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This article was originally published in issue #22
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Lexicon is best known for its ground-breaking effects units, which have been used on so many hits over the years that they’ve redefined what many people think reverb sounds like. Along the way they’ve created software versions of some of their own products and also produced a number of recording interfaces.
The I-O|42 reviewed here is the middle of a series of three similarly styled and featured USB2 units with 2, 4 or 8 inputs. It’s certainly one of the more attractive units I’ve seen (that’s properly attractive, not just to people who think 19” racks are acceptable as furniture!) with a tasteful satin aluminium and black front panel. The aluminium chassis is intended for desktop use and it angles back to give easy visibility and access to the front panel controls. It’s heavy enough to stay put when you connect leads to it and the overall sense is of heft and quality; the buttons and knobs are nicely weighted and smooth in use and are clearly labelled.
The 42 gets you 4 dbx, high voltage, low noise mic pre-amps offering just under 60dB of gain, with rear-panel combi connectors for mic or line level inputs, S/PDIF sockets (giving an additional digital stereo in/out pair), MIDI in and out, balanced main-outputs and a rear-panel USB socket for computer connection. Phantom power is switchable per input pair, and it’s worth mentioning that unlike some units, when I plugged in a line source with a TRS (balanced) jack-plug and checked with a meter, there was no phantom power on the plug - which is as it should be. Power is from a lightweight external unit (no tether point sadly but really, it’s rarely likely to be as issue) and there’s an on/off switch.
The sides of the chassis provide a pair of headphone sockets, each with its own front panel level control, and a pair of instrument inputs for guitar/bass DI duties. That’s worth saying again - two of each. Well done Lexicon.
In use the I-O series is dead simple, the quick and easy to install software provides sample rate and word length settings (96kHz, 24 bit) and buffer size settings, everything else is controlled from the front panel; need more level, you turn it up. Easy. Each input channel has a dedicated gain knob along with an indicator on Ch 1 and 2 to show if the DIs are in use, and each pair has a “stereo” button that patches the pairs of sockets to the Left and Right outputs when engaged, and sums to mono if not engaged. Above each channel is an LED ladder for input level monitoring with a similar output display above the large output knob. Lastly, you get a mix control to allow you to balance what you hear live from the inputs with playback from the computer. There are no pads, polarity inverters nor low-cut filters which you may have expected on a unit like this, but I guess that every additional feature adds to the cost of manufacture and realistically you’d expect to be able to switch polarity in your DAW and 24 bit recording pretty well eliminates the need to chase every dB of signal on input, so if it is a cost/feature/quality compromise then I’d prefer the option that Lexicon went with, leave out the features (that I don’t really use) and keep the quality please.
Also in the box, you get a copy of Cubase LE, Toontrack’s EZ Drummer Lite, the catchily named XILS3 SE synth, Lexicon’s software Pantheon II reverb, and a trial copy of their LPX reverb package. I didn’t install the Cubase or the EZ Drummer because I already have both on my machines, but I did try out the Pantheon II reverb which sounds like you’d expect a Lexicon reverb to. Interestingly, this works only when the I-O interface is connected.
In use? Well, the sound quality is crisp and clear, which is how I tend to end up describing most interfaces above a certain quality point. The pres aren’t particularly characterful, but for all purpose use I much prefer neutral so long as they are quiet and sound good, which these do. I noticed no obvious noise nor distortion and no brittleness in the pres nor converters - which is plenty good enough for me. A few minor things that did strike me; the gain is a bit bunched towards the end of the end of travel on the knobs, the phantom-power switches are for some reason on the slightly busy back-panel rather than on the spacious front panel, and the side mounted headphone and DI sockets angle a little backwards which makes them a bit awkward to plug-in (and makes the unit fairly wide when in use). Oh, and I would personally have preferred for the level indicators to switch from green to amber earlier than the actual -3dB. None of these is necessarily a problem, but worth mentioning nevertheless.
Of course, an interface has to “interface” with the computer and on my system the I:O|42 ran reliably with the latency at the lowest setting available on the driver; it wasn’t quite as low as my RME system goes but I could play DI guitar through a software amp-sim without any issues so that’s absolutely fine for me. The gain setting for a channel effects how loudly it appears in the headphone or monitor mix, and in practice I found it to be simple to balance level and mix using the Monitor Mix knob, which makes overdubbing very quick and easy to set-up.
So, high quality, easy to use, reliable and looks great!