ATEN is a 45 year old Taiwanese company best known for its broadcast and KVM switching electronics, but the company does have some other product lines such as portable USB solutions including USB-AV converters, AV Switchers, and the MicLIVE UC8000, a nifty little audio mixer / AD converter suitable for podcasting, though also serviceable for getting other analog audio signals into a PC or Mac.
The device is positioned as a low-cost, high-quality desktop mixer that makes a use case for both broadcast /professional producers as well as entry-level podcasters and one-person operations. The UC8000 would certainly be a choice to consider for one-person podcasters and other content creators, mobile & travel productions, and even anyone who is not a producer at all but constantly on zoom and computer video calls.
The mixer is very lightweight and takes up about as much desk space as half a sheet of letter-size paper. One thing I like about it, and that I expect from any mixer or A/D converter in this class is that it is powered through the USB cable and does not need a separate power feed.
Connecting the UC8000 to the computer immediately attaches the mixer as an audio device. The UC8000 doesn’t need additional software to be installed for basic functionality, however downloading and installing the companion software vastly increases the capability of the little ATEN mixer. The software gives you additional effects capabilities, equalization, flexibility applying those effects and reverbs, and the ability to customize the sound effects and jingles, including adding your own sounds.
No matter, company representatives briefing me tell me that the ATEN UC8000 is not designed as a device for advanced audio production, or as a mini-ProTools Swiss-Army-Knife type of device. This is not the device to keep audio engineers fascinated for hours setting up compression thresholds and parametric equalizers—though the unit, through its companion software, does provide both equalization and compression! It’s designed be pulled out of the suitcase or backpack, plugged in, and operational before the computer has finished booting up.
Aside from the USB-C cable connection, the UC8000 has two combination XLR/TRS connectors on the back panel, taking microphone or line level inputs. Phantom power is available and activated by a panel button. There is also a 3.5mm two channel line input plug that can accept stereo analog inputs. Outputs are through the USB connection to a PC, allowing for digital recording, or use as an audio input for Zoom calls, etc. There are also two separate headphone outputs, so the device is designed to work well in interview scenarios with a podcast or video host and interviewee. Each headphone output has its own level control.
I really like the fact that channels 3 & 4 can be controlled independently. As the unit is a 6 channel mixer, the additional two channels can come from the computer. In other words, you get two XLR/quarter-inch inputs, both phantom power capable; you get analog channels 3 & 4 through a 3.5mm mini cable to take in unbalanced audio line level inputs, for example from a stereo, phone (with adapter), or camcorder; and then you get two more digital inputs from your attached computer. The UC8000 uses the USB connection for bidirectional audio, both into and out of the unit.
As a quick aside, the UC8000 is actually usable without a computer. We faced a situation where we needed an audio mixer in a pinch to blend a stereo output with a microphone. We powered up the unit, connected a microphone and stereo source through the channel 3/4 input, and the unit worked just fine, giving us a mixed audio output to feed to a speaker. Not what the unit was designed for, but the versatility is a definite plus.
Using the UC8000
Operating the unit is fairly straightforward. An experienced audiovisual person won’t need any instruction booklet for basic operation, though one is available. For inexperienced users, a very simple step by step guide is provided. Simplicity is the design theme. There is only one output level knob that is selectable by pressing the button for what channel you want to control. Even though channels 3 & 4 come in through the same interface, they can be adjusted separately. The button for channels 3 & 4 along with the mode button for effects are color coded so at-a-glance you know what you are doing.
There is a mode knob to adjust the effect amount or preset, for example for the reverb effect setting. There are also three variable pitch modifier settings: adjustable, male and female. As on other devices in this class, male and female effects don’t actually make the speaker sound like a different gender, but are more cartoonish effect, like the “inhaling helium” trick from radio’s past.
There are eight jingle buttons pre-programmed with sounds such as applause and other game-show style sound effects. One confusing quirk is that by default, audio effects are only enabled on input #2 and input #1 just feeds audio sans effects, but this can be reconfigured through the software.
One important thing to point out is that the PC companion software allows the user to save multiple configurations (and even color-code them) into memory as presets, so once you get the perfect setup, you don’t lose it every time you unplug the mixer or restart your computer.
One big selling point that ATEN emphasizes is the AI sound adjustment that the company claims, “Turns Budget Mics into Studio-grade Ones.” I don’t know what to make of this. I tested the unit with my primary microphone, a Shure SM58. The Shure microphone is not extremely expensive nor is it often seen clogging up the screens of Youtubers, but is a proven pro vocal mic favored by many platinum-selling vocalists with unlimited budgets.
I played around with the AI button. You have to let it “learn” your voice the first time you use it, meaning speaking for about 15 seconds while it configures itself. It seemed to be something like a smart filter or DSP function that cut back on feedback, added some equalization, and cut down background noise. DSP functionality, certainly. I don’t know how much AI that is, but the company insists that it accomplishes the signal processing task by using machine learning. Ok, it does work, but even if you are also an AI-skeptic, it can be disabled, so no problem.
In the box
Weighing about 1.5 pounds or 750 grams, the ATEN UC8000 comes out of the box with the mixer itself, a one-page quick-start guide, a USB-C cable, and a warranty card. Users will want to download the full 55 page user manual and the companion software via ATEN’s website. In fact, I would encourage potential purchasers to read the manual beforehand to understand the capabilities of the product.
Pros & Cons
The ATEN UC8000 is really an impressive little unit. In my case, it is ideal for a travel mixer. Its small size and light weight mean I can toss it in a carry on, and the versatile inputs can connect with microphones, stereos, smartphones, camcorders, etc. It’s great that you don’t need any kind of power supply beyond the USB cable that also carries signals and data.
Not really “cons” but today more and more portable content creation devices have digital outputs, so one or more digital inputs would be cool, it doesn’t even have to be anything fancy like SDI but perhaps HDMI. Even Bluetooth would be cool.
Having separate volume adjustment for each headphone monitor output is great. I guess having to switch between inputs before adjusting level and configuration is a real space saver, and easy enough to get used to, but not being able to just grab a knob to adjust channel levels is a minor gripe This is not a deal-killer, but I have to find something to nitpick about.
The ATEN UC8000 Is a great little mixer that can be used in various circumstances. It’s a great unit to get started in podcasting or content creation without the need for carts of gear or audio engineering expertise; It’s light weight and compact design means it can be tossed in a suitcase or backpack as a portable travel mixer. The third use case that comes to mind is as a great unit piece that can fit into a corporate or even broadcast environment for production where it does not need the fancy capabilities of integrating into a larger system. ATEN’s broadcast heritage promises the audio quality and reliability will be there.