Thunderbolt is a blazingly quick connection, but it has always carried a hefty price tag until now. Hollin Jones knocks on the door of Resident Audio to try out the T4…
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Web www.synthax.co.uk Needs Mac or PC with Thunderbolt port
A Thunderbolt has come as standard on all new Macs for some time now, but it’s only recently that the costs have come down to a level where it’s possible to incorporate it into more affordable hardware. Windows machines can be fitted with Thunderbolt cards, but it’s much less common to find the port as standard.
Resident Audio is a new, Long Island-based company that has produced the T4, and it claims it’s the world’s first buss-powered four-channel interface. Thunderbolt is far quicker than other connector types and can carry more power, so devices that have been engineered specifically to use the protocol can use higher-quality components.
Look and Feel
The build quality is excellent and the unboxing experience not entirely unlike opening a new Mac, which surely isn’t a coincidence. It’s also compact and certainly portable enough to use with a laptop-based system, and reassuringly solid as well. On the rear panel is a single Thunderbolt port to carry power and data between your computer and the box, along with hardware MIDI in and out ports.
There are four balanced line outputs and a headphone-out port (on the back, which is mildly inconvenient) and one of the other line outs doubles up as a secondary headphone output in a specific mode.
Usually you have to have a much bigger unit to enable engineer and performer to monitor at the same time, but not here. On the front panel are four combo XLR / jack inputs with gain controls and three-colour LED lights, as well as an input mix control and a master level ‘big knob’ dial with backlighting.
There’s phantom power, of course, plus switchable mic / line for each pair of channels and support for audio at up to 24-bit / 96kHz.
The T4 operates in one of two modes depending on the output configuration. When a connection is made to output 4 it operates in Multichannel mode with four mono outputs from the computer to the hardware, and live input sent to the headphone jack only.
In Stereo Mix mode, where no connection is made to output 4, all live input signals, together with the output of the computer, are mixed to stereo and sent to outputs 1 and 2. In this mode you can use output 3 as a headphone jack.
Further to this is Smart Monitoring, whereby you can switch between mono and stereo monitoring. Mono monitoring is useful for DJs and anyone recording vocals because you can still hear everything in one ear while the other earpiece is removed.
It’s not obvious from a front view but the T4 is actually designed so that its front panel controls are all tilted slightly upwards, making it easier to see and operate the controls when it’s on a flat surface. The backlit dials also make it easier to see at a glance what you’re changing in low-light environments: this is a box that’s been designed both for studio and live work.
The T4 offers near-zero latency, and in practice I was able to drive it at very low buffer settings in Logic without any issues at all. Switching the sample rate up didn’t make an appreciable impact and everything flowed beautifully, with pristine audio quality.
A small control panel software app lets you make some level settings. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that the device draws more power than a USB box would, it drains laptop batteries a little faster than a regular interface. But then you really shouldn’t be doing any important work without having your laptop plugged in anyway, and of course any desktop computer will by definition be on the mains.
The T4 is a great solution for portable recording, performance or indeed anyone who doesn’t need tons of simultaneous I/O, which applies to quite a lot of people. It’s very well engineered and has some nice touches such as the secondary headphone out, Smart Monitoring, and backlights for live performance.
Perhaps best of all there’s one less power supply to worry about and you get all the advantages of Thunderbolt at a price that’s lower than it has been in the past. Don’t think that means they have compromised on quality, though: this is a really solid interface for Thunderbolt users.