USB Audio Interface for Mac & PC
The baby 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 that magic............
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 Name?
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 price point.
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 credentials.
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.
The 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.
One feature 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 competitors.
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 Pro
• PC with Intel Core I7 2600K 4.1GHZ quad core processor, 8GB Ram
and Windows 7 64 bit with no service pack installed
Roland UA-55 Quad Capture
• Digitally Controlled Mic Preamps
• Unique Auto-Sens Feature
• Onboard DSP powered compression
• Can be used in standalone mode
• 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.