Monday, January 7, 2013

Digital to Analog Converter (DAC)

A very cheep DAC: Behringer UCA202

Review from Amazon:

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
119 of 121 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars DON'T BE CONFUSED February 26, 2011

By Eliezer Pennywhistler

Amazon Verified Purchase

Behringer makes three similar products with very similar names. This one - the UCA202 - provides line level RCA stereo inputs and line level RCA stereo outputs, a S/PDIF optical output, and a 1/8th inch stereo headphone output with a dedicated level control. There is also a small switch which turns the output monitor on and off (so the audio output doesn't interfere with your headphone listening).

The UFO202 includes a turntable pre-amp and a ground. The 222 is identical to the UFO202, but it has a snazzy red cover. To add to the confusion there is an identical UCA202 on Amazon for $10 more. God knows why.

I bought this to replace the similar Alesis in/out unit. The Alesis sounded dim, and the input volume control crapped out after four days - one channel was 6dB lower than the other. I sent it back.

Based on using the UCA202 constantly for a week, here is my assessment:

THE BODY - it is well designed, well thought-out, and well made. It's plastic, but is solidly made. (I wish it had that snazzy red body, though.) I like how the headphone volume control is recessed. I like how the connectors are all gold-plated (unlike the Alesis). I like the strong strain relief on the USB cord (unlike the Alesis). I like the reassuring LED that tells me it is connected to my computer. I like the way the labels are carved into the faceplate - no paint to rub off. I like having an optical digital output. I like the way it is small enough to take along with a laptop. (Gosh. I wish I had a laptop!)

THE SOUND - In short, it is fine. My cassettes go right from my premium Nakamichi deck into the computer, I edit the sound and bake a CD from the edit. And I get to bypass the cruddy soundcard in my old Dell (which has the sound quality and signal-to-noise of a six-transistor radio). The limiting factor is the cassette itself - not the analog-to-digital converter in the 202.

BTW - I compared two identical classical music recordings made with the Alesis and the UCA202. It was not even close - the Behringer was MUCH clearer and cleaner. I actually erased all the Alesis recordings and redid them through the Behringer, despite all the extra hours it cost me. The difference was THAT big.

I am not able to run the 202 directly through my big stereo rig, but it sounds pretty damn good on my $80 Grado headphones. It may not be the ultimate in audio refinement, but it is far more than adequate. For $30 I am a very happy audiophile. UPDATE - It is now plugged into a T-amp and good speakers and it sounds GREAT! UPDATE #2 - The 202 doesn't always sound good with cheap low-impedance headphone. See the end of this review.

I have looked long and hard at this product category - the next better unit up the food chain is the Cakewalk UA-1G USB Audio Interface for $90. The rest of the products at that price range ($100-200) include mic inputs, guitar inputs, multiple line inputs, mixers and other things I do not need. And the converters are about the same quality as the Cakewalk's.

Several devices will output your computer sound into RCA jacks, but this is one of the only ones that INPUT sound into your computer via RCA jacks. If you want to input (and edit and burn) cassettes, this is your baby! If you want to input LPs you either need a separate phono pre-amp or you go with the Behringer UFO202, which has one built-in. (I have not used it, so I can't comment on it, but Behringer seems to know what they are doing).

I'd give the USC 202 5 stars, but ....

THE INSTRUCTIONS - They stink. They go off on tangents about other Behringer products you don't need. They do not mention that the speaker in the diagram is a powered speaker. They do not explain that otherwise you need an amplifier to power your speakers.

They absolutely do NOT explain how you have to change some parameters in your Windows XP Control Panel. Or what those parameters are. They do not explain that you have to set up your computer's audio recording program (such as Audacity) to input and output through the USB connection. Figuring out all that jazz took me HOURS of research (though it takes only a few minutes to do).

That's one star down for pissing me off and delaying me two entire days. Unless you are willing to make a toll call, you reach Behringer tech support via email from their website. It takes a day or two to get an answer, but they are friendly and helpful and honest.

THE SOFTWARE - If you read the description, Behringer offers you "tons" of free computer software for your audio files. But don't think you will get some CD-ROM discs. It turns out that you have to download all three from different websites - and you have always been able to download them for free without buying any Behringer products. That's not dishonest or immoral, but it IS skeezy.

I'm a very happy camper with this product. If anything changes after a few months, I'll let you all know.

UPDATE - One year in and everything is still just fine. Now that I figured out how to set it up (with help from a Behringer tech guy), I'd give it 5 stars for sound. But I won't because I had to email them to make it work.
BTW - Please see my answer to the first comment for details about setup.


UPDATE #2 - Everything is still working fine, but I found out some new information.

1) The $90-200 devices that input audio into your computer don't actually sound any better than this device. But they come with inputs for mics, guitars, keyboards, guitars and the like. So if that's what you want to do, buy one of them. But if you already own a mixer that does not have a USB connector, just plug that mixer into this device and get on with your recording.

2) A professional audio engineer, NwAvGuy, has measured the 202 to be extremely flat and the noise level to be below audibility. He thought the build quality was good and the electronic circuit implementation was superb. He even liked the cheap headphone volume control. His bottom line: "the Behringer UCA202 line outputs measure very well even for a more expensive DAC."
But he notes that the headphone output only works well with high impedance headphones (like a pro would use). Cheap consumer phones that run at 16 or 32 ohms don't sound so good. I have pro phones, so I never noticed it. He'll tell you all about it.

NwAvGuy UPDATE - Apparently, Amazon will not let me link to the review. So put "NwAvGuy Behringer" into Google and click on "NwAvGuy: Behringer UCA202 Review", and "NwAvGuy: UCA202 DAC Take 2" for his follow-up.

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