PreSonus Studio 26c USB Audio Interface Review

With streaming seeming to take over the planet, more people than ever are looking into XLR microphones and audio interfaces. Once you make the jump to a good XLR mic, you need an equally high-quality interface to connect it to your PC and start creating content. Today, we’re looking at the PreSonus Studio 26c, a premium interface ready to make you sound your best in seconds.

Specifications
  • Current Price: $209.95 (Official Website)
  • General
    • Sample Rates: 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, or 192 kHz
    • Converter Resolution: 24 bit
    • Converter Dynamic Range: 114 dB
    • Converter Dynamic Range: 114 dB
  • Microphone Inputs
    • Maximum Level: +4.5 dBu (balanced, min gain)
    • Gain Range: 70 dB
    • Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz (±0.1 dB, min gain, 48 kHz)
    • Dynamic Range: 110 dB (A-wtd, min gain)
    • THD + N: 0.004% (1 kHz, -1 dBFS, unity gain)
    • EIN: -125 dBu (max gain, 150Ω, A-wtd)
    • Input Impedance: 1.6 kΩ
    • Phantom Power: +48 VDC (10 mA total)
  • Line Inputs
    • Maximum Level: +19.5 dBu (balanced, min gain)
    • Gain Range: 70 dB
    • Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz (±0.1 dB, min gain, 48 kHz)
    • Dynamic Range: 110 dB (A-wtd, min gain)
    • THD + N: 0.007% (1 kHz, -1 dBFS, min gain)
    • Input Impedance: 10 kΩ
  • Instrument Inputs
    • Maximum Level: +14 dBu (unbalanced, min gain)
    • Gain Range: 70 dB
    • Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz (±0.15 dB, 48 kHz, min gain)
    • Dynamic Range: 110 dB (A-wtd, min gain)
    • THD + N: 0.008% (1 kHz, -1 dBFS, min gain)
    • Input Impedance: 1 MΩ
  • Line Outputs (Mains)
    • Type: ¼” TRS Female, DC Coupled*
    • Maximum Level: +10 dBu (balanced)
    • Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz (±0.1 dB, unity gain, 48 kHz)
    • Dynamic Range: 108 dB (A-wtd)
    • THD + N: 0.0015% (1 kHz, -1 dBFS)
  • Line Outputs (3/4)
    • Type: ¼” TRS Female, DC Coupled*
    • Maximum Level: +10 dBu (balanced)
    • Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz (±0.1dB, unity gain, 48 kHz)
    • Dynamic Range: 113 dB (A-wtd)
    • THD + N: 0.008% (1 kHz, -1 dBFS)
  • Headphone Outputs
    • Maximum Power: 30 mW/channel (56Ω load)
    • Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz (±0.2 dB, 56Ω load, 48 kHz)
    • Dynamic Range: 104 dB (A-wtd, 56Ω load)
    • THD + N: 0.009% (1 kHz, -1 dBFS, no load)
    • Impedance Working Range: 32Ω to 300Ω
  • Physical
    • Height: 1.75″ (44 mm)
    • Width: 7″ (180 mm)
    • Depth: 5.5″ (144 mm)
    • Weight: 1.6 lbs. (0.7 kg)
Who is PreSonus?

If you’ve shopped around for microphones or interfaces, you know there is no shortage of brands vying for your attention. It can be confusing to decide which are worthy of your trust and which are simply hopping onto the streaming trend hoping to make a quick buck. In situations like these, it’s always wise to do your research and leaning on brands that have a good reputation and solid community.

As a musician, I spent years hearing about PreSonus before ever trying one of its products for myself. The company has been a major player in the world of audio world for 25 years and made its name on delivering products that do their job well and reliably. Their products also span the spectrum of price points, ensuring that they offer solutions for everyone from budget-bound newcomers to seasoned professionals working in studios around the world. 

It’s also worth noting that the Studio 26c we’re reviewing today is only one of a vast product library. PreSonus has integrated itself into a wide array of studio recording and live performance categories, spanning monitors and headphones, to microphones, mixers, networking, loudspeakers, and even professional-grade software. That gives the company a unique ability to have a foot in virtually every stage of the recording and performance chain. By developing products for each step of that chain, they’re able to apply that insight, and feedback from customers, to craft a line-up that delivers what musicians and creators need and demand.

Introducing the PreSonus Studio 26c

It’s clear right away that the Studio 26c is a high-end product. It features an all-metal body that adopts the classic PreSonus blue and black colorway. It also includes a built-in level meter so you can accurately assess your gain needs and output levels without turning to outside software. The four level and mix knobs are excellent with just enough resistance and very little play. Around the back, you’ll find a USB Type-C connection to interface with your PC or Mac (hence the “c” in “26c”) without any need for an external power brick.

The Studio 26c is a 2×4 interface, which means it offers two inputs and four outputs, which is typically more than enough for home recording and content creation. The front of the device houses two input jacks that can accept either XLR or 1/4-inch connections. A common use case for this might be running a pair of microphones for a two host podcast, or connecting one microphone and a guitar for some home music recording. With the controls on the front, you’re able to independently set the levels for each input, monitor each, turn on 48V of phantom power, or designate them as line-level inputs for devices like a Line 6 Pod or keyboard. Since the Studio 26c acts as an external soundcard, you can also mix your PC audio with your direct, zero-latency monitoring.

Around the back, you’ll find your MIDI loop and outputs. MIDI is most useful for musicians connecting keyboards or pads to their PC to compose in a Desktop Audio Workstation (DAW). The other outputs are broken into columns for easy connecting when you can’t see the back of the unit; mine, for example, is positioned at the back of my desk, out of the way, so it’s difficult to actually see those jacks. The “main out” column is used to drive a pair of stereo studio monitors. Line Out sends your mix to up to two additional sources, in addition to your PC through the USB connection. There is also a headphone jack which I wish was positioned on the front of the interface for better cable management, but still works well enough since it’s positioned on the outer edge. 

Under the hood is where the real magic happens, and why I believe streamers and video creators should seriously consider the Studio 26c over the competition. PreSonus’ interface integrates the company’s XMAX-L preamps, a modified version of their popular XMAX preamp. If that sounds like Greek to you, think of a preamp like a battery. A good battery provides adequate power, but also delivers it smoothly so electrical “noise” doesn’t make your device malfunction. An audio preamp does the same, providing a range of “gain” that allows you to adjust your microphone or instrument volume. Likewise, it should do so without adding white noise, or hiss, to your recording. 

PreSonus’s XMAX-L preamps are simply fantastic. The Studio 26c is able to provide a whopping 70dB of gain to your line input. Just as importantly, it provides this cleanly. That means it’s able to drive gain-hungry microphones like the Shure SM7B or Rode Procaster without requiring a separate booster like a Fethead or Cloudlifter, which are currently another $90 and $150 respectively. Note that the next step down, the Studio 24c, is $40 cheaper but only provides 50dB of clean gain. In my testing with the Rode Procaster, I found that it needed about 53dB to achieve a standard -12dB to -9dB volume about five inches away from my mouth at normal speaking volume. You’ll want to take your own speaking volume and positioning into account if you’re looking at the Studio 24c instead. If you like to “eat the mic,” you very likely will find you need less gain.

As a guitar player, I was also very impressed at the latency and dynamic range the Studio 26c provided. I was able to play “live” and multi-track in my DAW without lag tripping me up or, frankly, even being noticeable. I was able to track everything from quiet cleans in long delay trails to dirty, overdriven metal on my 7-string and a Rectifier sim. The 26c was up to anything I threw at it and delivered every ounce of fidelity I could’ve asked for. 

PreSonus also adds value by bundling its own DAW, PreSonus Studio One Artist, with every audio interface it makes. If you’re setting up a studio for the first time, or are ready to move on from entry software like Audacity, this will save that added cost and expand your creative possibilities.

Final Thoughts

At $209.95, the PreSonus Studio 26c initially struck me as expensive, but when I dug into what the package delivered, however, my impression completely changed. This is an interface that’s ready to grow with you and power high-end broadcast mics and instruments without demanding you buy expensive extras later. Add in the excellent PreSonus Studio One Artist, and you have meaningful long-term savings. Add to that the flexibility, ease of use, and solid design and you wind up with one of the best interfaces money can buy in its price class. PreSonus knocked it out of the park with the Studio 26c, and I really could recommend it highly enough.

Summary
Though slightly more expensive, the PreSonus Studio 26c represents an excellent value and delivers quality that will endure for years.
Good
  • Excellent build quality
  • Lots of gain, enough for low sensitivity microphones
  • Low latency, high dynamic range
  • Includes DAW
  • Great long-term value
Bad
  • Expensive upfront cost
  • Rear-mounted headphone jack
9
Amazing
Written by
Chris cut his teeth on games with the original NES. Since then, games and technology have become a passion. He currently acts as the Hardware Editor for MMORPG.com and GameSpace.com.

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