Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Tales of Unicorns

I used to use a MOTU 828 mk.2 audio interface. It was a wonderful tool, ran flawlessly on several different machines and was built like a tank. The only negatives were down to that tankishness; it's rather huge and weighs a ton, and is full of features that I'd probably never use.

In time they added the only slightly misnamed UltraLite, which is still built like a tank and only weighs about half a ton and can go into luggage without taking up all of the sock space. It dropped some features but left all the ones I actually wanted. That's the one I really wanted... but not enough to part with the 828.

When I arrived at the Ricochet Gathering at Yellowstone and was eventually reunited with my luggage (a story in itself) the 828 died on arrival. It flashed its lights once, sighed, and shuffled off to whatever afterlife is reserved for such devices (actually I know exactly where that is - gathering dust in my studio...). I don't know what happened for certain but I'm sure it was something to do with being examined by customs. It had been set to 230v which might make a difference; perhaps when it didn't turn on with US voltage they tried using a hammer instead.

Thankfully one of the attendees was able to loan me a very nice box so I was able to play something. But on returning home I had to do something about it, and decided it gave me an excuse to get that UltraLite. Of course I intended to get the 828 looked at. Exactly two years down the line, I still do...

The UltraLite seemed great, with just one exception. Every now and then it freaks out completely, firing random noise at full volume on all of its outputs. I suspected a software problem (it only happened when running Live, but then that's pretty much all I run these days). Well, long story short, almost everything possible has been swapped around, and the problem still happens. It is sporadic, and not especially frequent, but I can't really risk putting it though a PA; I've been lucky so far but I think it probably is how the cones on my monitors got shredded at the sessions where we recorded Doom Bar.

The clincher is that I've now found more references on the web to this fault, and MOTU don't seem to want to fix it, or even acknowledge it as a real problem. Now I can't really get too mad when I'm being my useless self - I haven't reported the problem to them, so I've certainly not personally got an answer that I'm not happy with. But Hampshire Jam is looming and I need something I can use without risking spoiling the entire event. I need to limit it to just spoiling out set, as usual! So I've stumped up for yet another box, this time an Echo Audiofire. Touch wood that this works out - I already have an Indigo IO PC card interface which works fine (but doesn't have enough inputs and outputs for the Big Rig events).

So this is not exactly a rant, but an expression of disappointment and a bit of caveat emptor. There was a time when I'd have recommended the MOTU gear like a shot; now I'd say you need to take care, do some research, and be ready to send it back if you need to. Which is sad. Still great hardware though.

And with luck I'll get the 828 fixed, the UltraLite problem will be resolved, and I'll have more audio interfaces than I know what to do with.