Audient plugs its new Sono by declaring, “Finally, an interface for guitarists,” and that’s a nutshell description of this unit’s intentions. This hardware does much of what other two-channel, mid-level recording interfaces do to convert analog to digital and send it to your DAW of choice via high-speed USB-C at sample rates of up to 96 kHz, all while offering features that should help guitarists feel more at home and — more importantly — record usable tracks.
Expanding upon Audient’s reputation for solid recording interfaces and good-sounding microphone preamps, the Sono includes two of the latter on back-panel XLR/TRS combo inputs, plus a front-panel Hi-Z guitar input that routes your signal through an actual 12AX7 preamp tube and amp-style controls for input, drive, bass, mid, treble and output. There are also volume controls for the stereo monitor outs and headphone out, and a monitor mix control to balance your input signal and the DAW’s return so you can play along to previously recorded tracks while overdubbing or practicing.
In addition to the two mic inputs’ dedicated level controls, you can route Mic 1 to the “valve” (Audient is a British company, you see) and the guitar-intended controls that govern that channel, offering a nifty way to snarl up vocal tracks, for example. There’s also an optical (ADAT/lightpipe) input to route digital signals from another external interface through the Sono and into your DAW.
In addition, Sono sports both a “To Amp” output, from which you can re-amp pre-recorded guitar tracks to craft your ultimate tone at a later date, and — the big kicker — a C.A.B. button for selecting three preset speaker-cabinet emulations. This feature is powered by Two Notes Audio Engineering, a French company known for its professional-grade Torpedo Studio and Torpedo Live units that likewise employ cab emulations via impulse responses (IRs). Audient’s Andy Allen adds, “Two Notes DSP is built into Sono and therefore avoids the latency issues you get with other interfaces and amp sims, making recording quick and easy without taking you out the creative space. This was the main issue we wanted to tackle for recording guitarists.”
The downloadable Sono app allows deeper access to control functions and monitor routing, while the Two Notes Torpedo Remote app provides powerful control over cab, mic, mic placement, power amp and room editing. Dial in renditions of classic cabs with your preferred mic, mic placement and room, and download them to the three C.A.B. presets in the Sono. Voila!
Audient’s designers emphasize that they “didn’t set out to replace a guitarist’s entire rig.” You can still use your favorite effect pedals in front of the unit, or mic up or re-amp to your favorite amp using the Sono’s other functions. Take it away for on-the-fly travel recording to your laptop, or use it as a stand-alone rehearsal box with headphones without having to connect it to the computer at all. As such, it sacrifices little if anything from the features of other two-channel interfaces in the sub $500 category, while offering all of the guitar-specific features described, plus the nifty bonus of routing a microphone via the guitar drive and EQ controls and C.A.B. emulation.
Wired up to my iMac for extended monitor control and C.A.B. editing, and variously routed to both Apple Logic and Pro Tools, I found the Sono a snap to use. To be clear, the amp-like control layout doesn’t deliver instant, modeling-style ability to dial up Marshall, Vox or Boogie in a box, but that’s kind of the point. The interface and tube-loaded preamp and cabinet IRs allow you to achieve a wide range of good-sounding, mix-ready tones that offer plenty of flexibility, while letting your guitar sound like your guitar. In many cases, I found these sat very nicely in test mixes just as they were, while in others I wanted further enhancement or re-amping (whether by physical amp or plug-in) to consolidate the sound, something Audient fully expects. There was occasionally some control lag when switching C.A.B. presets — the unit not responding to the Drive setting, for example, until I tweaked the position — but this is likely a natural feature of that digitally coupled element of the signal chain. Overall, the unit dished out tasty and useful tones, from impressive clean clarity to mildly crunchy overdrive. A test of the two mic and line inputs found these preamps crisp and clear, and there is definitely some fun to be had by routing a vocal or a synth through the preamp tube and amp-like controls.
In the end, there aren’t a whole lot of alternatives in this realm. Budding recordists might want to investigate Universal Audio’s two-channel Arrow interface ($499 street), which includes that company’s acclaimed built-in Unison plug-ins for real-time use while tracking, or the more affordable Line 6 POD UX2 interface ($199 street) with POD Farm modeling software included. But the Sono presents a clean, professional, well-designed and well laid-out answer to any guitarist’s quest for an easy, intuitive recording interface, and as such it’s an extremely appealing product in this fast-growing market.
Sono Recording Interface
PRICE $499 street
CONTROLS Mic 1 with Mic Input to Valve Indicator, Mic 2, speaker output level, headphone output level, monitor mix control, three-band tone control, guitar preamp input gain, power amp drive control, guitar preamp output volume, cabinet simulation preset selector
I/O Back panel: XLR/TRS mic/line inputs (x2) with switchable forty eight volt phantom power, speaker outputs, optical input, USB-C input. Front panel: Hi-Z guitar input, re-amp output, headphone output
KUDOS Sturdy, well designed and well built. Excellent features, robust low-noise signal and a very intuitive control layout
CONCERNS Some control lag when switching C.A.B. presets, but not a big deal once you’re aware of it