Before FireWire audio interfaces hit the scene, Edirol was among a small group of manufacturers offering USB audio interfaces. Defying the widespread yet erroneous view that USB 1.1 was unsuitable for quality audio I/O, Edirol helped break PCI-card dominance of the audio-interface market. When FireWire finally arrived, it capitalized on the one legitimate limitation of USB: low bandwidth.
Technology is a never-ending game of leapfrog, of course, and USB 2.0 broke the bandwidth barrier with a 20 percent bigger pipeline than FireWire (which has subsequently doubled its own bandwidth). Not surprisingly, Edirol is the first to take advantage of USB 2.0. Its UA-1000 offers ten simultaneous channels of 24-bit, 96 kHz I/O, along with such niceties as four microphone preamps, analog and digital connections, and hardware monitoring.
The UA-1000 is a one-rackspace device jam-packed with connections, controls, and LEDs on the front panel and still more connections on the back (see Fig. 1). It ships with ASIO, WDM, and MME drivers for Windows XP. Macintosh support is planned, and Edirol is currently working with Apple to develop a USB 2.0 audio standard for OS X. You can connect as many as four UA-1000s to your computer and use them simultaneously. For this review, I tested a single UA-1000 on an Athlon XP 2500+ with 512 MB of RAM.
UP AND AWAY
Installing the UA-1000 requires the Windows XP Service Pack 1 as well as a software update, which is included on CD-ROM. An instruction sheet clearly explains the process of checking for the Service Pack and installing the update. Edirol explains that the update provides efficiencies in the USB stack that were developed by Microsoft after testing with the UA-1000. On my system, installation was a snap, and I experienced no instability during the review period.
The installation process places a UA-1000 icon in the Windows Control Panel. Clicking on it reveals an unassuming little applet (see Fig. 2) that offers a virtual patch bay for flexible I/O routing along with a mixer to facilitate such things as cue mixes during recording.
The control panel is divided into two patch bays and two mixer sections. The Wave In patch bay controls whether a stereo physical input, a virtual output, or the Monitor Output will be directed to your DAW's track inputs. (For example, you could choose inputs 1 and 2 in Sonar and actually be directing physical inputs 7 and 8 to that track.) This disconnect between the physical and virtual inputs can save a lot of time and trouble repatching gear or reassigning inputs. In addition, assigning a virtual output as a track input allows you to directly record the output of other applications such as the Windows Media Player. You can also record a real-time mix of all of the UA-1000's physical outputs by assigning Monitor Output as a track input. That lets you generate a reference mix as you're doing multitrack recording.
The Output patch bay gives you two sets of assignments, labeled “Direct Monitor: On” and “Direct Monitor: All Off.” The first set is used when either the front panel Direct Monitor Soft Ctrl button is on or any of the Input mixer's channels are enabled. In all other cases, the second set is used. That allows you to listen to physical inputs on all channels when tracking, then to easily switch to monitoring virtual outputs when mixing.
As many as five configurations can be stored in nonvolatile memory. Settings for the Wave In patch bay, the Output patch bay, the Monitor, and the panel switches can be stored and recalled independently. That means that you can, for example, load the Wave In patch-bay settings of Memory 4 without changing your current panel-switch settings.
Context menus are exceptionally well-implemented in the patch bay and mixer. I would expect them to reset a control to its default setting, but they do that and much more. Right-clicking on a fader allows you to set it or all faders to any multiple of 6 dB between -36 and +120 dB, including full attenuation. Right-clicking on a pan control lets you set it or all pan controls to hard left, hard right, center, or alternating left and right for stereo sources.
It's also nice that all patch-bay and mixer functions can be controlled from the computer keyboard, and about half of them have hotkeys. That's not just useful to mouse-phobic musicians like me; it also makes life easier for visually impaired musicians.
The UA-1000 documentation is exceptionally detailed. If you follow the instructions carefully, you probably won't need any tech support. My only real beef with the manual is its silly warnings to use only the power and USB cables provided. In fact, any good-quality cables will do, and the whole point of detachable USB and IEC-power cables is their universality.
GO WITH THE FLOW
The four combination jacks on the UA-1000's front panel accept balanced XLR, balanced TRS, or unbalanced ¼inch TS plugs. Each of these jacks provides microphone preamplification. Phantom power (+48V, on the XLR connection only) and a 20 dB pad can be switched on and off for each pair. The front-panel channel 3 input can be switched to high-impedance operation for use with guitar or bass pickups.
The four front-panel inputs are duplicated on the back panel with unbalanced TRS jacks. Those can be switched in pairs to act as channel inserts, adding a good deal to the UA-1000's flexibility. However, the switches are on the back panel, and the front-panel inputs are functional only when the back-panel connections are set as channel inserts. That means you'll want to leave an open rackspace above the UA-1000 if you intend to change modes very often. The remaining four analog inputs (for channels 5 through 8) are balanced TRS jacks on the back panel. Sensitivity adjustments for each pair of analog inputs are made using four front-panel knobs. The front panel also has knobs for adjusting headphone and direct-monitor signal levels.
The UA-1000's eight analog outs are rear-panel balanced +4 dBu TRS jacks. You can use optical or coaxial S/PDIF to provide input for channels 9 and 10. The optical jacks also accept ADAT Optical; because ADAT Optical input renders the coaxial S/PDIF and the analog inputs and outputs inactive, the UA-1000 is limited to eight simultaneous channels of I/O when using the ADAT connections. One of the UA-1000's few real shortcomings is that it doesn't support Sample Multiplexing (SMUX). That means the maximum sampling rate for ADAT I/O is 48 kHz. Fortunately, the S/PDIF I/O can handle 96 kHz. BNC word-clock and MIDI I/O round out the UA-1000's rear-panel I/O.
Using the UA-1000 is straightforward, as you'd expect, and I had no trouble getting it to do anything I wanted. The front-panel microphone preamps are very convenient for remote recording or for quickly setting up a mic or four. Mic cables hanging down the front of your rack may not be appealing in a permanent installation, but that's the trade-off for having a multipurpose unit.
The preamps, and indeed the whole analog front end, are the same as those found in Roland's VS-2480. Although I didn't compare them directly, I can say that the preamps are reasonably quiet and relatively transparent sounding, as I would expect in comparably priced interfaces and mixers.
My biggest issue with the UA-1000 is that to change the sampling rate you must power-cycle the unit. That's not as bad as having to open the box and move a dip switch, but if you change sampling rates frequently, you may find it annoying.
Everything I recorded and played back with the UA-1000 sounded quite good. At lower sampling rates the sound was clean and pleasing; at higher sampling rates there was a bit more detail and clarity. Sonically, I'd be happy to have the UA-1000 in my studio.
You can find similarly priced USB interfaces with more I/O, but probably at the cost of a couple of preamps, MIDI I/O, and channel inserts. If those features are important, the UA-1000 definitely deserves your consideration. If your PC has USB 2.0 but lacks FireWire, the UA-1000 is your ticket to high-quality audio.
Minimum System Requirements
Pentium 4/1.2 GHz; 128 MB RAM (256 MB
recommended); Windows XP;
USB 2.0 port
USB 2.0 audio interface
FEATURES3.5EASE OF USE3.5AUDIO QUALITY4.0VALUE3.0RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Low-latency ASIO 2.0 and WDM drivers. Four preamps. High-impedance input. Flexible software patch bay and mixer. Channel inserts (on channels 1 through 4). Multiple units can be used simultaneously.
CONS: Changing sampling rate requires power cycle. No 96 kHz ADAT Optical support. Can't use ADAT and analog I/O simultaneously.
UA-1000 Specifications Analog Inputs(4) front-panel balanced XLR/TRS combo with phantom power and 20 dB pad (channel 3 switchable to high-impedance); (4) rear-panel unbalanced TRS (these duplicate front-panel ins); (4) rear-panel balanced TRS lineAnalog Outputs(8) balanced TRS; (1) ¼" headphoneDigital I/O(2) optical S/PDIF (ch. 9-10) or ADAT Optical (ch. 1-8, 48 kHz max.); (2) S/PDIF coaxial (ch. 9-10); (2) BNC word-clock (in and out)MIDI I/O(1) In, (1) OutSampling Resolution24 bitsSampling Rates44.1, 48, 88.2, 96 kHzDriversASIO 2.0, WDM, MMEAdditional Featuressoftware patch bay and mixerDimensions17.0" (W) × 9.6" (H) × 1.7" (D)Weight6.2 lb.