I was disappointed to find out that support for my bulletproof Steinberg MR816X was ending. I figured I might was well upgrade now while my old one is still worth something, and while I could take advantage of a super good sale.
Comparing: MR816X vs UR816c features:
- +48v phantom power no longer selectable on each channel. Now either on or off for channels 1-4 and either on or off for channels 5-8.
- Pad function no longer selectable individually on each channel. Now, just individually on channels 1-4. There is no pad function for channels 5-8.
- Rear connectors on back: Lost coaxial connectors for S/PDIF in/out. Gained Midi in/out.
- New “loop back” feature allows you to record music directly from the computer into your DAW when that hip hop client shows up and says, “My beat is on YouTube.”
- No more “push button” integration with Cubase. Although a neat idea, it was one that I never really used that much myself.
- The functionality for adding monitoring FX (ie RevX reverb, Morphing Channel Strip) has been simplified and streamlined.
- I have gained the channel strip and guitar amp software to complement the RevX reverb that I had with the previous unit that remains standard.
- Functionality for higher sample rates and higher bit-depths… which I don’t really see the point of.
The drivers and other required software (dspMixFX, etc.) all installed easily. There was no mucking about fighting with stuff getting it to work.
The supplied USB cable is only about a half a meter. I had to use a USB extender to get it to reach my computer, which was no problem, but a longer cable really should have been included.
Firing it up and getting it to work with Cubase was a snap and there was no need to muck about with stuff. The default settings (ex. buffer size set to 128 samples, etc, which on my system, worked out to about 9ms of latency - entirely usable) were perfectly fine for my modest computer (i3 with 16GB RAM, Win10, 4GB video).
I use this interface with the addition of a Behringer ADA8000 (connected via ADAT) that I use when I need more channels, so my system overall is limited to recording 16 channels at a time. (I used one input replicated across all sixteen channels) Using the default settings (128 sample buffer, etc.), I was able to record 16 tracks of 24-bit/44.1khz audio (my own personal default project settings) without any signs of dropouts, etc. I stopped my trial after 6 minutes, but after the four minute mark, I upped the ante and fired up YouTube, opened and closed a couple of webpages, zoomed in and out of my project window, etc. No glitches. I’m sure I could not do this with the old MR816X. Nice!
The MR816X was well-known to be a great sounding interface, both in terms of preamps and converters. The UR816c uses the same preamps, and a new converter chip. I expect the difference is probably measurably improved in the modern iteration, but with a few days between hearing the old and the new interfaces, I’m sure I did not notice a difference. So… at the very least, we have the same great sound as before.
Pros: The REV-X reverb, and Sweet Spot Morphing channel strip algorithms have not changed, to my knowledge. They have added a guitar amp simulator suite, which on quick testing sounds fine enough. It might not be what you want for your keeper guitar tracks, but… maybe. I’m a bit spoiled, though, having gotten used to BiasFX and the Headrush modelling. The channel strip and the guitar amp sims can be set to appear before the input bus (so just for monitoring purposes without recording the processing), or after the input bus (so you would be committing yourself to those sounds as you record). It’s nice to have options. The usage of the REV-X reverb applied in the monitoring chain doesn’t seem to be able to be routed to the input recording bus, but the included REV-X plug-in means that you don’t have to export your projects in real time (like you had to on the MR series) if you want to use it in mixing.
Within the UR816c exists a number of “virtual” output buses that allow you to, say, take DAW direct output bus #1 and route it to your headphone bus in the Cubase control room, or take DAW direct output bus #2 and run it to a mix cube monitor system.
Cons: I have really struggled with some of the output routing. First, if you use Direct Monitoring in Cubase, it will NOT work with control room enabled. (Good thing the device allows you to reliably record at suitably low latency!). I could create my cue mixes within Cubase and have them output properly to my four headphone buses, but the “live” track that I wanted to monitor while recording did NOT get sent to the cue mixes unless Direct Monitoring was turned off.
Second, in order to monitor a track you are recording with the Rev-X reverb, the reverb MUST be sent to an actual output bus and will NOT work on a “virtual bus.” So, if you’re using DAW Direct Bus #1 to feed headphone cue mix #1, you will get no reverb on the headphone bus, even though you might be hearing it in the control room, which is fed by the master bus. My workaround solution to this has been to disable the control room, assign my main outputs to my studio monitors, and then physically patch the headphone out on the UR816C to the aux in on my headphone amp and send that to my headphones in the tracking room. Note that the headphone outs on the UR816c are attached to the actual output buses. Oh, and I have to manually create a talkback channel in order to communicate with the tracking room. :-/ It is my experience, however, that most singers are happy enough recording their vocals without reverb in their headphones, so this will not be a routine inconvenience as much as it will be an occasional inconvenience.
The included dspMIXfx software looks good and is easy to use. The routing options in it are intuitive and easy to use. By comparison with the included MR Editor that came bundled with the MR816, one must be careful not to assume that they work in the same way. If you are using Cubase with the MR816, the MR Editor was made entirely redundant by the controls within Cubase. If you are using Cubase with the dspMIXfx software with the UR816c, you will still need (occasionally) that app open to support some of your routing tasks. It now works along side Cubase, rather than being made redundant by Cubase as it was before.
At the time of this writing, Steinberg Canada has been quite helpful in their support on this matter, and these have been noted by Steinberg as a bug and they hope to be able to address these in a future update. Whether that update is on the Cubase end, the UR firmware end, or if it will require a hardware revision along the way (like a UR816c MkII), is unclear.
The features and performance of the UR816c do represent an upgrade from the MR816 that I really loved. Improvements have been made to various internal functionalities as well that I really like. Performance and stability are, in my mind, outstanding. I just really wish that the output routing didn’t require workarounds in order to achieve the same flexibility that the MR816 had without any futzing around. It is easily an equal the to the MR816, I’d say, and if Steinberg can address those couple of minor issues, this unit should be able to set the standard by which other interfaces are measured.