. UA has also thoughtfully included MIDI in and out jacks on the rear. Important Volt-specific additions are the two buttons that activate the unit’s “vintage” preamp setting and “76” compressor. The preamp is tuned and has no EQ capabilities, while the compressor lacks controls to alter attack, release, or gain, but has three presets for vocals, guitar, and an EQ setting. fast attack. Their preset voices are very nice and very adaptive, all the same.

Helping out in a garage

In its most basic application, the Volt is designed to translate your input signal cleanly and with minimal latency to your DAW. And if you leave the vintage preamp and 76 comp out of the equation, the Volt serves that purpose well. There’s little to no noticeable extra noise, and the Volt’s basic preamp effectively grounds the input of an electric guitar. But the vintage preamp and comp 76 can dramatically change the sound of your input signal. And it’s interesting to hear how they alter a signal in situations where a beginning user/guitarist is most likely to use them.

One such application is to record electric guitar on a simple DAW, like GarageBand or Ableton Live (the latter is included for free, along with Marshall and Ampeg amp emulation software). While DAW amp models have come a long way, they can still sound pretty thin, antiseptic, one-dimensional, and plagued with digital artifacts in aftermarket mixes. But the 76 compressor and vintage preamp definitely flatter GarageBand’s native guitar sims, including some of the hardest to tame, like Fender’s tweed-inspired virtual amps.

Vintage pre and 76 are particularly effective and go a long way to making native DAW models much more convincing in a mix.

The differences are often subtle, as you can hear in clip 1. Enabling the vintage pre-voice provides a very good fattening agent – adding a dark, warm, low-end coloration that isn’t not blatant, but makes the patterns much more consistent. The 76, on the other hand, makes the high notes more present, warmer and rounder, which dulls the edge of many digital artifacts and adds a lot of the stuck tones you hear from its more sophisticated cousins ​​in the sphere. Apollo. Together, however, the vintage pre and 76 are particularly effective and go a long way to making native DAW models that much more convincing in a mix. In fact, I would consider many of the sounds I created with this combination totally satisfactory for final mixes in certain song contexts and dense mixes.

There are limits to this formula. The high gain fuzz on the front, for example, can still induce digital harshness if you are not careful with the input gain. And there are no compressor settings or EQ functionality in the vintage pre to alter the signal like you would with analog gear or a more flexible plug-in. That said, the Volt’s ability to add body and soften the harsh elements of these models without a pedal or a plug-in – just a guitar line in the interface – is a nice thing, especially if you’re creating with a simple platform. in a compact space or on the road.

Unsurprisingly, the Volt shines brightest when used with a pickup electric guitar signal. As you hear in Clip 2, the effect of the vintage preamp setting is subtle, adding a hint of more low-end, low-mid resonance and a toasty glow compared to the segment using the Volt’s standard onboard preamp. But, again, it’s the vintage preamp and 76 together that really shine. The Volt’s preamp and compressor may lack the flexibility, fidelity, and sculpting power of the UAD plug-ins and stock hardware that inspired them, but when used together they add a noticeable portion of the warm old school effects you would hear from these. more expensive solutions. And the inspiration and confidence that these sounds can give in the process of creation and follow-up is not insignificant.

The verdict

We don’t often review interfaces. But given how impressed we’ve been with UA’s Apollo and UAD plug-ins in our own recording projects – and the company’s tendency to constantly bring something new to the table – it was hard to resist the urge to study how the tools of the Volt could empower recording guitarists in the entry-level sphere.

There’s no doubt that UA’s keen eye for design, both in the practical and purely aesthetic sense, is paying big dividends. The Volt is beautiful and the layout is smart and intuitive. In most basic functional aspects, it is just as good or better than competing interfaces. It is super quiet and easy to install. The big difference, aside from that very nice deign, is the 76 compressor, but more importantly how the 76 and the vintage preamp voice work together. You might not want to use them on everything you track: the coloring can be strong when used in tandem. But for entry-level users on a budget, the way it can spruce up a very basic guitar track without having to bog down a DAW and the host computer’s sound processor, and how fun and easy you can use them, makes the 276 is worth the extra money you will pay over the competition.

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