A look at the USB audio interface

Often, in the face of adversity, the arts can bring us together and keep us sane. Musicians in particular know that the best therapy is to play and create music. Recording music has never been easier – all you need is a computer (or just your phone!), your instrument, a microphone, and a good audio interface. What better way to use our time when we’re all cooped up inside during this circuit breaker period?

What is an audio interface, and why do you need it?

At its simplest, audio interfaces take an analog signal (from your mic, guitar, keyboard, etc.) and converts it into a digital signal that is fed through the USB. It also works the other way, so you can send the digital signal from your computer to your studio monitor speakers. If you’ve been using the in-built mic in your device, and are looking for better sound quality when producing music, podcasts, or other content, an audio interface is a must. USB is the most common (and the most convenient!) connection you’ll find on most audio interfaces.

There are many great audio interfaces out there in the market, but today we’re going to look at the two we carry here at Anvil: the Yamaha AG06 and the Steinberg UR-RT2. Both interfaces feature the Yamaha D-PRE Class-A microphone preamps that deliver beautifully detailed sound. They also share the loopback function for simultaneous recording of inputs and playback of audio sources, which makes live streaming super easy. Both products come bundled with Cubase AI and Cubasis LE, a light version of Steinberg’s acclaimed Cubase DAW.

Maximum flexibility for live streaming, gaming videos, and more

Yamaha AG06 USB Audio Interface
Yamaha AG06 USB Audio Interface

The Yamaha AG06 has a mixer-like interface with controls mounted on top, instead of at the front. In fact, it can act as either a 2 channel audio interface or as a USB mixer, or both. (One thing to note, though, is that the AG06 does not have typical mixer features such as EQ controls and pan pots.) It is small and portable – you can either power it directly from your computer, or even from a power bank for maximum mobility. Despite its small size, it has 6 channels allowing for 6 simultaneous inputs.

  • A mic/line input with switchable +48V phantom power to power your condenser mic
  • A mic/instrument/Hi-Z input featuring a pad switch for recording loud sound sources
  • A stereo keyboard input
  • A stereo RCA input

Adding to the AG06’s versatility is the three-stage switch. The first setting is a dry and split output of channels 1 and 2, with channel 1 on the left and channel 2 on the right, so they can be recorded separately. The second setting sends a stereo mix of all inputs (excluding the PC’s audio) back to the PC.

The third setting is the popular loopback that sends all inputs, including your PC’s audio, back to the PC. This is a function that is unique to the Yamaha AG06 out of all the compact mixers in the market. This makes it ideal for podcasters who live-mix audio from their PC for recording or live-streaming. Having the switch on the hardware itself makes it super easy to switch between settings without having to open a separate control panel, which can be very useful especially if you’re live-streaming your screen on Twitch. If you’re a musician, you can use the loopback function to play along with a backing track, or other musicians, making it the perfect tool for online collaboration. There’s also a 3.5mm aux input, which is great if you need to connect an external soundboard and use that in a live-stream as well. Having said that, this setup works for solo-podcasters, but may not be ideal when you have a guest or cohost – since the loopback will send their voice right back to them.

Another useful feature is one-touch muting using the MONITOR MUTE button to eliminate your voice, if you use the AG06 as your PC’s audio output device. There’s a handy mute button that will silence the input audio from channels 1 and 2, while continuing to let your PC sound through – allowing you to have off-air conversations while still broadcasting the signal from the other inputs.

On the output side, there’s a set of monitor outputs, a set of stereo outputs, as well as a headphone output with a dedicated volume control.

For us at Anvil, the most exciting feature on the AG06 is the incorporated 1-touch DSP effects. You can turn the audio processing on and off at the touch of a button, or even using a foot switch if connected. Channel 1 has a switch for compression and EQ, and another for effect, which is a reverb. Channel 2 also has a reverb, and also has a switchable guitar amp simulation – when an electric guitar is directly connected, it can even reproduce amp distortion. The preset effects work great, but if you want more control, you can always use the dedicated AG DSP controller software (available as a free download for Windows/ OS X) to fine-tune each effect to achieve the desired sound.

The AG06’s many unique features make it the obvious choice for bloggers, podcasters, gamers, or anyone who is active in the social media side of audio production. The price is also very affordable, given all that it can do. Add a mic, some headphones, and your computer, and you have a working studio setup to start sharing your content with the world.

The professional solution for musicians and producers

Steinberg UR-RT2 USB Audio Interface
Steinberg UR-RT2 Audio Interface

Setting the UR-RT units apart from their corresponding models in the regular UR series is the switchable Rupert Neve Designs input transformers.

The Yamaha D-Pre preamps by themselves are clean and transparent. With the transformer switch engaged on an input channel, the sonic character is changed significantly, adding an extra harmonic richness, brightness, as well as a little bit of distortion and compression. The Neve transformer enriches the signal and gives a smoothness that you don’t get with a pure preamp, and provides extra versatility with regards to the sound, which can be tailored what we want to capture, be it an acoustic instrument, an electric instrument, or even vocals.

Of course, the UR-RT2 does not exclude the nifty loopback function for easy live-streaming performances.

The UR-RT2 also has its dedicated DSP solution. Powered by the integrated SSP2 DSP chip, you can enjoy the benefits of dspMixFx technology, which offers zero-latency monitoring together with three DSP-based effects: The Sweet Spot Morphing Channel Strip allows you to adjust EQ and compression simultaneously to achieve the ideal sound very quickly; the Guitar Amp Classics uses advanced Yamaha modeling technology to provide four amp types with different sonic characteristics: CLEAN, CRUNCH, DRIVE and LEAD; and lastly, the REV-X features three types of reverb effects: Hall, Room and Plate simulations with reverb time and level control. Record the dry signal while listening (or streaming) your favourite amp sound without any latency. By applying effects only to the monitored sound, there is no limit the post modification you can do with the recorded sound, without having to re-record any part.

Other than the combo inputs, the UR-RT2 also comes with 2 line inputs and a MIDI I/O.  There is no other audio interface at this size and at this price point (excluding the Steinberg UR range) that has 2 combo inputs combined with 2 line inputs – this allows for a very streamlined setup so you can connect a guitar, a bass, AND keys simultaneously, without having to switch out the cables to share the port. If you work with synths with standard MIDI outputs, having the MIDI I/O may save you from having to buy a separate MIDI interface, and also avoids any possible conflicts between the two.

Compared to the regular Steinberg UR series, it’s the Rupert Neve Designs input transformers that set the Steinberg UR-RT2 apart and make it truly special. The magical Rupert Neve sound is available to us at the touch of a switch in an impressive and yet still budget-friendly USB interface.

YAMAHA AG-06 Specifications

A/D Resolution: 24-bit/192kHz
Preamp: 1 x Yamaha D-PRE Mic Preamps
Inputs: 1 x XLR-1/4″ Combo, 1 x 1/4″ Hi-Z, 2 x 1/4″ Line Input, Stereo RCA
Outputs: 1 Stereo Out, 1 Monitor Out, 2 Phones (including headset)
MIDI: USB
Phantom Power: 48V (Channel 1)
Bundled Software: Cubase AI, Cubasis LE
Power Supply: USB
Size (H x W x D): 2.5″ x 6.1″ x 8″
Weight: 2.2 lbs. (1 kg)

STEINBERG UR-RT2 Specifications

A/D Resolution: 24-bit/192kHz
Preamp: 2 x Yamaha D-PRE Mic Preamps
Inputs: 1 x XLR-1/4″ Combo (Hi-Z/Mic/Line) , 1 x XLR-1/4″ Combo (Mic/Line), 2x 1/4″ (Line)
Outputs: 2 x 1/4″ Line Out, 1 x 1/4″ Headphones
MIDI: In/Out
Phantom Power: 48V
Bundled Software: Cubase AI, Cubasis LE
Power Supply: 12V DC power supply (included)
Size (H x W x D): 1.85″ x 7.79″ x 8.18″
Weight: 3.7 lbs. (1.68 kg)

*At the time of writing, the AG06 is sold out, but the UR-RT2 is available on our Shopee store.

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