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Review: MOTU M2 and M4

Review: MOTU M2 and M4 - Good converters and preamps at a low price

Published 7:31 am on Sunday 6th September 2020 by Beat Magazine

MOTU has been on the market for many years with reliable, high-quality audio interfaces. With the latest models, Americans are venturing into lower price regions for the first time, which fits into the desktop studio budget. We have tested whether or not their high standard can be maintained.

High-Quality Build

Both devices are discreetly designed and, at first glance, hardly differ from each other. The solid housing is made of metal, with screwed-on rubber feet for non-slip protection. The potentiometers offer a pleasant feel, as do the easy-grip aluminium buttons. Two XLR/jack combination sockets with gain controls are located on the front. You can connect microphones, instruments or line signals to these jacks. 48V phantom power, as well as direct monitoring for latency-free monitoring, can be activated for each input. A large rotary control is responsible for the monitor volume and another pot controls the headphone output. A bright and easyto-read LC display with a resolution of 160 x 120 pixels serves as a virtual VU meter showing the volume of the input and output.

On the M4 these bars are a bit narrower, as eight tracks are displayed instead of four. The M4 also has an additional control to fade smoothly between input signal and playback during monitoring. In addition, direct monitoring can be switched between inputs 1/2 and 3/4.

2 or 4 Inputs and Outputs

On the back is the USB-C port for connection to the computer, which also supplies the interface with power. A MIDI interface is also built-in. The outputs are available as balanced 1/4“ jacks and unbalanced RCA sockets. They can be used simultaneously, if required, but always output the same signal and are not separately adjustable in volume. On the M4, the outputs are doubled and there are two additional 1/4” jack inputs for line-level signals.

Classy Converters

Inside, MOTU uses the technology from their own professional AVB series interfaces. The high-quality ESS Sabre32 Ultra-DAC technology allows conversion with a resolution of up to 24bit / 192 kHz. The other values are also quite impressive considering the low prices. The XLR inputs provide a gain of 60 dB and reach a dynamic range of 115 dB and a maximum level of +10 dBu. For the jack inputs, 114 dB, 57 dB and +16 dBu are specified, the line inputs of the M4 also achieve a dynamic range of 115 dB and a maximum level-in of +18 dBu; and the outputs 120 dB and 119 dB for the RCA output and a maximum level-out of -16 dBu. 

Practical Test

The build is good, the connectors and technology, too, but how do the small interfaces perform in practice? On Windows computers, the manufacturer‘s driver has to be installed. MacOS recognizes the interface in the same way, but MOTU‘s additional driver improves latency and activates the loopback function.

During the first track we notice that M2 and M4 provide decent volume on both the monitor outputs and the headphone output. This is handy in a desktop studio, which is usually not equipped with powerful amplifiers. The audio interface also impresses in terms of sound with a pleasantly organic, round and yet basically neutral sound. In direct comparison with a much more expensive audio interface, the trebles were a bit higher and the bass tighter and cleaner, but weren’t worlds apart. The MOTU interfaces are, therefore, without question in the upper leagues of cheaper audio interfaces. The latency is also impressive, especially on the Mac with the MOTU drivers. With a roundtrip latency of less than 5 milliseconds, you can almost do without direct monitoring.

The included software package includes MOTU Performer Lite, Ableton Live Lite and over 6 GB of loops and samples.

Verdict 

With M2 and M4 (checkout in the Thomann shop), MOTU offers USB audio interfaces in a budget price range for the first time. This does not detract from the quality. The build is high quality, the converters adopted from their more expensive models sound just as good as the preamps, and the connections are practical. The drivers ran stably and with low latency in the test; and the handling is uncomplicated. The result is two all-round successful interfaces at an affordable price (not only) for the desktop studio.


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