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Audio interfaces come in many shapes and sizes, and discerning their differences can be confusing. In this post we'll take a look at the CI series from Steinberg. Whether you need an interface to produce music, podcasts or to create voice-overs for video post production, these interfaces offer professional sound quality, easy setup and a range of options in their included production software.
There are three models in this series: the CI1, the CI2 and the CI2+. All of these hardware interfaces are compatible with both Mac and Windows computers, as is the software that comes included with them. The connectivity and basic inputs and outputs on these three models are the same. They're all USB 1.1, they all have two combo XLR and 1/4" inputs (for connecting microphones and instruments), two balanced outputs for monitoring and a 1/4" stereo headphone jack.
Their physical weight and dimensions are all identical. All three models get their power from the USB port on a computer, all three can supply condenser microphones with phantom power and they all can record sound at 24-bit/48 kHz. What separates these three models are the built-in hardware controls, the included software packages and their stylish paint jobs.
While the CI2+ is the most expensive of the three CI interfaces, it's also the one with the best deal in terms of its included software bundle. In addition to having additional hardware controls, the CI2+ comes with the Cubase Essential 5 ($150 worth of audio software). The additional hardware controls are its transport buttons (PLAY/STOP and RECORD) and the navigational PREVIOUS and NEXT buttons.
Besides sporting a different color scheme, the CI2 shares many similarities to the CI2+. One thing both models have in common is the prominently placed AI Knob on the right side of the unit. This knob automatically maps itself to any control that you point the cursor at in the included software.
When you're working with audio software, there are many graphical representations of knobs, faders and buttons that need to be adjusted. If you do this all with a mouse, it starts to feel less like you're mixing music and more like you're checking e-mail. The more you can incorporate physical control over the software, the less in danger you are of having this "non-musical" vibe in your workflow.
The CI2 includes the Cubase AI 5 software bundle, which is a stripped-down version of the powerful Steinberg Cubase 5 software. It supplies you with the basic tools necessary for recording, sequencing, editing, mixing and mastering music.
The CI1 is the most affordable of the series, yet you get the same connectivity and I/O as its more robust siblings (with the exception of the footswitch port used for hands-free operation). Along with its "ice-blue" paint job, you get Sequel LE music production software and Wavelab 7LE mastering software; everything you need to create original tracks and give them a polished and professional finish.
If you're interested in getting into computer recording, and you'd rather have a complete kit to get you up and running right off the bat, B&H has created several kits that are designed just for you. Included among them is a kit with the Steinberg CI1 that comes with two MIDI controllers (the Korg nanPAD and the nanoKEY), a USB hub, headphones and Ableton Live Intro software. Be sure to check these out:
Thanks for checking out this B&H Insights post! If you have any questions about audio interfaces and digital audio workstation software, we would love to read them in the Comments section!