In a world of me-too stereo USB audio interfaces, the Edirol UA-4FX does stand out from the crowd. It's moderately priced, has a full complement of inputs and outputs, and includes built-in effects.
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The UA-4FX''s top panel sports the effects selector; four effects parameter knobs; and large input, output, and guitar/mic input-level knobs. I/O jacks and mod switches line the front, rear, and side panels.

In a world of me-too stereo USB audio interfaces, the Edirol UA-4FX ($229) stands out from the crowd. It has an XLR input with phantom power, an unbalanced 1/4-inch input switchable between mic and guitar level, and an 1/8-inch plug-in powered input for lavalier and electret microphones. There are RCA jacks for line-level analog I/O and optical jacks for digital I/O.

The UA-4FX is class compliant in 16-bit, 44.1 kHz mode, but you need a custom driver for 24-bit, 48 and 96 kHz operation as well as to use the MIDI ports. There is a headphone output on the front of the unit. Phantom power and input monitoring mode are toggled with microswitches on the bottom. The unit is fully compatible with Windows and Mac OS X and supports WDM, ASIO 2.0, and Core Audio.

Add Effects

The UA-4FX comes with 16 built-in effects. They are split among four banks, but you can use only one bank at a time. The Mastering bank offers noise suppression, high and low EQ, and a high-frequency presence effect called Enhancer. The Listening bank includes reverb, center cancellation, and high and low EQ. The Perform bank has pitch variation, distortion, chorus, and delay.

The COSM bank houses a tube-mic-preamp simulator with compression and makeup gain but oddly no compression-ratio control. A knob labeled Bright and another labeled Fat And Warm alter the modeling algorithm, the most noticeable effect of which is high and low EQ. Inexplicably, although each bank uses the same four knobs, different knobs are assigned to high- and low-EQ settings in different banks. The effects are of average quality, but they're reasonable for the price.

Ins and Outs

The unit's input quirks are more troubling. Even with no effects in use, switching effects banks causes a complete dropout in both recording and playback. Plugging a cable into the 1/4-inch input defeats the other inputs, and using the 1/8-inch input defeats the XLR jack. The active mic jack is routed to both output channels, so unless you have external preamps feeding the line inputs, this is effectively a 1-input interface, and using the advanced driver does not mitigate these problems. The LED input monitoring is very good as USB devices go.

A switch selects between analog and digital inputs, so there's no way to trick this unit into multiple inputs with external converters. However, that same switch has a Loopback setting for routing output back to the inputs. That makes for a much cleaner implementation than the usual patch-cable method. You can apply the effects during recording or playback, and applying them during playback and then engaging Loopback mode is a slick way of permanently printing your effects. You'll have to repeat the process several times if you want to use effects from different banks or apply them to individual tracks. Beginners may find that acceptable.

The bigger question is, why include the effects at all? Support for DirectX and VST effects in the bundled Cakewalk Sonar LE software and most other free or inexpensive sequencers makes most of the UA-4FX built-in effects redundant. Edirol's answer is that the UA-4FX is intended for users, especially beginners, who still want their effects in hardware. I can't help thinking that those folks would be better off buying a standalone recording device. Once you've graduated to a digital audio sequencer, you'll probably use built-in or third-party effects.

Used strictly as an audio interface, the UA-4FX's sound quality compares favorably to that of devices in its class. Its input limitations — only the XLR input is balanced and only one input functions at a time — are issues to be aware of, but the unit is certainly fairly priced.

Value (1 through 5): 3