FireWire may be getting rare these days, but new hardware proves that doesn’t mean serious external audio interfaces are in any danger. In the latest iteration of its tried-and-true 828 line, MOTU combines both Firewire and USB 2.0 for Mac or PC, and a wide range of features. The MOTU 828mk3 “Hybrid” in a nutshell:

  • 28 inputs, 30 outputs. Combo jacks for 1/4″ guitar in, XLR mic. Phantom power, of course.
  • Balanced/unbalanced 1/4″ analog ins and outs running at 24-bit/192kHz. Separate main XLR outs with dedicated volume controls on the front panel. (Quick, turn that down!) Two headphone jacks with independent volume controls.
  • No channel sharing (the sort that tends to exaggerate those in/out counts) – you get dedicated mic inputs, ADAT optical, S/PDIF digital I/O, headphone output, and mains, all as separate channels. Just to reiterate…
  • Dedicated headphone out.
  • Hardware sends.
  • Onboard mixing: a 28-input, 16-bus digital mixer.
  • Onboard effects: extensive reverb, compression (both standard and one that models a vintage compressor), modeled EQ, and Mac/Windows software for editing.
  • Instrument tuner.
  • Audio analysis tools.
  • CueMix gives you multiple monitor mixes, send/return loops with gear, all with zero-latency.
  • Surround mixes if you want them, user-defined or quad, 6.1, 7.1.
  • Toaster oven, cappuccino machine modeling the legendary Italian bistro model, controllable through cross-platform BreakfastFX(TM) editing software. Kidding.

In all seriousness, the fact that you can do this much with USB 2.0 raises some question in my mind about how much we really need USB3 for audio. But I’ll be interested to see what happens as that spec and available hardware develops.

What you may miss amongst all the specs is an important feature of the 828mk3 – this interface can run both as an audio interface and as a very versatile standalone mixer, complete with those effects and routing options. That makes it an easy investment to justify. As a rack module, it’s still a bit short on convenient front-panel controls – digging into those settings is still easier with software – but then again, that also means it remains compact.

You also get extensive driver support, with native 32-bit and 64-bit drivers for Mac and Windows, superb MIDI support (sample-accurate connections), low-jitter performance thanks to a DSP-driven clock, and extensive time code support – the features that have made MOTU one of the best-loved, grown-up audio interfaces.

All photos courtesy MOTU. Click for larger version and a look at all those ports…

(Side note — really, my only complaint is the lack of Linux support for MOTU boxes, though there’s some hope that could change. Developers complained, MOTU a user voluntarily loaned a unit, and there’s been some progress. If you know anything about how to write drivers, ahem… I’m sure just saying that, some folks in Cambridge, MA are rolling their eyes, but hey, it is another tool some of us use to do our job.)

The 828mk3 Hybrid isn’t big news – it’s the latest evolution of a long line of audio interfaces – but that’s why it’s big news. It consistently winds up on a short list of the most versatile, balanced interfaces out there, and from hardware to software, it’s extremely mature gear.

MOTU says pricing will be the same as on the previous 828mk3, which should cause it to land around US$750 street.

828mk3 Product Page [MOTU]

  • What I'm really hoping is that the 'hybrid' upgrade pushes the prices of the older 828s down. I've been lusting after one of the older FireWire models for ages now.

  • I have an original 828 from around 1996 that is still in use. 

  • Let's hope the Audio Interface industry adopts USB3.0 quicker than they adopted ExpressCard.

  • Eric

    Am I the only one that gets excited (and wonders how they pulled it off) when an interface like this is bus-powered over firewire?
    Also, props to MOTU for their great drivers.
    I owned a Firepod for years (which was driverless on the mac) and could never understand why people made a fuss about solid drivers.  Now that I have a different Presonus interface that requires drivers (and has never worked as smoothly as that Firepod did), I get it.
    My next interface may very well be a MOTU. 

  • If we listen to RME, we're not going to need the bandwith of USB3 for a long time in audio usage. 
    It would seem that our audio world is not as high bandwith usage it would seem. And with great drivers, we already got minimum latency from the high end hardware maker. 

  • Peter Kirn

    Well, there are two very good reasons the industry is slow to adopt these formats:
    1. The audio market is, let's admit, a niche. Without enough established hardware, the market's simply too small.

    2. Doing real-time hardware is a heck of a lot more demanding than some of the other gear you see. Indeed, a lot of the early adopters with anything new like USB3 are doing pretty simple stuff; anything more complex tends to take more time.

    Given that USB2 does what we need, I don't expect USB3 to happen very fast, but I'd be interested to hear what the audio I/O folks are thinking.

  • Thanks Sebastian and Peter. It sounds like a good interface is a $$ issue, not a technology limitation.

  • Are the ADCs and DACs better than they were on MOTU products a few years back?

  • Peter Kirn

    @Mark: yes, I believe MOTU has updated those components. Honestly, most manufacturers have improved component quality on ADCs and DACs, especially if we're talking since the 1990s when the 828 was introduced. You get more bang for your buck now across the board; it's one of the good things that's happened in the industry.

  • Honestly, I haven't owned a USB 2 interface since I used a couple maybe 3 years back and the audio was horrible. There would be near constant popping and clicking, even at really high latency. I was always just of the mindset that because USB wasn't a set-throughput standard like Firewire is, that it would always be terrible for audio streaming. Have things improved quite a lot since then I take it?

  • just about the right about of IO – wish my ultralight had ADAT for easy io expansion

  • dtr

    Have been using an 828mk2 firewire for years (on Mac). Rock-solid. The stand-alone operation is a must for me. If I have to get a new interface it will be a MOTU. Probably an Ultralight so it fits in my backpack.

  • mckenic

    I imagine VOLTA is supported?

  • vanceg

    I sure wish they would include comprehensive control of their internal mix engine via OSC (or even MIDI). I'd really like to duplicate what I had going on an older RME where we could use their internal mixer as a surround panner under the control of MAX (albeit MIDI at that point…not OSC). Point is: External control of that internal mixer would make this device shine even more than it does now.

  • vanceg, I agree. I have the 828mk3 (the FW only version), and being able to plug a PC1600x into it for mixing would be very nice.

  • poopoo

    Wouldn't it be fantastic if someone like AES developed a solid, open standard for class compliant audio drivers for USB, USB2, firewire and PCI and it was adapted by manufacturers and OS providers? All the different audio interfaces do exactly the same thing…ie periodically transfer blocks of data between the operating system and the ADC/DAC. Ideally only one audio driver would need to be written for each connection type and each operating system. It would save all parties involved a lot of grief and frustration…and money.

  • @poopoo Agreed that it'd be a wonderful solution.

    But since we've waited 30 years for a new standard to replace MIDI, I wouldn't hold my breath on anything that requires consensus in the music hardware/software industry.

  • Seamus, the USB specification has *always* allowed for dedicated bandwidth to be reserved by a device. Clicking & popping with USB audio could have been anything (bus contention with the gpu drivers, crummy drivers for the usb audio card, irq conflicts etc).

    In any Core2 era PC on up if you stick with the Intel provided USB ports (or amd in the case of Amd mobos) and avoid the 3rd party controller chipsets (that are sometimes used to give more USB ports) then USB itself should be a non-issue for audio. Ie, the integration of USB into the southbridge is solid & robust, and the overall support in modern OSes and multicore cpu's actually gives exceptional performance with RME's interfaces (Fireface UC, Babyface and the new UFX.) I still personally prefer PCIe over firewire or usb for a studio install–especially for high i/o counts–but the biggest issue for a usb/firewire card on the stage now is just keeping it from coming unplugged imo.

  • Apart from all the reservation against USB interfaces in general: How many channels can this interface record and play back? The full set of 28/30 in full duplex? USB 2.0 specs say 60MByte/s, and 58 channels are on the edge of 60MByte/s.
    This remark is purely hypothetical; which harddisk would be able to record so many files anyway.

  • Too bad MOTU sucks so much on Windows, because they are unbeatable, feature wise. 

    BTW, in the link to FFADO you provided, it never says that MOTU loaned a unit; a helpful user did.

  • 1nput0utput

    In the past few years, MOTU's Windows driver support has improved substantially, and I have it on good authority that the driver version that is shipping with the 828mk3 Hybrid is stable, well-tested, and even adds some functionality that wasn't there before.

  • I agree with everybody here about the quality of Motu interfaces – I've had an original 828 and then a Traveler Mk1, and they never ever let me down.

  • james

    some strange remarks here.

    no. you cannot do surround mixes. the mixer is fixed with 8 stereo buses.

    no. it's not bus powered. you need to plug it into the mains.

    yes. you can control the mixer via MIDI.