To be perfectly candid, I’m more of a musician-songwriter than anything close to a recording engineer. And, as such, I try to stay focused on my mission of writing songs and working on projects with my musical community. Over the years, I’ve learned the painful lesson that gear–even really good gear–can be a distraction and the last thing I need is to be blown off course by some piece of technology that the industry tells me I can’t be without. I’ve often thought about control surfaces this way: Yeah, they are great for workflow, but should I worry about something that I can do pretty well with just a mouse and some shortcut keys? While controller manufacturers promise a better DAW experience with a control surface, my sessions are less zen-like and more about let’s-get-it-done. I didn’t think the PreSonus ioStation 24c was going to change my thinking, but I’m coming around to it and after a few sessions I see some real possibilities.
First off, let’s talk about what it is. The ioStation 24c combines a high-quality two-channel audio interface with a compact DAW controller. Let’s talk about the inputs first: You get two of PreSonus’s XMAX Class A mic preamps behind two high-headroom instrument/line inputs. With XLR or ¼” inputs, the 24c allows you to choose line level for instruments or mic level with a 48-volt supply available for condenser mics. Each input has a level knob with individual LED clip indicators, but you must configure both inputs for line or mic levels and phantom power with one button, which I initially thought might be a drawback. However, as I used the 24c, I began to see this as a simple choice to record a track as stereo or mono. As a reminder, phantom power is only required for condenser microphones and can damage some dynamic mics, especially those expensive ribbon mics. So, no matter what interface or mixer you are using, be careful and switch phantom power off when it is not required. For outputs, the 24c offers a ¼” headphone out with control of the mix of inputs to playback, as well as two ¼” outputs ideal for powered speakers. A supplied utility called Universal Control, along with handling firmware updates and device drivers for the interface, allows you to configure sample rates from 44.1 to 192.0 khz. That’s the basics of the interface; the other half of this unit are the controls.
The ioStation 24c is not a large device (less that 10”x7”) so it doesn’t take up much real estate on your desk. That’s roughly the size of a typical mouse pad, and for my setup, I’ve located it on the left of my laptop with a mouse typically at the right. It looks–-well, lively, with 16 colorfully lighted buttons with more oversized buttons in a Transport section. PreSonus incorporated elements they developed in their FaderPort controllers into the ioStation 24c and they are the conveniently located controls that you would expect from a typical DAW channel strip, including buttons dedicated to Arm, Mute, Solo and Bypass a track, along with one 100 mm (long-throw) motorized fader. At the bottom transport section, there are large buttons to stop playback (pressing it twice to return playback-cursor to zero), looping, play/pause, rewind, fast forward and record.
In between the Channel controls at the top and the Transport controls at the bottom are controls associated with navigating a session. What I saw right away was that learning even just a couple of these Navigation controls can give you some serious power over your workflow and your mix. For example, a Link button connects the centrally located rotary encoder to any DAW parameter beneath your mouse, Navigation buttons select Next and Previous tracks respectively, a Master button allows the encoder to control the Master level (pushing the encoder once resets the Master level to 0 dB), Pan controls panning, Click turns the metronome on/off, and the lowermost four buttons can be assigned functions like Open Editor, Open Browser, or customized to do what you find yourself doing the most. There is a lot to learn about the 16 buttons and the rotary encoder. Each button can control multiple parameters depending on which mode you are in and each has a second function using the Shift button. While it sounds complicated, if you know your DAW, these functions and their location on the 24c surface can quickly become second nature. The Transport section is very basic and once under your hand, eliminates a lot of ‘mousing around’ the screen.
Registering the product with PreSonus gives you all the cues you’ll need to get setup once the unit is powered up and connected via USB C (the only option for connecting this unit) with the cables provided. As previously mentioned, you’ll be asked to download and install the latest version of PreSonus’s Universal Control software which allows you to set sample rates, buffer sizes, etc.,on connected interfaces. You’ll also want to be sure everything is up to date for the installation to work smoothly – older versions of software can complicate the installation.
Looking at the specifications and the load of free instruments, loops, and materials provided at the PreSonus site, I opted to download the company’s Studio One Artist DAW software which worked excellently, as you might expect. However, you are not limited to native support for Studio One since the 24c is compatible with Logic Pro X, Cubase, Ableton Live, and Pro Tools via MCU (Mackie Control Universal) and HUI (Human User Interface) well-known interface standards.
So, do you really need an audio interface with a built-in, full-featured DAW controller? That is up to how you work, but after just a few sessions with the ioStation 24c, I can see how this powerful combination could really work for all sorts of producers from solo podcasters to composers and songwriters doing pre-production work. Here are a couple of things I like about it: It gives you a knob or a slider when you need it. It’s small, making it a great travel partner for any sort of remote production or just being on the road. It is well thought-out with controls laid out in a logical fashion that fit nicely under your hand. It feels good for anyone who likes the touch of a fader or knob for certain functions as they record/produce; no more trying to pull a virtual knob around with a mouse (ugh!). The audio interface and preamps sound great and we want what we record to sound great. And finally, it’s a deal to get a production controller and great sounding interface in one package–that’s not to mention the software, libraries and training bundled with it at a street price below $300.
Street price: $269.95
Manufacturer website: https://www.presonus.com/products/ioStation-24c