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Budget surround monitoring with the UR28M

Surround sound budgets for surround monitoring can quickly skyrocket. I’m currently using the Steinberg UR28M audio interface for my low-cost surround monitoring.

Steinberg UR28M, in use at my studio as a surround sound monitoring solution.
Steinberg UR28M Audio Interface as a budget surround monitoring solution.
dspMixFx app settings for ganging outputs together into a surround matrix.
Gang outputs to create a surround sound monitor controller.

Though not super simple to set up, it’s really solid once done. A used device can go for $250, which is pennies compared to most surround-capable devices. It has 6 outputs, which perfectly drive your monitors. They can be ganged (synchronized to each other) by going to the DSP app, hitting configuration, and setting the Output Mode Select to “Independent”, and the Output Level to “Linked”, as pictured.

However, the interface fails for headphone monitoring. My workaround for this is to set headphones to monitor Output 1/2, and have several auxes in Pro Tools that get fed by the Main Mix:

  • 5.1 Output – Unmuting this gives your speakers the full 5.1 mix
  • Stereo – An ITU downmix to stereo. Great for previewing the mix’s translation, and also great for headphones.
  • Waves NX – Instead of ITU, I can unmute this to hear the 5.1 mix “in my headphones”. Useful when I’m doing basic panning but don’t want to wake up my wife. As you know, even correctly tuned to your head size, Waves NX isn’t a perfect representation of the surround soundstage, but I find having it available to be useful.
  • 2.1 Output – This one uses an ITU downmix with bass management. Just a useful option to have!
  • 3.1 Output – ITU-based downmix for LCR LFE review. This is when I want to use speakers, but don’t have the energy to roll out my surrounds.
Voicemeeter and windows audio settings to ensure windows detects my UR28M as a surround compatible device.
Voicemeeter acting as a real 5.1 interface, routing to the UR28M

I will also recommend VoiceMeeter Potato for its excellent routing capabilities. The UR28M is NOT surround compatible out of the box on Windows, meaning no surround streaming. VoiceMeeter creates a bridge between Windows Audio and your card’s 6 outputs, allowing you to treat it like a proper surround driver, incorporating bass management and stuff like that.

A few things to note:

  1. This unit is, when set up at the defaults, QUITE noisy. Don’t send it back. Take the time to find all the noise sources and squash them. It’s virtually silent now that I’ve put in the work, and for the price I got it, it’s a steal of a unit.
  2. Mute only turns off the selected output pair. Even in surround mode, mute can’t turn off all 6 channels at once, so to turn everything off, you’d hit Output A, Mute. Output B, Mute. Output C, Mute. This is an inconvenience. I could, instead, just turn the mains knob to -inf. Personal preference.
  3. It is imperative that you have preamps 1-4 unmuted ONLY when zero-latency montitoring is needed, as they add considerable amounts of noise to the monitoring chain. The preamps are actually quite good and clean when recorded, but whatever circuitry they employ to create zero-latency monitoring is cheap enough that it adds noticeable hiss to your monitoring chain.
  4. Headphone amps are very powerful. No problems driving my HD400.
  5. The 1/8″ monitoring input is really handy. For a while, I had my onboard soundcard handling all system sounds and things like Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, etc. I ranthat signal through a hum reducer and into the UR28M. Note that this input is analog only, and runs straight through to monitors 1/2. You cannot change this behaviour, though it does have a dedicated On/Off. A bit of hum and noise still gets through, so again, for the cleanest signal during a final mix, I recommend turning this input off when not needed.
  6. It could use a paint job. It’s one of the ugliest interfaces I’ve seen in a while lol. It’s got silver plastic trim, but the knobs are light gray, not silver, and the face is black. It just doesn’t look good at all!
  7. Don’t forget to turn it on. You may think it’s on because the power button is lit, but that just means it’s receiving power! The output and mix indicators will light when the device is actually on. If your speakers aren’t playing and the mute light is off, your cat might have wandered behind the computer and smacked the USB cable with his tail, shutting it off!