A couple of years ago I researched small ‘portable’ audio recording interfaces as I was looking to buy one as a Christmas present for a young aspiring musician in the family who wanted a simple to use recording interface with his MacBook. From the bewildering range of units on the market, I finally settled on the original version of the UR22. The unit amply filled the brief, so I wanted to check out the latest MkII version to see what enhancements the folks at Steinberg had added.
To cover the basics first …
The UR22 MkII is a two input, two output, recording interface allowing connection of Mic/DI/Line level inputs (via a pair of combo sockets) and offering line level monitor outputs (1/4” jacks) and headphone socket. There’s a pair of standard DIN MIDI sockets to connect a keyboard or other MIDI source. Very importantly, the unit offers ‘zero latency’ direct monitoring of the sources mixed with a feed of the already recorded material coming from your recording device. There’s pot provided to vary the balance of the two feeds which is great.
Just like the original UR22, there is a standard USB 2.0 interface that supports sample rates up to 192 kHz with audio converters operating at 24 bits. The unit boasts two D-PRE Class-A discrete mic preamps from Yamaha (with switchable phantom power) so overall a very strong technical specification, including low latency audio drivers.
So what’s new?
First up is support for iOS devices that brings the UR22 into play for truly mobile recording applications where Steinberg have gone a step further and provided an additional socket to allow the unit to be powered from a standard 5V USB PSU or via a USB battery pack (in very common use to top up mobile phones). For iPad use you’ll need either the Apple Camera Connection Kit (for older iPads) or a Lightning-to-USB adapter (for the latest iPads) which are both available from the Apple store. The UR22 is capable of being powered via the USB cable if connected to a computer capable of supplying the required power (2.5W, so 0.5A at 5V).
Next up is a new Loopback function which mixes all pre recorded audio playing back from your DAW with the ‘live’ contributions coming from the UR22. The ‘merged’ mix is sent back to the computer for live internet streaming using any of the popular streaming software available today.
One of the reasons I chose the original UR22 was that it came bundled with a downloadable version of Steinberg’s Cubase AI (also included with the mkII) which supports 32 audio and 48 MIDI tracks, so it was plenty to get started with and offers an upgrade path to the full Cubase. It was reassuring that you wouldn’t get any compatibility problems between hardware and software (but remembering that the UR22 will work with all major Windows or Mac based computers).
Steinberg have continued this support into the iOS world by offering free access to the Cubasis LE recording app. Yes it’s limited to four audio tracks at 16-bit/44.1kHz and four MIDI tracks but you can upgrade to the full version of Cubasis (now at version 2) for a relatively small cost. This removes the tracks and bit depth/sampling rate limitations and comes with a whole range of virtual instruments and audio effects. More than enough so that the limitation is more likely to be the iPad’s processing power and memory capacity … and your imagination!
And if that’s not enough, there’s a growing range of in-app purchases to expand Cubasis with more virtual instruments and effects. Cubasis projects can be ported across to Cubase if desired.
Like the original UR22, the MkII is housed in a very sturdy metal case unlike many of its plastic cased competitors. So if you are recording when on the road, then it’s going to stand the test of time.
The user manual is very well written and deals with the operation of the unit in a simple to understand way with plenty of connection illustrations and a useful set of screenshots covering set up and use with Windows, Mac and iOS equipped devices.
Steinberg has a solid reputation in both the hardware and software worlds of audio recording and the UR22 mkII is an ideal candidate for those seeking a simple to use, high quality, portable, affordable audio interface. It’s part of a large UR family of interfaces (there is a baby UR12) with a wide range of I/O to suit most recording set ups.
At the time of writing, the UR22 mkII is selling for around £109 $149 €133. It’s also available bundled with mic, mic cable and headphones if you are looking for a full starter kit.
More information on the Steinberg website here