The TonePort UX8 is a 2U rackmount USB 2.0 interface that records eight channels at up to 24-bit/96kHz. It offers eight XLR ins with dedicated mic pres, eight 1/4" line ins, two front-panel 1/4" instrument jacks, eight 1/4" line-level balanced outs, two headphone jacks, and stereo RCA S/PDIF digital I/O. It applies +48V phantom power in two groups (channels 1–4 and 5–8); each preamp has a 20dB pad, low-cut filter, and gain control.
Perhaps the UX8’s most attractive feature is the inclusion of Line 6’s celebrated GearBox software. This program offers a wide variety of processors, including 18 guitar amps, 24 guitar cabs, five bass amps and cabs, six mic pre models, and 30 stomp box and studio effects. These virtual tools work as a standalone program or integrated with your DAW as RTAS, VST, and AU plug-ins.
My first run with the UX8 was during a session where our console was on the fritz. Long story short: The phantom power on my DDA DCM 224V console is accessible only by a computer in its master section. This is the worst design that I have ever seen, considering that the computer crashes monthly, leaving me to rely only on outboard preamps. And, one day that the computer went down, I had a large jazz group scheduled that required 29 inputs in order to track live.
The UX8 showed up that day, so I pulled it right out of the box and dropped it into my rack. To my surprise, the unit worked as eight standalone pres. This was a godsend; I hooked the UX8 through my patchbay, and made it through the session. First impression: Maybe the pres weren’t mind-blowing, but they were certainly clean and accurate enough to save a session.
A few days later, I decided to dig deeper. I hooked the UX8 up to my Mac G5, installed the software, and—it worked perfectly. This never happens; I always make sure that I have at least a day to spare, cursing and screaming, before any hardware piece that requires software passes a tone.
The GearBox software is very user-friendly, even though I hadn’t used it before. I spent the day auditioning heads, cabs, and effects, and was very impressed—the program gets pretty deep, making it easy to develop custom user banks.
The only downside: GearBox can process a maximum of two inputs simultaneously (the other six inputs will serve only as mic pres or line ins). However, if you want to use modeling with the additional tracks, as a workaround, Line 6 includes the GearBox plug-In which can be used with the individual tracks you record in your DAW.
For all the front and back panel jacks and digital I/O, the UX8 can do only eight channels in/eight channels out at any given time. This might be limiting if you’re trying to use the UX8 as your only pre on, say, Terry Bozzio’s drum kit, but for the price the unit is an incredible value.
Throughout the next couple months, I used the UX8 on a ton of sessions. It’s a great piece for getting final tones (you can record with the effects applied in real time, with no noticeable latency), or re-amping signals “in the box.” During mixing projects, I also relied a lot on the GearBox RTAS plug-ins with my Pro Tools rig. Note to prospective users: Just because it’s from Line 6 doesn’t mean it’s solely for guitarists. I used these plugs on everything from drums to vocals and, by and large, they sounded really pro.
For the low entry price, the UX8 really can’t be beat. Other eight-channel interfaces are likely to cost you a lot more, but are unlikely to offer GearBox’s cool tone modeling options—and if your computer isn’t powerful enough to run lots of plug-ins, record the processed sound in real time using the ToneDirect monitoring function.
Bottom line: This is a great tool, whether you’re a hobbyist or pro. Given what amp modeling software costs by itself, I can’t see why anybody wouldn’t just go the extra couple bucks and get eight decent pres too. After all, you can always use more ins!
PRODUCT TYPE: Eight-channel USB 2.0 interface with exceptional tone modeling software.
TARGET MARKET: Recording musicians in any type of studio environment.
STRENGTHS: Lots of sound options. Painless installation. Software works as standalone or as plug-ins. Real bang-for-buck value. Well-constructed.
LIMITATIONS: Maximum eight I/Os at one time. No MIDI interface.
LIST PRICE: $699.99