When it comes to having an audio interface for your home system, having a “bargain” system is always an expression of “False Economy.” But many times the expensive models over charge and under deliver. For we media creators we don’t need a lot out from an audio interface – just a few things really – and we need it to be affordable. In this article we’ll review the MOTU 1248 Audio Interface as a solution for both media creatives’ needs in post AND production. What?! I know. Crazy. Read on.
As I talked about the Mark of the Unicorn Ultralite MK-3 Hybrid interface review, there’s only a few things which a media
creative needs to have a well-functioning audio interface:
- 8 1/4″ TRS Ins and outs. – thus able to support up to 7.1 surround.
- 2 Combo 1/4″/XLR jacks with reasonably passive preamps and a steady clock.
- The ability to control all of those 8 outputs from a single volume knob on the front panel.
- The ability to do latency-free routing for VO/ADR/Recording
- 192 kHz recording (not just 96k).
- Strong drivers for mac & PC which works flawlessly with Logic, Pro Tools, Audition, Nuendo, Cuebase and just about every DAW for either system…and constantly updated drivers.
- MIDI IN & OUT which is especially critical for doing keyboard-generated foley/sfx (coming soon in the Cinema Sound Store).
- Headphone output which doesn’t kill off any other outputs.
- Small, portable size which doesn’t require rack mounting.
For a production recorder, the media creative really needs the following:
- The ability to record at 96kHz or higher
- The ability to label and catalog takes
- The ability to be portable
- 8 or more XLR Mic Preamps with phantom power available on each.
- The ability to receive and chase timecode
- The ability to slate takes with an onboard mic.
Let’s take a look at the post production capabilities of the 1248.
Post Production Uses
The 1248 has 12 out & 8 in 1/4″ TRS connectors, S/PDIF I/O and 16 channels I/O of ADAT Lightpipe. This gives a STRONG workability in most studios including the ability to mix in 7.1 with ease. It has 4 XLR inputs complete with phantom power in case you need to do ADR/VO etc., and it can record at a whopping 192 kHz. It also has latency free routing for those sessions via its proprietary mixing software. It has the MOTU- renown strong drivers for Mac & PC, as well as DUAL headphones so one can easily route a headphone output to the talent while you keep your own should you need to record in the same room. Although it lacks MIDI capability, it does have strong MTC capability which we’ll explore in later in this review. Of course, it’s 19″ rack mountable, so you can drop it into a small rack case or your personal rack, and you’re good to go. It’s unlikely, with the exception of MIDI capability, that you’d need more for a creative media studio. If you’re on a PC, your built in MIDI capability is more than fine. There’s no quality degradation for using a Cheap/Built-in MIDI interface.
Now let’s take a look at the somewhat obtuse, but very viable consideration for the MOTU 1248 as a recording option during production.
While it’s true that 1248 itself doesn’t do recording, when you couple it with Adobe Audition or any other DAW, it does.
Moreover, it’ll record at 192 kHz, with killer sounding Analog to Digital Converters, quiet and passive mic preamps, and given the ability to interface with a DAW, you have unlimited ability to label and catalog takes. In fact, given the structure of most DAWs, you have far greater capabilities there. As to being portable, dropped into a portable 19″ rack case, it’s as portable as any large format recorder, and although it doesn’t have 8 XLRs, your lavalier/wireless channels plug in nicely to the 1/4″ TRS inputs (of which there are 8) with a simple adapter. The only bummer about this process is that you would not have the ability to slate directly “into” the recorder as you can on a Zoom, Sound Devices or Roland, and you’d need to hook yourself up with your own lavalier/TX/RX situation and channel to slate the takes.
Some of you are already wondering about the real consideration: timecode. How can an audio interface/DAW combo chase/generate timecode. Great question. Well, first, the 1248 has word clock I/O which means that if you have a timecode generator you’ll get MUCH, MUCH, MUCH better recordings (from any recorder) if you connect word clock to the generator. Then, most MOTU devices have the ability to read analog SMPTE LTC timecode from a generator/camera and lock to it. You can just run that signal to any of the 1248’s inputs, tell the 1248 which input it is and BAM! You’ve got MTC (MIDI Time Code) going to your DAW and the audio is locked to it in the timeline. Dope.
I also can’t stress enough how important it is to have a box which can parse and handle the incredibly complicated math required in syncing audio to timecode. MOTU boxes have proprietary digital clock software which seamlessly and miraculously handles this historically drifting and glitching process without fail. Because of it’s excellent drivers it does this much better than most recorders well over $1,500 in price. Even without syncing to SMPTE, the 1248’s clock is very nearly jitter free because of its ability to record at 192 kHz. Why? Because if it can record well at 192, recording at 48 is dope simple for it, and it’s hardware is über robust for such “trivial clock speeds.”
So how would it all work? Simple. You run your mics into the 1248, then patch the 1248 via ethernet, USB or thunderbolt to your computer. Then operate the recording process from your favorite DAW.
You can also slave multiple 1248s (or any MOTU device) together for a nearly unlimited amount of channel I/O. So dope.
The Bonus Coolness
What’s SUPER dope about the 1248 – and most of the new MOTU offerings – is “browser based mixing.” What does this mean?
It means that with a simple wi-fi or ethernet connection, you can control the 1248 and all of its mixing capabilities from your iPad, iPhone, laptop or anything which can run a basic browser. This means you can control levels, EQ, routing and anything you need to do from as far away as your wi-fi will allow. And with MMC (MIDI Machine Code) built in, you can start and stop your DAW the same. Imagine being able to be near talent – instead of a prisoner of your gear – when you press record? “Mark, how would I slate?” Well, you have to have a lav on yourself to slate with the 1248 anyway…and it wouldn’t matter where you were with such a setup: it’ll all get to the 1248 and then to you DAW and recorded. The ability to watch levels, adjust mic pres and more…all from your iPad…would definitely get you noticed on most sets…and noticed means more work. Starting to get the picture of how flexible this can be for your workflow? To say nothing of having a super easy-to-reach volume knob for your surround system at home.
The Final Result
I’ve been using MOTU products since the beginning – back when what they had on the market was a MIDI recording program called “Performer” (now called “Digital Performer” and is now a venerable DAW). MOTU products are solid. And while it may not fit your bill to use a 1248 as an on-set recorder, that it can do it is something which gives you a lot more flexibility should you need it. At $1,499 it’s more than some of its smaller brothers, but if you’ve already got an analog mixer on your desk which you have multiple devices going to – and you want to be able to record from them, having 8X8 1/4″ I/O will change your religion. Especially when you can record at 192 kHz. As a result, the MOTU 1248 receives a 118 CS rating. It’s fidelity is fantastic. The form of the box is super robust, but dealing with knobs to get through menus is a bit of a drag. Fortunately, they make up for it with the browser based UI. For a musician, the value of the 1248 is far higher than the value for a media creative, simply because many of the features of the 1248 are lost on us. There are other boxes (even with MOTU) which are a better value but nothing which brings the kind of connectivity, fidelity and capability as the 1248.
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