For many recordists a simple two in/out recording interface will sufﬁce, but a multichannel interface will afford many more options in terms of the amount of separate instruments you can record simultaneously and in the ease of routing audio in and out of the system.
Designed to satisfy this need, Line 6's new TonePort UX8 is the latest in a growing number of reasonably-priced 8-channel interfaces from various manufacturers but, unique among them, it has a neat trick up its USB-2.0-connected sleeve in that it comes equipped with the GearBox software package.
Gearbox is a set of amp simulations and effects derived from the POD series that can be recorded directly with near-zero latency monitoring or used just like any other standard VST, RTAS or AU plug-in.
The UX8 is a 2U rackmountable box with controls on the front panel and all the connections round the back barring a pair of instrument inputs and a pair of headphone sockets that have been logically placed on the front right where you can get at them easiest.
Eight simultaneous channels of 24-bit/96kHz audio can be sent to the computer, and each channel has front-panel controls that include an input gain knob, a 20dB pad switch and a high-pass ﬁlter as well as 'clip' and 'signal' LEDs.
Phantom power is applied from the front panel by two switches that turn it on universally for channels 1-4 and 5-8.
Every channel has an XLR mic socket and a quarter-inch jack line input, with channels 1 and 2 having those extra Hi-Z instrument inputs each of which has an extra pad switch to accommodate different guitar pickup types.
Back-panel sockets for a pair of footswitches and an expression pedal allow switching and controlling the GearBox software or control functions for your recording software.
Front-panel knobs control signal levels from the designated main stereo outputs and the two headphone outputs while the internal routing of signals to these and the main VU meters can be set in a software control panel.
The GearBox amp simulation and effects software offers 18 guitar amps, 24 guitar cabinets, ﬁve bass amps, ﬁve bass cabinets, six mic preamps, plus 29 stompbox and studio effects.
It also has other useful facilities for guitarists - besides the obligatory tuner there's a phrase trainer, which you can load and loop audio from hard drive, CD or internet for full or half-speed playback.
For practice use there's also an eight-step programmable drum machine with kick, snare and hi-hat sounds or a plain metronome.
How it sounds
Regardless of the GearBox software, the UX8 does the business as an audio interface for any sound. The mic inputs yield decent sounding results, with the bonus of the GearBox-modelled preamps to impart a special ﬂavour when you need it.
The two separate headphone sends offer the ﬂexibility of being able to set up different monitor mixes for, say, recordist and singer.
The facilities provided by the GearBox software for recording guitar are impressive with a bunch of sounds as found in the POD XT. The user interface is logically laid out with the amp controls on display and the effects as a series of colourful pedals.
There are a bunch of categorised presets available to call up the type of sound you need and editing is easily implemented by mouse whether swapping effects or amp types or tweaking some of the adjustable parameters.
The special feature of the UX8 - and the rest of the TonePort series, in fact - is Line 6's ToneDirect monitoring.
Normally when recording guitar using computer-based amp modelling, the modelling software would be inserted into the recording track as a plug-in with only the dry sound actually recorded - allowing a choice of plug-ins at the mix stage.
The plug-in sound you're using while recording may not end up being the one you use for the track but it's the sound you'll monitor while playing and, with the round trip through the computer, may possibly be heard with a slight delay due to latency.
On the other hand, when using a hardware amp simulator, it's easy to set up monitoring with no latency delay but you'll likely be recording the full amp-simulated sound with less option for later changes.
The ToneDirect system as implemented in the UX8 actually gives you the best of both worlds. Due to the way the GearBox software interacts with the UX8, you can monitor the full-on amp and effects sound with imperceptible latency delay.
This means your timing won't be compromised while taking advantage of software routing options that allow recording of the full sound, or the amp-simulated sound without any ambient or modulation effects.
By arming an extra recording track you can also simultaneously record the dry guitar sound increasing your range of options at mixdown.
Easy guitar recording
It's fair to say that Line 6 are targeting this machine at recordists who are primarily guitar players - or who record a lot of guitars - and they seem to have squarely hit the mark.
If you aren't too bothered about guitar recording and are just looking for an 8-channel I/O there are plenty of options available, several with more facilities (MIDI I/O for example) than the UX8.
But if guitar plays a big part in the music that you record, the UX8 will provide you with almost all of the amp and effects tones you're likely to need and a totally painless way to record them.