The compact UMA25S puts everything you need at your fingertips.
Crazy Eddie was an iconic New York City electronics store famous for promoting its inventory at prices far below its competitors. Behringer must be the music-instrument industry's equivalent. It is quite a feat to produce the UMA25S — a combination MIDI control surface and USB 2 audio interface — for $189.99. Adding a turnkey recording system for your computer and a gig bag to carry it all must surely be driving the competition crazy.
There are few compromises other than a limitation to 16 bits (32, 44.1, and 48kHz sampling rates are supported) and the absence of XLR or ¼-inch inputs. (Analog I/O is RCA only.) The controller is a terrific value for entry-level musicians, podcasters, and professionals in need of a compact, mobile system.
Constructed of high-impact plastic, the fire-engine-red UMA25S derives power from the computer's USB port or an optional AC adapter. It's a solidly built keyboard, with two octaves of full-size, velocity-sensitive, half-action keys. The keys offer less throw than I would prefer, but you can create a Velocity curve to mitigate that problem. Keys are not wired for after-touch. Although you can assign Aftertouch to another controller, I miss the tactile feel of key beds with pressure sensors. In addition to sending notes, keys perform programming duties. The topmost 11 keys handle numerical values, with the highest serving as an Enter key. Those below perform a variety of functions.
There's nothing cheap about the feel of the buttons, wheels, slider, or knobs on the UMA25S; everything responds positively with none of the wiggle room of cheap, poorly fitted hardware. The spring-loaded, knurled pitch-bend wheel sits at the top left of the instrument with a slight ridge in the center that makes it easy to catch with your thumb. The modulation wheel is similarly designed, but without a spring, and its action feels smooth and continuous. The buttons have a neoprene-type coating, which helps buffer them against ham-handed impacts.
The bright, red LED immediately reflects parameter values for each control, and the white legend of functions stands out nicely in contrast with the instrument. I'd have no qualms about using the unit on a darkly lit stage. The visibility is particularly appreciated when editing with keys.
The lower-left section of the UMA25S starts with octave buttons. The Edit button and the Edit key let you choose between octaves and semitones. Just above, there is a Mute button with a button to its left to toggle MIDI Machine Control (MMC). MMC worked like a charm in Apple Logic 8.02 and MOTU Digital Performer 6.02.
There are several ways to load a preset. Hitting the Preset button lets you use any knob or button to select the preset of your choice. Alternatively, use the plus or minus buttons below the display screen. There are no presets for different software packages so you will need to program your own.
There is little you can't program the UMA25S to control. Eight freely assignable knobs sit above eight transport buttons, and the modulation and pitch-bend wheels, and the volume slider can take on additional chores. You program controls for software instruments in one of two ways: Use the synthesizer's Learn function to adapt it to the controller or adjust a parameter on the synth and program the UMA25S to capture that parameter. Snap TX is another handy feature: Press Edit and then hit the key to send the current state of all knobs and sliders. That's a great feature for embedding MIDI data in sequencer tracks.
HOW MUCH WOULD YOU PAY?
The included headset with mic connects to the rear with a stereo ⅛-inch jack for the headphones and a mono ⅛-inch jack for mic input. Once I adjusted its placement and toyed with the input level, the mic was eminently suitable for scratch vocals or spoken-word podcasting.
A ton of software for Mac and Windows is included in the package. You get Behringer Energy XT2, a modestly featured, cross-platform digital-audio sequencer; Sourceforge Audacity audio editor; a couple of bare-bones plug-in hosts; and more software instruments than I have room to list.
Beyond the aforementioned compromises, I have a few other quibbles. There's no MIDI In, which would let me plug my MIDI guitar through the controller. Adjustments for the microphone input level are on the rear, making access a bit difficult. The documentation, though comprehensive, sometimes lacks clarity. Still, the UMA25S is a terrific bargain, and the ideal companion to my Macbook Pro when I want something to schlep on the road or to work in the next room.
Value (1 through 5): 4