Fixing Steinberg UR12 dropouts on macOS

Digging around in macOS' system logs reveals my Mac may not be dying after all. Instead, I lay the blame for my Steinberg UR12 woes at the feet of Yamaha's buggy USB Audio Driver.

Fixing Steinberg UR12 dropouts on macOS

A couple of posts ago, I speculated that my MacBook Air might be on its last legs. My reasoning was due to a suspicion that my Mac’s logic board was dying, as evidenced by intermittent USB dropouts. I only experienced this problem when using my USB audio interface, a Steinberg UR12, for prolonged periods over video conferencing. This caused me no small amount of anxiety because as I noted in my post, it’s the wrong time to buy a new Mac.

Luckily, as it turns out, it might not be my Mac after all. Today I sifted through my Mac’s logs and came to suspect the fault may lie be the device’s proprietary driver crashing. The driver, released by Yamaha, is loaded as a Kernel Extension, which Apple is somewhat leery about, making you jump through security hoops to install. I’m speculating here, but when the driver crashes, macOS fails to re-register it as a Kernel Extension. You’re supposed to authorise Kernel Extensions in System Preferences, but the window of opportunity is slim, appearing only 30 minutes after you first install the driver.

Fortunately, the UR12 also features a class-compliant mode, meaning that when the proprietary driver is absent, the device uses Apple’s native Core Audio stack. This mode ensures the UR12 works with iPads and iPhones, which don’t allow users to install drivers.

So, after I uninstalled Steinberg’s proprietary driver, rebooted and reset my Mac’s SMC settings, it appears to be working. I tested it for about an hour with no issue. However, the real test will come when I use it for video conferencing over the next couple of days. I doubt Core Audio is going to crash, so touch wood, and I should be fine from here on.

Note, the only caveat with using Core Audio instead of the proprietary driver, is that you lose the ability to enable loopback, and install firmware updates. Everything else, however, works just fine. Loopback, while useful for live-streaming, isn’t something I need. As for the firmware, I’m reasonable confident Yamaha’s done with this device. Still, I can always check every couple of months.

Yamaha’s USB audio driver doesn’t just power the UR12. It’s used for all the UR family of devices, and Steinberg’s discontinued CI range. So, if you have this issue when connecting one of these devices to your Mac — try removing the Yamaha/Steinberg driver and use Core Audio.

Alrighty then, I’m pleased and relieved. I don’t have to buy a new Mac or a new audio interface. In both cases, it’s a terrible time for GAS (gear acquisition syndrome). Apple is at the beginnings of a silicon transition, and I’m not buying Intel again. While in the world of USB audio interfaces, they have dramatically jumped in price here in Australia thanks to our declining dollar, and have become scarce thanks to COVID-19 supply chain issues in Asia.