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Cakewalk UA-101 USB Audio Capture Interface Reviews
This review is aimed at people who (like myself) dont really know much about this kind of thing!
The UA-101 is the first music soundcard I ever bought, it kind of felt like jumping in at the deep end but after a year of use I am very happy with my decision!
The main reasons i bought it were
â€¢ As a midi interface to play keyboard with zero latency through
â€¢ As an audio interface for making good quality recordings at home
In my opinion it fufills these 2 roles perfectly! I have used it at home and live to play my midi keyboard through reason and have never noticed any kind of latency at all even when playing very fast pieces.
I have used it for home recording using a (fairly cheap) behringer B-1 condenser mic thats uses phantom power and as far as i am concerned the recordings are prefect! it is the 1st home recording set-up I have had where I can make a recording that is more sensitive than my own hearing, it picks up all the tiny nuances of an instrument also in my opinion is is completely noise free. That is using either of the two neutrik inputs, these have their own pre-amps, sensitivity knobs, limiter switch, and phantom power switch, you can plug different kinds of connectors into these inputs including xlr (mic) and 1/4 inch jack (electric guitar) I think these inputs are amazing!! i do have one problem though... that is that phantom power can either be turned on or off for both connections and not individually, so, if you want to plug your guitar and mic into these 2 connections simultaneously you\'ll need to switch to a mic that doesnt need phantom power or risk electrocution!!!
So, it fufills those roles well, but it is a quite advanced soundcard and in the year i have had it I have discovered other advantages (and a few disadvantages) including...
â€¢ 5 minutes, pain free driver installation with my xp computer (which is not a dedicated music machine and has a lot of other crap, games etc. on it)
â€¢also painless interface with cubase and reason.. another program i have used it with is the virtual dj program \"numark cue\" when i used the proper edirol drivers with this program I got lots of noise stuttering etc. when i switched to using the card but with the \"asio4all\" drivers it worked fine! so thats a bit weird...
The relatively sturdy metal case and rubber feet are comforting features. I have used this live several times, also jamming it into a bag with laptop, cables, etc. is no problem and after a year of constant use I have experienced no \"fall-apart\" syndrome. In fact I have started using this as my main sound card for everything, playing games, listening to music, watching films etc. simply because the sound quality is so good!
â€¢One possible limiting factor is that it only has 1 midi input and output, i dont know is there is a way around this..
â€¢It is not usb powered, so you will need a spare plug somewhere!
â€¢Note: I was advised by a sound engineer friend to go with a firewire card (like the fa-101, the firewire equivalent of this card) rather than a usb 2 card (like this one) because in her opinion firewire is just \"better\"... In the end I went with this one as I am a pc man and always have been, I never noticed any problems with the usb 2 interface.
â€¢Optical in and out!! you dont see that every day!... ive never actually used them but its nice to know they\'re there just in case!!
â€¢All the audio inputs and outputs!! it is 10 in 10 out, but that includes optical I/O and midi I/O.. still you have the 2 neutrik ins + 6 1/4 inch jack mono ins and 8 1/4 inch jack mono outs + 2 1/4 inch jack mono monitor outs and a stereo monitor headphone out. You can change the levels and settings of the channels using the very straightforward software, so in effect you can use the card as a 10 channel mixer! also if your recording you can turn the software off and monitor your input directly through the headphone monitor out.
So, with all these possibilities i have done things like, recorded several guitars, mics and a midi input simultaneously.
or, plugged a few electric guitars + bass in.. put effects and stuff on it, sorted out the levels and output it through a stereo out (or as many channels as you want)... all live!!!
Anyway, to conclude, one year ago, while contemplating buying this I was also looking at smaller cheaper soundcards by EMU and M-AUDIO which would be suitable as a \"first soundcard\" but, i suspected that after buying a soundcard simply to fufill my needs I would soon want more features, more inputs and outputs and such, so, rather than buying a small one and soon after buying a big one, i decided to take the plunge and buy a big one first! I certainly do not regret my decision.. I get the feeling that these oldskool \"do everything\" big behemoths of soundcards are on the way out and smaller more task specific ones by EMU and M-AUDIO are on the way in, so if you are contemplating buying one of these, but intimidated by its apparent complexity, my advice is, pick it up while you still can!!
I have recently brought an Edirol UA 101 and it is brilliant. Not only does it have 10 channels in and 10 out but it is user frendly and does exactly what i want it to do.
i would definitly recommend this to any who is starting recording at home, in the own studio or just in general just like making music.
I rate this a 10 out of 10!!!!
For the purposes of this review, I tested the product on the following hardware:
A Toshiba Satellite laptop - P4HT 2.8Ghz, 512Mb RAM with a clean XP SP2 install and my chosen music applications plus Adobe Reader, iTunes/QuickTime installed. My dedicated audio machine.
A Packard-Bell EasyNote K5285 - P4 2.8Ghz, 512Mb RAM with XP SP2 and a hard-drive full of two years' worth of junk and lots of background processes running. My everyday workhorse.
A last-but-one generation eMac G4 1Ghz 768Mb RAM. An antique basically...
The good: it looks trendy and is well screwed together. The case does not flex when pressed and all the knobs and sockets feel secure. The knobs have a rubberised finish which is good. Appears to be more sturdy than my E-MU 1820m box.
The lid of the unit is screen-printed with an I/O schematic - a useful reference. Unlike its FireWire sibling the FA-101; this unit has an extra set of (dedicated) outputs on the rear panel, a five bar LED level meter (the FA-101 has a four bar meter) for more accurate mic level setting and a built in limiter. The connections can be either balanced or unbalanced and can be set at either consumer or pro output levels. Similar products from M-Audio only offer unbalanced connections.
The bad: phantom power is all or nothing on both front panel Neutrik connectors so mixing microphone types could be problematic. The neutrik connectors have individual level controls as you would expect, but only input 2 is switchabe to hi-Z for guitar use. The switch for phantom power is both tiny and located on the back panel, it also lacks a warning LED which seems a stupid oversight. The switch is just where I tend to pick up the unit and its setting needs checking before use. One of the rotary switches on the front panel is used to set the sample rate.
USB connection speed (full or high) and the line output levels are set using a bank of tiny DIP switches on the rear panel. These are, frankly, very poor. They are clearly not designed for frequent usage and need to be set using something small like a pen nib. Neither my patience nor the switches could cope with regular setup changes...
My thoughts: why couldn't the sample rate, line levels and USB speed be set using the driver software? My E-MU card can be controlled directly via its PatchMix applet for the selection of both sample rate and line levels. In fact it does not have hardware controls for these features. This must either be a major oversight or cost cutting measure on the part of Edirol. Not good.
Another 'issue' is the fact that being a USB device it requires the supplied wall-wart power supply to function. Unlike FireWire audio devices, it cannot take its power from the interface cable. At first glance this appears to be a major problem that limits its useage in the field. FireWire devices can be buss-powered. However, only full sized Firewire connectors supply voltage to its device. Apple Macs have full sized FireWire sockets - Apple created FireWire or IEEE 1394-1995 to its friends; but my PC laptops (and probably most others) have the miniature sockets found on camcorders. These do not supply power. In effect, then, portability, i.e. running a FireWire audio box from the laptops battery, may be limited to Macs and a select few PCs. The USB Vs FireWire debate certainly isn't as clear cut as it appears.
Sound quality is excellent, and at least as good as the competition. Only the E-MU has a slightly better sound but this is a soundcard with DSP and breakout box combination.
The drivers install on the PC without a problem and are immediately running at USB 2 speeds - assuming the back panel switch is set correctly. The manual is fine and gives you the information you need including detailed instructions for setting up both the PC and specific applications such as SONAR and Cubase. The manual states that your PC should be set up to give priority to background services rather than applications and provides simple instructions for those that require it. In my experience, however, this causes problems. Ableton Live, for example, reported skipping hard-disk reads when playing back samples. Restoring priority to applications corrected this issue and did not require ASIO setting changes.
The mixer applet is very basic compared with others from E-MU and M-Audio. You need to set XPs Control Panel to 'Classic' view to find its icon! I then copied and pasted a short-cut so that it appears on my 'Start' menu application list. It does not do this for you. Hello and welcome to the 21st century Edirol! Anyway once up and running there are banks of virtual faders for inputs on one side and outputs on the other. There are no software VU level meters; simply indicators for signal and clip. A little window allows routings to be made from various pull-down selections. Both visually and functionally basic - feels very Windows 95 - but at least it seems to be very stable. One niggle, on my machines, the applet window always appears towards the bottom right-hand corner and needs dragging to the centre of the screen. It does not remember its last screen position.
The UA-101 is mainly sold as a PC device, it does not offically support Mac OS X at speeds above USB 1 - and then only with limited functionality due to the reduced available bandwidth. The bundled software is also PC only. If you're a Mac user go for an M-Audio or similar device. There are new (beta) drivers to support USB 2 on the Edirol website, but after following the installation instructions to the letter, the box was not recognised by my (up-to-date Tiger) Mac. I suspect this is caused by my having another Edirol device driver installed on the machine for another member of their audio product line. Unfortunately there is no uninstall feature for this old driver. They also state that on the Mac the drivers need to be reinstalled if the box is/was active when an automatic OS update is applied to OS X. Both drivers and devices co-exist happily on the PC platform and OS updates don't appear to cause any problems. To be fair to Edirol, they do not push the UA-101 as a Mac device, if it ever works correctly on my semi-retired Mac I will consider this a bonus...
SONAR LE, a lite version of Cakewalk's flagship sequencer/audio application is included in the package. It needs registering to get rid of the 'register me' nag screen. A piece of cake... It should be noted that this version is based on version 4 of SONAR and not the current version 5.2. It probably has the known bugs its big brother had in that version. SONAR generally is a piece of software that you will either love or hate. There is no middle ground. Many people (myself included) think the user interface is old-school and cumbersome. SONAR is also a poor VST host. Some VSTs simply cause the program to crash without warning. The Lite tag refers to the fact that the bare minimum of effects/plugins are provided. Personally, I would not buy SONAR in any current incarnation. It still has a reputation for being buggy, from a company (Cakewalk) that is slow to respond to users' wishes and is not known for its good customer service. But, hey, its in the box so who cares! M-Audio boxes come with Ableton Live Lite - the full version of this program is amazing, my application of choice - but because I don't know what is missing in the Lite verion I can make no further comparison. It is, however, cross platform and it is identical on either OS.
In short its a good interface for PC users and will appeal to those in need of some music software. It could have been slightly better thought out - I would have preferred the switches all on the front, even if this means that no softare was supplied in the box to offset any additional cost.
I managed an ASIO latency setting of 8ms when using soft synths, only FL studio still caused audio-drop outs and sudden peaks of near 100% CPU usage at this setting. FL Studio is a known processor hog; my desktop PC and E-MU card fairs equally badly with it. It did not matter which laptop was used, the same settings were usable/unusable on both. Using the device on a clean machine had little advantage - a plus for those with only a single general purpose PC at their disposal.
As for whether to go with a USB or FireWire device. I think the FA-101 may provide slightly better latency figures on the same host PC, but this is just speculation.
I went for the UA-101 because it has a slightly better specification than the FA-101. Of the competing M-Audio products the 410 offered too little and the 1814 too much for my needs.
I suspect that the march of competing M-Audio products will continue and the group will buy-up any serious competition. They provide cross platform compatibility and have a 'trendy' marketing campaign with lots of pro musicians as 'talking heads' promoting their products. They also seem to produce new products more frequently. Edirol are stuffy, boring, less 'hip'and more predictable by comparison - a bit like the Conservative Party...
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