Audient EVO SP8 review: Preamp evolution with a surprising price tag

Audient EVO SP8

With its roots in prestige mixer manufacturing, Audient has since 2013 lit up the studio market with its popular line of iD audio interfaces. The iD series offers studio-grade preamps, portability, high-quality converters, and opportunities for expansion via on-board ADAT ports, all for a reasonable price. In 2020, a new range of impressive and wallet-friendly EVO-branded units landed, with ease of use at the forefront of the experience. The largest EVO to date – the EVO 16 – was launched in 2022, upping the ante with its inviting LCD display and eight mic preamps.

Now comes the SP8, which expands the EVO system – or any other interface with ADAT on-board – with eight additional mic inputs and the same digital gain, Smartgain and metering capabilities as the EVO 16.

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But that’s not all. With digital-to-analogue conversion also on board, the eight-line outputs (typically fed directly from the 8 EVO preamps in the analogue domain) can also be set to receive input from the device’s ADAT IN port(s) and provide eight line additional outputs from the host interface. This is a real boon for those wanting to try their hand at mixing through analogue outboard gear from their DAW or perhaps add extra speakers to their array to begin an adventure in surround sound.

Audient EVO SP8

Converter dynamic range specifications may be slightly more modest than those of recent iD-range interfaces, but are perfectly respectable; similar, in fact, to those of RME’s recent UCX II, for those who are curious about the numbers. Dual ADAT ins/outs allow access to sample rates in excess of 48kHz for all eight channels, while a wordclock input makes for much simpler synchronisation and switching of sample rates on connected devices, rather than relying on ADAT sync.

The SP8 is more competitively priced than its rivals considering the richness of the feature set. At almost twice the price, even Focusrite’s Clarett+ 8-Pre doesn’t have everything the SP8 has going for it, while another obvious rival – front the same brand – is the Scarlett OctoPre Dynamic, priced at £685. How does Audient manage it?

Our SP8 review unit was coupled with an EVO 16 in various tests; its sturdy, smart and deep metal case giving the appearance of a plush hi-fi separate when stacked on top of its sibling, particularly with the meters lighting up the screen. Although physical controls aren’t the most solid we’ve come across – they yield a slightly hollow, plasticky click when pressed – the rotary control feels positive on a twist, its detented steps and surrounding status LEDs offering welcome feedback to the user.

Audient EVO SP8

In use, harnessing hardware controls to navigate and establish settings is a breeze, including setting gain, toggling phantom power (helpfully, the input temporarily mutes when doing this to avoid noisy clunks), linking channels, and even the facility to mute inputs when reviewing recorded takes.

The preamp gain maxes out at +50dB and defaults to 0dB, but there’s also the option to apply a -8dB gain reduction to pad the input sensitivity when recording excessively loud, transient sounds. It’s all very seamless stuff, but there doesn’t seem to be a simple way of resetting all the input channels following a session.

Audient EVO SP8
Preamp settings being adjusted straight from the EVO mixer with the SP8 linked to an EVO 16 interface

Linked with the EVO 16 and accompanying EVO software, slick integration raises the SP8’s game by a considerable margin. Sending data via adjoining ADAT cables, users can set gain, toggle instrument level and switch phantom power right from the software, with the hardware following along when connected to an EVO 16. This extra sprinkle of magic extends to the Smartgain function; pressing the green button on either unit enables Smartgain on all devices, which automatically checks levels in excess of eight channels at the same time. Get everyone to play their loudest notes at the same time and then you’re pretty much ready to go!

Arguably, the greatest thing about using an expanded EVO system is that everything can be saved as a preset in the software and later recalled – perfect for returning to a tracking session after a long break, without guessing how the gain was set on each mic, for example. It’s just a shame that gain knobs cannot be quickly reset to the 0dB in the software either, although this is a minor quibble considering what’s on offer.

With mics plugged in, the preamps don’t sound noticeably different from those built into the iD interface in our studio. With low levels of noise almost right up to maximum gain, and not easily running out of headroom, they’re less hissy than many competitors’ offerings. Rather than imparting any sort of character or mojo onto the sound, they instead act as a transparent tool with which to capture sounds or send them onwards for further processing using the DAC.

Audient EVO SP8

On the flip side, a maximum gain of +50dB is frustrating. We’re pushing it a bit when recording with our trusty Shure SM7B, working at around +48dB to get a strong enough level. The mic is still a little quiet in the headphone mix for the performer, and so a gain booster device like the Cloudlifter may well be required for optimum results on less strident signals; something to weigh up if you work with mics that require loads of gain.

The switchable metering – showing the eight digital inputs as well as the analogue ones – is really neat, so you can, for example, alternate between these when attempting to gain-stage an effects loop when hybrid mixing. This makes sending signals to external effects units from a DAW’s insert plugin (and returning them again) more straightforward; in an expanded EVO system, save/recall of presets makes this even easier still.

So, in an ideal world, we’d have liked a touch more preamp gain and a simpler way to reset controls on the EVO SP8 and – oh, and perhaps to have borrowed a couple of balanced inserts from the iD range for patching input effects or hitting the AD converter with signals from an external mic preamp without passing through the internal one. This said, such criticisms start to fade away when you consider what’s on offer for the price. Added to a non-EVO system, the SP8 is an exciting and truly evolutionary proposition. When paired with the EVO 16, the two form a formidable powerhouse of a team, fit to record large-scale, multi-mic productions in home and project studios with minimum fuss, always looking the part along the way. With the EVO SP8, Audient has a real winner on its hands.

Key features

Price: £399
Eight channels of AD and DA
Eight mic/line/inputs (inputs 1-2 switchable to instrument level JFET circuit)
-8dB to +50dB mic gain range
Digital gain control
Smartgain automatic level setting
8 line outs, fed directly from analogue inputs or fed from ADAT ins to give additional line outs
Preamp settings can be adjusted remotely and saved/recalled when paired with an EVO 16
Sample rates of up to 96kHz (both ADAT banks are required to use all 8 channels above 48kHz)
Dynamic range of 112.5dB(A) for AD, 117dB(A) for DA
ARC software bundle

 

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