Steinberg's AXR4-T is a high resolution, highly specified studio audio interface. It's big, designed to be racked, with 28 in and 24 outputs, plus an interchangeable option card for computer connection - this one is the AXR4-T and has the Thunderbolt 2 option card. Steinberg have chosen to make the interface card interchangeable, which means if computer connectivity changes, you can (presumably) buy another interface option to move with the times, keeping the investment in the actual AD/DA hardware.
One thing that the AXR4 is designed to do is give a high resolution recording, handling up 384kHz sample rates (via Nuendo) at 32-Bit. This makes it suited to demanding audiophile applications, and gives an idea on how highly rated the A/D and D/A are.
Steinberg have gone for unashamed premium quality here, with AKM convertors, Hybrid mic-pre amps (4 of them) with DSP modeled Rupert Neve Designs SILK processing - which can be applied in real-time to the four mic inputs. The AXR has DSP on board for these four channels of SILK, plus DSPX for channel strips (EQ/Dynamics) on each input.
Mic preamps are called Hybrid-Pre ones which you can find in current Yamaha high end digital and live consoles. It also features advanced jitter reduction for highly stable clock - SSPLL.
AXR4 also integrates with Cubase, with direct channel input adjustment (gain, 48v, SILK) and DSP settings on input from each channel in the software, as well as monitoring controls via Cubase Control Room setup. We'd like to have seen an "Are you sure?" when switching 48v just to be on the safe side.
SILK comes in Red and Blue flavours, with Red tending to enhance sound sources with top end content, applying more sparkle and definition, Blue more for the lower end or body. Both can be blended to taste - not just on/off i its a shame this isn't available on all inputs though. SILK is a DSP feature which was taken from Rupert Neve Designs analog circuitry, but modeled using Yamaha's DSP knowledge. They've been doing it for years - we did not notice any latency introduced when switched in.
Gaz Williams took it on location to record his band Rocket Goldstar and put it through its paces. He found that higher resolution really made a difference on recording, as well as creating massive file sizes (Cubase can go up to 192kHz/24bit, Nuendo full 384kHz/32-bit), the definition and headroom made quite a difference to the sound. With the SILK processing and Cubase integration, it was also possible to make production decisions on the fly and apply that extra preamp character without having to leave the DAW.
Overall, the AXR4-T performed well and sounded excellent, and so it should at the price: £2050/€2399/$2799 (US exchange is a bit painful at the moment). At this cost, the AXR4-T is really up against competition from Universal Audio (though they don't offer the same resolution) and Antelope Audio. Each with their own DSP to offer. But if you are a Cubase or Nuendo user, then the integration could well swing it. The swap-able computer interface board also means that it could potentially remain in your system for longer.
Big thanks to Rocket Goldstar (Gaz Williams - Bass, Vocals, Frank Naughton - keys, guitar, vocals , Sion Orgon - drums, percussion, vocals)