A lot of audio interfaces have come and gone here. My favorite remains my trusted MOTU 828. Why? It has rock-solid drivers that have never caused trouble on Mac or PC, and it sounds terrific. Unfortunately, it’s also rather big and heavy as a full rack-space unit. That’s why I’m excited to see MOTU is shipping its bus-powered FireWire-based UltraLite, which has more features than my old 828 in a fraction of the space. 2 mic/instrument inputs with mic pres, plus 6 line ins for 8 inputs; 10 analog outputs, S/PDIF ins and outs for digital, and a dedicated headphone jack.

MOTU packs features into their interfaces that you don’t get from anyone else at this price point. That may sound like marketing spin, but I mean that — I’ve spent more hours than anyone should looking at spec sheets for audio interfaces, and I can’t think of a single piece of gear under $600 that has:

  • Digital trims for setting level, 3-way pad switch for mic pres
  • Sample-accurate MIDI I/O
  • SMPTE sync for video production (extremely rare on audio interfaces, unfortunately)
  • Integrated standalone 8-bus mixer (i.e., you can mix with this without your computer)
  • Backlit signal meters
  • Dedicated headphone jack, which is essential for monitoring Ableton Live mixes, click tracks, or anything else that requires a separate headphone feed.
  • Talk-back, listen-back monitoring
  • Daisy-chaining (via FireWire) so you can combine it with your existing MOTU hardware. (Yes, MOTU, my 828 is ready for its sibling now.)

  • And I don’t want to mention any names, but I’ve had trouble with some other portable audio interfaces: funky drivers, sub-par MIDI performance, lame mic pres. I’ve got high expectations for the MOTU gear; I can’t wait to give this one a spin.

    Compatibility: Mac Core Audio (including Intel) and PC (ASIO and WDM).
    Street price: Around $550.

    Now, if only my PC could hack bus power over FireWire like my Macs.