For owners of compatible gear, Overbridge 2.0 is a free update that adds powerful capabilities to devices that they may have purchased as long as 8 years ago.… Read More Elektron Overbridge 2.0 Now Available As Free Download
Arturia has announced that the new AudioFuse Studio 18-in/20-out audio interface is now available.… Read More Arturia AudioFuse Studio Audio Interface Now Available
The no-compromise and entry-level audio interface – it’s something that should be impossible, but MOTU might have just cracked it.
I have literally been trying to pack suitcases for a long trip, staring at audio interfaces because I can’t find the one that does what I need. I’ve been equally stumped sometimes asking inevitable questions from friends about what they should buy.
MOTU has always made great audio interfaces. But many of them require drivers, which means your Linux-running laptop with Bitwig Studio or your iPad with those great new Eventide apps are both out of luck. Or they don’t fit a small budget.
So the M2 / M4 genuinely surprised me. They have the specs of a high-end box from MOTU or others, but they start at US$169.95 and at last they also work with every OS, all squeezed into a portable package.
Here’s what you might not expect:
2.5 ms latency with their drivers
A high-res color screen and built-in metering (unheard of at this price)
RCA outs? MIDI I/O? Sure!
But that’s not why I say they’re really no-compromise (though the high-end converters surely go there). MOTU did their own custom USB drivers for ultra low-latency performance on Mac and Windows but they also made this class-compliant – so it doesn’t need drivers on Linux or iOS or Android.
And then the pricing is stupidly nice.
So finally, one little box does everything – and if you get into the iPad or Android or Raspberry Pi, you don’t have to go buy another interface.
Yes, these are USB-C but that will also connect to your existing USB A connection.
Promising stuff – I’ll be interested to pick one to review (or pick up one to hopefully keep).
Full specs from MOTU:
• 2-in / 2-out and 4-in / 4-out USB audio interfaces with studio-quality sound
• Best-in-class audio quality driven by ESS Sabre32 Ultra™ DAC Technology
• Best-in-class speed (ultra-low latency) for host software processing
• Best-in-class metering for all inputs/outputs with a full-color LCD
• 2x mic/line/hi-Z guitar inputs on combo XLR/TRS
• Individual preamp gain and 48V phantom power for each input
• 2x balanced 1/4-inch line inputs (M4 only)
• Hardware (direct) monitoring for each input
• Monitor mix knob to balance live inputs and computer playback (M4 only)
• Measured -129 dB EIN on mic inputs
• Balanced, DC-coupled 1/4-inch TRS outputs (2x for M2; 4x for M4)
• Measured 120 dB dynamic range on the 1/4-inch balanced TRS outputs
• RCA (unbalanced) analog outs that mirror 1/4-inch outs (2x for M2; 4x for M4)
• 1x headphone out (driven by ESS converters) with independent volume control
• MIDI in/out
• Support for 44.1 to 192 kHz sample rates
• USB audio class compliant for plug-and-play operation on Mac (no driver required)
• Windows driver with 2.5 ms Round Trip Latency (32 sample buffer at 96 kHz)
• Mac driver (optional, for 2.5 ms RTL@32/96 kHz and loopback feature)
• iOS compatible (USB audio class compliant)
• Driver loopback for capturing host output, live streaming and podcasting
• Bus powered USB-C (compatible with USB Type A) with power switch (USB cable included)
• Rugged metal construction
• Workstation software included (MOTU Performer Lite 10 and Ableton Live Lite 10)
• 100+ instruments (in Performer Lite)
• Over 6 GB of included free loops, samples and one-shots from industry leading libraries
• Kensington security slot
• Built in the USA
• Two-year warranty
Now shipping, $169.95 for the 2×2 M2, or if you want 4 ins and 4 outs, $219.95 for the M4.
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The Apollo x4 is what Universal Audio calls “the world’s most advanced desktop audio interface.”… Read More Universal Audio Intros “The World’s Most Advanced Desktop Audio Interface”
Elektron has released an update for the Analog Heat mkI and mkII – adding audio over USB and support for a variety of new workflows… Read More Free Update For Analog Heat Adds Audio Over USB & More
AudioFuse 8Pre, Arturia’s dual-mode 8-channel audio interface / expander, is now available worldwide. Announced at NAMM 2019, this audio interface fits 8 channels of premium analog audio into a “simple, intuitive” interface.… Read More Arturia AudioFuse 8 Pre Interface Now Available
The update lets you use the SSP as a multichannel USB audio/cv/trigger/gate interface, supporting up to 24 I/O channels (with 16 physical inputs and 8 physical outputs), at up to 192khz sample rate.… Read More SSP Eurorack Module Update Adds 24-Channel Audio I/O & More
Today Focusrite unveiled the third generation of their Scarlett range of USB audio interfaces.
The new Scarlett interfaces are available in six configurations of ins and outs, paired with high-performing Scarlett mic preamps, along with Air, high headroom instrument inputs, and high-performance converters.… Read More Focusrite Intros New Generation Scarlett USB Audio Interfaces
The answer to questions like “I just need a simple audio interface,” and “I want a compact keyboard that doesn’t suck,” and “oh, yeah, wait, does this connect to my Eurorack?” along with “did I mention I’ve got almost no money?” – just got some new answers.
Native Instruments launched the new audio interfaces and the latest addition to their keyboard line as part of some grand, abstract PR idea called “for the music in you,” and said a bunch of things about starting points and ecosystems.
To cut to the chase – these are inexpensive, very mobile devices with a ton of bundled software extras that make sense for anyone on a budget, beginner or otherwise. And whereas most inexpensive stuff looks really cheap, they look pretty nice. (That holds up in person – I got a hands-on in Berlin just before NAMM.)
KOMPLETE AUDIO 1, AUDIO 2
There are two audio interfaces – KOMPLETE AUDIO 1 and KOMPLETE AUDIO 2. These take one of the best features of NI’s past audio interfaces – they put a big volume knob right on top so you can quickly adjust your level, and they’ve got meters so you can see what that level is. But crucially, they promise better audio quality.
There are two models here, but let me break it down for you: you don’t want the AUDIO 1, you want the AUDIO 2. Why?
The AUDIO 1 was clearly made with the idea that singers just want one mic input (so there’s only a single XLR in), and for some reason also with RCA jacks on the back (because consumers, I suppose).
But if you spend just a little more on the AUDIO 2, you get a lot more usefulness.
First, two inputs – both XLR/jack combo, for mics and instruments, with mic preamps and phantom power so you can use any microphone. My guess is at some point everyone wants to record two inputs rather than one. (Think line inputs, stereo instruments, a mic and an instrument… you get the point.)
And you get jack outputs instead of RCA.
And while this won’t matter to everyone, the AUDIO 2 I’m told also has DC coupling, so you can use your computer and your Eurorack or other modular gear. That means you can pull off tricks like combining modular software and hardware, with tools like Ableton Live, Softube Modular, VCV Rack, Bitwig Studio, and oh yeah, Reaktor.
So, quietly, NI just created the most affordable way of connecting a computer and a modular.
If you are a beginner, you get a bunch of software to play around with. Ableton Live 10 Lite is actually a reasonable version of Live to try – only 8 tracks, but all of the core functionality of the software and many instruments and effects. There’s also MASCHINE Essentials, MONARK, REPLIKA, PHASIS, SOLID BUS COMP, and KOMPLETE START, which represents plenty of music making time.
The price is really the big point: US$109 / 99 EUR and $139 / 129 EUR. Coming in March.
A micro keyboard
But what if you don’t want some new-fangled touch insanity? What if you just want a piano keyboard?
And you want it to be inexpensive, and fit in a backpack so you can take it with you or fit it on cramped desks?
Good news: you’ve got loads of options.
Bad news: they’re all kind of horrible. They’re ugly, and they feel cheap. And they have extras you may not need (like drum pads, mapped to the same channel as the keyboard, begging the question why you wouldn’t just play the keys).
So I welcome the introduction of Native Instruments’ KOMPLETE KONTROL M32. This is one that I figured I needed myself the moment I saw it. (Normally, my reaction on keyboard product launches is more on the lines of – “God, please don’t make me write about another generic keyboard controller.”)
The feel is solid – a bit like some of the mini-key keyboards from Roland/Edirol a few years back. They don’t have the travel of full-sized keys, allowing this low profile, but seemed reasonably velocity sensitive.
Plus there are transport buttons and encoders, and two very usable touch strips. In software like Ableton Live and Apple Logic, these map to the usual transport features, and the encoders are assignable. In Native Instruments’ software, of course, you get the usual deep integration with parameters, browsing, and production.
The M32 will be a particularly strong companion to Maschine on the go, finally with a small footprint – something simply not possible with a 4×4 pad layout, much as I love it.
Speaking of Maschine – this is the full Maschine software. There’s a smaller sound bank, but even that is still 1.5GB. So when they say “Maschine Essentials,” they’re practically giving Maschine away. The other extras I mentioned above are slick, too – Reaktor Prism alone you could lose weeks or months in. Monark is a gorgeous Minimoog emulation with realistic filters and some sound design twists not on the original.
And it’s just US$129 (119 EUR). So it looks twice as expensive, but is actually cheaper than a lot of other options out there.
NI are trying to tell a lot of stories at once – something about Sounds.com, something about DJs, something about producers… and they’re following us all over social media and Google with constant ads.
But here’s the bottom line: this is only compact keyboard at any price that feels good or looks good, it’s still only just over a hundred bucks, and the “beginners” bundle is likely to please advanced users for months.
Coming in March.
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The iPad finally gets a dedicated port for connectivity, as you’d find on a “desktop” computer – and it’s loaded with potential uses, from power to music gear. Let’s break down exactly what it can do.
“USB-C” is a port type; it refers to the reversible, slim, oval-shaped connector on the newest gadgets. But it doesn’t actually describe what the port can do as far as capabilities. So initially, Apple’s reference to the “USB-C” port on the latest iPad Pro generation was pretty vague.
Since then, press have gotten their hands on hardware and Apple themselves have posted technical documentation. Specifically, they’ve got a story up explaining the port’s powers:
Now, keep in mind the most confusing thing about Apple and USB-C is the two different kinds of ports. There’s a Thunderbolt-3 port, as found on the high-end MacBooks Pro and the Mac mini. It’s got a bolt of lightning indicator on it, and is compatible with audio devices like those from Universal Audio, and high-performance video gadgetry. And then there’s the plain-vanilla USB-C port, which has the standard USB icon on it.
All Thunderbolt 3 ports also double as USB-C ports, just not the other way around. The Thunderbolt 3 one is the faster port.
Also important, USB-C is backwards compatible with older USB formats if you have the right cable.
So here’s what you can do with USB-C. The basic story: do more, with fewer specialized adapters and dongles.
You can charge your iPad. Standard USB-C power devices as well as Apple’s own adapter. Nicely enough, you might even charge faster with a third-party adapter – like one you could share with a laptop that uses USB-C power.
Connect your iPad to a computer. Just as with Lightning-to-USB, you can use USB cables to connect to a USB-C port or older standard USB-A port, for charge and sync.
Connect to displays, projectors, TVs. Here you’ve got a few options, but they all max out at far higher quality than before:
- USB-C to HDMI. (up to 4K resolution, 60 Hz, with HDMI 2.0 adapter.)
- USB-C Digital AV Multiport. Apple’s own adapter supports up to 4K resolution, 30Hz. (The iPad display itself is 1080p / 60Hz, video up to 4K, 30Hz.)
- USB-C displays. Up to 5K, with HR10 high dynamic range support. Some will even charge the iPad Pro in the process.
High end video makes the new iPad Pro look indispensable as a delivery device for many visual applications – including live visuals. It’s not hard to imagine people carrying these to demo high-end graphics with, or even writing custom software using the latest Apple APIs for 3D graphics and using the iPad Pro live.
Connect storage – a lot of it. Fast. USB-C is now becoming the standard for fast hard drives – USB 3.1/3.2. That theoretically allows for up to 2500 MB/s data access, and Apple says the iPad Pro will now work with 1 TB of storage. I’ve asked them for more clarification, but basically, yes, you can plug in big, fast storage and use it with your iPad, not limiting yourself to internal storage capacity. So that’s a revelation for pros, especially when using the iPad as an accessory to process video and photos and field recordings on the go.
Play audio. There’s no minijack audio output (grrr), but what you do get is audio playback to USB-C audio interfaces, docks, and specialized headphones. There’s also a USB-C to 3.m mm headphone jack adapter, but that’s pretty useless because it doesn’t include power passthrough – it’s a step backward from what you had before. Better to use a specialized USB-C adapter, which could also mean getting an analog audio output that’s higher quality than the one previous included internally on the iPad range.
And of course you can use AirPlay or Bluetooth, though it doesn’t appear Apple yet supports higher quality Bluetooth streaming, so wires seem to win for those of us who care about sound.
Oh, also interesting – Apple says they’ve added Dolby Digital Plus support over HDMI, but not Dolby Atmos. That hints a bit at consumer devices that do support Atmos – these are rare so far, but it’ll be interesting to watch, and to see whether Apple and Dolby work together or compete in this space.
Speaking of audio and music, though, here’s the other big one:
Work with USB devices. Apple specifically calls out audio and MIDI tools, presumably because musicians remain a big target Pro audience. What’s great here is, you no longer have the extra Lightning to USB “Camera” adapter required on older iPads, which was expensive and only worked with the iPad, and you should be free of some of the more restrictive electrical power capabilities of those past models.
You could also use a standard external keyboard to type on, or wired Ethernet – the latter great for wired use of applications like Liine’s Lemur.
The important thing here is there’s more bandwidth and more power. (Hardware that draws more power may still require external power – but that’s already true on a computer, too.)
The iPad Pro is at last closer to a computer, which makes it a much more serious tool for soft synths, controller tools, audio production, and more.
Charge other stuff. This is also cool – if you ever relied on a laptop as a mobile battery for phones and other accessories, now you can do that with the USB-C on the iPad Pro, too. So that means iPhones as well as other non-Apple phones. You can even plug one iPad into another iPad Pro.
Thunderbolt – no. Note that what you can’t do is connect Thunderbolt hardware. For that, you still want a laptop or desktop computer.
What about Made for iPhone? Apple’s somewhat infamous “MFI” program, which began as “Made for iPod,” is meant to certify certain hardware as compatible with their products. Presumably, that still exists – it would have to do so for the Lightning port products, but it seems likely certain iPad-specific products will still carry the certification.
That isn’t all bad – there are a lot of dodgy USB-C products out there, so some Apple seal of approval may be welcome. But MFI has hamstrung some real “pro” products. The good news as far as USB-C is, because it’s a standard port, devices made for particular “pro” music and audio and video uses no longer need to go through Apple’s certification just to plug directly into the iPad Pro. (And they don’t have to rely on something like the Camera Connection Kit to act as a bridge.)
Apple did not initially respond to CDM’s request for comment on MFI as it relates to the USB-C port.
MacStories tests the new fast charging and power adapter.
9to5Mac go into some detail on what works and what doesn’t (largely working from the same information I am, I think, but you get another take):
What can you connect to the new iPad Pro with USB-C?
And yeah, this headline gives it away, but agree totally. Note that Android is offering USB-C across a lot of devices, but that platform lacks some of the support for high-end displays and robust music hardware support that iOS does – meaning it’d be more useful coming from Apple than coming from those Android vendors.
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