With all due disrespect to Texas, smaller is better in today's studio. Versatility is important, too. Compact devices that do double or triple duty in studio, mobile and live settings can reach rare must-have status among certain musicians. Roland sibling Edirol has been carving a niche in that arena, making portable yet powerful devices aimed at project-studio, mobile and gigging musicians.
The UA-700 AudioCapture is a 24-bit, 96kHz USB audio interface stacked to the gills with Roland's venerable Composite Object Sound Modeling (COSM) mic- and amp-modeling technology, as well as effects and dynamics processing. It does a little bit of a lot of things, such as analog and digital audio recording and playback through a computer or a stand-alone recorder, MIDI data transmission and remote control of software sequencers, and stand-alone A/D conversion and effects processing. You can select sampling rates of 16-bit, 44.1 or 48kHz, and 24-bit, 96kHz. Its strongest suit is its mic and guitar-amp modeling, in which its performance rivals that of similar dedicated units.
Instant gratification is the name of the UA-700's game. You may switch it on, plug in a microphone or an instrument and begin monitoring its effects immediately through headphones or its two pairs of main outputs: one ¼-inch set and one set of RCA.
The unit's CD-ROM contains all of the necessary audio and MIDI drivers for interfacing with a computer via USB. The UA-700 is compatible with ASIO 1.0 and 2.0, WDM and MME for Windows, and the Mac OS Sound Manager. I used the UA-700 primarily with the Ableton Live audio sequencer on an Apple G4/466 MHz. After dropping the ASIO drivers into Live's folder, the UA-700 promptly showed up in the software's input selection, and I was able to record through the UA-700's inputs — easy as could be. However, the latency amount specified in the driver was not quite accurate for Live, and I had to nudge it up a few milliseconds to get it to sound right. Overall, the latency issue was not bad at all considering that it uses USB rather than FireWire or even USB version 2.0.
INS AND OUTS
Connections include two mic inputs that can be recorded as a stereo pair or monaurally. They accept either XLR or balanced or unbalanced ¼-inch connections. Phantom power (48V) is available for condenser mics, and a Pad button switches off gain boost for recording instruments such as digital keyboards. Two sensitivity knobs govern the input level, and a lowcut filter reduces vocal plosives and other low-frequency noise. The mic inputs route audio through the dedicated Mic Modeling and Compressor/De-esser sections, as well as through the global Noise Suppressor/EQ and Chorus/Reverb sections.
The guitar-input section houses a single high-impedance ¼-inch jack with a sensitivity knob. This input travels through the Guitar Amp Modeling and Guitar Effects sections, as well as through the aforementioned global sections. Unfortunately, the guitar and mic inputs cannot be simultaneously active, which is a blow to live musicians who might want to play an instrument and sing with modeling on each channel. Because the solid construction of the UA-700 is definitely road-worthy, that is a shame.
Not to be overlooked is the aux in with stereo RCA inputs and a phono selector switch. It is perfect for users who want to drop clips from vinyl into a computer for editing. This input also has a Center Cancel button, which is supposed to help eliminate vocals from songs on this input. The Center Cancel button really only reduces the prominence of vocals, and it often also deadens significant other elements of the track, such as bass and drums. No modeling is offered for the aux in, but it can go through the EQ and Chorus/Reverb sections.
Sets of optical and coaxial digital I/O reside on the back panel. Only one digital input can be used at a time, but this digital input can be mixed with an analog input when the Rec Source switch on the back is set to Mix. In Mix mode, you can apply the UA-700's global effects to the digital input. To record the original, unaltered clean digital signal through the unit, select Digital mode. This is the only available mode for 24-bit, 96kHz operation, and with it, you cannot apply effects or mix the analog inputs with the digital signal.
Although the UA-700 is a dandy little USB audio interface, the real ear candy comes from its Roland COSM modeling and effects. Eleven amp models — American Combo, Brit Combo, Vintage, R-Fire, Modern, Metal, JC Clean, Crunch, Lead, Black Panel and Tweed — are selectable with five speaker-cabinet types to give the amp either a bigger or more constrained sound. A Drive knob controls the level of distortion. The guitar effects, of which one is available at a time, are flanger, tremolo, phaser, delay and compressor.
I don't wield an axe, but I was eager to run my 1970s Yamaha YC-30 combo organ through the gauntlet of guitar-amp models and effects. Although the organ possesses a classic tone on its own, the UA-700 made it blossom into a diverse, go-to instrument. Some of the cleaner amps were great for picking up the signal level and giving it a robust, mix-carrying quality, whereas more distorted amps succeeded in handing it different levels of Stereolab-esque crunch. With a little effort, I could easily make the organ sound just like a guitar, too.
The guitar effects are all useful in degrees. The flanger and phaser have too much of a digital edge but are good for sweetening at subtle levels. The excellent tremolo and delay sound very warm. The compressor effect is practical but little more; it could beef up a sound or tame it to make it sit better in a mix, but I generally prefer to use another effect in the Edirol and compress the signal elsewhere.
The global chorus effect is flat-out beautiful and enriching to almost any sound put to it. The reverbs are also quite useful, with pronounced and appropriate differences between the plate, large hall, small hall, room and spring reverbs. However, reverb and delay times are limited to a few brief seconds.
As the amp models beefed up my organ's signal, its noticeable hum became all the more pronounced. Luckily, the UA-700's noise suppressor could be counted on. It removed all of the hum and noise no matter how loud. The only drawback is that it is triggered by envelope, so the higher you have to crank up the noise-suppression knob, the more likely you are to lose a split-second clip of your instrument or voice when it comes in. It can also create a terrible gating to long sustained sounds like organ chords. However, in most cases, the noise will not be so loud as to tax the suppressor in these ways.
As to not forsake guitarists completely, I let my bandmate fire up the UA-700. He particularly liked the authenticity of the Crunch, Black Panel, American and Brit Combo amp models and the choices of speaker-cabinet types: 4×12, 4×10, 2×12 and 1×12. His chief complaint was that the Drive knob goes from nondistorted to very distorted too quickly with not enough slope in between. Many of the amp models and effects of the UA-700 trounce those of lesser amp-modeling units and even rival those of the industry-standard Line 6 Pod.
In the Mic Modeling section, you can combine five types of input mic models with five types of output mic models. The models include dynamic and condenser mics by companies such as Roland and AKG. A Distance knob simulates the length of the audio source from the mic. There are six types of preset compression for vocals, snares, acoustic guitar and so forth, as well as a De-esser button that produces appreciable but not fantastic results. Not all of the various mic-model combinations produced astounding or even distinguishable results, but experimenting with different combinations for different sound sources definitely paid off. I particularly liked the small dynamic mic model for vocals and the small condenser for capturing found percussion sounds. The UA-700 compressor, like any compressor, can add heft and warmth to a sound or muddy it up, depending on how it is used. It doesn't sound amazing, but it is a definite plus to the system.
Each section of dynamics on the UA-700 has a backlit selector button to turn the section on and off. Holding down these buttons for three seconds enables the three control knobs in the Guitar Effects section to be used for deeper controls of the parameters in a certain section. For example, the Guitar Effects knobs can be used for chorus pre-delay, depth and rate or for mic compressor level, attack and release.
Furthermore, the UA-700 Editor software is available as a download from Edirol. This gives direct software access to all of the UA-700's parameters. It worked seamlessly with the unit to transfer settings and presets to and from hardware to computer.
CAPTURE THE MOMENT
Although the UA-700 has many uses, it's still a fairly narrowly targeted product. To get the most out of it, you need either a portable audio interface for mobile laptop recording or an inexpensive, space-efficient audio interface for a project studio in which only one or two channels of audio need to be recorded at a time. In addition, you need the modeling; effects processing; and digital 24-bit, 96kHz I/O to justify the cost compared with less expensive USB audio interfaces.
The Edirol UA-700 came through in several instances: Its mic preamps proved to be on par with those of the well-respected Digi 001 from Digidesign. For a voice-over project I was working on, the Mic Modeling section let me squeeze a little bit of magic out of my bottom-of-the-barrel Samson R11 cardioid mic. The de-esser, compressor, EQ and lowcut switch all worked together to give the recordings a natural and polished sound.
Using the UA-700, I was also finally able to use my old combo organ on tracks the way I had always wanted to. Although you sacrifice a lot of hard drive for a small gain, having 24-bit, 96kHz digital recording means a brighter, clearer signal when you have to have the best. It's too bad that the mic and guitar inputs cannot work together. It's also unfortunate that the 24-bit, 96kHz mode limits the available effects. But if the UA-700 meets your specific needs, you'll find it to be sturdy, reliable, great-sounding and even essential piece of gear that demonstrates the quick maturation of USB audio — a format that was originally designed to replace serial ports.
UA-700 > $599.95
Pros: High sound quality. Excellent effects and models. Six rewritable presets. Two types of digital I/O. 24-bit, 96kHz-compatible. Solid construction.
Cons: Guitar and mic effects sections not active simultaneously. Limited MIDI applications. Using 96kHz mode reduces effects to Compressor/De-esser and Noise Suppressor/EQ.