Roland UA-55 Quad Capture
USB Audio Interface for Mac & PC
in Roland's latest line of USB audio interfaces is born but can it compete in the ultra
competitive portable market and what unique features does it offer to help you capture
Stephen O Connor
Roland are one of those names that
are synonymous with music production, as the saying goes they have many strings to their
bow and in fact have many bows; with companies Cakewalk, BOSS and Edirol also under their
belts they have a vast pool of knowledge to tap. Until September of last year Roland had
always marketed their audio interfaces under the Edirol brand but the introduction of the
Octa-Capture changed all that.
The Octa-Capture introduced some unique and
genuinely useful features such as it's Auto-Sens feature but with 8 preamps and no option
for bus powering it may prove overkill and unsuitable for many portable users. Filling the
gap between their fully featured Octa-Capture and the intro line Tri and Duo-Capture
series Roland announced the Quad-Capture in April of last year.
What's In a
You have to give Roland credit for what must be one of the most straight
forward product naming strategies I have yet encountered on an audio interface. As you may
have guessed, the Quad-Capture is a 4 in, 4 out audio interface housed in a very
attractive and sturdy rounded aluminum case and comes complete with a DSP powered zero
latency mixer and even digital compression on each of the analogue inputs! It comes
equipped with two mic/ line preamps derived from the highly regarded Cakewalk VS-700
series audio interface, two balanced line outputs on quarter inch TRS sockets, full sized
Midi I/O and S/PDIF I/O at up to 96 kHz on RCA sockets.
The first of the
preamps is equipped with a HI-Z input for use with guitars and bass, the preamp isn't auto
sensing in this regard so you will have to engage the HI-Z mode from a switch on the rear
of the unit, more of which later. Beneath the unit you will find 4 anti slip rubber pads
and the products serial number. Unlike my Edirol FA-66 the Quad Capture is made in China
whereas the FA-66 is made in Japan. However there is an average difference of €100 on
most online retailers so Roland had to make savings somewhere to meet this devices lower
The unit is USB bus powered and the Roland marketing machine is
very quick to promote their low noise wide ranging power supply. Historically USB buss
powering has had a bad name for transporting not only power but also noise so hopefully
Roland's power supply will deliver on its promise of low noise and stable, clean power.
Being equipped with full size Midi I/O means almost all the checklist boxes for live use
have been ticked. The only feature that may be missed are unbalanced RCA inputs for the
connection of DJ equipment. The unit can operate at up to 192 kHz but at sampling rates
above 96 kHz you will loose the S/PDIF i/o. Aside from the connections listed above the
rear panel is equipped with its USB port and 3 switches for ground lift, phantom power and
the already mentioned HI-Z switch for Input 1.
I am pleased to see that much of
the Quad-Capture's settings are controlled from the drivers control panel. This may seem
trivial but on past Edirol devices such as the aforementioned FA-66 sample rate and clock
source were hardware switched on the unit and required a power cycle after changing
settings. Even the preamps gain setting can be controlled from the driver, a feature you
would not expect to find at this price point, very neat! One thing missing is a power
switch but with a modest draw of only 480ma the Quad-Capture has good green
Overall build quality is impressive for a unit in this price range
with small allen bolts retaining the XLR sockets and a solid feel to the rear switches.
The front panel knobs all have a smooth feel to them and as the preamps are digitally
controlled you need never worry about scratchy pots or gain bunching towards the end of a
pots travel. It might also be worth pointing out at this stage that the Quad-Capture does
not support 88.2 & 176.4 kHz sample rates.
There are many
alternatives in this price bracket but the obvious competitors are Focusrites Saffire Pro
14 firewire interface and the Focusrite Scarlet 8I6 USB interface. Both are slightly more
expensive on the high street than the Quad Capture and neither of them features
Auto-Sense, on board DSP powered effect or digitally controlled preamps.
A key feature of the Quad-Capture is its Auto-Sens function.
Simply put Auto-Sens sets the preamp gain to the optimum level while auditioning your
playing. You plug in your guitar or microphone, press the Auto-Sens button on the front
panel, play or sing your loudest part and the preamp gain will be set automatically. In
fact the ring of LEDS around the preamp gain knob will actively display the gain level as
it is being set. One excellent feature is that you can tweak all the parameters for the
algorithm in the driver control panel.
The only issue I have with this feature
is that I simply can’t imagine a situation whereby I wouldn’t want to set the gain
levels my self especially where you only have two preamps. On the Octa-Capture I can
imagine it would be very handy where you have a lot of preamps to set, for example when
recording an entire drum kit it would be ideal for getting you into a ballpark gain
setting quickly. I personally would rather have seen an extra HI-Z input or PAD and true
stand alone functionality in exchange for this feature on the Quad-Capture. Beginners
however will appreciate the Auto-Sens feature as it is an education in gain structure
itself and to be fair it does work well in practice.
According to Roland’s
product spec sheet internal headroom is quoted at +14db at zero gain which is quiet
impressive for a unit in this price range and dynamic range is quoted as 104db for the
A/D- nothing spectacular but the real test is in the subjective listening tests. Judging
by the graph provided by Roland jitter appears to be just shy of 500ps. This is a
reasonable jitter figure as in my past experience of affordable USB bus powered interfaces
manufacturers have struggled to get jitter below 500 ps. Unfortunately the unit does not
feature JET PLL jitter reduction for when you are slaving to other digital devices but at
this price point it would be unfair to criticize Roland for that omission.
preamps have a maximum input level +8db and a ring of 13 LEDS surrounding the channels POT
displays the current gain level but also reverts to displaying the input level once you
have finished tweaking the knob. As such the preamps have 60db of gain available to them
and to my ears the preamps are clean and quiet, they are no match for the preamp on my UA
Twinfinity when under the spotlight and pushed hard but I would happily use them when huge
amounts of gain are not required.
Those of us that do a lot of stereo recording
will immediately spot a huge advantage to these preamps in that it is easy to gain match
each side of a stereo pair. The headphone preamp had plenty of gain to drive my
Beyerdynamic headphones and all that remains of the front panel is a USB link indicator
light, a PEAK light for the Preamps, a MONO button for spreading a mono signal across both
channels of the stereo output when using direct monitoring and a knob for balancing the
direct mix with the playback from your DAW.
Roland doesn’t make a song and dance about is that the unit can in fact act in
standalone mode as long as it has a USB connection to draw power from and you make one
change in the driver settings. You need to set the feed for the S/PDIF out to Mic/Line 1&2
and it will always remember this setting unless you change it again. When the unit detects
a S/PDIF signal it automatically slaves to it, set the direct mix knob all the way to
input and the 2 preamps will be routed directly to the S/PDIF out without any latency. I
was able to use the Quad-Capture as a way to get 2 more mic/ line preamps into my MR816.
This is brilliant if you can’t quiet afford or don’t need something as esoteric as an
Audient Mico and as a bonus it can be used as a portable audio interface!!
Drivers & Performance
Included in the retail packaging are a device driver
disc and a copy of Cakewalks Sonar X1 LE. A quick trip to Roland’s website and I had the
latest driver downloaded and installed on my Windows 7 DAW within minutes. I decided to
use the USB 3.0 port on my studio DAW as the Asmedia controller has direct access to the
PCIe buss on my particular motherboard (ASUS P8P67-M). Driver installation was simple and
fuss free on my test machine and I was up and running in no time.
On my test
system I didn’t experience any nasty noise from the unit so Roland has lived up to their
promise of a noise free audio interface. Using Roland’s ASIO VS-Stream driver I managed
to get roundtrip latency down to 7.1 ms at the lowest 96 sample buffer. CPU usage at this
buffer size on my test system was 7% and I didn’t experience any crackles or dropouts.
In comparison my Steinberg MR816 can manage 5.3 ms at its lowest 64 samples so all in all
very impressive for a USB 2.0 device.
I was able to compare the Quad-Capture to
my Steinberg MR-816 and an Edirol FA-66 that I use for mobile recording. In my listening
test I felt the MR816 has the upper edge with a very focused and detailed reproduction of
sound. However the Quad-Capture put in an excellent performance and if I’m being honest
it is only in repeat listening that you begin to appreciate the difference. In comparison
it was much easier to tell the difference between the Edirol FA-66 and the MR-816, it had
a noticeably veiled sound and stereo imaging isn’t quiet as sharp as either of its
Last but not least the onboard DSP mixer provides digital Lo-Cut filters
with a fixed frequency of 70HZ, phase reverse and a bog standard but highly useable
compressor on channels 1 & 2 that can be stereo linked. All the compressors parameters can
be adjusted and the Quad-Capture will remember your last known configuration on start up
even when it isn’t connected to a computer. See Standalone Mode Boxout
Choosing a new audio interface can be very daunting but brand
names like Roland should inspire the confidence you need to invest in a product. In the
case of the Quad-Capture I think Roland engineers have done a fantastic job and at a great
price. The Quad-Capture has features well beyond it’s price tag and I applaud Roland for
not deliberately cutting features, most of the feature’s found on the Octa-Capture can
be found here.
For me it would be the perfect portable 4 I/O audio interface if
it featured JET PLL but the fact that you can also use it in standalone mode means that it
has found a permanent place in my studio sitting happily above my main audio interface. As
an added bonus I can now use this for day to day audio and that means I am saving energy
as my Steinberg MR816 can stay powered off until needed. Highly recommended.
• Roland UA-55 Quad Capture V1., Driver V1.1, Presonus Studio One
• PC with Intel Core I7 2600K 4.1GHZ quad core processor, 8GB Ram
Windows 7 64 bit with no service pack installed
Roland UA-55 Quad
• Digitally Controlled Mic Preamps
• Unique Auto-Sens
• Onboard DSP powered compression
• Can be used in standalone
• Standalone function requires USB connection for power
• No JET PLL jitter reduction
• No unbalanced connections for DJ equipment
An excellent addition to the Roland Capture series of
audio interfaces that brings the unique features of the top flight Octa-Capture to the
masses and is made portable to boot. On board DSP powered effects and digital preamps are
a first for this price bracket and all supported by an excellent driver.