The Ultralite AVB is the replacement for the very popular Ultralite Hybrid. Offering a similar half-rack format and cast, all metal construction. Of the three units I’ve had on test, this has surprised me by being the one I have used the most. The convenience of the form factor and the fact that most of the time we need less I/O that we think we do has led me to value the fact that this, very capable, interface can just be thrown into my bag with my laptop - a fact not lost on all the people who have used its predecessors as almost a standard piece of equipment on the live circuit. I think one of the reasons I have warmed to this unit is that when patching and re-patching, rather than having to go round the back of my rack like I have to with the 19” units, I can just pick it up in one hand and spin it round.
A USB 2.0 audio interface with two mic preamps each offering 60dB of gain, two Hi Z guitar inputs, 6 analogue inputs, 6 analogue outputs and separate phones and monitor outputs, it has a full enough complement of I/O for most tasks and in combination with additional hardware using the ADAT I/O I could track a live band comfortably using just this, an 8 channel ADAT mic preamp and an external headphone amp without too many compromises. A welcome feature (I really shouldn’t see this as a “feature”) of all of these units is that all the available connections are available at all times. You are never faced with an either/or choice - something like being able to use mic inputs 1&2 or line inputs 1&2 but not both. I’ve been around too many examples of marketing led restrictions on hardware and its great to see hardware being allowed to be itself - you’ve got X inputs and outputs and you can use them all without restriction. Something not immediately apparent is the quality of the construction. The connectors are all high quality and the 1/4” TRS sockets on the back are all metal and are properly nutted to the back panel. The unit is powered by the supplied DC adaptor and while I’m no fan of external PSU’s, on a unit as compact as this it wouldn’t be fair to level this as a criticism. The unit doesn’t run via USB bus powering. While this would have been convenient at least the unit is adequately powered and the design hasn’t been dictated by the limited power available over USB. Unlike the recently reviewed 1248 the Ultralite AVB does include MIDI ports, a nice touch on such a portable unit where it is more likely that you will be on location and your dedicated MIDI interface might be back at base.
The LCD and front panel controls offer access to most of the features of this interface. To navigate any of these units using the front panel is to miss the point of the design as the web interface for system set up is accessible over USB, Ethernet or via wifi. If connected via wifi any of the AVB range can be set up and controlled through a web browser whether on a connected computer or a tablet or smartphone. The Ultralite uses a different panel to the other units in the range and as well as being smaller and lower resolution its also really, really bright. Front panel controls include five rotary knobs offering level control for mic and DI inputs and a shared output level control for the main outputs or the headphones. Blue legending over these knobs guides the user through menu navigation which gives access to network settings and preset recall - Presets in particular are important when using multiple units across a network, more on this in a later article. Pad and phantom power is switchable directly from the front panel, a pleasing click of a relay can be heard when engaging the pad - just as it should be. Interestingly there is no way of flipping polarity on the mic or DI inputs from the front panel, only from the web interface and there is no way of checking the polarity from the unit itself. Hardly a deal breaker but something to be aware of.
So the Ultralite AVB is a capable, well built and high quality unit which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed using and that is without looking at the onboard DSP mixer, the web interface or the possibilities offered by AVB. All of these are common to all of the units and will be covered later.