The 21st century gave birth to the bedroom producer. And in 2020 the music industry finally recognized that songs recorded in someone’s bedroom were just as viable as those captured in a studio filled with millions of dollars of equipment. This, of course, has led many of these high-end studio equipment manufacturers to try to get into the home studio game.
The latest to make the leap is Universal Audio. They are a brand with over 60 years of experience, whose equipment has been used to record some of the most iconic albums of all time. But until recently, the most affordable interface the company made was the $699 Apollo Solo — hardly the kind of money a beginner or casual hobbyist will spend. The Volt series, however, ditches the company’s expensive DSP chips and focuses on providing the basics with some unique twists. The result is a collection of accessible audio interfaces that should be on the list for any home studio setup.
- Vintage mode adds character
- low noise
- Better latency than the competition on Windows
- Slightly more expensive than similar devices
- The software package is mediocre
- No mixing for direct monitoring
- Vintage mode add character
- 76 Compressor is excellent
- Controls are large and spaced for ease of use
- attractive design
- The software package is mediocre
- No mixing for direct monitoring
The Volt range includes five models from the $139 single-input 1 Volt, to the $369 four-input Volt 476. Some of the features are different and the number of inputs and outputs varies from model to model, but they share the same core, including 24-converters bit/192 kHz audio preamps and preamps with a “Vintage” mode that attempts to recreate the sound of a classic UA 610 tube preamp.
I tested two midrange 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 some ergonomic and design tweaks, and the inclusion of a built-in compressor modeled on the company’s iconic 1176 limiting amp.
Before you even begin to contemplate the compressor, though, the difference between the Volt 2 and the 276 is immediately obvious. 2 is simple and utilitarian. It looks like most other interfaces in the sub $200 range. There are a pair of TRS/XLR inputs combo on the front, along with knobs to control the gain of each channel There are knobs to turn on 48V phantom power for using condenser mics , Vintage mode, and to switch between line and instrument level signals. Finally, there’s a monitor volume button, headphone jack, and a switch to turn direct monitoring on and off.
On the back are MIDI input and output ports (something notably absent from the company’s high-end Apollo interfaces), balanced outputs for connecting studio monitors, a USB-C port, a 5V power jack (required when using it). it with an iPad or other mobile device). device) and, somewhat strangely, an on and off button.
The rest of Volt 2 is a simple box. On the plus side, if you have limited desk space, you can put the Volt 2 in tight spots or put things on top of it and still have access to all the controls. On the downside, it can feel cramped, especially when you’re trying to monitor your input levels. There are two tiny LEDs beside each input that light up to let you know when you’re about to start cutting.
The 276, on the other hand, is handsome and spacious. But you’ll need extra desk space as most of the controls are on top. In the upper right corner you’ll find large five-segment LEDs to check your levels. The gain knob and monitor level knob at the top are also much larger, which makes it easier to dial in things.
Also, the whole thing has a lot more style. The metering LEDs are at a slight angle to make them easier to see, and the sides are beautiful wood. Are these aesthetic flourishes and conveniences alone worth the extra $100? Honestly, they can be.
Once you factor in the compressor, I think the choice between the two here is obvious, as long as your budget can handle it. The Volt 2 (and by extension the Volt 1) are reasonably priced and perfectly serviceable audio interfaces. But they don’t necessarily stand out from the crowd. Focusrite’s Scarlett series is well established, competitively priced and shares many of the same features. The third-gen Scarlett 2i2 costs $170 ($20 less than the Volt 2), shares all the same connectivity options, and has an “Air” mode, which is comparable to the UA Vintage.
More importantly though, it would be difficult to tell the difference between the two if your goal is to capture clean audio. With Air and Vintage turned off and the gain on the preamps set to lower levels, both interfaces produce crisp, clear results. Are there differences? Right. but they are extremely subtle. I couldn’t separate a Volt from a Scarlett from an Arturia Minifuse in blind test. And I doubt the target audience of amateurs and beginners will be able to either.
(If you want to get really geeky about the signal-to-noise ratio and the noise floor and frequency response, I recommend Julian Krause’s YouTube channel.)
The latency between all of them is also quite similar. I gathered the interfaces I had – the Volt 2, Volt 276, Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 2nd Gen, and Arturia MiniFuse 2 – and connected them to my MacBook Pro (2019, Core i7 quad-core CPU, 16GB RAM) and Dell XPS 15 (2019, quad-core Core i7 processor, 32GB RAM), set the sample rate to 44,100 Hz and the buffer size to 128 samples and measured the total latency in Ableton Live 11. All four interfaces provided the same exact latency of 12.2ms on Mac. On Dell, both Volts came in at just 8.89ms, MiniFuse at 9.89ms and Scarlett brought the rear to 12.9ms. While lower latency is obviously better, none of these numbers are particularly alarming.
This difference starts to show a little more when you increase the gain and push the preamps on these interfaces. I plugged my Fender Toronado with Atomic humbuckers directly into the Volt 2, Volt 276, 2i4 and MiniFuse. I increased the preamp gain on each and fed them into a basic clean amp simulator in Ableton. Here the differences are a little more obvious, but not quite as dramatic – at least until you turn on the 276’s compressor.
The MiniFuse at full gain is a bit flimsy and sounds like a full-on fuzz pedal. Scarlett has a lower touch and slightly hollowed mids, but is still quite aggressive. While the Volt 2 is a little thinner on the lower end and puts more focus on the mids and highs. The compressor on the 276 makes a huge difference here, though. It softens the edges a bit and tames some of the harsher frequencies. It’s worth noting that this all sounds pretty rough at the higher frequencies with the gain maxed out. Then again, it’s unlikely anyone is maxing out these preamps on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have an SSL2+ available to test, which would be the best comparison for the Volt 276.