File this directly under “why has no one done this properly before?”
One of the few remaining annoyances in computer music making is just getting connected. First, you need an audio interface to get proper sound and headphone cueing. Then, you’ve got all this great gear for control – but where to put it? Macs and even many new PCs have few USB ports (especially ultrathin notebooks like the MacBook Air).
Yes, it’s about time someone combined a practical audio interface with a USB hub.
Focusrite/Novation seem to be the right folks for the job. Focusrite’s audio interfaces are some of the best of the bunch – I’ve had good luck with their drivers, and they deliver good sound for the price, thanks to the company’s experience in things like mic pres. Novation, meanwhile, are one of the companies making all the stuff you want to plug in (like the ever-popular Launchpad line).
The Novation-branded Audiobus, labeled “Audiohub 2×4” (meaning I would expect they have other configurations in mind), merges both sides. There’s a 96kHz, 24-bit Focusrite interface for the audio guts, plus a three-port, powered USB hub.
Three USB 2.0 ports
Stereo line input (phono/cinch plug) with high/low gain switch
Four line RCA outputs or two balanced jack outputs
“Loud” outputs, including the headphone jack (with DJs and producers in mind)
Bus-powered audio interface – or connect a 12V DC power supply (included) to power the USB hub
Low latency performance and zero-latency (direct) monitoring
Crucially, those headphones can be set to outputs 1-2 or 3-4, so you do get separate headphone monitoring. That, combined with loud headphone output gain, indeed makes this DJ and live performance worthy. I also like those output knobs on the top of the unit.
And it works with the iPad, Linux, and the like, too, thanks to class-compliant operation. In fact, the hub combined with the ability to connect to iOS via a USB camera adapter makes this really ideal.
All in all, this looks like a box that ticks all the boxes for live PA and DJing. Where it sacrifices things is for those who need a mic or instrument input. If it’s a hit, though, a variant that does that seems close behind.
MIDI is missing, too, but that fits easily on one of the USB ports, so no complaints. (And then you can add more ports, for yet more connectivity…)
And because it’s hard to find a perfect, leave-it-in-your-bag-at-all-times interface for sampling, DJing, and live electronic performance, I have a feeling this will become a classic if they’ve done their job. Definitely hitting the review queue – stay tuned.
In the meantime, Novation has some nice marketing on this – I like the mention of DJ and Maschine sampling workflows alike, alongside this cute artist video.
Not that you need any of this. They had me at “USB hub.”