A few weeks ago at the airport, I noticed a Best Buy vending machine ready to dispense various electronic goodies like laptop chargers, headphones, lightning cables, and an audio interface. I'm sure that somewhere in the world there's a gas station that has one for sale – they're everywhere! So, what makes the Steinberg UR-C series interfaces better than the rest? True USB 3.1 SuperSpeed with USB-C (why can't everything move to USB-C?) connection for both computers and IOS devices; REAL 32-bit (up to 192 kHz) capability; high headroom Class A Yamaha D-PRE preamps; Core Audio, ASIO, and WDM compatibility; MIDI I/O; latency-free monitoring with free DSP effects; sturdy, rugged full-metal casing; free DAW software for MAC/PC (Cubase AI), and iOS (Cubasis LE); plus added connectivity/controls depending on the model. The UR-C family includes UR22C 2x2 (reviewed here), the UR44C 6x4, and the UR816C 16x16 interfaces. A special-priced UR22C Recording Pack (not reviewed here) includes the interface, plus headphones and a condenser mic.

Out of the box, the UR22C is the sturdiest portable interface I've ever handled. At roughly six-inches wide and deep by two-inches tall, it takes up less room on the desktop than most hardback books. Its dark gray and black steel chassis looks at home next to most laptops and iPads. Though its front panel offers a lot of options for its size, the UR22C's rugged controls and inputs (two combo XLR/TRS (line/mic/DI) jacks, plus a single headphone connection) are neatly arranged with clear markings and LEDs. Note: Channel One and Two's inputs also allow for DI connection, selected via a Lo-Z/Hi-Z switch. Small rotary knobs for Input 1 and 2 gain, plus Mix and Headphone levels are easy enough to turn. A larger Output knob controls monitor level to the pair of TRS Main outputs on the rear panel, and there's a Power Source selector. The UR22C is meant to be bus-powered, which definitely saves on desktop space, but can also be run on external power. A wall wart charger can be used, but the power connection is via micro USB, so one can also use a portable charger to run this interface – genius! USB-C, MIDI I/O, and global +48 Phantom power round out the rear panel.

Included in the packaging with the interface are a USB-C to USB-A cable (thank you), a Startup Guide, software download information, and product license cards. I found installation instructions and implementation to be simple and fast on my MacBook Pro running Sierra. I'm not (yet) a Cubase user, but configuration of the UR22C in Pro Tools was about as easy as an interface set up could be. After a quick visit to the Audio MIDI Setup application on my MacBook, the UR22C showed up in Pro Tools as a true 32-bit interface. Additional software requires the use of a Steinberg's eLicenser control panel to authorize their products; A USB-eLicenser stick ($27.99 street) or software (Soft-eLicenser) can be used. I'm sure that bus-powered constraints explain why Steinberg didn't add a low power USB-A accessory connection for dongles like their USB-eLicenser or an iLok, but it would be handy. Note on connections: a Lightning to USB Camera Adapter [Tape Op #128] is required for iOS devices.

In use, I was both blown away with the UR22C's simplicity of operation, and the quality of capture. The Yamaha Class A D-Pre preamps are clean and fast with surprisingly good headroom. I usually avoid using built-in interface pres, but every source I recorded through the UR22C's pres sounded smooth in the higher frequencies, capturing transients in a very natural way – having the ability to record portably at 32-bits/192 kHz didn't hurt either. The DI also exhibits the preamps character – or rather a lack of character (in a good way). Direct electric bass guitar sounded round and warm, with the right amount of punch. Did I mention the low noise floor? These pres are as quiet as a mouse. Peak LED indicators are located on the front panel directly above Channel 1 and 2 inputs. Pay attention to these indicators – with the UR22C's high bit rate, there's no need to crank the input volume!

The dspMixFx allows access to the UR22C's DSP mixer and DSP effects. These tools are all hardware-based, so there's no latency. With the GUI, one can either monitor or print the DSP effects, which include REV-X reverb, the Sweet Spot Morphing Channel Strip and Guitar Amp Classics. The reverb presets developed by Yamaha (Hall, Room, and Plate) sound really polished. Steinberg's Sweet Spot Morphing Channel Strip offers surprisingly deep EQ and dynamics control. Guitar Amp Classics (Clean, Crunch, Drive, and Lead) are spot-on guitar amp simulators – I got some super impactful results with an electric guitar straight into the DI, and added a proper amount of midrange liveliness to a bass DI track. I can't wait to try some of the Guitar Amp Classics on keyboards and vocals. The Channel Area includes a DSP high-pass filter and a polarity switch. VST versions of dspMixFx for Cubase include additional features.

Though I didn't get a chance to use the UR22C with an iOS device, having this ability really has me looking at music production in a broader sense – we don't have to use traditional methods to make good recordings anymore. The UR22C is perfect for a quick, mobile overdub. The headphone amp is stellar. It's small enough to take anywhere. But don't let its size fool you, the UR22C is not a toy. With this box and a few good mics, anyone can make a real high-resolution record. Steinberg's claims are true; it's the "perfect portable interface." Suffice it to say, I don't expect I'll ever see the UR22C in an airport vending machine!

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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