As you would expect given Moore’s Law (that computing power doubles every two years) the cost of DACS has been coming down steadily. At CES this year, Audioquest unveiled their newest USB DACs, the Dragonfly Black for $99 and the Dragonfly Red for $199. Other manufacturer’s, such as Audio Engine also make a very nice DAC, the $149 D3 but if you are looking for something even less expensive that has a couple of features not supplied on any of aforementioned DACs you may be interested in the Behringer UMC202HD, which currently is available directly from Behringer via their Internet site currently for $49 instead of it’s $149 MSRP.
Now truth be told, Behringer has a mixed reputation – their gear always offers a lot of value, but often falls down in reliability. The UMC202HD is priced like a disposable device but carries a three-year warranty (if registered), so I figured for $50 it was worth a gamble to try one out. I was pleased by the results. The UMC202HD proved to be not only an acceptable 192/24 DAC with headphone amplifier and line-level outputs, but also comes supplied with two channels of analog to digital conversion and built-in microphone preamplifiers (it even has phantom power so you can use decent condenser microphones). So you get not only a USB-powered 192/24 DAC, but also a way to record and digitize at up to 192/24 your analog sources, whether they are a microphone or a line-level input (such as the line level output from your phono preamplifier.)
If you want to try your hand at making your own live recordings all you need to add to the Behringer UMC202HD is a microphone (or two if you want to record in stereo) a computer, recording software, and some cables to connect it up. Behringer offers some free software plug-ins via their site – once you enter your unit’s serial number and register your UMC202HD you’ll get a link. Another low-cost recording software option is Audacity, which is available as freeware for the Mac or PC. You can find condenser microphones in virtually any price range. I’ve used everything from a lowly calibration microphone from Dayton to my Schoeps Colettes with the MC202HD. And, not surprisingly, better mics do sound more natural and uncolored than inexpensive ones.
I connected the UMC202HD to my 13″ 2015 MacBook Pro Retina computer and it was immediately recognized in the MIDI control panel where I could designate it as both the output and input device. Audacity also instantly recognized the UMC202HD and once I adjusted the input and output levels I could begin recording and playback. Even with the latest El Capitan OS the UMC202HD was plug-and-play (and record) ready with my MacBook Pro.
Now I’m not going to try to tell you the Behringer UMC202HD’s recording quality will rival the best available. It won’t. But given its price and features the UMC202HD does deliver a lot of value for very little money. If you’ve ever wanted to begin making recordings, the UMC202HD is a great way to begin the process. You would be amazed at how much you can learn about sound merely by making a recording – it doesn’t even have to be a recording of music – The first commercial release from Mobile Fidelity Sound Recordings was of trains and a thunderstorm. It is a fine example on a non-musical recording that’s still a great reference.
So, if you want to try your hand at recording and you also would like to have an inexpensive portable USB DAC, take a look at the Behringer UMC202HD. It could be the beginning of a new chapter in your own audio adventure. And the admission fee is only $50!