The iConnectAUDIO2+ - a review
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With the iConnectAUDIO2+ iConnectivity is on to another winner in unique audio interfaces capable of connecting together iOS devices and PCs/Macs combined with analog audio hardware at a great price point ($199 street).
A smaller brother of the iConnectAUDIO4+, the iConnectAUDIO2+ provides a lower-cost option for the more cost-conscious musician to be able to record analog and digital audio to iPhones, iPads and MacOS / Windows machines with ease as well as allow the routing and mixing of digital audio right within the device.
Like the iConnectMIDI2+, iConnectMIDI4+ and iConnectAUDIO4+ before it, the iConnectAUDIO2+ permits bidirectional digital audio - via iConnectivity's audio passThru (TM) technology directly without any D/A -> A/D conversion - as well as MIDI communication between iOS devices and desktop / laptop machines. In addition to the digital audio connection however, and like the iConnectAUDIO4+, analog audio from the XLR/HiZ/Line in inputs on the front can also be mixed with that digital audio. Using the connections on the front one can connect dynamic and condenser microphones, guitars and basses and synthesizers or other line-level devices.
Control of the audio and MIDI routing and mixing is accomplished using the iConfig application.
This runs on the desktop as well as on iPads. There are some slight differences between the desktop and iPad versions of iConfig but the core functionality is present in the iPad version as well to control both the audio patchbay and mixer and MIDI routing.
Using the iConnectAUDIO2+ the home producer (or gigging musician wanting to lay down some tracks in a hotel room say), can record audio and MIDI to both/either of a desktop/laptop and an iPad - and do so simultaneously. With appropriate routing choices made in iConfig, an iPad can also be used as an outboard FX processor with a desktop DAW and/or as an external instrument source using one of the many high-quality synthesizer, drum machine or FX apps available for iOS. The reverse is also true: the output from VST / AU desktop synthesizers etc. can also be routed to an attached iPad and recorded in, for example, Auria Pro.
Here's a quick video demonstrating using the iConnectAUDIO2+ in such a situation, recording voice, guitar and an iPad synth - iSEM - to a desktop DAW (Studio One Pro 3 in this case which is my DAW of choice, although the same capability is possible with any desktop DAW). Oh - and all the recording was done ad-hoc live and I didn't tidy up any timing mistakes ;-) Please excuse that - the main point was to demonstrate what can be achieved very quickly and with ease using the iConnectAUDIO2+, not produce the best masterpiece I've ever composed or recorded ;-)
On the front there are two XLR/HiZ/Line in combo jacks.
On the back there is:
- A power connector for an optional PSU (not supplied).
- A USB B jack labeled port 1 which is where you connect a computer to supply bus power.
- A second USB B jack / USB A jack connector. Only one of these can be used at a time to connect either a second computer or an iPad.
- A pair of DIN MIDI connectors - in and out.
- Two pairs of line outs for connecting multiple monitor pairs.
- A stereo headphone jack.
One thing to note is that when connecting both an iPad and desktop, using the desktop to provide bus power to the device, it's necessary to wait a moment for the iConnectAUDIO2+ to power up and settle before connecting the iPad to ensure it will see the box after it has been initialized. Another point I observed is that it did seem to matter which USB port I used on the Macbook (to provide BUS power) in order to get a reliable connection with the iPad without using an external PSU or a powered hub with the iPad. YMMV.
Touch panel and "the knob"
Using the touch panel one can select which of the two line/XLR/HiZ inputs to set levels for,...
... or, one can select both at the same time (e.g. for setting levels for a stereo synth).
Normally, the LED buttons are green - monitoring mode. To set a level, one touches the LED button until it turns red. To return to monitoring mode, touch again and it turns green again.
Phantom power can be also applied individually to either of the XLR inputs.
Output and headphone levels can also be set:
Note: The iConnectAUDIO2+ uses the same touch panel as the iConnectAUDIO4+, but of course only the first two inputs are selectable on the iConnectAUDIO2+.
A further neat feature of the knob is that if one presses it twice in quick succession, all the inputs are muted.
Like all the iConnectivity desktop boxes, the iConnectAUDIO2+ is built like a tank. The housing itself has a very rugged construction and solid, robust feel to it, and is made of metal and not plastic. The large control knob on the front is easy to grab to change the level settings and the touch panel is nicely rigid and not pliable. I.e. when you touch the LED buttons on it, there is no give.
Connections to the XLR and Line/HiZ connections on the front feel firm and snug - as do connections to the headphone and Line out jacks on the back. There is a little play when USB cables are seated in the USB jacks, but that's as much due to the variable manufacture of the connectors that I was using as anything else. I used a standard Apple lightning to USB-A cable to connect the iPad to the iConnectAUDIO2+ and there was no play in that jack.
It's also the same size as the iConnectAUDIO4+ and the iConnectMIDI4+ and comfortably seats an iPad mini on top.
Default setup and audio routing
Like the iConnectAUDIO4+, the default iConfig setup is designed for immediate use with an iPad and a desktop DAW that will suit many people out-of-the-box.
My personal preference is to start with a clean slate (i.e. remove all the connections)
... and then add the ones I specifically need for a given task. Here's a sample alternate routing that I had set up for the video above as well as some other experimentation:
In iConfig on the desktop, one can save and recall multiple configurations which makes it easy to change the routing on-the-fly.
One can also mix directly in the box using the mixer. Above, I changed the default mixer settings to also add the USB mix in my alternate routing. That way I could mix the levels for the Mic and guitar right in the box if need be and route as I desired.
Once you get the hang of setting the routes, taking careful note of which are sources and which are destinations, it's not that hard to construct the patchbay connections that suit your particular needs. As I say, starting from a clean slate can help.
In the DAW - Studio One Pro 3 in this case - I set up the following inputs and outputs. This is not the only possible configuration, but it suited my particular needs:
The corresponding track assignments from those connections can be seen in the 2nd pane on the left:
The "From iPad" connection is not a different channel, but used to identify the connection more visibly in Studio One's Pipeline Stereo plugin that I used in the video in order to set up the outboard FX processing in Tonestack. Since I was already sending the main output to the headphones, I also set up a separate stereo output pair in the patchbay to route audio to the iPad.
Here are the assignments in the Pipeline Stereo tool that correspond to the inputs and outputs for the outboard processing. You can accomplish the same in other DAWs but Studio One Pro's Pipeline Stereo tool makes this particularly easy.
Default buses, signal paths and other config.
In the Audio info. pane in iConfig one can select various channel configurations. Changing one of the choices often affects others. E.g. as you choose different bus mixes the number of available mixer channels changes accordingly.
You will also notice above the Buffered frames and Sync factor settings. Those may need adjustment to get the best throughput for your particular setup. In my case I raised each by one to get rid of any dropouts.
One can change from the default mix bus configuration using the following dropdown.
Likewise one can also choose the sample rate / bit depth to use the device at. Choosing a different combination may also affect the number of supported input and output channels in the USB Device Jacks section. For many purposes, two channels per jack will be fine, but by default you have more available to you and that allows you to create complex connection scenarios to route multiple audio channels between devices. E.g. to route two different audio sources (VSTs/AUS) from a desktop DAW into two different stereo channels in say, Auria Pro or, using MiMix, to create multiple outboard FX chains.
All-in-all there are a lot of choices. Many people will likely stick with the defaults, but the power is there if you need it to customize your configuration as required.
Mixing & Mix buses
The mixer and the patchbay are connected, so, once one has set up connections in the patchbay, they are reflected in the mixer.
Further changes can be made in the mixer as well and likewise, these are reflected in the audio patchbay.
Changes made to the levels using the knob on the front are reflected live in the mixer pane in iConfig. One can select the channels in pairs or by clicking the link icon, change to mono channels and alter levels individually.
Again, the choices in the mixer to create multiple mixes and bus connections are very powerful. In addition, it makes it relatively easy to set up multiple mixes to send each one seperately to the headphones and the two pairs of lineouts perhaps for a live performance situation.
For more details on the mixer and the busing, check the iConnectAUDIO2+ manual pp23&ff
Connecting two iPads
Using two iPads instead of an iPad and a desktop/laptop is not officially supported by the device, (whereas it is natively with the iConnectAUDIO4+), but it was working reliably for me when powering the iConnectAUDIO2+ with a PSU and using a powered hub for the iPad plugged in to USB port 1. YMMV.
Just to be clear, the routing here is:
Powered hub->iPad 1 (in the red cover) via the Apple USB A to lightning connector, then, one of the regular USB A ports on the hub to the USB B port 1 on the iConnectAUDIO2+
Once you have two iDevices connected, you can route between them in the box just as on the desktop. Here I'm recording input from iSEM on one iPad into Auria Pro on the second.
The default MIDI routing is again set up for the most common cases. I didn't need to change the MIDI routing to get the cross-platform routing I desired in my video above, but one can do so easily enough in the MIDI configuration panels of iConfig both on the desktop an on the iPad.
Again, if I desired to change the MIDI connections, my preference is to start with a clean slate and then add the connections I specifically desire
One can also change the names of the Ports via iConfig. Here I've changed the name of the DIN port to Microkorg since I will connect a Microkorg via DIN connection later.
Something to note however is that it's best to do this before connecting an iOS device since iOS registers the port names of a device when it's first connected and you may not see any changes you have made in iConfig reflected in apps that display the port names. This is true of all the iConnectivity devices and is an "issue" with iOS itself, not the iConnectAUDIO2+ or other iConnectivity boxes.
All the other MIDI filtering possibilities that are found in the other iConnectivity devices are also available in the iConnectAUDIO2+: MIDI port filtering, channel remapping, controller filtering and remapping and while most of those options are likely to be left at defaults by most users, when needed it's very handy to have, for example, the option to filter out certain MIDI messages on certain ports or remap channels and controllers to handle situations where a given MIDI device is playing hardball or one has an otherwise esoteric MIDI hardware setup. The iConnectAUDIO2+ can handle that the same as its siblings!
Specs and audio quality
Here is a subset of the specifications for the device which you can find in more detail at the iConnectivity web page:
|Microphone inputs||Line/Instrument Inputs (Balanced)||Line/Instrument Inputs (Unbalanced)|
|Line Outputs||Headphone||Digital performance|
There is plenty of gain in the pre-amps and Line/HiZ inputs and I found that I did not have to raise the levels very high to set up a nicely gain-staged -18dB level in the desktop DAW for each of the mic and guitar I recorded, (see the video), which I was monitoring using Studio One Pro 3's free VU meter add-on.
However, do note that the specifications for the iConnectAUDIO2+ are slightly lower than those for the iConnectAUDIO4+ (See the table below).
|Microphone Inputs||Line/Instrument (Balanced)||Line/Instrument (Unbalanced)|
|Line outputs||Headphone||Digital performance|
As far as audio quality goes, while I did not specifically apply any comparative metrics to the iConnectAUDIO2+, I did not observe any noticeable artifacts or noise in use. I had previously tested the quality of the iConnectAUDIO4+ vs. a number of other interfaces when I originally acquired that device and I've written a short blog post here. While there are differences as I indicated in the table above, they are small enough that the quality will be nearly the same as with the iConnectAUDIO4+.
A note on latency
The audio latency in the Macbook setup that I used here was ~8ms input and ~5ms output. That's very acceptable and provided no noticeable delay when playing or recording.
It did take me a while to figure out I had to wait for the box to initialize before connecting an iPad. If I did that too quickly, the iConnectAUDIO2+ was not seen by iConfig on the iPad. If that happened, what I found was that starting Auria Pro (I guess any iPad app capable of speaking to multiple audio channels) caused things to wake up properly, and then closing that and restarting iConfig caused iConfig to be able to see the iConnectAUDIO2+ OK.
A couple of times the unit hung when I connected an iPad to it, but resetting it by pressing and holding the knob on the front cleared the issue. Of course, I then had to disconnect and reconnect the iPad.
These may be teething troubles in the pre-release unit I have for review. In any event they are mostly minor niggles that are easily overcome.
As I mentioned in the introduction, for the home producer or gigging musician who needs a solid multifunctional audio and MIDI interface, the iConnectAUDIO2+ is a great piece of gear at a great price point. One can connect two computing devices to leverage the power of both at the same time using the flexible audio and MIDI routing. While I did not do so, one can for example connect a Mac and a PC to the iConnectAUDIO2+ and route, say, the audio from a Windows-based VST that isn't available under Mac OS (such as the excellent Phasewave-M from TubeOhm for example), and record the results in a MacOS DAW.
However, like the iConnectAUDIO4+ before it, the iConnectAUDIO2+ is also a great boon to any professional studio setup where there is a need to connect together multiple computing devices and analog and MIDI hardware with a low-cost convenient and highly flexible device.
I've only really scratched the surface here in the review to give you a feel - there's so much packed into this one little box, so for more information, check out the links below.
iConnectAUDIO2+ at the iConnectivity site.
Some last thoughts - pros and cons
While I'm listing these as pros and cons, I would not want to be misunderstood as somehow weighing these against each other in a balance as two equal and opposite lists. They are just a summary itemization of positives and a few points worth considering as a potential purchaser. Whether those latter tip the balance for you is of course a personal decision and will also depend on your intended use of the device. For my part I'm very glad to have the iConnectAUDIO2+ in my lineup! :-)
- High quality XLR/HiZ/Line in inputs
- Multiple monitor outputs
- Easy-to-use touchpanel + knob
- Audio passThru between all connected devices
- Analog audio routing and mixing to all connected devices
- Highly flexible MIDI routing among devices
- DIN MIDI for MIDI connection to (legacy) synthesizers and controllers
- With an optional PSU, the iConnectAUDIO2+ will keep an iPad charged
- Can be bus-powered from a laptop/desktop
- Can use a standard Apple lightning to USB A cable for one iDevice
- A comfortable range of sample rates and bit depths
- May be used without a desktop/laptop - e.g. can connect two iPads (with extra PSU). This is not officially supported but worked for me as shown above
- Like the iConnectAUDIO4+, phantom power can be individually enabled
- No USB host port. The iConnectAUDIO4+ has a host port which the iConnectAUDIO2+ lacks. However, one can for example route USB MIDI connected devices from desktop/laptop computers via the flexible MIDI routing as in the video above and/or use DIN MIDI.
- The iPad iConfig app works well on Retina devices but not on non-Retina devices at present
- The PSU is not supplied but optional - extra cost
- Cannot power from an iPad directly.
- May need to take care which computer USB port is used to power to ensure reliable connections to an iPad (again - that may be specific to the unit I was testing)
- Cannot save separate configuration presets at present with the iOS iConfig app.
- Slightly lower audio specification than the iConnectAUDIO4+
- iConfig on the iPad needs some more work. Some features - like choosing different connections in the mixer panel - don't appear to function yet.
- Native support of two iDevices isn't officially supported. I had it working with a powered hub as I noted. YMMV. You may want to consider an iConnectAUDIO4+ instead which does provide native support if that is critical to you.