For the past 4-5 years I have been using a Focusrite 18i20 1st Gen on Windows 7.
It has served me well, however I feel the drivers have let it down. Especially the latest 4.xx drivers. This isn’t a review of the 18i20, but I felt that it was time for an upgrade.
What you need and what you want can differ greatly. It all depends on your set up requirements and what equipment you work with.
What do I do? I dabble with Hardware Synths and Outboard Audio gear. I have some equipment which has up to 8 audio line outs which I’d like to be able to work with.
I also have a microphone plugged in all the time for Skype and Discord. So to break it down my requirements were
- Microphone PreAmp
- Guitar Input
- 8 Line Ins.
- USB (or even Firewire)
- Only a few outputs.
- Rock solid drivers
- Mutliple WDM outputs
I have more complex routing requirements than most typical users in that I like to be able to stream music and instruments from the Line In’s back to the computer via WDM. This is especially useful for streaming (Twitch.tv/Youtube/Skype) to the world.
My Focusrite 18i20 would only expose Ch1-2 back via WDM, which means I would have had to utilise a stereo loopback cable from one of the outputs and lose two inputs… too cumbersome for me.
I had a look at the MOTU line up and people always said their drivers were good. Not as good as RME’s but generally good enough.
- RME 800 / 802
- MOTU 8Pre ES
- MOTU 8M
- MOTU Ultralite Mk4
RME’s looked really good, especially the 802, in fact I don’t think you can do better than the 802. If you have the money get that one, it really does it all.
The MOTU 8Pre ES and 8M were also good candidates, which had plenty of I/O, but the price was also out of my budget. Fortunately I found the Ultralite mk4 which seemed to really tick all the boxes.
The new interfaces have powerful DSP mixers, and the MOTU mixer really allows for endless routing possibilities.
Having used the Mk4 for a few weeks here’s what I like and thought could be improved.
You are totally spoiled for choice here. There’s really nothing this can’t route. The routing is so flexible.
You can get 48 audio channels into and out of the computer. You can also expose these as 24 stereo pairs. (You need to use a driver registry key from support to activate it)
Yes, 24 stereo WDM pairs… Even too much for me, I had to disable some!
Some people argue that they don’t need this as it’s all done by their DAW. Yes that is very true, however for streaming applications (Twitch/Youtube etc) having a compressor, EQ, limiters and even a bit of reverb makes things a lot easier.
Even if you live entirely in your DAW, it helps to be able to EQ your monitors to make them more transparent (if they aren’t by default).
This device can change sample rate seamlessly, there just a very subtle click/pop and it’s done. It’s a refreshing change from the louder click and pops on my 18i20.
The small box packs a lot of functionality into a 1/2 rack space. I don’t move a lot nor do I need the mobility, but it is nice that it takes up less space on the desk.
Yes, with the Cons below I had to contact the Support Team. It is an amazing experience. They are fully qualified and really know their stuff! The entire registration and ticket submission is fantastic.
While this unit is near perfect, I do have some points to mark it down.
Long boot time
While the Focusrite 18i20 would turn on an enumerate instantly, the MOTU Ultralite Mk4 takes around 20-30 seconds to boot. Normally I turn it on when I switch on my PC, which boots up in around the same time. It’s usually fine, unless I… (see next)
It’s not an IEC 240V plug, but a wall wart, so yes it can be kicked out. This is a little more of a problem for me as I am using a really cheap travel adaptor which gets kicked out easily.
Not only that but the 15V DC jack has a larger centre pin than most so you’ll find that most 12VDC power adaptors will not work, despite the unit being able to accept 12VDC.
Non dedicated Headphone / Monitor controls
Like with other MOTU equipment you press the encoder to swap between Phones and Monitor. Not too much of an issue, as I don’t use headphones, but the volume knob controls the headphones by default so I have to always press it first to adjust the monitor level.
Out of Box lacks 24 pairs of WDM
I had to contact the support team to enquire why only 1-2 stereo and a 1-24 channel WDM output was exposed after plugging it in. After submitting a support ticket their support team replied within 12 hours to provide a fix (which split it up into 24 stereo pairs)
The fix / hack is below.
XLR Mic Gain
You only get a trim range of 60dB via the XLR input. I have TS mics which when plugged into the unit show up as an Instrument (30dB trim range), thus some of these mics come out a little quiet. It would have been nice to have the full 60dB gain on both the CombiXLR inputs.
It’s a great idea, being able to control it via iPad and Android and all. But it would have also been good to have a desktop application. Why?
The webapp can be a little slow to load at times. In fact it sometimes fails to load at all.
Hopefully MOTU have an answer to this.
The Ultralite Mk4’s computer connectivity is better than the 18i20. No doubt about that. However the 8 mic pres on the 18i20 outnumber the 2 on the MOTU, despite that you’ll find the MOTU UltraLite Mk4 adequate for most ‘bedroom’ audio producers and Twitch streamers.
I think the 2 will go together well, I’ve yet to connect the 2 via ADAT, but I will definitely do that once I need to hook up more than 2 mic pres and 8 Analogue inputs.