You’d be forgiven for missing it in the blur of press releases and trade show hand-outs – and, let’s face it, most musicians are too focused on music to pay much mind. But slowly, steadily, audio interfaces have been getting a lot better. Talk to the people who make them, and they can tell you what’s happened even in terms of individual components.

Next, they’re about to get smarter and more networked.

And so that means it is worth paying attention today as industry heavyweight MOTU unveils a trio of new audio interfaces, compatible with Thunderbolt 1 and 2 and USB2. MOTU says all three are built on an all-new platform. What you get is three different I/O configurations, but all sharing the same headline features. In short, that includes:

  • Thunderbolt connectivity plus USB 2.0
  • 48-channel mixing and DSP built-in
  • High-dynamic range analog/digital conversion (and d/a)
  • Networking via the new AVB Ethernet standard for expansion with extremely-low latency
  • Web-based control of the mixer, via any connection (wired or wireless)

Yes, you read that right – Web browser mixer control. So that mixer can be on iOS, on Android, on a computer, anything. (And with class-compliant USB, in fact, this whole box can work without ever seeing a driver or particular OS.)

A/D and D/A are the bit that impact the sound, but that networking is some interesting new sauce. AVB boasts both the ability to wire institutions with multiple audio interfaces in different rooms with next-to-null latency. Then, Web app support means you can let your guitarist tweak her headphone mix with her iPad. More on that in a bit.

Interfacing Features

The models: 1248, 8M, 16A. The 1248 is probably what readers here are most interested in: 8×2 balanced TRS analog I/O, four mic ins, two front-panel hi-Z inputs for guitars, two independent headphone outs, S/PDIF digital I/O. The 8M is if you want more inputs (eight analog outs, eight combo mic-line-instrument ins), whereas the 16A is all analog (16 ins, 16 outs, TRS).

As is the tradition with MOTU and a handful of rival vendors, these aren’t just “studio” interfaces, spec’ed only for sound engineers. They’re also configured in ways musicians might use in their own work. And, of course, they’re MOTU boxes, so you still get get not only all these mixing features, but standard functionality like word clock I/O (key for video production and the like).

Also interesting: that’s class-compliant USB, so you could theoretically connect these to an iPad if you wanted.

1248 I/O.

1248 I/O.

8M, for gentlemen and ladies who prefer those extra mic pres.

8M, for gentlemen and ladies who prefer those extra mic pres.

16A. A is for ... analog.

16A. A is for … analog.

The analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog conversion is handled by ESS Sabre32 Ultras, which MOTU says mean that, on those TRS analog outs, you get some serious dynamic range – “a measured dynamic range of 123 dB (A-weighted, 20 Hz to 20 kHz).” And analog I/O latency has a round-trip of 32 samples (0.66 ms) at 48 kHz. (Note that doesn’t figure in the computer side of the equation, of course.)

And, they’re mixers, with internal DSPs, so you can add modeled analog EQs, compression, and gating in the box without adding latency on the computer.

So, that much is familiar. Here’s where things get interesting.

Networked Audio

What’s new is the Ethernet port with support for IEEE’s “802.1 Audio Video Bridging (AVB) extension to the Ethernet standard.”

Say what?

AVB is about the ability to combine interfaces via standard Ethernet cabling. You can even get a MOTU switch and connect three to five (or two using the onboard port).

Why is that interesting, apart from MOTU selling you more hardware? Well, you can not only daisy-chain interfaces, but do so over long runs – up to 100m between devices. And you can do that even over Ethernet cabling you already have. Once you do, you get up to 128 channels of networked audio with latency of 30 samples – just above half a millisecond – and then you can clock them.

Nerds, there’s open source AVB code from Intel:

plus reference implementations by xcore

Browser Mixer UI

You can also use the MOTU interfaces’ network savvy to control the mixer over the Web. The audio interface itself incorporates its own Web server, accessed via a connected machine on Thunderbolt or USB, or over that Ethernet port, or (with the Ethernet port jacked into a WiFi router), wirelessly.

Pricing isn’t astronomical, either. Each unit is US$1495.

More at MOTU:
Introducing the 1248, 8M and 16A

  • azo

    Thunderbolt Ultralite plz

  • itchy

    pretty sweet

  • Colin McNutt

    Why AVB and not Dante? Im under the impression that AVB will only be able to chain multiple units together with a specialized switch, whereas Dante could come out of the interface and directly into the computer’s ethernet port (if the virtual soundcard is installed on the computer).

    • AlexY

      Also with the advent of Dante Via you won’t even need the ethernet port connection on the interface! https://www.audinate.com/products/software/dante-via

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      That’s interesting. I’m definitely checking out Dante, as well… I don’t know about performance, though; that may well have been a factor. And AVB is an IEEE standard – and supported by Intel, and there are a lot of implementations and open code. I’ll investigate.

    • http://www.federicopepe.com Federico

      I’ve been testing and using Dante for a couple of years now recording up to 32 audio channel during live gigs (our Dante card actually supports 64×64 bidirectional audio channel at 48kHz, but our mixer has only 32 AD converters). I love this system: easy to setup and configure and it’s rock solid.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Very interesting indeed.

    • Tobi

      I just saw an interview of Richie Hawtin with the Dj Techtools & Ableton Guys where he goes through his Plastikman Setup.. There also comes Dante into the game for synchronising the lights and audio… Very interesting!

    • Ted P

      Dante is where it’s at! There’s many flavors of this – it’s going to be a hassle, I bet. Avid’s got their own thing going on with the Venue consoles (I think) that I could imagine also being a serious presence in the networked-studio market.

    • Colin McNutt

      It would seem like if there were more interfaces using Dante, it would be easy to set these things up as stage boxes, but also being able to take it back to the studio for decent quality recording. One would think if the device could be used settings, it would be the better buy than another. AVB just seems rather limiting in that regard.

    • http://www.federicopepe.com Federico

      The power of dante is setting up different interfaces as stage boxes and then connect them altogether via a CAT5 cable. Take a look at Focurite’s Rednet system.

  • misho

    Pretty cool, except its a Motu. Don’t trust their drivers or build quality.

    • misho

      Sorry, i meant to say “I” don’t trust their drivers or build quality.

    • aj

      I think Motu is very stable. After owning 828mk2 for years I would consider buying Motu again.

    • jamface

      i’ve owned 3 motu interfaces over the years, all have had problems, bad drives and eventually broke. my ultralite broke 2 days after the warrantee was up. have also had really bad experience with their tech support.

    • Poultry Sounds

      I’ve been a MOTU user for the last 14 years (I have 7 interfaces ranging from 2408, I/O 24, 8Pre, ultralite, …) and their biggest value has always been rock solid drivers dully updated for each new OS that cames out… Actually, MOTU is perhaps the only manufacturer that releases drivers for new OSs at the same time those OSs are released. I still can fully use my devices from 14 years ago! That’s a tremendous value for customers! Might not be the best converters but they are surely up to the job!

  • wigwatermagic

    @Misho you must be kidding, Motu’s drivers have a reputation of being rock solid. Are you using a mac or windows? I’ve never ever had an issue with their drivers.

    • Aaron

      only in MAC-dom. outside of that their drivers have a horrible reputation for bugs and lack of updates.

    • Charles

      Even on the Mac I’ve had enough problems (white noise blasts, failure to load, forgotten connections) with my 828mk3 that I will be looking elsewhere for my next interface.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Anyone with these concerns, I’m keenly interested — and yes, I’ve heard other complaints. It’s just tough to nail down driver issues.

      Definitely do copy any:
      – support discussions you’ve had
      – links to support threads in forums
      – specific symptoms

      The symptoms you describe can also be drivers, firmware, or even hardware issues. Of course, that doesn’t change the end result – and yes, once that is the end result, it’s hard to know the source. (Definitely not what you want!)

    • http://vrpr.org/ Henry

      Well, my 828 mk3 worked a charm right out of the box with my 13″ Retina MacBook via Thunderbolt – Mavericks included…

    • Gee Wiz

      I have the 828mk3 and have used it in the following situations:

      a) Mac Pro, OSX Mountain Lion and/or Mavericks, Logic 9 and/or X firewire – rock solid.

      b) Lenovo W520 Laptop, Windows 7 64bit, ProTools 11.2, USB – rock solid after doing some trouble shooting (non-MOTU related).

      I’ve been doing this a long time with lots of OS’s and hardware. In my experience, since Apple went to OSX, it’s been my preferred operating system for music production with very few headaches. I can buy or build a Windows machine but it has always required a bit of research to make sure I was getting the right motherboard and chipsets. In this case with the Lenovo + MOTU combination I had to run a DPC Latency checker and find out what other drivers/hardware attached to the system were causing performance issues. I narrowed it down to the Bluetooth radio and have had no issues since. Very fast machine and works great with the 828mk3.

    • d-flux

      Sorry, to say but I have had a MOTU 828Mk3 Hybrid for 3 years, running on a iMac Mid 2011 and have had nothing but trouble with the stability of the drivers across 2 OS versions. Exactly the same probs as Charles.
      Will prob buy RME or TC in the future.

  • Gadget

    Korg Gadget

  • Nolej

    I’m pretty sure that’s 8×2 balanced TRS, not 8×12.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Yes, actually, somehow copied that from a typo in the press release.

  • Aaron

    I guess the Thunderbolt and USB2 support spells out, if you don’t have a current mac or an old one.. don’t bother, our drivers will again suck a**.

  • Emmett Farley

    Man, anybody else wish that MOTU would just go ahead and make a live sound console? Or MAYBE EVEN BETTER, can we just network an ipad or some MIDI controllers and run CueMix? Host plugins on any generic laptop? Time to do some research on CueMix’s group and auxiliary routing abilities….

  • Charles

    No MIDI ports. Is that the direction interfaces are taking? There’s still lots of gear that doesn’t use USB, so unless there’s a ethernet-capable MIDI-port satellite box I’m not sure how these are supposed to integrate into an electronic studio… MIDI-only interfaces are a dying breed too.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      As far as I know, MOTU continues to make their full range of MIDI-only interfaces, actually. Some models by some brands have been discontinued, but I’d hardly call MIDI-only interfaces “dying” – there are various configurations where you can choose from multiple brands of essentially the same thing.

      And MOTU continues to make other audio interfaces with MIDI interfaces. The boxes that focused on audio I/O tended to … focus on audio I/O.

      Work clock is transmitted over the Ethernet connection, so MIDI could be slaved to that clock source.

      In other words – I’m not sure what the problem is here.

    • http://vrpr.org/ Henry

      Plus, which keyboard or other controller device with pads, knobs or faders does not have a MIDI interface built in these days? Even Maschine comes with dedicated MIDI plugs…

  • Flux302

    No mention of whether these are DC coupled. I hope so. I am now truly on the fence between these and an Apollo rack… Choices choices.

  • terrygrant

    Nice to see the Thunderbolt options finally growing in number, and if I weren’t already a Metric Halo ULN owner, i’d be all over one of these.

    Anyone else surprised at the lack of support for USB 3.0 in audio interfaces? More than enough throughput for the fastest SSD – which is way more than any DAW will ever need anyhow, backward compatibility, and (I assume) a better rate of adoption than Thunderbolt, as I’m seeing it on a lot of PCs.

    I was under the impression that the Thunderbolt options were slow to come because of a relatively small user base, and the high cost of licensing the tech, but I can’t figure out why there isn’t more demand for USB 3.0. It’s pretty great, and I say that as a card carrying Mac fanboy and lover of all things FW and Thunderbolt.

    • http://vrpr.org/ Henry

      Be careful with saying anything like “more than any DAW will ever need”… But apart from that I agree. FireWire and now Thunderbolt are great for stable, bandwidth preserving, serial connections of all kinds of devices. But, apparently, still mostly favourable in the OS X world of things.

    • Sean Hughes

      I think it’s because there is this myth that USB 3.0 won’t make your interface faster even though it will. It’s also because the industry is established with manufacturing of USB 2.0 and there is a lot of cost to upgrade technology across the industry, which is why there is only a few very expensive USB 3.0 devices.

  • chap

    i just want to warn people that, as (the only ?) owner of a 828x, running alongside a brand new macbook pro i7, i have random digital noises and hiccups with thunderbolt. Major disappointment here for now.

    • http://vrpr.org/ Henry

      So, what else would you want to recommend to people? You’re saying that your 828x is a “major disappointment”, which sounds quite serious to me. Any suggestions or recommendations for another device that would not have these issues? (Having said that, I can not report any problems whatsoever for my own 828x on a 2.6 GHz i5 13″ Retina MacBook with Mavericks at all…)

    • chap

      I’ve had it for 2 weeks. It’s still too early for me to recommend one thing or another. My RME UCX works perfectly via a FW/TB adaptor.
      I’ve good hopes to work it out and be sure i’ll come back here if i do.

  • Lowell

    1 Thunderbolt port only? This was already problematic in the Apollo Twin… This limits daisy chaining on Mac Minis and Airs – is this to put a cap on bandwidth per port? I can’t imagine this would use all 4 lanes available…