After a bit of a quiet period on the professional audio front here at Gadgetoid we’re coming back full force with a focus on producing professional sounding podcasts. Nestled within a recent shipment of gear from Behringer, with which to do just that, came the Behringer UMA25S which has nothing much to do with podcasting but, gosh darn it, I can’t resist taking a look at a control surface/keyboard!
I’m no professional musician, but I enjoy bashing together tunes in Reason 4 and playing synths/piano simply for my own entertainment. I don’t last long without a form of musical expression at my disposal and end up habitually humming, whistling, tapping and even beat-boxing much to the annoyance of anyone within earshot.
That’s why a portable control surface is important to me, and I’ve been on somewhat of a slow but sure Holy Grail esque search for the ideal control surface.
At first glance the Behringer UMA25S is a pretty good package, it contains the controller itself with two octaves, pitch bend and modulation wheels, 8 control knobs, 8 buttons which can work as transport controls, 1 fader and two ports for expression and control pedals. In addition to the controller is a USB port, a shoulder strap, a compact headset and a nifty little gig bag with compartments and pockets for all of the accessories and, of course, the controller itself.
The UMA25S is the first controller I’ve looked at that has come with anything more than a USB cable so the gig bag is a very surprising and welcome addition that adds a huge bonus to the portability factor and ensures the controller is well protected in transit. The shoulder strap is somewhat of a puzzler and takes the Behringer UMA25S dangerously close to keytar territory when it’s attached.
Yes, that’s a shoulder strap for the keyboard itself, and not the bag! Although the bag, of course, has its own shoulder strap.
The controller itself is quite attractive, finished in a metallic red that makes it appear like it’s constructed of anodized aluminium. Alas the UMA25S is built from plain-old-plastic but this was to be expected at its price point. The knobs, buttons, wheels and fader all have a reasonable feel to them, but the UMA25S falls flat on its face when it comes to the keyboard. If you’re used to a semi-weighted bed, or a completely unweighted synth then the mushy, resistive and tricky to play feel of the UMA25S will be a huge turn off. This is combined with a weird velocity curve that makes piano patches a complete nightmare to play expressively.
I could, however, be being a little harsh considering that the two octave bed of the Behringer UMA25S is definitely not intended for the budding virtual pianist. It’s clearly aimed much more at decidedly less complicated and more synthetic music where 25 keys are often 24 too many. For this it more than fits the purpose and I found it quite pleasant to play ReDrum patches, baselines and synth leads on.
The rest of the controls are up to scratch, the knobs have a good resistive feel to them, the pitch bend and modulation wheel feel fine and the transport controls have a solid, tactile click instead of the mushy feel that can plague some products. One slider is a welcome addition, but I can’t help wanting for at least 4, there’s just enough room!
The headset does the trick, but is decidedly uncomfortable, strangely compact for a supposed semi-professional product and generally naff. With no real-time Vocoder VST included in the package (which would have been nice!) the headset is clearly intended for vocal recording, which makes me shudder just a little bit. An onboard XLR input would have been the much preferred alternative and we could just quietly forget the headset exists and use a pair of studio monitor cans in its place.
The UMA25S contains an integrated USB audio interface intended to make the controller a complete recording solution for beginners. This is a good sentiment but when using the internal interface with headphones I noticed a considerable amount of noise on the output. I’ve encountered this in other USB audio interfaces but never in one proclaiming to be a semi professional piece of audio equipment.
Overall, it’s a good package with a really good quality gig bag and will serve the purpose of most amateur digital music producers. If you want to take something like Garageband to the next level then it will do the trick. A midi-out port makes it useful for controlling some good old-fashioned rack/module synthesizers, too, which you can pick up on ebay for reasonable prices.