It's NAMM time again, and the new-product barrage has begun. With the flurry of announcements, it can be hard to focus on particular items, but one that caught my immediate attention is the Steinberg AXR4 ($2,799.99, retail) audio interface. Based on the price and specs, it appears that Steinberg went all out with this product, creating an interface that can compete with other premium models.
The AXR4 is a 28x24 Thunderbolt 2 interface with four combo mic inputs, eight line inputs and outputs, and a pair of ADAT inputs and outputs that also can accommodate S/PDIF and AES/EBU connections. You get MIDI and World Clock ports, and two Thunderbolt connectors. The latter make it easy to daisychain the AXR4 with other gear.
The 1U rackmount unit features new AXR hybrid mic preamps. These are different from the Yamaha D-Pre preamps that are found in Steinberg's UR Series. Like the UR models, the AXR4 offers Rupert Neve Designs circuitry, featuring Rupert Neve Designs SILK Processing, modeled with Yamaha VCM (Virtual Circuitry Modeling) technology. SILK is designed to produce transformer saturation on a mic or instrument signal.
From the photo of the unit, you can see that the AXR4 has a quality LCD display on the front, which is a big step up, metering-wise, from the UR Series, which only has status LEDs. And if one AXR4 doesn't offer a high enough channel or mic pre count, you can stack up to three units together.
The interface also comes with a 28x24 DSP mixer, which, among other capabilities, allows you to create monitor mixes and route them to various outputs. The mixer also features Yamaha DSP effects, including the VCM 276 compressor, VCM EQ601 equalizer, Sweet Spot Morphing Channel Strip and Rev X Reverb.
While all of that is definitely impressive, the figure that really jumped out of the spec sheet for me was the AXR4's ability to record and play back at a 384kHz sampling rate, with 32-bit-integer resolution. Although a number of DAWs and audio editors now support 384 kHz, interfaces to pair them with are currently few and far between.
The unit comes bundled with Cubase AI DAW software, which supports 32-bit-integer operation but not 384kHz audio. I assume that support for that lofty sampling rate will be part of upcoming Cubase and Nuendo releases.
With the introduction of the AXR4, it seems that Steinberg is betting that 384kHz audio will become more common in the near future. Will we soon be having 192kHz vs. 384kHz arguments? (Or how about 48kHz vs. 96kHz vs. 192kHz vs. 384kHz?) My guess is, yes.
But even if you’re only planning to record at 24-bit, 48kHz, I’m guessing—based on the excellent performance of the UR Series and other Steinberg interfaces—that the AXR4 will be an intriguing option for those looking for a unit that offers high quality and expandability.
The AXR4 is expected to be available sometime in the first quarter of this year. Initially, only Macs will be supported, with Windows compatibility slated for the second quarter.