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The Steinberg UR44 comes with 6 inputs, 4 on the front (2 hi-z and 2 line), and 2 on the back (line). The front inputs are controlled by gain knobs, and the 2 rear inputs can be set to +4dBV or -10dBV in dspMixFX software. Such a wide range of inputs should suit someone stepping up from a more basic 2-in, 2-out interface. Phantom power switches are enabled in pairs, and the panel is cleverly laid out with all the gain knobs on the right-hand side. iPad connectivity is an additional handy feature for those who want to connect to Cubasis. A lack of S/PDIF connectivity may be an issue for some, but it’s compensated for with low latency over USB (3.2ms on my desktop).
Zero-latency direct monitoring and the option to use amp effects and reverb over DSP is a great feature. It lets you give singers some reverb while recording, or amp up guitar tones with Guitar Amp Classics simulation. These effects are selectable between monitoring and insert, giving you full flexibility over your recording. The UR44’s feature set is formidable and makes for a reliably future-proof audio interface.
Compared to other audio interfaces I’ve used, the UR44’s sound quality is simply stellar. Even using a lot of gain on inputs (up to 52dB), the Class A D-Pre preamps perform amazingly well. Testing a Shure SM58 almost maxed out on gain, there was a clear and quiet signal when played back, and guitars performed equally well through the hi-Z inputs. DspMixFX software lets you create direct monitoring mixes, add high pass filters/phase reverse, and you send individual mixes to headphone outputs 1 and 2. This is a lifesaver for recording with a singer, letting you easily send out a separate headphone mix. With it’s incredible pre-amps and useful DSP effects, the UR44’s sound quality is worth the investment.
Built for the more experienced music producer, the UR44 is relatively straightforward to use after an initial setup. Lacking the polish of Focusrite’s Quick Setup software, Steinberg’s tedious licencing process and dated GUI comes on a CD-ROM, which shows it age. Though it could definitely do with a more modern update, it’s a one-time setup, and doesn’t take too long. DspMixFX is easy to use (but remember to deactivate effects when not using the app), and zero latency’s a breeze.
Those looking for signal indicators are out of luck, as the UR44’s compact form factor excludes them. Otherwise, the unit has a clever front panel with access to everything you need, and switches, knobs and dials are reassuringly durable. The UR44 is an uncluttered, accessible unit that won’t take up too much desk space and will let you get on with your session with ease.
The price point for the UR44 is higher than entry-level but its design, features, and quality reflect that. Hobbyist musicians and beginners will settle for something cheaper, but for someone looking to invest, the UR44 is a great choice. Steinberg have a good reputation for support, and so drivers and firmware should continue to be developed in the future. Compared to the similiarly featured Focusrite 18i8 (which only has 96kHz, but has digital I/O capability), the UR44 is a far cheaper option. Its interface offers enough inputs to handle most recording scenarios beyond a simple setup and is built to last.
The UR44 is a versatile, rugged, and portable interface with great-sounding preamps and excellent sound quality. Included direct monitoring and zero-latency DSP effects with amp modelling are great bonuses. It’s far cheaper than most of its competitors, and if digital I/O isn’t a concern, you’re not limited to 96kHz audio. For an interface of its size and price point, the UR44 is a fantastic addition to your home studio and a worthy investment for the future.
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