Before COVID-19 and lockdowns would make our life nearly impossible, I decided to set up a smaller rig for songwriting and small production purposes. My needs were pretty basic: a laptop and an affordable audio interface with a couple of solid input channels for recording mic or instrument signals (voice, synth, guitar, percussions, etc.), bus-powered, and (possibly) iPad-friendly.
As for the laptop, I already had one (a Macbook Air, nothing too fancy) so that was easy. The real question was… which audio interface should I pick? After an extensive search, I went with the PreSonus Studio 26c, a 2×4 interface (two inputs and four outputs).
I’ll now share my impressions with you. Let’s start with an overview of the features and a quick description of the item.
Loaded with 2 clear and dynamic XMAX-L solid-state microphone preamplifiers (70 dB gain range)
Headphone output working range: 32Ω to 300Ω
Capable of up to 24-bit/192kHz studio-grade digital resolution
Stay on top of your mix with ladder-style LED monitoring and low-latency direct monitoring
Cue Mix A/B headphone output control accommodates a number of advanced applications
Onboard MIDI I/O provides a standard 5-pin DIN connection
Includes PreSonus Studio One Artist DAW software for Mac and Windows PCs
Packaged with the complete Studio Magic Plug-in Suite — a collection of awesome plug-in emulations of classic studio gear
USB-C to USB-C and USB-C to USB-A cables included
The Studio 26c has a rugged all-metal chassis, with blue side panels. It includes a handy built-in level meter and four level/mix knobs (quite tiny, but hey, you’re not supposed to fiddle with those all the time!). Also on the front panel, you’ll find four toggle buttons for +48V phantom power, direct monitoring, line (that lets you select instrument or line level for the ¼-inch inputs) and Cue A/B (this allows you to switch the source that you listen to through your headphone output, 1-2 or 3-4). Last but not least, you’ll find the two mic/instrument/line inputs, a combination of XLR and TRS inputs.
On the back, there’s a USB Type-C connection (but as said you also get the C t o A cable for older computers), the DIN MIDI I/O (no breakout cable needed, phew!), the 4 audio outputs (handy for signal processing or an extra set of speakers), and the headphone output.
Before going on with my actual hands-on impressions, let me tell you about some nice perks you get with the Studio 26c.
The iPad is not the centerpiece of my setup but from time to time I like to switch things around – there are so many awesome music apps!
The USB C (and USB A) connection gives iPad users an easy way to use the Studio 26c with their tablet. More recent USB-C iPads can be directly connected to the interface (although due to the power requirements the phantom might not work with your mic). If you want to play safe (or if you have an older iPad with a Lightning to USB adapter) you should use a USB hub.
DC-coupled Outputs, For Your Modular Synth
Like other PreSonus audio interfaces, the Studio 26C comes with DC-Coupled outputs, quite a unique feature in this market segment. Now, what does that mean? If you’re not familiar with this terminology, having DC-Coupled outputs allows you to tie in a modular synth system (or any CV-based analog synth) via your audio interface.
How does that work? In short, control voltage signals (the ‘fuel’ that allows analog synthesizers to work) require an analog signal path to/from your DAW. Unfortunately, not all audio interfaces are able to handle CV signals. Most can only handle AC (alternate current) signals, while for this purpose we need interfaces capable of handling DC (direct current) signals. That’s where PreSonus interfaces such as the Studio 26c come in handy. Add a software/plugin (like the Expert Sleepers Silent Way or Ableton CV Tools) that generates signals to be used as control voltages, and you’re in for a treat. Digital meets analog, best of both worlds!
Studio Magic– The Icing On The Cake
I love it when companies throw in a nice software bundle with their hardware products. In this regard, I find PreSonus’s offer hard to beat. Not only you get Studio One Artist (a DAW which is a lot more full-featured than any of the “lite” software on the market), but also the excellent Studio Magic suite.
The 2021 Studio Magic includes Ableton Live Lite, tutorials from Melodics, sound libraries from Ghost Hack, 7 virtual instruments, and 9 effects plug-ins in VST, AU, and AAX formats to use in Studio One 5 Artist or your DAW of choice with a retail value of over $1000 (US).
It would take too long to go through the Studio Magic details, but within the bundle, you’ll find top-notch stuff such as Output Movement (one of my favorite plugins), the Arturia Analog Lab Intro, SPL and Brainworx stuff, Native Instruments Replika, iZotope Neutron Elements, and more.
Apple M1 Compatibility – Is The Studio 26c Compatible With Your Shiny New Mac M1 (and Big Sur)?
In one word, yes! Personally, I haven’t jumped on the M1 bandwagon yet, but PreSonus has recently updated its support pages with this important announcement. Here are the most relevant bits, regarding Studio One and the USB audio interfaces:
Studio One 5.2 release on March 9, 2021 is compatible with M1 Macs running Rosetta. Native support is still forthcoming, yet you can reliably use Studio One with the latest release on M1 series Macs.
The Studio USB audio interface series (including the Studio 26c) are now supported with Universal Control 3.4.2 with Apple Silicon Macs running macOS 11 (Big Sur) released March 23, 2021.
I think PreSonus did a great job with the Studio 26c. It’s not the newest or fanciest piece of audio technology you can find on the market – it was introduced in Q2 2019, and it’s essentially an ‘upgraded’ USB 2 unit with a USB C connection. Don’t be fooled by specs though. Fanboys always gotta have the latest and the greatest, but often that doesn’t mean much when it comes to audio gear. Trust me, if you’re looking for a quality, affordable and compact 2-channels interface, the Studio 26c should definitely be on your list.
I like its form factor and sturdy construction – it feels at home both in a studio environment as well as in a ‘creative holiday’ situation (being bus-powered you don’t even have to worry about a power adapter). Also, I dig the fact that it comes with both USB C and USB A cables, so I don’t have to deal with those annoying adapters if I’m using an older computer.
The front panel design is nearly perfect. Having the meters is quite handy, and the monitoring button can be a godsend if you’re a ‘latency freak’. When engaged, it allows you to track your guitar or voice recording in real-time with virtually no latency. I only have one complaint – I would have loved to have the headphone output on the front panel. Next revision, maybe?
As for the preamps, they’re clean and they offer plenty of gain (70db). This is an important factor when shopping for an audio interface, especially if you plan on using condenser mics (such as some of the Shure mics in my locker) that otherwise would require a level booster. Would I make a record with these preamps? Sure, why not? As I often say, if you can’t make great music with consumer-grade hardware, I bet getting a Neve preamp won’t suddenly make you a genius either.
Worth knowing: if you’re undecided between the Studio 24c and the 26c, the latter has +20db gain, four outputs vs two and supports two output mixes, and you can monitor either mix on headphones thanks to the Cue A/B switch – you’re welcome.
Talking specs, I see that often people buying entry-level audio interfaces are overly concerned about the compatibility with their headphones. ‘Will this interface drive my XYZ headphone?’. Oh well, I wouldn’t worry if I were you. I tried several headphones with the Studio 26c, and I never had any issues. The headphone output range goes up to 300 ohms, but frankly, I doubt most users buying a device like this own hi-end cans like the Sennheiser HD650 😉
Wrapping it up, the PreSonus 26c is a solid 2×4 audio interface with some above-average perks (hi-res, DC-coupled outputs, a top-quality software bundle, two output mixes, etc.).
Good preamps, hands-on design, cool extra features and software, all this for only $200/€200? I say: recommended!
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