The UA-25EX is a small, sturdy, 24Bit/96kHz USB, bus-powered, audio/midi interface for PC or Mac, costing around £170. Formally ‘EDIROL by Roland’, it was rebranded ‘Cakewalk by Roland’ from the second half of 2009, with Roland affirming that their new Cakewalk branded products share the same features and performance as their customers would expect from their EDIROL branded units.
In spite of its diminutive size the UA-25EX has a lot to offer. Both the front and rear panels are covered with controls, indicators and sockets.
The front panel has two XLR/TRS combo balanced mic/line inputs, each with its own input sensitivity control, and a Hi-Z switch available on the second input for connecting high impedance sources, such as electric and bass guitars, directly. To the right is the built in compressor/limiter threshold control (more about this later), a peak level LED, a hideously bright LED showing USB connectivity, a digital input on/off switch, a mono stereo switch, a direct monitor switch, a volume control for the directly monitored signal, a direct monitoring ‘on’ LED, an output volume control, and a quarter-inch jack socket for headphones.
The rear panel has TRS balanced quarter-inch outputs, RCA outputs, digital in/out, midi in/out, a USB socket, a ground lift switch, a sample rate selection switch, a compressor/limiter selection switch, a phantom power on/off switch, which applies phantom power to both inputs at the same time, and an ‘Advanced Driver’ switch. With the advanced driver set to ‘on’ the UA-25EX utilizes its own driver, allowing the unit to be used to its full potential, whereas with the switch in the ‘off’ position the driver that came with the computer’s operating system is used. With the advanced driver off, the sample rate is set at 44.1 kHz/16-bit, irrespective of the position of the sample switch, and the midi in/out function is not available.
The inclusion of a ground lift switch is a nice addition. If a ground loop does occur ideally the wiring should be checked and the root cause identified. However, if time is of a premium, and all else fails, a ground lift switch can be a quick and convenient solution to the problem.
Worth mentioning is the clear and concise operating manual, supplied in pdf format. Although there are about 50 pages, the text is spaced out, with plenty of illustrations, so going through the instructions only takes a matter of minutes.
I strongly recommend reading the manual before actually using the unit as there are some important setting up and operating procedures. For example, changing the sample rate setting or the Advanced Driver setting requires all software to be closed and the unit to be disconnected, and then reconnected again. This may seem tedious, but in reality most users will probably use just one sample rate and driver setting most of the time.
The small size of the UA-25EX prohibits anything but a very basic signal level display. The unit has a peak level LED, but nothing to indicate a signal is present. This is a pity as it is reassuring to know when a signal is reaching a device, and helpful in diagnosing problems if no sound is heard.
The small size of the unit also prohibits the use of large knobs, but the small knobs on the UA-25EX feel very positive, and have a rubberized finish for a slip-resistant grip, making minute adjustments easy.
The addition of a compressor/limiter is basically a good idea, but with no visual feedback on the amount of processing taking place I feel it’s all a bit hit and miss, and have yet to utilize the feature. For live recording using the limiter might be reassuring, knowing the signal is not going to clip, but in a digital recording studio current opinion seems to favour leaving compression and limiting to a later stage.
The sales pitch draws our attention to how tough the unit is, but almost anything in a small metal box is going to be quite tough. Perhaps more significant is the design of the box with its curved edges, making it easy to slip into a bag or briefcase for location work.
The headphone output level is adequate, but would benefit from a little more power, especially when driving 250 ohm headphones.
I found the UA-25EX to be very quiet, and have had no problems with unwanted noise. The latency is low, and I can report playing soft synths without any perceptible delay.
For the most part, a good USB audio interface should be able to be set up and forgotten about, and this is exactly what I have been able to do with the UA-25EX. I needed a quality product I could rely on so I turned to Roland, and have not been disappointed.
The UA-25EX is described as a ‘professional’ audio interface. I have no reason to dispute this claim and am very satisfied with the unit.
The UA-25EX was the sole recording/playback interface used in the following three recordings. High quality versions can be downloaded from the online music store 'Bandcamp' for £0.66 each (approximately 1.00 USD), by clicking 'Buy Now'.
(I would like to affirm to the reader that I have no connection with Roland, and have received no payment or benefits from any source for writing this review. It is a true customer/user review.)