If you’re familiar with Youtube, you’ve probably been made aware of all of the talented musicians who perform parodies, do renditions of famous songs, and others who choose to create their own music. Maybe you want to join them, or maybe you want to just rock out in your own room. Behringer has released a USB guitar link to the masses that might just let you do that.
The UCG 102 Guitar Link is a great little device for a small price, but at what cost? That was confusing, wasn’t it? With the relatively cheap list price of $67.99 at Amazon (currently $32.29), you’d think they were aiming at the mass audience who aren’t as familiar with sound recording equipment. That’s what I thought, anyway. Though Behringer promotes the UCG 102 as a plug-and-play portable recording device for guitars, that may only be the case for certain people; in particular, users of Apple products.
After giving a quick read of a few pages on what I needed to install, I found myself slowly becoming frustrated. This being my first experience with sound recording equipment and software, it was quite a daunting task to figure out just what needed to be done. The UCG 102 comes bundled with three pieces of software: a compact version of Energy XT2 recording program, (the free) Audacity recording program, and a small sampling of amps to alter the sound of your guitar from Native Instruments. Again, being new to all of this, I had almost no idea what I was supposed to do with each piece of software. Do they work together? Which two? All three? How do I get them to work together? There are plenty of instructions on how to install the software, but almost no explanation as to what you’re supposed to do with it. Energy XT2 comes with information, but only regarding itself. It’s like the software was just thrown in there carelessly. If you’re new to the recording world, you’re going to be spending a lot of time on forums and google, just trying to figure out what needs to be done.
Even before that though, I had problems just hearing my bass guitar via Audacity. I found out that I could record my bass and listen to the recording, but I couldn’t hear myself play in the moment. I eventually found out that there is an option in Audacity to allow your instrument to be heard while playing. Why this isn’t the default option, I don’t know. Okay, cool. I finally got this thing figured out. Well, sort of. Now I could hear my instrument, but there was a delay (latency) in when it would be played back. If you’ve ever played an instrument, I think you might be able to figure out why this would be a major problem. After reading forum after forum, it seems that the problem is not with my CPU (an i5), but probably with my sound card. You’re going to need an appropriate sound card to be able to play without latency (in other words, enjoy the product).
On the other hand, Apple users don’t seem to have too much trouble when they use the UCG 102 with the software Garage Band. I have seen Youtube videos of users ripping up a storm on their axes. I don’t have a Mac, so I can’t make any comparisons, but the fact that the Mac is a more uniform product probably has something to do with success in using the product more easily.
The UCG 102 is a good product for the price. I would say that its worst component would be its ease of use (or lack thereof). You will most likely have to fiddle with settings in the various pieces of software to get the product to work, because unfortunately the UCG 102 doesn’t come with specialized software that allows you to just plug in and rock out (it didn’t for me, anyway). I would still recommend the product, but I would warn potential customers that they are probably going to be in for a few frustrating hours trying to get a handle on how to install and use the software. In addition, a good sound card or CPU upgrade may be required to be able to jam without any latency. You can just record yourself without hearing what you’re recording, but honestly, I don’t know who would actually want to do that. More serious musicians may want to look into getting an actual microphone to record their instruments. For those of you who do buy the UCG 102, make sure to read forums to find the best software available as there are some really good free ones out there.
Ryan Southard is a video game enthusiast, dissecting games down to their tiniest details. Whether it’s new or it’s old, as long as it’s awesome, he’ll play it. Follow him on Twitter at @Ryan_Southard