PreSonus have built themselves a good reputation for being able to consistently deliver solid quality products that don’t break the bank. Today we’re looking at the PreSonus AudioBox USB, a 2×2 interface that can often be picked up on sale for under $100.
PreSonus aren’t known for skimping on build quality so it’s no surprise that they’ve chosen to design the AudioBox with a robust, heavy-duty steel chassis, rather than plastic as found on many competing interfaces in this price range. Intended to be suitable for mobile recording duties, we’d have no hesitation in throwing the AudioBox in a bag and taking it out on the road. For such a tough unit it’s also remarkably light at just 1.35 lb (0.61 kg), so it’s not going to weigh you down. The knobs on the front panel turn smoothly and again, they’re metal, which is an unusual attribute on an interface that’s this affordable – Focusrite could take some lessons here! PreSonus boast in their marketing material for the AudioBox that they drove a truck over the unit with no adverse effects. We haven’t tried similar but we certainly don’t doubt their claims.
This 2-in / 2-out interface features two combo input jacks on the front panel that will accept either a 1/4″ TRS or XLR plug. These inputs are equipped with low-noise, high-head-room, Class A microphone preamplifiers, which will work with dynamic, ribbon, and condenser microphones. Condenser microphones are generally more sensitive than dynamic and ribbon microphones and typically require external +48V phantom power, allowed for on the AudioBox by way of the 48V phantom power switch on the front panel which enables phantom power for both microphone inputs simultaneously. Connecting an instrument into the instrument input bypasses the mic preamp and the AudioBox USB then becomes an instrument preamplifier. There’s a gain/trim control for each input, and each with a corresponding LED that alerts you if the input signal is clipping. It’s rudimentary as far as metering goes, but does the job. Of note is that the manual specifically recommends against plugging in line-level sources into the AudioBox due to the risk of a distorted audio signal or even possible damage to the unit.
The mixer knob on the AudioBox adjusts the level of the direct input signal that is being directed to the headphone and main monitor outputs. With the knob positioned at 12 o’clock the input signal and the playback stream will be equally balanced, while turning this knob to the left allows for monitoring the input signal with zero latency. Separate volume knobs allow for independently setting the volume of the headphone output (which actually goes to 11) and the main outputs on the rear, with a range of -80 dB to 10 dB.
Elsewhere on the front, we have a power LED which lights when the AudioBox is properly powered and synced to a USB connection via the USB port on the rear. A suitable USB cable is included with the interface.
On the rear we have the aforementioned USB 1.1 port for connecting to a computer for data and power, MIDI I/O, balanced TRS 1/4 inch output jacks and a stereo headphone jack. The inclusion of MIDI connectivity on an interface at this price point is a rarity and can open up new avenues without needing to purchase additional hardware.
Setup & Software
PreSonus supply a CD with the AudioBox, containing a PDF copy of the comprehensive manual and drivers for Windows only. Updated drivers are available on PreSonus’ downloads page and at the time of writing the latest driver version is 1.3 which supports Windows 7 SP1 + platform update, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10. As a class compliant core audio device, no driver installation is necessary for Mac OS X with only correct configuration in your chosen DAW required.
Installation on our Windows 10 desktop proved painless with the setup program using a standard Windows installer GUI. Setup on our Mac Pro also presented no problems with us only needing to select the interface for use in our DAW. We tested with Reaper and the supplied Studio One Artist, a paired down version of Presonus’ Studio One. Our copy of Studio One Artist (version 2) was supplied on a DVD but PreSonus offer free updates and the ability to download the installation software from their website. We took the opportunity to upgrade to version 3 of the software to take advantage of a newer instrument engine, more advanced drag and drop abilities, numerous user interface improvements, and a greater library of sounds and effects.
Studio One Artist offers an intuitive single-window work environment that’s easy to learn and would suit the beginning to intermediate recording enthusiast. Although a slimmed down version of the full-featured Studio One, the Artist version still has a lot to offer, with unlimited audio and instrument tracks, virtual instruments and FX channels, and plug-ins including low-pass filter, gate, compressor, parametric EQ, and limiter. Those needing to use 3rd party VST plugins will need to use a different DAW or upgrade to the full version of Studio One, as their use is restricted in the cut-down Artist version.
The AudioBox supports recording at 24-bit resolution with a 44.1/48 kHz sample rate which should still be adequate for the average enthusiast in 2016. We recorded vocals with a Shure SM57 mic and tested the instrument input with a humbucker equipped Charvel guitar and a Fender Stratocaster with single coils. The preamps in the AudioBox aren’t named or highlighted in the marketing material we’ve seen so we were unsure what to expect. However, in use with the SM57 they sound as good as we’d expect for an interface at this price point, remaining quiet in operation with minimal hiss and with a certain transparent quality. Our attempts at recording electric guitars with the AudioBox produced rather more mixed results. Although we were easily able to achieve clear tones with the single coiled Fender, we ran into frequent clipping issues with the humbucker equipped Charvel, even with the gain control turned entirely down. With careful use of the guitar’s volume control and EQ within our DAW we were able to minimize the problem and ultimately recorded some high quality sounding tracks but potential buyers should be prepared for some fiddling if planning to record high output guitars.
PreSonus’ AudioBox USB interface is a solid budget buy for the beginner or intermediate home studio user who doesn’t need all the bells and whistles found on more expensive interfaces. Sample rates are limited and line-level inputs aren’t supported but the robust chassis, MIDI connectivity and generous software inclusion go some way to offsetting these drawbacks. For the price we think you’ll struggle to find better.
- Rugged build
- Excellent price
- DAW software included
- No line-level input support