RØDE audio hardware has been commonplace in professional studios around the world for more than 50 years and now the Australian brand is seeking a place in your home studio too.
Costing you around $100/£100, the RØDE AI-1 Audio Mixer is mid-range but promises top-of-the-line performance all in one Streaming for gamers Configuration. A perfect partner for their superb dynamic Podmic mic, if you’re looking to make the switch from a USB mic to an XLR setup the AI-1 is definitely worth considering.
Much like the rest of the RØDE line, everything about the AI-1 feels premium. It’s a small stealth bomber of a unit with an all-metal matte black body trimmed with RØDE’s signature gold dot inlay.
It’s the small details that make the difference here and give you the feeling of holding a professional device in your hands. The RØDE logo is engraved on the top, the base is rubberized so it won’t slide around your desk, and there’s a single discreet LED that shows levels and peaks.
The I/O layout is logical with a single XLR input on the front alongside a ¼-inch headphone jack and the USB Type-C and speaker outputs on the rear. There are also two control knobs on the front, and while it feels odd to single out such a basic component, they’re just wonderful to use. There’s a really comfortable amount of resistance to both, which only adds to the premium feel, it also serves to prevent accidental level changes.
The small footprint of the interface is both a blessing and a curse. It’s such a compact block that everything feels pretty tightly squeezed together. The level controls are next to each other in the middle and so close together that if I grab one of the controls from the side, my finger is constantly touching both at the same time. Sure, the problem is easily avoided by just grabbing from the top, but in the middle of the live stream it’s another thing to think about. I can’t help but think that the buttons would have been better placed on the outside with the ports in the middle.
In terms of performance, I have nothing to complain about with the RØDE AI-1, but nothing too exciting either. It’s your set-and-forget solution that wants to hide behind your desk.
In contrast to competitors such as Razer audio mixer or Go XLR Mini, the RØDE AI-1 doesn’t want you to play with it. There are no interactive mute or censor buttons, no dynamic volume controls, and no customizable RGB. It’s a bridge between you Microphone for streaming and your PC and it’s happy to be just that.
That’s not a bad thing, though, and it certainly speaks for sticking to the basics. Once you’ve hooked up a microphone, the RØDE AI-1 is capable of delivering studio-quality audio 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 won’t work a sweat to keep up with your content.
There is also no real software offering from RØDE to complement the AI-1. While you can download the RØDE Central app, it does little more than check for firmware updates, so you don’t have to worry about installing it. It’s actually a welcome relief to have a plug and play device that really is plug and play. The Razer Audio Mixer needs its Synapse offering to get you started, but the RØDE AI-1 was up and running seconds after first plugging 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 the Razer Audio Mixer, even with Razer Synapse’s smooth post-processing enabled. The audio from the AI-1 was crisp and clear with no distortion even when the gain levels were cranked up and no EQ work was required to achieve pleasing results.
Overall – Should You Buy It?
The move from USB-driven audio to an XLR setup can be an expensive move, but thankfully the RØDE AI-1 offers developers a studio experience without the high price tag. With audio mixers, plug and play is as close as it gets, a one-time setup should keep you happy for a long time.
Yes, there are more feature-rich offerings on the market like the Razer Audio Mixer, but they come at a price to match. Purely as a connection from an XLR microphone to your PC, the RØDE AI-1 is a good choice with few flaws.