If you’ve ever tried to record instruments or vocals via your laptop or desktop’s stock internal sound card you’ll likely be familiar with at least some of the problems this can present. Though technically an audio interface, consumer level sound cards as found on the average PC or laptop typically feature limited sound quality, insufficient I/O, and excess latency and noise. Although these built-in solutions are acceptable for playing compressed audio through Hi-Fi speakers, for recording and monitoring production-quality audio you’re going to need a dedicated audio interface. Behringer hope to have such a solution in their UM2, a budget-friendly 2×2 USB audio interface for home studio users who have only modest requirements. Retailing at well under $50.00, Behringer’s approach to the UM2 is that of simplicity and affordability, but can such a cheap interface obtain decent results? Let’s find out.
At first glance, the UM2 the looks to be similar in style and build to many other interfaces on the market, with audio manufacturers appearing to have almost standardized on a black metal chassis and silver highlight design. On closer inspection, however, it quickly becomes clear that the UM2’s chassis is in fact constructed of plastic, with no metal parts to be found on the exterior shell. Overall fit and finish are satisfactory, and the plastic is of adequate quality, but we’d be hesitant to throw it in a bag and travel with it for fear of damaging the unit. Controls, also plastic, are a little loose as are the jack sockets but they all work well in operation and we’d expect no significant problems in a home studio environment.
The UM2 has two inputs, one of which is an XLR and TRS ¼ inch combo input for microphones or line-level gear while the second is a dedicated instrument-level TRS ¼ input for connecting a guitar or bass. Each input has two associated LEDs on the front panel; the first an LED which lights green when a signal has been detected and the second an all-important LED that lights red when the input signal is clipping. Gain controls and a master output control are located on the top panel, while outputs are provided in the form of two stereo RCA outputs on the rear. These outputs are where you would connect up studio monitors and with RCA being an unbalanced connection type, using shorter cables here would minimize the introduction of noise and interference.
Headphones can be connected via a 1/4″ headphone jack on the front panel. If your headphones have a ⅛” (3.5 mm) audio jack then you’ll need a standard headphone adapter to connect them to the UM2.
Elsewhere on the front panel you’ll find a direct monitor button which routes the input signals directly to the UM2’s headphone and monitor outputs for near zero latency listening.
Rounding out the rear is a +48V phantom power switch allowing for the use of condenser microphones, a Kensington lock slot, and a USB 2.0 socket for connecting your computer and supplying power to the interface.
Setup & Software
Setup of the UM2 on a Mac is as simple as plugging in the device with no lengthy driver installation necessary. On Windows, the interface relies on the 3rd party driver ASIO4ALL to get full functionality from the hardware, with Behringer linking directly to http://www.asio4all.com/ from the UM2’s support page. ASIO4ALL is a generic driver that works with most available audio interfaces and enjoys a good reputation, having been in development for over ten years. It’s not particularly uncommon to see this driver recommended over even manufacturer-supplied drivers so the UM2’s reliance on it should not be seen as a negative aspect. We certainly had no stability or driver-related problems during our testing.
The UM2 comes packaged with a code for Tracktion 4 which is able to be upgraded to Tracktion 5 once redeemed, Tracktion 4 having been made freely available to anyone since May 2015. The DAW Tracktion is a fairly powerful suite of production software that forces an unusual workflow in a rather unique UI. As such, it has both loyal fans and it’s fair share of detractors. We’ve become quite fond of it over the years, but with so many DAW options now available, finding a cheap alternative is simple enough.
Supporting 16-bit resolution at 48 kHz sample rates, most users should find themselves catered for with the majority of enthusiasts still recording at 44.1-48 kHz. The UM2’s mic preamp is Behringer’s Xenyx and it’s serviceable, sounding clean and clear while gain levels are kept under control. If pushed the UM2 can become quite noisy but with careful configuration of levels both on the interface and in software we were able to produce some quality recordings that stand up well to scrutiny.
One standout aspect of the UM2 is the the built-in headphone amp as it’s surprisingly loud and clean for an interface of such low cost. Typically headphone outs on budget interfaces are weak and underpowered but the volume provided by the UM2 is more than sufficient for any home studio tasks. We could wish for a separate headphone volume control for the added convenience but can understand why this might be omitted for cost reasons.
Overall, we’d recommend the Behringer UM2 to those with simple needs who can budget only a small amount for a dedicated audio interface. Those looking to record record multiple instruments simultaneously or working with multiple mics will need more channels, and those looking to take their interface on the road will need something more robust. But if you can manage with a single microphone, instrument line in, and a single pair of outputs then this will get the job done for absolute minimal cost.
- Loud headphone volume
- Very inexpensive
- Superior to built-in audio solutions
- Flimsy build quality