When Connected to USB Port, UAX220 Is Recognized as a USB Audio-Compliant Device Without Driver
Digigram has a reputation for providing professional soundcards to top OEM equipment manufacturers. Several years back, the company stepped forward to take a high profile with its own branded PCXpocket PC Card audio card. The series, as well as the VXpocket models that followed, took advantage of the increasing power of laptop computers to bring the dream of the professional portable DAW into reality.
The VXpocket has proven to be one of the company’s most visible successes. Now, the UAX220 USB Audio interface takes the concept to the next level, combining audio quality with simplicity.
The UAX220 interface consists of a box that’s slightly larger than a pack of cigarettes at 3.5 x 3.2 x 0.9 inches, with a USB cable connected on one side and a cable snake with four Neutrik connectors. One pair of female XLR connectors provide balanced analog mono inputs alongside a pair of male XLR servo-balanced analog mono line outputs.
In addition, there is a 1/4-inch headphone jack. The box comes with a gain knob for headphone volume and a single pushbutton to enable direct monitoring. The unit is powered directly off the USB bus. Inside, the A/D and D/A converters are 24-bit/96 kHz quality, and are more than capable of handling the unit’s 24-bit/8-48 kHz record/playback capabilities.
Both Windows 2000 and Windows XP Pro recognized the UAX220 correctly as an audio interface and installed the WDM DirectSound drivers for it automatically. (Sorry, no Mac in the house, but it is compatible with OS X and also Linux). It was immediately accessible in the options dialog box in the audio production applications I tested it with, including Sony’s Soundforge 7.0 and Adobe Audition 1.5.
The only possible adjustments are tucked away out of sight in the OS controls. The default output levels of the D/A converters can be dropped down from +10 dBu by getting into the Windows speaker volume control or the Mac sound panel. For most purposes, the default settings are fine. Ditto for keeping the 48 kHz internal sampling rate.
Normally, playback of audio with different sampling rates is handled seamlessly with a real-time conversion in the OS. Keeping this fixed solves sampling frequency setting conflicts that happen occasionally with USB Audio.
If you’re running different applications using two sampling frequencies, one of which may be Windows playing system sounds, you can suffer a scramble of pitch and speed when, for example, a file recorded at 32 kHz plays back through an audio device supplying samples at 44.1 kHz. Leaving the sampling frequency fixed prevents this.
PRODUCT CAPSULE:THUMBS UP:
Top-notch sound quality
Broad OS support (Linux users rejoice!)
CONTACT: Digigram in Virginia at 703 875 9100 or visit www.digigram.com
For added versatility in specialized applications such as audio measurement, the UAX220 offers a “free” mode to adjust the internal frequency through changing the firmware.
The free mode allows for using a kernel ASIO driver – no automatic frequency conversion available with that – or for doing audio measurement work at the exact sampling frequency required, providing the highest quality and/or the lowest latency. These applications are less likely to run into scrambled sampling rates because they are typically run alone.
At present, the “free” mode requires a firmware swap. Soon, this will be upgraded to a single firmware with controls to run both fixed and free modes and also allow switching from 16-bit to 24-bit word length.
The UAX220 did not disappoint in terms of audio quality. In fact, it matched – and perhaps bested – the analog quality of my longtime favorite, the CardDeluxe PCI soundcard. Company claims of a 104 dB dynamic range and 98 dB S/N ratio proved to be conservative in my testing. That is a major leap beyond what I have seen through USB.
Subjectively, the sound of the D/A converters struck me as pleasing. It isn’t “warm” like recording through tubes to tape, but there wasn’t any of the harsh digital edge found on lesser digital audio adapters. Radio pros conscious of audio quality as well as voiceover artists and musicians will appreciate the terrific sound.
Remember, you’re only as good as the weakest link in the audio chain. For most radio users, the UAX220 will likely raise the bar.
Unlike some of the all-in-one portable USB audio adapters on the market, the UAX220 is designed for use with a mixer. This may add a slight level of complexity for those creating a portable studio on the fly with a laptop, but keeping these components separate is likely why this sounds great.
It also can serve double-duty installed at the studio and taken on the road as needed. If you are shopping for an audio adapter for a desktop DAW, planning on taking your show on the road or both, the UAX220 is the one to get.
I gave this product no thumbs down in the accompanying product capsule, only the second time I’ve done so in my nine years of reviewing for RW.