UR824 Capabilities/setup questions-Skype, CPTR audio FX, etc

I’m very disappointed with the SFX situation in the UR824 I just bought. I hope I haven’t wasted $800. I’ve read the Operations Manual and opened a Steinberg ticket, but I’ve reached the point where re-reading doesn’t yield any new insights, and Steinberg hasn’t replied. So I hope the community won’t mind if I air my most critical questions, along with a few relatively minor concerns that have me scratching my head…

How do I run the computer’s own sound through DSP FX (in real time, no lag, without using a DAW)?
I’m coming off an E-Mu 1616m PCI MicroDock, it’s no longer made, and whether its driver still works apparently depends on the flip of a coin. For me (PC Win7 Ultimate x64, 16g memory), it still works great except that non-ASIO programs no longer hear it (e.g., Skype, Audacity and GoToWebinar can’t hear the mics). Used to work, in the same computer, same setup, just one month decided to stop, go figure. Anyway, I decided to move on.

Thing is, I don’t just make recordings. I also listen to webinars, make SkypeOut calls, etc. These don’t involve a DAW, but they DO benefit from having real-time DSP FX processing. And although I rarely need to record the signal with those effects, I do auditions and commercials production, and I play the guitar, and it would be handy to be able to produce the effect live sometimes (e.g. while capturing a recorded webinar as it plays online). There’s only a few products that have both DSP FX and can record them. The E-mu box also has 6 analog in and 6 out, even fewer have DSP and so much I/O. I thought the UR824 was one of them, until I started working with it.

The screen shot below shows what I’m used to: E-Mu’s console, called PatchMix DSP. As you see, the computer’s own output shows up as a fully processable strip. So I can compress and EQ the audio of, say, an online phone call-in to make it more listenable, consistent, less noisy, etc., and so the loud parts don’t annoy me (or my neighbors). Apparently there is no such capability in the Steinberg dspMxFx panel (“Control Panel” software console)? The only place computer audio appears is in the DAW and Master strips. I’ve resorted to patching from a Line Out pair to a Line In pair (and routing that LineOut from Mix1), which enables me to add FX, but it also creates a feedback loop (resulting in phasing and/or howl) unless I turn the volume way down (an imperfect solution) or mute it (defeating the whole objective).

Am I overlooking something? How do I run the computer’s audio through DSP without involving a DAW, in real time (and, BTW, my DAW of choice – or more to the point, a client’s choice – is Pro Tools), and (hopefully) make it the FX recordable?

I also have several other questions, some just as critical, some just puzzling…

Is there a primer for Skype setup?
I do client interviews, etc., using Skype and a handy PC utility called TotalRecorder (http://www.totalrecorder.com/). The latter lets me record the conversation with the other party on the right channel and me on the left. I simply choose “Software” as its input, same as I would if I were recording a YouTube (or any other) soundtrack, etc. I’ve managed to record a Skype test call via the Steinberg console by a) choosing the Steinberg driver in Skypes audio setup (of course), b) enabling Loopback (thanks to a thread here for that tip), and c) ticking the “Exclusive Mode” boxes in Windows’ audio Properties>Advanced configuration (otherwise everything is echo). Each calling party is on a separate channel, but the other party is also on my channel with some delay – I’m hoping I can sort that out.

Incidentally, in the patch setup above, I also have Line Out 1/2 running to my speakers. (Actually, it’s a standard stereo receiver that all my home’s audio sources are hooked up to.) I also have a Line-In pair dedicated to my amp’s output (for recording a radio program, for example). If I have the amp set to play the computer’s audio, I create a loop, so I’m careful to change the amp’s input first. It’s regrettable software has no way to avoid that, but I would get the same bad result in E-Mu’s software. So I mention this just to give a complete picture.

In my patch (above), rather than “waste” an output pair, I use a splitter off the amp/speakers output. But my results are the same, whether I use separate output pairs or split one. (BTW, the receiver is grounded to the UR 824, and both are on the same AC line.)

Is there no Mix Minus? This is another capability I don’t currently use much, but if working with a client by phone it would be very helpful (for all the usual reasons).

No Aux? Another thing I don’t use much, but has obvious benefits. (Or maybe this is the same as asking about Mix Minus.)

I’m not clear as to what “Mix 1” etc are. I doubt I’ve even accidentally set any up, and I know I haven’t saved any, yet Mix 1 is different from Mix 2. Yes, I’ve read the Operation Manual. It assumes I already understand.

Rev-X on/off. When I first opened the Steinberg Control Panel, I couldn’t get rid of reverb in the Master strip, even with Time and Return set full-left. Now I can’t get it back! (I can access Rev-x in an input strip if I click the Master “Send” button to light up the reverb pots.) Not that I need everything reverbed (I record VO), but I’d like to understand this.

Speaking of reverb, Can I disable Rev-X in all four Mixes? (This is the least of my concerns at the moment, but again, I’d like to understand it.) Once I’ve enabled the Send button, I can’t disable it. The only way to unlight it is to enable it in another Mix, then return and the button is dark. Seems an odd workaround. There’s no way disable Rev-X altogether? As a voice actor, I certainly don’t need reverb as a default.

Preserving FX settings. Speaking of usability, when I’ve set compressor/EQ FX just as I want them, if I happen to click the green on/off button, all the settings disappear!!! What am I overlooking? Surely I don’t need to save the settings (will need to read up on that) every time I make a tweak?

Can I label the strips? Or am I condemned to forever remembering what’s on ANLG1, ANLG3-4, etc? You know, “masking tape.”

Fader metering. The channel strip meter shows only the input level. It can never show the fader level?

Scenes menu. I clicked “0 Initial Data” and all hell broke loose (squeal). What happened? (Incidentally, I’m only able to store 20 configurations? In PatchMix, I could store as many setups as I could think of filenames for.)

Headphones mute? I finally realized (yes, reading the manual helps) that those green buttons aren’t mute switches, but Mix monitor selectors. So the only mute/volume for the cans is on the hardware?

That’s it for now … I’m exhausted. The first two things are the critical concerns. (I’d say dealbreakers, except I’ve already done the deal.) Any insight would be appreciated, even if it’s bad news.

E-Mu’s PatchMix FX-DSP processor – Note the first strip, “Wave 1/2,” which is where the computer’s audio shows up (e.g., an online video, webinar audio, etc.). This is what I’m missing in Steinberg’s panel. (See first paragraphs above. BTW, only some of the available FX premixes are shown.)