The TC Electronic Impact Twin is a mid-level firewire interface with 14 inputs and outputs. It has two preamps, onboard effects, S/PDIF, ADAT Lightpipe and MIDI I/O. It’s not as compact as some other interfaces but packs a ton of features and i/o yet still small enough to fit in a backpack.
The Impact Twin caught my eye in spring 2011. I was looking for a more compact replacement to my M-Audio Profire 2626 (see review here), or a way to expand the I/O of my system, or at least a portable option so I don’t have to tear apart my studio all the time I go out to record. I trust TC Electronic to make nice clean digital gear, for about $400 it had pretty much every feature and function I wanted. I ordered one through Revolution Audio (note: I work for this company and got dealer pricing) and when it arrived I started writing my review. I don’t really have a good excuse why it took nearly a year to write, other than that l got busy being awesome in other aspects. Jump down to the end if you’d like to see what I think of it after about 8 months of owning it.
Design and construction
The case isn’t metal but thick plastic with a rubbery texture. Rugged? Hell yeah. It’s definitely not very compact though. Think backpack size rather than pocket size. If you’re looking for ultra portability it’s not the right thing.
Dimensions = 9.5″ L x 9″ W x 2″ H; Weight = 1628g (3.6lb)
There’s an edge around the front of the interface that is curved to both protect the knobs in transport and recessed to allow knob tweaking. Pretty smart.
Speaking of knobs, they turn smoothly and feel very solid, infinitely more so than a lot of high-end outboard gear. Every piece of TC gear I’ve used is always perfect in this respect.
TC designed the interface to angle up slightly to improve visibility and hand movement. After a couple trips in my backpack I lost one of the glued-on rubber feet so now mine wobbles.
There were no issues with installation on either system. Everything went as expected. I’ll list the steps for those that come across this that don’t know the correct way.
- Find TC Near software online
- Run installer, remember to select impact twin driver in the options
- Connect and turn on the device. wait for windows to identify and assign the driver
- Open TC Near control panel
- Update firmware
There was a typo with the firmware update but that’s about all I can complain about there. I love when stuff just works.
Windows 7 64 bit
Apple MacBook Pro 5,5
Preamps and inputs
Inputs 1 and 2 are Neutrik combo jacks and there’s a censor to tell the control panel which is being used and are otherwise muted. Muting unused inputs automatically keeps the monitoring clean. If you are using the line inputs on the back you’ll have to push the Line In button on the front panel. The preamps have plenty of gain and are very clean and transparent. The back panel has 2 additional line inputs as well as all the standard digital options you’d expect.
Direct guitar recording
The Hi-Z inputs have a 1M Ohm impedance. Of all the options for recording direct guitar I have in my studio, right into the TC sounds best to me. That was a bit of a surprise to see the $400 interface beat my $500 super transparent P-Solo preamp. The transient response was great, capturing the bite of my Telecaster right, and the bottom end was tight, not thin or flubby like with many DI boxes.
The interface provides 4 analog outputs on TRS jacks, and 1 each of S/PDIF, MIDI and Lightpipe (can operate with 2 or 8 channels). The main outputs are linked to the output knob on the front.
Two headphone jacks
One thing I just can’t wrap my head around is the headphone monitoring options on this interface. The two headphone jacks receive the same signal that is assigned to output 1-2, it is also sent at the same level. One of the jacks works as anyone would expect, the other mutes the main outputs when plugged in. Why, I have no idea. A monitor mute button would have been simpler and more useful. Two jacks but no way to send a different mix to one is strange. One jack with its own volume control would have been awesome.
As with most audio interface that cram a hundred features into a box at a certain price point, there is always some corners cut and often it’s in the headphone monitoring flexibility. My M-Audio Profire 2626 has this problem as do all the Focusrite Saffire series. Its a shame as that will be one of the most often used features.
In my studio this mean that I have to use out 3-4 to my TC Level Pilot and monitors and use either jack for my headphones. Output 1-2 can’t be used in my setup. When I use the interface mobile with just my laptop and some mics, I’m unlikely to be using the main outputs at all so no problem.
If this was your only interface for a home studio, using an external headphone amp might be the best solution. MIDI ports aren’t essential, independent level of headphones and monitors is, it pains me to see they messed this up.
A feature I’m seeing in a lot of audio interfaces these days is onboard DSP effects. Some have them just for monitoring, some have the effects in the input path, the Impact Twin has both.
Input path effects
Inputs 1 and 2 have console style channel strips with 4 band EQ (SSL-esque in layout at least), Compressor and De-esser. When you use these effects they will be applied to your recording, which means if you overdo it with the compression the file is ruined just like with a hardware compressor. What makes it different from a hardware compressor is that it is far less flexible and cannot prevent clipping the converter. The de-esser is something I’m unlikely to use ever, it doesn’t have a frequency select option and every voice and mic combination will require a different setting.
I’m just pointing out some of the downsides, these are cool features to have on an interface, I’ll have to see if it becomes something I use. [it turns out it’s not a feature I used often]
The compressor amount can be controlled via the encoder on the interface. This is great. Even better is that the gain reduction is shown on the LEDs around that knob. The compressor has various style presets designed for different sources so you’ll have to experiment to see which works best for you. I wish you could change this from the front panel too but of course, there’s only so many features you can cram into that space.
Pushing the adjust knob in when in compressor mode will bypass all input fx.
From the control panel you can also activate a guitar tuner.
The reverb built into the Impact Twin is very nice sounding, and can only be used in the monitor path. I had a lot of fun playing guitar into it and pushing it to extremes. There are 14 reverb models with decay, pre-delay and color (EQ) controls. The front panel ‘adjust’ knob can control the reverb level fader and decay.
The thing that confused me a bit with the reverb is that the Main MIX control needs to be turned to the left (direct monitoring). I’ve never really understood the whole reverb while recording but not on playback concept. I think I’ll stick with a plugin.
This feature is disable at higher sample rates.
Before I got the Impact Twin I read through the manual and remember thinking the routing matrix looked very simple to use. It actually is, but I am a bit disappointed with the flexibility of it. It could be a little clearer what is going on. Outputs are left to right, Inputs are top to bottom. click where you want each signal to go. The problem is you can’t send multiple signals to one output. Because you only have 1 usable stereo output for fx or extra headphones this is pretty limiting. I will be adding this interface to my system rather than replacing it and using the digital i/o, you may not have this option. There is a possibility that features like this can be changed in firmware updates but I’ve never seen a company follow through, but perhaps if enough users demand it, something can be done. [no software/firmware updates were released in the time I’ve owned this]
One of the perks of buying a TC Electronic interface is the included plugins. The Impact Twin comes with 4 full-version plugins: Assimilator Native (a matching EQ); Integrator (simplifies hardware effect integration); M40 Reverb; and ResFilter Native (a synth filter).
M40 and ResFilter are useful plugins. Resfilter would be better with an LFO or auto-envelope option but that’s not really the point of this review. M40 is a decent, simple reverb though not really one I would likely use. Assimilator has a ton of latency and as far as I can tell, does not work in Reaper at all. The plugins don’t come with any documentation tutorials or help files and could not find much info online. Note that the interface authorizes the plugin, so if you aren’t using that interface, you can’t use those plugins. Overall I was unimpressed with the bundled plugins.
Where are the plugins?
Ok so I lied, there is one complaint with the installation. The PC installer didn’t ask where to put these so they ended up in the usual VST folder which might not be somewhere your DAW of choice will look. Take the TC Electronic folder out of Program Files/Steinberg/VST Plugins/ and move it to your preferred VST plugins folder.
Sync and ADAT
I didn’t feel this was covered clear enough in the manual so I’ll explain as best I can.
When connecting digital devices you must sync them and you need to determine which is the master and which is the slave. The clock signal is sent on the digital output jacks.
- When no external equipment is connected to the digital i/o, clock source should be set to internal.
- In the case of an external mic preamp with ADAT output (Presonus Digimax for example) connecting to an audio interface (such as the Impact Twin), the mic preamp would be the master and the interface would be the slave. In the TC Near options this would be enabled by selecting ADAT as the clock source.
- If you want a device to receive something from the ADAT out of the interface, you must have the Interface set to internal Sync and the other device set to ADAT sync.
- If you want to send and receive on the ADAT jacks then you’ll need two cables. The clock source technically can be either but may only work in one configuration without dropouts or glitches. Use this configuration for bi-directional ADAT devices such as a Profire 2626 or Firestudio in standalone mode. The Impact Twin can also run in standalone mode and I occasionally used it this way along with my Profire 2626.
If you change sample rates often, either of these options may cause some headache.
It’s silly, but I was impressed by the external power supply. It feels sturdy, the IEC side of the cable is nice and thick and grounded. The thing that impressed me most was that it was actually labeled as to what it belongs to. It’s way too common for devices to ship with generic ac adapters without even a brand name on them. It costs no money for a manufacturer to put a sticker on it before shipping but it’s never done. When you’ve already got a drawer full of unmarked ac adapters you start to get impressed by little extra effort here. What’s a shame is that this interface works flawlessly bus powered so you may never use this nice external power supply. Where the power supply connects to the Twin is a little wobbly but I’ve seen much worse.
Stability and quirks
On my Windows 7 system (see specs), the stability is great. I had one quirk where I changed the buffer size from 128 to 64 in Reaper and the device wasn’t reactivated for reaper. Restarting reaper corrected the problem.
With an optimized system and using a quality firewire card you should have no problem recording with very low latency. The driver also has some “safe modes” which will improve stability at the cost of latency. On both my systems I am able to run in normal mode with a buffer of 64 without issues.
On the MacBook Pro I was recording and editing at 24/96kHz on the internal drive with WIFI, Bluetooth, Firefox, Evernote, and Gobbler running. I was also running off the battery with the interface bus powered. I think that’s a pretty good test and the interface worked exactly as expected for hours.
With 3 or more firewire devices connected to your computer, you may run into some problems, like dropouts or missing devices, which is common.
As for quirks, there are a couple things I’ve noticed related to the onboard DSP and sample rates. At 88.2kHz and above the reverb is disabled. At 176.4kHz and 192kHz the mixer is disabled completely. Not sure if it retains the previous settings before sample rate change or if everything reverts to defaults. This effects my life minimally.
Overall this is a great audio interface. Stable, lots of features, great sound, good design. I recommend this for anyone that needs a portable interface with a variety of analog and digital i/o, and great sound quality. Alternatives would be the (now discontinued) M-box 2 Pro which would sound worse and have less I/O, new AVID Mbox (3) Pro, which is considerably more expensive. and still less I/O or Focusrite Saffire Pro 24, which has 8 fewer outputs.
After about 8 months, the Impact Twin did not become my main interface, thinking back, I hardly used it at all, though when I did, it worked just as it should.
The main thing that bugs me is the headphone monitoring thing, it just wasn’t thought out well enough and I would have rather them cut out the MIDI ports than a headphone volume control.