I love seeing small tech do some incredible things at Ant Hill Music. Shure kept their eye on the prize and created a single function unit that works extremely well as a companion piece for their industry standard products. The Shure X2U XLR to USB Adapter has shot out in front of the pack, acting not only as a pocket-sized adapter that can turn any mic cable into an instant recording opportunity, but also acting as a mini mixing board while fitting in the palm of one’s hand. And if that wasn’t enough, they then added some well thought out features to help smooth out some the problems sometimes encountered in using Digital Audio Workstations.
The X2U almost looks and feels as if it was made to rock just like many of Shure’s products. The metal casing has substantial feel to it and any plastic parts are kept to a minimum. All of the controls are low-profile thumb wheels and the 1/8” headphone jack is flush with the surface. The push-push phantom power switch is not obtrusive.
The shape is designed to lay great on a desktop, and its weight helps keeps it in place against the gravitational pull of a standard XLR cable and the included lighter 10’ USB cable. There are slots on the backside of the X2U for Velcro straps (also included) for mounting the unit to a mic stand: a nice touch that allows the singer themselves to adjust the levels to their liking.
The X2U has a gain control with an LED that registers the mic’s level:
- Green -when it hears input
- Amber -as you approach overload
- Red -when it’s too hot
Another LED indicates when the unit is plugged into a USB port and the third shows when the phantom power switch is activated. There’s also an overall volume control, and a monitor control for the audio output from the computer of previously recorded tracks.
Using the X2U’s headphone jack and the onboard controls, both the direct input signal from the mic and the audio from the computer can be adjusted separately and mixed together, a great solution to fighting latency issues when overdubbing tracks on a computer-based system.
A lot of attention to detail appears to have been placed into the X2U interface, making this unit easy to operate. I used it in conjunction with four different microphones with which I am familiar with, to evaluate the X2U:
- Audio-Technica P635
- Shure SM57
- MXL 990
- Shure SM58
With each microphone, the X2U maintained the native audio characteristics without alteration to the original sound. Not only was the original tone shaping characteristic from each microphone maintained through the X2U’s translation from 3-pin to USB, but the silence of the unit itself produced better than CD quality wav files, represented as 16 bit at a 48kHz sample rate.
It would have been a nice addition to have an unbalanced ¼” line in for high-impedance mics and/or an input for other sources such as plug-in acoustic guitars, electric guitars and basses, though using an additional direct box would solved this issue.
As a software test, I plugged the X2U into a standard non-optimized laptop whose operating system is Windows Vista, to see if the unit’s code could withstand the many Vista audio bugs present in so many over the counter consumer computers. The X2U fired up and performed like a dream, with none of the traditional Vista audio artifacts often caused by out-of-synch USB translation.
The X2U even comes with its own carrying case and USB cable, so it can be tucked into any gig bag for on-the-spot live recording, turning any environment into a recording suite. The ease of the x2u’s plug and play format (compatible with Windows 7, Vista, XP, 2000, and Mac OS X 10.1 or later), coupled with zero latency in the headphone monitoring process, truly sets the X2U as an affordable and must-have tool in the kit of any on-the-go musician or media professional. At a price point of less than $100, how could anyone complain? So what are you waiting for?