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PCRECORDING .COM - EgoSys U2A review:

Mfg: Ego Sys
Model: U2A, 2/2 analog, 2/2 Digital USB audio interface device
System: Windows 9x, USB, Mac version due mid-September
Price: MSRP $249.00 (US)

I recently reviewed the EgoSys WaMi Rack 24, an excellent PCI based multiple I/O audio interface. EgoSys is a pioneer in the USB based audio interface market with its recent offering of the U2A, the subject of this review. The U2A is small, very portable and it comes with a six foot long USB cable, a installation diskette and is bundled with Samplitude 5.5 - a basic multi-track software. It features:

  • 2/2 1/4", unbalanced analog I/O
  • 2/2 S/PDIF and Optical (lightpipe) I/O
  • AKM 4524 A/D D/A
  •  
    • 16-bit analog resolution (uses 24-bit converters though)
    • 24-bit resolution when using digital I/O, not USB
    • 64x Oversampling Input, 128x Oversampling Output
  • 32, 44.1 and 48kHz sample rate conversion
  • Independent signal conversion (analog/digital, digital/audio)
  • -10dBV input/output levels
  • SNR 100dB A-weighted analog
  • Analog Dynamic Range 100dB A-weighted
  • Digital Dynamic Range 128dB
  • Windows USB drivers
The U2A is a very simple device and is only about 3"x3"x1" in dimension. The front of the unit has two unbalanced 1/4" inputs and 2 unbalanced 1/4" outputs. Beneath these on the left is a LED indicator lights for digital input, power and USB connectivity. The back has digital (Coaxial) input and outputs on the left, in the center is the USB jack and to the right is an Optical In and Out. That is it. The included USB cable is six feet long and plenty long enough for most project studios.

Installation:

One major advantage of USB technology is ease of installation - - it is simple and fast. The U2A uses the USB drivers in Windows 98SE. I plugged in the U2A into the USB slot on my computer and booted up. The system recognized its presence and prompted me through a series of native Windows USB drivers taken from my Windows 98SE CD. I confirmed in the System window that all was working properly. This took about 2 minutes. The U2A comes with a Control Panel applet which I installed next from the included diskette.

The Control Panel features several selection options, beginning at the top left a Wave input option, analog or digital in. If digital input is chosen, either coaxial or optical digital inputs can be selected below. At the bottom left are buttons for selecting Clock Source, for setting which device is runs the master clock. Internal uses the U2A internal clock - - this mode is for recording audio signals or playing back audio signals. Digital In uses the digital input data from an attached digital device as the clock source.

Next to these in the middle of the panel is a pair of input sliders and a pair of output sliders, each of which are gangable. At the bottom middle is a set of sample rate selection buttons, Auto, 32, 44.1, or 48kHz.

To the top right are selections for Analog Out mixer, either Analog In, Digital In or USB Out. Beneath this are the same options for a Digital Out mixer. The Control Panel provides for clipping protection with a choice of "Dynamic" mode (no attenuation of combined signals) or "Soft" mode (attenuates signal levels up to -6dB). At the bottom you can select either "consumer" output (S/PDIF) digital output or "professional (AES/EBU) digital output levels.
 

Manual:

The English language manual that came with the package was simple but helpful. It contained a good explanation of the U2A Control Panel described above. Next, it contained some basic tips for use with Samplitude 5.5, Cakewalk, Wave Lab, and Sound Forge recording software.

Useability:

The U2A system is very simple to use. To get started, simply plug the output device's line/digital output into the preferred input, select the appropriate type and sample rate in the Control Panel. Next set input gain levels in the Control Panel and then in your multi-track software - - you are ready to go. It could not be simpler.

Though the U2A is a simple device to use, it has some unique advanced functions. One, it can perform realtime sample rate conversion on incoming digital signals via either its Coaxial or Optical inputs. When using the Digital In clock source, the U2A can act as a signal converter completely separate from the computer. (You cannot record to the computer or play back audio). Incoming audio signal can be sent out through any output. Analog audio can be converted to digital audio, digital audio can be converted to analog audio and/or digital audio can be sent to a different connector type.

Recording:

I set up my recording system including a pair of Marshall 2003 microphones, a Spirit Folio mixer and a Celeron 366, and 128meg RAM. I checked to ensure that the U2A was recognized in Cakewalk 9.3, n-Track Studio, and Samplitude 2496. I selected Samplitude 2496 for some test recording.

I recorded my acoustic guitar using two microphones, with one track in each of the left and right inputs. It was a bit odd to be using such a small interface device, hardly the size of my Rolls personal monitor. Nonetheless, the result was a robust full sounding stereo track. I did the same thing in n-Track Studio and Cakewalk with similar results. I then recorded some tracks with the S/PDIF inputs after making the necessary changes in the Control Panel. My Lexicon MPX-100 has S/PDIF outputs, so I routed my mixer analog outs to the Lexicon and then its S/PDIF output to the U2A. I added some vocal tracks, flute tracks and then some synthesizer bass tracks. It was tremendously easy to use.

My Pentium 166 laptop has a USB device connection. I was tremendously excited to try out the U2A with it. I n-Track Studio installed on the laptop. I setup as I did above and did some recording. I was very pleased to learn that it worked fine. Granted, the system is slow and I could only do a few tracks at a time, with fairly high latency. However, to be able to get this high-quality input into my laptop was very exciting rather than relying on the SB compatible, cheap-sounding on-board soundcard that came with it. This was very cool.

Sound Quality:

The U2A sounds very good. This is not unexpected given that it uses AKM 4524 24-bit converters. The U2A processes the initial signal at 24-bit but sends signals to and from the computer at 16-bit due to limitations of the Windows USB driver architecture. Fortunately, the 24-bit signals are dithered down to 16-bit, thus preserving as much of the quality of the 24-bit signal as possible. (For more on dithering, see my article). The U2A digital I/Os can send and receive 24-bit signals. The analog and digital I/Os though are mutually exclusive, one or the other.

Overall, the recordings all sounded very good, smooth and robust. The U2A accurately captures all ranges of the incoming signal and faithfully plays them back. The U2A sounded as good as other high-end PCI-based soundcards at 16-bit. In sum, these converters and this system make high-quality 16-bit recordings.

Conclusions:

I usually have a section of suggestions when I do reviews. In this instance, for what it is designed for, the U2A is just right. It is designed to provide for high-quality stereo recordings either in analog or digital formats using the USB interface technology. The U2A does this very well. It is extremely easy to install and use. The Control Panel is easy to comprehend and use and provides significant flexibility beyond just audio signal I/O. It is very small and will fit just about anywhere in your studio - - the USB cable is plenty long. It is very portable, needs no external power supply and can be attached to any device with a USB connection and compatible USB drivers. It would be a great device to have in the field where high-quality recordings are needed. Just take your laptop, make sure it has some multi-track software in it, and use the U2A. Its compatibility is ensured because it uses the native Windows USB drivers. Granted it will only do stereo recordings but this is a small price to pay in some circumstances.

The U2A sounds very good, providing full-sounding accurate recordings. Will it beat out straight 24-bit PCI cards? No, but that is not what it is designed for. It fits a niche where portability, small footprint and ease of use are critical factors while not compromising on sound quality. The U2A works very well within its design. You cannot ask for anything more than that.

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