Since I've been doing everything on a laptop for awhile now, I've really wanted to use my audio monitors that have been gathering dust in a box. I've owned a pair of beefy Roland MA-12Cs that I have really liked, but ever since my desktop computer went away, they've had little use. I've been reading Jay Rose's excellent book on audio postproduction and knew I need to be mixing audio on good speakers and not headphones. I wanted to put the Rolands back to work.
So I started poking around on the interwebs and found the Behringer U-control UCA202, a nifty little box that is powered by any computer's USB port and offers RCA line outs, RCA line ins, a headphone jack and an optical output. Not a bad bit of features for $28. It had some good reviews, so I went ahead and pulled the trigger. I'm glad I did.
The setup for this gizmo under Windows 7 was stupid easy. I plugged it in, it auto-configured and before you can say "mixdown", all sound from my computer was routed to this box, which I swiftly plugged my speakers into. Everything sounded great. There were no drivers to mess with, no settings to adjust. The thing just works right out of the box. If I want to divert audio back to my crummy laptop speakers, I just unplug.
I haven't tested the other features, but I'm glad they are there for future-proofing. It would be easy to connect the tape outs from a mixer to the line inputs (I just happen to own a Behringer mixer as well) for a more versatile input experience. The optical out is nice if I ever need to connect my computer to a home theater receiver for a large group presentation or something. The availability of a headphone out (complete with volume control) is good, though I don't ever see using it.
If you decide to order one of these, be careful you don't accidentally order the UFO202, which looks exactly the same, but appears to lack the optical output (and it costs more!). There is a red version that looks pretty stylish, but is the exact same box as this one. If you want to spend a couple more dollars so the U-control will really stand out on your desk, be my guest.
All in all, this is a good find. The USB connectivity means I will always be able to attach my speakers to any computer I own, as long as the USB standard remains available. Now I can finally get down to a realistic audio mix without breaking the bank.