If you make music on the move but need pro performance, Steinberg has the interface for you.

With mobile music-making more popular than ever thanks to seriously powerful laptops, portable USB-powered audio interfaces are no longer the bundle of compromises they once were. Many now offer audio quality comparable with bigger units even if, by definition, they have fewer inputs and outputs.

We expect more from mobile gear these days, and the latest member of Steinberg’s UR family of interfaces is the UR22, the most compact yet. It’s compatible with all recent versions of Mac OSX and Windows and, after installing the supplied USB driver, you’re up and running in no time. It comes with a download code for Cubase AI, which is a great way to get started with making music. The current version is 6, but Steinberg says that an updated version – AI7 – will be available in the not too distant future and UR22 customers will be eligible for a free upgrade. Cubase auto-detects and sets up the interface, which is a nice touch.

Solid state

The box itself is solid and feels sturdy and resilient. It powers via USB from your computer and around the back you will find a USB 2.0 port, phantom power on/off, MIDI in and out ports, plus stereo jack line outputs and a lock port for securing the unit. The rear connections are helpfully labelled on the top of the case, too, so you won’t have to turn it round to see what’s connected to what. Underneath are sticky feet to prevent the box from moving around.

The front panel houses the remainder of the connections and controls, and here you will find two XLR/jack combo Neutrik inputs with adjustable gain and peak LEDs. The second input has a Hi-Z switch for connecting high-impedance sources such as electric guitars, and there’s a headphone output, too, with dedicated level control as well as a master output level knob.

The UR22 also has hardware monitoring built-in, which is relatively unusual in such a compact unit. Hardware monitoring is important as it effectively eliminates latency when recording. Instead of your signal being passed through your DAW prior to your being able to hear it during a performance, it is monitored locally through the hardware as well as being recorded. The result is that you hear yourself in real time and are thus able to perform with greater confidence, instead of potentially getting an annoying quarter-second delay due to using higher buffer settings. A dedicated knob on the front panel enables you to blend the monitored signal between the input and the DAW, so you can choose how much of yourself you hear in the headphones. Direct monitoring is obviously really useful, especially for anyone singing or recording guitars to existing material playing back from a DAW.

Inside story

The selection of ports is necessarily limited by the portable nature of the unit, but stereo recording and MIDI I/O are actually enough for many people, especially when the whole thing works over a single USB connection. Internally, the UR22 is rather more accomplished than it may at first appear. For a start, the preamps are Yamaha’s D-PRE models, which use four transistors per circuit rather than two. This results in very low distortion even at lower signal levels and offers a crystal-clear sound, which we can confirm after performing our test recordings.

Additionally – and again unusually for such a compact unit – the UR22 supports up to 192kHz sample rates, and while this is higher than most people will probably need to go, it’s nice to have the option. If you are making recordings on the move but transferring material back to a studio project that is running at this higher sample rate, you won’t be sacrificing any quality in doing it.

Of course, all intermediate sample rates are supported as well, so you may, for example, want to work at 96kHz, which is high enough for the majority of users. It’s good that technology seems to have reached a point where we are no longer compromising on things like direct monitoring, high-end preamps and high sample rates just for the sake of being able to power everything over USB. Mobile musicians really can expect the same kind of recording quality as their studio counterparts.

UR tempted?

The UR22 is an excellent interface, highly portable yet solid and well built, and with equally impressive internal specifications. It’s pretty uncomplicated, really – there aren’t any particularly flashy features – but what it does do is make a great job of mobile recording at high quality and with no latency issues. For anyone making music on the move it’s well worth a look, and for studio musicians with smaller setups who don’t need a lot of I/O at once – of whom there are quite a few – it’s equally adept as a desktop recording and MIDI interface.

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