The Loupedeck Live is built well and packed with clever features, but a couple of design choices make it a better work tool than a streaming companion.
the good bits
Loads of customisation potential
Variety of input options
Good native app support
the not so good bits
Touch sensitive buttons require precision
RØDE AI-1 Single-channel Audio Interface
RØDE audio hardware has been commonplace in professional studios across the world for more than 50 years and now the Australian brand is looking for a place in your home studio too.
Setting you back around $100/£100 the RØDE AI-1 audio mixer sits at a midrange price point but promises top level performance. A perfect partner for their excellent Podmic dynamic microphone, if you’re looking to make the switch from a USB microphone to an XLR setup the AI-1 is definitely one to consider.
Much like the rest of RØDE’s range, everything about the AI-1 feels premium. It’s a little stealth bomber of a unit with an all-metal matte black case set off with RØDE’s signature gold dot inlay.
It’s the little details that make all the difference here and leave you feeling like you’ve got your hands on a professional piece of equipment. The RØDE logo is engraved on the top, the base is rubberised to stop it sliding around your desk and there’s a single subtle LED to indicate levels and peaking.
The I/O layout is logical with a single XLR input on the front alongside a ¼” headphone jack. You’ll find two control knobs on the front too and while it feels strange to highlight such a basic component, they’re just lovely to use. There’s a really pleasing amount of resistance to both which only adds to the premium feel, it serves a function too in helping prevent accidental level changes.
The interface’s small footprint is both a blessing and a curse. It’s such a compact block that everything feels pretty tightly squeezed together. The level knobs are side by side in the middle and are so close together that when grabbing either knob from the side my finger was constantly touching both controls at once. Sure, the issue is easily avoided by only grabbing from the top, but mid-live stream it’s another thing to have to think about. I can’t help but feel the knobs would have been better placed to the outside with the connections in the middle.
When it comes to performance I’ve got nothing to complain about with the RØDE AI-1, but there’s not much to get excited about either. It’s your set and forget, hands off solution that wants to hide at the back of your desk.
As opposed to competitors like the Razer Audio Mixer or Go XLR Mini, the RØDE AI-1 doesn’t want you to play with it. There’s no interactive mute or censor buttons, there’s no dynamic volume faders, there’s no customisable RGB. It’s a bridge between your microphone and your PC and it’s happy being just that.
That’s not a bad thing though and there’s certainly a case for sticking to what you know and doing the basics well. Once you’ve plugged a mic in the RØDE AI-1 is capable of delivering studio quality audio at up to 96kHz which is more than enough for most streamers. Twitch only supports 44.1kHz or 48kHz sample rates anyway, so the AI-1 isn’t going to break a sweat keeping up with your content.
There’s no real software offering from RØDE to complement the AI-1 either. While you can download the ‘RØDE Central’ app, it offers little more than checking for firmware updates so it’s not something you need to race to install. It’s actually a welcome relief to have a plug and play device that’s truly plug and play. The Razer Audio Mixer needs their Synapse offering to get you started but the RØDE AI-1 was ready to go seconds after I first plugged it in.
In testing I found no noticeable difference in sound quality when switching my RØDE Podmic back and forth between the AI-1 and Razer Audio Mixer, including with Razer Synapse’s gentle post processing offering turned on. Audio from the AI-1 was clear and crisp with no distortion even when ramping up the gain levels and needed no EQ work to deliver pleasant results.
The step from USB driven audio to an XLR setup can be an expensive move, thankfully the RØDE AI-1 provides creators with a studio experience without the hefty price tag. As audio mixers go it’s as near to plug and play as you can get, a one time setup should leave you happy for weeks to come.
Yes, there are more feature packed offerings in the market like the Razer Audio Mixer but purely as a connection from an XLR microphone to your PC it’s a great choice with few faults.