Looks familiar, but that's a good thing. Pics courtesy MOTU.

Looks familiar, but that’s a good thing. Pics courtesy MOTU.

The MOTU 828 series has been a workhorse if ever there was one. Since the very first model, its more-then-ample I/O, mixing, clocking, and design have made it a favorite in a market crowded with lots of fairly-similar audio interfaces. It’s just more versatile and has easier access to controls and metering than some of its rivals.

That means the arrival of an 828 with Thunderbolt matters. The 828x still has USB 2.0, so you aren’t limited to Thunderbolt connections, and it supports both OS X and Windows. But when connected to Thunderbolt, you get some distinct advantages. The bus itself (even with Thunderbolt 1) is fast enough to support more bandwidth than any audio user would likely ever need, meaning that an 828x can sit at the end of a chain of six devices. That’s true even if you’re connecting bandwidth-thirsty drives or high-res displays. (And, vital since a lot of MOTU customers come from the pro video world, that has particular implications for video.)

Even if you’re just using an 828x over Thunderbolt, though, there should be distinct advantages in reliable low-latency performance. Remember that getting low latency isn’t just about speed, but about the ability to maintain that speed in high-bandwidth applications. There, Thunderbolt’s implementation has been so far remarkably stable, meaning some good things for audio performance.

MOTU tells us:

Latency is comparable to the 828mk3 Hybrid connected via FireWire. Bandwidth, though, is MASSIVE (many times FW). At NAMM we have MacBook Pros and HP laptops equipped with TB, connected to TB displays, TB drives and the 828x (at the end of the chain). You can daisy-chain up to 6 TB devices off one port (each TB port on the host gets its own bandwidth, they don’t share like FW), so these are slammin’ systems.

Count us in.

There are a lot of decade-plus-old 828s out there, so seeing all this in the 828 chassis says some nice things. And I could believe Thunderbolt will last us another 10 years. (A FireWire investment back then was a smart one.)

Beyond that, this is feature-packed just like the 828 you know:

  • 28 ins, 30 outs
  • Up to 192 kHz recording
  • “Studio-grade” mic channels with a pre-converter send for outboard gear and hardware limiting
  • On-board digital mixer with effects (that does often come in handy)
  • — and it works as a standalone mixer (ditto)
  • OS X, 7/8/Vista support, WDM, ASIO, Core Audio
  • MIDI I/O
  • Two optical banks
  • All the extras: instrument tuner, SMPTE clock, expansion, signal analysis tools
  • CueMix, AudioDesk for added mixing and processing versatility


Tech specs:

Available now; pricing US$999 list (but about $850 street)

(And MOTU still makes the 828mk3 for FireWire users.)




And, wow, an audio interface gets a video!

  • Dolomick

    I wonder how low the latency will go without their CueMix being used?

    • ToneHead

      CueMix is just the software for adjusting settings on the interface (much easier than using the front panel.) Latency should be equivalent with any DAW. One does need to install a driver (like all multi channel interfaces on Mac.)

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Yes, and generally, latency performance I would imagine is identical to an 828mk3 – if you’re using it alone. What’s cool – see the quote from MOTU above – is when you start daisy-chaining extra gear. So in video settings, this is especially cool.

    • wetterberg

      cuemix is easily the worst thing about the motu interfaces.
      They should have a sneak peek at what RME is doing; full matrix mixer, so easy to get a proper overview of signals.

      Instead cuemix is a skeuomorphic hot mess, in my opinion. I don’t need bevels, I just need all my i/o right here, not on page 3, or a drop-down menu somewhere out of sight… sigh.

  • http://fzero.ca/ Fabio Neves

    Try as I might, I can’t associate MOTU with shitty dubstep.

    • Eric

      Wow! That dubstep was horrendous!
      And talk about a mismatch of audio to video.
      “Here’s a dude singing into a microphone in a studio… but we’ll just blast you with wobbles and screeches anyway.”
      Seriously, this trend needs to stop. It’s like MOTU just thought they needed to join the party since all the other audio manufacturers were doing it.

  • Lion King

    As a “regular” electronic musician, I’ve always taken issue with the “28 ins” claim when I see 8 analog ins. Sure it has digital ins, etc etc but when you’re buying Volcas and analog gear this means very little.

    Why not just release a rack unit with 16 analog ins, 16 analog outs, MIDI, USB, etc? Am I missing something? Suggestions?

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Well, I think digital mixers are a big part of this. It’s obviously inter-connecting other gear. I think part of the reality is, it’s the analog inputs that are the most expensive and complicated – remember, the digital bits are already in the interface by design.

      There are interfaces that lack the digital I/O and extras of the MOTU, and they’re often not much cheaper (or at all cheaper).

      So, in other words, you should still feel okay buying this even if you don’t use all its I/O.

    • http://vrpr.org/ Henry

      That’s right, but it doesn’t andwer Lion King’s point, in my opinion. Actually, I do feel the same about the analog ins and outs in those manufacturers’ marketing. Right now I am investigating how to connect my various synths to my Mac without having to purchase a massive mixer console. Plus, all of them have one or several stereo outs that I would like to use. So, when the headline says 28-whatever-in/out channels, I start reading, just to learn that 24 of them would be through digital connection…

    • wetterberg

      I think size is the biggest factor – it’ll bump it up to at least 2U.
      The optical i/o’s are there for this very purpose; expandability.

      My suggestion is getting this motu, and then this fantastic blessing:


      or the fancier one:


      honestly, it’s probably the best solution.

    • http://vrpr.org/ Henry

      I am currently looking at this device: http://www.thomann.de/de/rolls_rm203x.htm Mainly because it also has a proper Aux send/return without having to sacrifice one stereo input.

      You might also want to look at these (ranging quite a lot in price and features):

  • Charles

    I wonder if they’ve fixed the random bursts of full-volume white noise. Or the random disabling of inputs. Or the way the labeling of inputs and outputs in the computer doesn’t match the labeling in the MotU.

  • Monochrome

    I wonder how the thunderbolt will improve the midi I/o? Surely the latency has to be a lot less that USB and hopefully improves the jitter both to and from Ableton. If it does that I’m sold.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Heh – uh, no. With MIDI running at 0.0313 Mb/s, Thunderbolt doesn’t have any impact at all. In fact, Thunderbolt doesn’t improve latency; what the bus can do is improve stability of low-latency, high-bandwidth I/O.

      But MIDI is impossibly low-bandwidth. Any reliability issue you have with MIDI is likely the result of OS, hardware, and software. MIDI can work perfectly fine over USB. You would most likely not see any impact on your setup, I’m sorry to say, by swapping interfaces.

    • syntheticjuice

      Going straigth thru thunderbolt might shave a small bit of time off latency, compared to usb and its interface+driver windows and buffers? (tho some usb interfaces are really low already!) It might be possible say, another millisecond gets shaved off on a complete midi + audio round trip? I guess we’ll see.

    • Benjamen Dorrell

      This is what I’m concerned with, the “stability of low-latency”. What does that mean? Can you point me to tests/data? I run sound system and I’ve recently been experimenting with using my Fireface800 and ableton as my DSP. It sounds MUCH better than the BSS analog gear I have. BUT, there is 12-20ms of latency. I remember when U/A advertised the thunderbolt option for the Apollo a few years back it was all about getting ~2ms latency. Am I dreaming?

  • Big Bad Dave

    Where does thunderbolt sit in the industry? I don’t know much about it, just googled a little and seems it hasn’t been widely adopted. Is this a technology that is going to survive/flourish? I’m not on a Mac, I run 64-bit Windows 8 on a desktop, I assume I’d need a PCIe card to interface with the 828x, is that correct?

    • jsd

      Apple is all-in on Thunderbolt. I don’t expect it to go away on Apple products for a long time. Windows – outlook not so good. I don’t expect it to really take off there. There will probably be add on cards if you really want Thunderbolt in your PC but I expect it will be as popular as Firewire is there (ie: not very).

    • Big Bad Dave

      Explains why is wasn’t on my radar. Might give it a wide berth then. Thanks for the info, appreciate it.

    • Chris Muir

      Intel is pushing Thunderbolt (and Apple, of course), but the uptake has been fairly slow in the Windows world. That said, there are a handful of motherboards that have Thunderbolt ports on them. I think that the pace of Thunderbolt peripheral will pick up this year, to some extent, driven by the Mac Pro’s dependence on Thunderbolt for expansion.

      The 828x can also be used over USB, FWIW.

  • Chris Muir

    It’s a shame that this has to be at the end of a chain. I wonder how much more it would have cost them to add a second port that would allow it to daisy chain.

  • Ryan D

    I know a lot of people who still haven’t accepted Thunderbolt as the superior technology for what ever reason. A lot of people still adhere to this Pro Tools/Firewire only dogma especially in the hip hop community.