Today we’re taking a look at Steinberg’s UR 22 mk II entry-level recording starter kit. For an incredibly modest $199.99, the pack has everything a beginner would need to dip his/her toes into the world of music production. Without further ado,
What’s in the box?
- a UR 22 mk II, dual-input USB interface with a USB cable for connectivity
- a pair of ST-H01 closed-back headphones
- an ST-M01 condenser microphone with a mic clip and XLR cable
- software download codes for Cubase AI (a “lite” version of Steinberg’s popular Cubase Pro), Wavelab LE (for editing and mastering audio), and Cubasis LE (designed specifically for iPad). Please note that for the purposes of this review I opted to use the DAW with which I’m most comfortable, though I’m sure the provided Cubase AI is more than capable.
The UR 22 mk II Interface:
Right off the bat, and to quote one of my favorite gear review clichés, the UR 22 mk II feels rock solid. In fact, it’s the most impressive component in the pack; it does its job, does it well, and feels practically indestructible while doing it. With recording capabilities up to 24-bit/192 kHz and two microphone preamps, the only thing you can’t do with a 2×2 interface like this is, say, record a full drum kit in your bedroom. But that’s not what 2×2 interfaces are designed for anyway…
In addition to the mic/line Neutrik combo inputs on the front, there is an Output control for adjusting any connected monitors’ levels, a separate headphone level knob, and a Mix control that allows you to adjust the listening balance between your input signal and what’s coming out of the DAW.
The UR 22 mk II’s backside has a pair of line outputs for connecting studio monitors, MIDI in/out, a switch for phantom power, and two separate power sources. One is a standard USB 2.0 jack that’d you’d run out of directly into your computer with the provided USB cable, and the other is a 5V DC out that’d you’d connect to a USB adapter/mobile battery for use with an iPad. Pair the 5V DC out with the included Cubasis LE mobile software and you’ve got yourself a nifty, über-mobile recording rig.
I certainly feel like the UR 22 is on par with the wildly popular Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, which I personally use at home. Really, for a zero-latency, no nonsense, 24/192 interface, you won’t find much better at this price point. It’s the centerpiece of this kit, but you also get some cans and a mic thrown in to get the ball rolling, at a price comparable to other similar interfaces alone.
The only gripe I have with the interface, which is nearly a nonissue but what the hell, let’s nitpick, is that only Input 2 is suited for plugging in a guitar, bass, or otherwise Hi-Z instrument direct. There’s a Hi-Z switch on the front panel that you engage when going direct with said instruments in Input 2; Input 1 lacks this feature, while the comparable Scarlett has independent control for both channels. Not at all a deal breaker, but something to be aware of.
The ST-H01 Headphones:
I’ll preface this by saying I use Sony MDR-7506s for tracking and mixing at home and recording school. There’s an inherent transparency in the Sonys that people either love or hate; they’re honest headphones.
I decided first to work on some hip-hop tracks with the Steinbergs, solely to check out the low end response. Let’s just say there’s plenty of low end. Too much, even, at least for my taste. I scoured the Internet to find the actual specs on these cans, particularly a frequency response graph, and unfortunately came up short. Because of the bassiness of these, though, I can’t recommend them for any serious mixing in which accuracy is essential. It’s the “in” thing to have ridiculously bassy headphones for pleasure listening, but these are marketed as studio monitoring headphones – not Beats.
Just to be sure, I double checked them by listening to some metal tracks I’m super familiar with – Opeth’s “Heir Apparent” and “Ghost of Perdition,” for instance. Sure enough, there’s a distinct buildup of low end material making things sound plain muddy.
Now, are these acceptable for your own or someone else’s cue mix? Absolutely. There’s plenty of isolation to block out any unwanted outside noise, and they’ll work fine for laying down tracks. Would you want to mix on them? Prooobably not…then again, an acoustically treated room with good monitors would always be best for that.
I’ll also say the construction isn’t nearly as reassuring as the UR 22 mk II’s. The plastic feels cheap, and the vinyl-ish covering on the ear pads and headband doesn’t scream quality. And I realize these are closed cans, but the breathability is next to none, and I get swamp ear within several minutes of use. I blame the less-than-stellar ear pad material.
Honestly, the ST-H01s feel like a freebie in this setup. They’ll get the job done, especially for a beginner, but I’d look elsewhere for a quality pair of studio headphones should you branch out into an intermediate rig.
The ST-M01 Condenser Microphone:
With less than a year of dabbling in home audio production and recording tech schooling under my belt, I can’t say I’m an authority on microphones. If anything, I’m still in the target demographic for a recording pack like this.
That being said, Steinberg’s budget condenser, the ST-M01, plays pretty nicely considering it’s part of a $200 bundle. Much like the UR 22, there’s a substantial weight to it that, at the very least, indicates reasonable build quality.
After plugging into Input 1 on the interface and activating phantom power, the mic’s blue LED illuminates to let you know it’s hot and ready to go.
I set up to track acoustic guitar, which you can hear a short sample of below. For the clip, I close miked my guitar roughly 7-8 inches away with the mic’s capsule on-axis, halfway between the sound hole and fretboard of the instrument. What you hear is the completely raw track; the preamp gain on the interface was set around 2 o’clock. You can decide for yourself, but I think this is a perfectly capable mic that would hold its own against much pricier counterparts. Have a listen:
The Final Verdict:
All in all, this is a damn good recording pack at an unbeatable price. I believe the UR 22 mk II interface alone warrants the couple hundo everything costs; with MIDI I/O and multiple power sources for use with mobile devices, it’s a more feature-rich competitor to something like the widely-used Scarlett 2i2 – and at nearly the same cost, plus headphones and a mic.
The headphones are “whatever” to me, but having only shelled out a couple hundred bucks, I wouldn’t hesitate to then invest in a pair that better suits me. However, you might really enjoy the way they sound and get along swimmingly with them. I can’t attest to their durability, though, having only used them on and off over the course of a couple weeks, but it is concerning.
Finally, the ST-M01 condenser microphone is more than enough to get you off to the races making jams. Let’s just say I’ve been surprised to find I’ve preferred SM57s – super affordable workhorses – to say, Neumann 87s, in A-B comparisons. It might seem like apples and oranges, but having a ridiculous price tag doesn’t always mean you’ll like the way it sounds in certain scenarios. For a lot of folks, I could see the ST-M01 being shockingly good for what equates to a ~$50 mic.
The Steinberg UR 22 mk II recording pack undoubtedly proves that you don’t always get what you pay for; sometimes you get a whole lot more.