While FireWire (IEEE 1394) has been one of the big computer buzz words over the last couple of years, the music business has been a bit slow to take advantage of this new standard. But all indicators say it has finally caught up. FireWire means lightning-fast data transfer, plug-and-play compatibility and hot-swappability, all without opening the computer and inserting a card.
Product PointsApplications: Studio, multimedia, post production
Key Features: FireWire computer digital audio interface, 72 simultaneous audio inputs (32 channels analog, 32 channels ADAT optical and 8 channels S/PDIF)
Contact: MOTU at 617-576-2760, Web Site
+ High-quality sound
+ Small and light
+ Zero latency monitoring on first two inputs
– No clock input
– Limited metering
The Score: The MOTU 820 is one of today’s best values, especially with the included AudioDesk software.
These days it is not uncommon to see DAWs that solely use FireWire drives for storing audio data. I have had 64 simultaneous audio tracks playing from a single FireWire hard drive without even a hint of a hiccup or glitch. Regarding audio interfaces, Mark of the Unicorn’s (MOTU) 828 and the newly released MOTU 896 are the clear leaders of the pack. With a bundle of four 828s and a FireWire-equipped computer, 72 simultaneous audio inputs are possible (32 channels analog, 32 channels ADAT optical and eight channels S/PDIF), more than enough to handle even the largest tracking sessions.
I first became interested in the 828 after mixing several songs that were recorded solely through the box. I was impressed with the project’s audio quality and after inquiring about the converters used to capture the performances of the musicians and vocalists, I was, to say the least, surprised to discover that the entire project was recorded to an iBook through a single MOTU 828.
The single rackspace MOTU 828 weighs only 3.75 pounds and is only 5 inches deep. The rear panel is equipped with a pair of 1/4-inch TRS jacks for main/monitor outs. Two Neutrik balanced XLR-1/4-inch TRS combo jacks provide the first two inputs (for either mic or line level signals). Inputs 3 to 8 are via six +4 dBu TRS 1/4-inch jacks. Each channel provides up to 40 dB of gain. Eight +4 dBu TRS 1/4-inch jacks provide Channel 1 to 8 output. A 1/4-inch jack provides punch in/out capabilities. Two RCA connectors provide S/PDIF digital I/O and a pair of light pipe connectors provides ADAT (eight-channel) or S/PDIF I/O. A multipin connector provides ADAT sync allowing sample-accurate transfers with Alesis ADATs or any box that supports ADAT sync. An IEC connector provides power to the box’s internal power supply. An IEC power cord and a 12-foot FireWire cable are included with the 828.
The 828’s 24-bit converters claim a 105 dB dynamic range and operate at either 44.1 or 48 kHz. All of the box’s connectors are gold-plated, ensuring the highest quality audio signal path possible.
The front panel is equipped with a 1/4-inch TRS headphone output jack. Separate knobs control main volume and monitor level. The first two inputs have a common phantom power switch and independent level controls. The other six inputs are controlled in pairs (input 3 and 4 have a single level control, etc.). The metering is limited yet functional. The eight analog inputs and eight analog outputs each have a single LED that lights to indicate that signal is present. Two LEDs show if there is signal present at S/PDIF input and output. Optical input and output each have a single LED (that’s right, only one LED for all 8 inputs and one LED for all 8 outputs) that lights if there is signal present.
Included with the 828 is MOTU’s AudioDesk software for the Mac. AudioDesk is basically the audio segment of Digital Performer 2.4. This program gives the user the ability to have a reasonable DAW without any additional financial investment. The program includes MOTU’s PureDSP time-stretching and pitch-shifting technology as well as loads of great sounding 32-bit plug-ins.
One of the 828’s bragging rights is its zero-latency feature. This is attained by using the 828 Control Panel (Mac) or 828 Console (Windows) to assign inputs 1 and 2 directly to the main outputs. Inputs 1 and 2 are routed directly (within the 828) to the main/monitor outs and the headphone out. The monitor level control on the front panel allows the volume of the zero-latency inputs to be adjusted independently from the main mix.
Up to four 828s can be connected via a FireWire hub to a single FireWire-equipped computer, providing a total of 72 simultaneous inputs and outputs (32 analog, 32 ADAT optical and 8 S/PDIF).
I hooked up two 828s to my Mac and in no time was able to flawlessly record 16 simultaneous tracks through the analog inputs. Using the digital inputs was just as simple. I spit 16 tracks of ADAT lightpipe out of my ADAT card-equipped RADAR and perfectly transferred 16 tracks of audio information into my Mac. The box worked equally well with DP3, Nuendo and the included AudioDesk.
I had the opportunity to work with keyboard guru Carl Herrgesell a couple of weeks ago and was surprised to find that the MOTU 828 is Herrgesell’s box of choice for his virtual keyboard rig’s I/O. We were tracking the project to Pro Tools and I was able to use a lightpipe cable to record his keyboards directly to Pro Tools via the Digidesign ADAT Bridge. That’s right, a 100 percent digital signal path. Pretty nice. I did not want to clock off Carl’s rig since I have this fantastic sounding Lucid GEN x 96 clock, but unfortunately the 828 does not have a word clock input. To solve the problem, we had the ADAT Bridge (which was getting clock from the Lucid) provide clock to the keyboard rig through the S/PDIF digital I/O. It was a little tricky, but it worked like a charm.
I found the mic pres in the 828 to be both neutral and natural sounding. Their overall clarity was really nice. I had my best results recording vocals and acoustic guitars (using the Sony C-800G on vocals and the AKG C28-B on the acoustic). Hats off again to MOTU for building two mic pres into a $795 box that outperform any pre I have heard in the less than $400/channel category.
The MOTU 828 combines FireWire performance and convenience with 24-bit audio quality in a small, lightweight package that transforms any Mac or Windows PC (equipped with FireWire/IEEE 1394) into a mean, lean recording machine.
Apple 400 MHz PowerMac G4 with 1.3 GB RAM; MOTU DP3, MOTU AudioDesk, Steinberg Nuendo v1.5; Lucid GEN x 96 Clock; TASCAM DA-88 recorder; iZ RADAR 24 hard disk recorder; Mogami cabling; Hafler amplification; PMC TB1 and Yamaha NS-10M monitors; Universal Audio 2-610 mic pre/EQ, Daking mic pre/EQ, John Hardy M-1 mic pre; Sony C-800G, AKG C 28B mics.