IK Multimedia Axe I/O is one of the best audio interfaces for recording guitar apart from traditional instruments like microphones or MIDI keyboards. I can guarantee one thing that real guitar players design AXE I/O. And that’s why in this IK Multimedia AXE I/O Review, we are diving deep into the features and key specifications of this guitar audio interface.
Some aspects related to an audio interface make it suitable for recording guitars. Some of them are:
- Amp output ports,
- High Dynamic range,
- Active/Passive signals,
- Pure vs. JFET inputs.
- And a few others.
As a music producer, you are not only going to record guitars. You will also record many other instruments like Vocals. So, the quality of mic preamps is another vital aspect that we will be discussing.
Enough of the prepping! Now, let’s jump right into the article.
[Also check: Hi-Z input and comparision with other inputs in an audio interface]
IK Multimedia AXE I/O USB Audio Interface Review
Lets start with the IK Multimedia AXE I/O USB Audio Interface Review.
The IK Multimedia AXE I/O is an excellent audio interface for recording guitars. It is a two-input five output audio interface with two guitar inputs, one AMP output port to re-amp the signal, Z-Tone for impedance matching, pure and JFET sound signals, and a built-in Guitar Tuner. Apart from recording guitar only, many inputs can record vocalists, keyboards, or MIDI instruments. The sound quality may not be a $2000 type but is outstanding for a price of under $350.
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IK Multimedia AXE I/O Specifications
- 2 Mic/Line inputs,
- 1 Advanced input with Z-tone with pickup selection,
- 2 Hi-Z inputs,
- MIDI Port included,
- 2 external pedal/switch control,
- 2 Clear LED Metering dispays for gain metering,
- +48V Phantom powered Mic Preamps,
- 1 Headphone output,
- Exclusive Built-in Tuner,
- 4 line-level/ Studio monitors outputs,
- One monitor Mix Knob for direct monitoring,
- Line output dynamic Range – 113 dB,
- 24-bit resolution,
- Supported sample rates – upto 192 kHz,
- A wide range of softwares like 25 Amps, cabinets, stompboxs, racks, compressors and many more.
- Windows/Mac/ M1 mac compatible.
IK Multimedia AXE I/O Review / Analysis
There are two mic/line inputs, one MIDI port, and four line-level outputs as the standard features. These basic features allow you to record basic instruments like microphones and keyboards. All these different types of inputs will enable you to record at least three various music artists simultaneously. However, there is a huge disadvantage. Read the cons section of this article to know more.
More detailed section about guitar inputs, later!
There is a phantom power switch at the front panel of the audio interface. The phantom power makes the AXE I/O record vocals on condenser mics as well as dynamic mics. It is an essential feature but a significant one to have in an interface.
The direct monitoring feature of the AXE I/O is brought into life by using the monitor switch. Keeping the monitor switch in the middle means an equal amount of audio coming from your DAW and the inputs. Turning the knob to one side will disconnect audio from another source. IK Multimedia AXE I/O latency is super low to almost zero, and that is where it makes it fit for live recordings on top of an audio track.
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In terms of output or output ports, we can see a lot going on. There are four standard line-level outputs, out of which two are unbalanced. This line-level output can connect studio monitors, another set of speakers for separate channel monitoring, an effect rack, or other studio gear.
In addition, we also get a MIDI port and an AMP output. The AMP output is used to connect to an external guitar amplifier. This output is used to re-amp the guitar audio. The highly great thing is that the noise levels on this amp output are deficient, which I was amazed to notice.
The Audient Evo 8 connects through the USB port and is brought to life by an external power adapter.
Sound quality of IK Multimedia AXE I/O USB Audio interface
For vocal and guitar recording, the quality of preamps in AXE I/O is very premium and offers ultra-clean sound quality. There’s not even the slightest of noise. Furthermore, the AMP output promotes vibrant sound with very low to none noise levels.
One thing I can say confidently after using AXE I/O is that you are not going to be disappointed by the audio quality. The sound resolution is 24-bit. In addition, the various sample rates make the audio signal shine even more.
[Also check: Best professional audio interfaces for home studios]
Potential Use Cases
Now, let us see what you can do with the IK Multimedia AXE I/O.
There are a ton of use cases possible, but let’s see the ones I use the most:
- use guitars, record vocals, MIDI instrument,
- connect basses, use MIDI keyboard, record vocal,
- do re-amping,
- switch between JFET and Pure signals,
- use external pedals ( gamechanger for me),
- and a ton of stuff you can imagine.
Gain Ranges of IK Multimedia AXE I/O
|Input Type||Dynamic Range|
|Microphone Input||116 dB|
|Line Input||116 dB|
|Instrument Input||117 dB|
|Headphone Output||112 dB|
|Line/Monitor Output||116 dB|
The dynamic range is the maximum amplitude that an audio signal can jump without clipping or distorting. In addition, the gain range is not a clear indicator of how well an interface performs. But, for budget interfaces, an excellent gain range to look out for is between 55 dB to 65 dB. And the AXE I/O solo fulfills that requirement.
Plus, always look for a dynamic range for 115 dB or above for guitars. A higher dynamic range ensures that there is enough headroom for guitar and basses. It also helps to maintain the essential harmonic quality of the audio signal.
A dynamic range of 116 dB in the AXE I/O solo is the right amount to record a guitar without worrying about distortion.
PROS of IK Multimedia AXE I/O
- A huge software bundle included,
- Great mic preamps,
- enough inputs to plug most of your instruments,
- An AMP OUT for reamping,
- four outputs and two separate pedal switches,
- Ultra low latency.
CONS of IK Multimedia AXE I/O
- No ADAT/SPDIF ports,
- Only one headphone output,
- Dynamic and gain ranges could have been better,
- Driver issues.
There are two huge drawbacks to the AXE I/O. One is that there is no extension available. It does not pair with other audio interfaces to increase input and output capabilities. It means that the AXE I/O cannot be used for band performances.
Having only one headphone output makes it challenging to co-produce music as either one artist can have access to the direct monitoring feature when using headphones.
These two drawbacks limit you to a one-person army. Neither the AXE I/O can be expanded, nor is it fit for co-producing or collaborating.
Why is IK Multimedia AXE I/O great for guitar recordings?
In this section, we are going to look at the features of AXE I/O that are made for guitar recordings. So, let us analyze each one of them.
1) Two Hi-Z inputs
On the front panel of the AXE I/O audio interface meant for guitarists, there are two Hi-Z inputs. These two inputs provide a great compatibility to connect basses and electric guitars.
The first instrument input has a Z-tone control knob. It plays a significant role in tone shaping. The knob changes the impedance and power of the information. For different guitars, it helps to create a unique sound as you turn the knob. The pure and JFET switch puts another character to sound. The JFET is a bit heavy and adds a subtle distortion character. Whereas the Pure signifies an unaffected audio signal. In addition, the active and passive pickups depend on the type of guitar you are using.
3) AMP OUT
The AMP out comes in handy when you want to re-amp the audio signal coming from guitar. The AMP out connects right to an external Amplifier eliminating the need of a DI box.
4) In-built Tuner
I am amazed at the deep thinking behind AXE I/O. Who would have thought that audio interfaces can be equipped with a tuner? Such a handy feature like an inbuilt guitar tuner makes an audio interface even more exciting to use.
It is so convenient to have a tuner right on the interface. It just makes things more quicker and keeps you focused at the task beforehand. Features like these are what makes an interface stand out.
5) IK Multimedia AXE I/O Software Bundle
The software bundle that comes with the AXE I/O is vast and costs over $1000. It is just mindblowing that getting a $350 interface made for guitar recordings will give you a plugin bundle that costs three times its value. It’s fascinating to see how valuable AXE I/O is to beginner and even pro guitarists.
Name and number of softwares included:
- Amplitube 4,
- 33 Stomp box models,
- 25 Amplifiers,
- 29 super cabinets,
- 12 Microphones,
- 15 Rack effects,
- 2 Tuners,
- Abelton Live 10 lite,
- classic analog tube-based EQ,
- Tube opto-compressor/limiter,
- FET compressor/limiter,
- Acoustic Room Reverb,
- Multi-band De-Esser,
- modern channel strip,
- in-one mastering processor.
The plugin list is huge and the softwares are superb. These plugins are enough to keep you busy for months as a guitarist or a software engineer. The plugins contains amps, famous compressors, analog EQ’s, rack effects, De-Esser for vocal processing and a DAW.
IK Multimedia AXE I/O USB audio Interface – Who should get it?
Short answer: Any producer or guitar player with less than $350 who wants to invest in an all round audio interface. The IK Multimedia has got great software bundle, two mic inputs, two instrument/guitar inputs, four line level outputs, external switch pedal compatibility, MIDI port and an inbuilt tuner. The size is small enough to carry on tours and the AXE I/O offers high portability.
[Also check: Best portable audio interfaces at a reasonable price]
Really, the IK Multimedia exceeded my expectations. As a guitar player, I can confidently say that AXE I/O has got everything. There is no need to spend extra money on a DI box, racks, stomp boxes, AMP plugins, Mixing plugins, Mastering plugins or a DAW. The AXE I/O comes bundled with all you need for a very reasonable price.
Coming to the ending part, I wish other interfaces had more of the features that are packed in the IK Multimedia AXE I/O. It is a bang for the price you pay. Usually, in such tiny audio interfaces, I have not seen so many different quality features. And with an inbuilt tuner, IK Multimedia has taken the AXE I/O to the next level because there is no single audio interface under $1000 with an inbuilt tuner. Now, how crazy is that?
[Also check: Audio interface setup diagram with a guitar]
The thing that sets AXE I/O apart from other guitar interfaces is the AMP OUT port. It is like having a DI box inside the interface and can help when you use many external amplifiers, for example, in live shows.
Lastly, this budget audio interface is everything you need to take your guitar recordings to a next level.
Thanks for joining me one the IK Multimedia AXE I/O Review.