Motu UltraLite mk4 Review

Discussion in 'Digital: DACs, USB converters, decrapifiers' started by purr1n, Jun 14, 2020.

  1. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    First off, I'd like to thank @atomicbob for providing his usual set of comprehensive measurements, some still in progress: https://www.superbestaudiofriends.o...ite-mk4-technical-measurements-dac-only.9392/

    I believe most of you understand by now that taking measurements in a consistent, repeatable, and comprehensive matter is difficult, time-consuming, and draining. This especially so when there is weird stuff that warrants investigation, which seems to be more today with modern measurement gear that can detect 140db SINAD, which is 10,000,000 to 1. The measurements that I typically provide aren't anywhere as comprehensive and regimented as @atomicbob's, but those still take two days to complete. Odd behaviors (identified based on experience), could indicate human error or error caused by external factors, follow up. I can't speak for @atomicbob, but these things drive me nuts and add a few more measurement sessions throughout an additional week.

    The way I am going to approach the UltraLite mk4 is from a headphile and working-from-home perspective. The Ultralite is a computer interface with multiple inputs, multiple outputs, internal routing, mixer, DA/AD, and more. It's a viable alternative to the RME ADI-2 Pro (remember when it was FOTM). I only wished that someone had brought this piece of gear forth as a much less expensive alternative with a different sound. @Psalmanazar has mentioned this, but the RME's FOTM had already passed by the time he did. RME has released a DA only version with an IEM output to cater to audiophiles at a much better price point.

    The quick takeaway is that the Motu Ultralite mk4 is the bees-knees best-thing-since-sliced-bread at an affordable price point of $700. It does everything we can possibly imagine and more.

    IMG_20200614_120224.jpg
    IMG_20200614_120244.jpg

    Again I will focus less on the musician aspects of the Ultralite and explain what the Ultralite mk4 can accomplish for audiophiles and folks working from home.

    DAC Converter

    The Motu Ultralite Mk4 serves as an excellent DAC. Does it play with the big boys? Not quite. However, it's got an really interesting sound that belies its ESS Sabre 9016. Larry Ho at LH Labs was often lauded as the Sabre-whisperer with the Geek Out version 2 (GOV2) portable DA dongle, but the guys at Motu may yet deserve this moniker too. (LH Labs went down in flames, but that's another story). The GOV2 was very warm sounding and even gentle in the highs, but its strengths lay with its fluid sound and ability to rendering microdynamics or PRaT that would suck the listener in. The UltraLite Mk4 (ULmk4) retains these strengths, but offers IMO what is a more agreeable or easier to pair tonal and timbre qualities. The ULmk4 is warm, but it's not typical warm context, as in an emphasis in the upper bass or lower mids. It's an all enveloping warmth that covers the entire audio band. The warmth is inherent and cohesive throughout. Think tube warmth, not 300B but 45 tube. The headstage is deeply placed. Localization precision is good. So is layering. It's not TOTL, but it's very good where I would even place the headstage on par with the X-Sabre Pro (a head-to-head would be interesting). The high-end transients is typical sigma-delta with a hint of Sabre, but no more annoying or possibly less annoying than the XSP.

    Compared to the AKM Velvet Sound DACs, the most immediate difference to me was the headstage. The other things that folks have complained about with the Velvet Sound DACs as still there with those DACs, but the staging was the biggest difference. I generally find the AKMs to headstages wider in relation to deep, and too diffuse. To see where the MKmk4 subjectively stands in comparison to other DACs, refer to this: https://www.superbestaudiofriends.o...view-and-measurements.9379/page-5#post-304208

    Note that the outputs are balanced TRS jacks. For balanced output, we will need stereo TRS to male XLR cables like this here. Note that I do not recommend adapters because of lack of real-estate on the back panel. For single ended output, TS (tip-sleeve) to RCA cables will be required like this here. Don't get Monoprice cables. At one time on CS they were recommended, but discovered to be too cheap with too many corners cut. We can also get cables at Guitar Center. I actually love the Guitar Center cables: perfect fit and flexible - not this retardo audiophool shit that fits too tight and isn't flexible*. Finally, the TS plugs will short "-" and ground pins that to go the XLR, but the ULmk4 handles this just fine. Please be aware of this to avoid magic smoke when using "cheater" cables to convert balanced to unbalanced with other gear: https://www.superbestaudiofriends.o...o-unbalanced-input-a-brief-visual-guide.7012/

    Note that in the photo above, I am using four of the ULmk4's output channels for simultaneous BAL and SE outputs! The possibilities are endless! The ULmk4 has a nifty routing interface that is accessible from the web UI:

    upload_2020-6-14_13-37-22.png
    We can see that I'm routing Computer USB 1 and 2 (L and R) to Main 1/2 and Analog 1/2 outputs. I can't say that I am a big fan the input/output matrix. I would prefer a map, a visual diagram of the routing like on the Metric Halo ULN series. But keep in mind: $700 vs $2200+.

    *people who make music don't have time to fuck around with audiophile shit. cables are the last thing they want to worry about.
     
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2020
  2. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    WFH Microphone Preamp and AD Conversion

    I haven't had a chance to test this yet. My son asked for a Blue USB Microphone a year or two for a good reason: learning video editing, doing voice overs, and of course gaming. I had to admit I had a hard time doing this because I suspected the sound quality was shit - which it is. I didn't have time to research and study, and USB was easy, so he got one as a birthday or was it an x-mas gift.

    In light of COVID, I've been lucky enough to still have a job, not have my pay docked, and have been working from home. There is also the possibility of us having a big virtual meet where we invite several vendors to talk about their products. Anyway, the Blue USB sucks (their higher line non-USB mics are good), but I'm quite sure an entry-level AT 2000 series condenser microphone with the ULmk4 would sound a million times better. The Blue USB isn't bad. The frequency response seems quite good, but it's just dull and flat sounding. Heck, maybe I will opt for a $1k+ Lauten FET condenser (I prefer the FET to the tube). Any recommendations here would be appreciate. Maybe I will report back on a comparison.

    The front panel has two for microphones (XLR), provides 48V phantom power if needed, and also has physical gain adjustments.
    IMG_20200614_140115.jpg

    Instrument Input and AD Conversion

    The inputs (they are combination XLR / TRS) at the front will also support instrument inputs from electric guitar or bass. Anyone taking music lessons from home? This is a great feature. See that little blip on the screen there for MIC input 2? Haha. That's noise from my bass pickup. Something to keep in mind when we think about measurements for audio playback gear. There's so much shit, noise, and crap that's taken care of during production or post that what you get at the end is so messed that that if you willing already if your gear is 60-80db SINAD.

    So say I have a virtual music lesson. I can plug in a microphone in Analog 1 and a guitar in Analog 2. I then can set a separate route from the music teacher direct to say the headphone output (which is a separate dedicated output) to avoid feedback loops. Finally, I use the mixer to apply a gate and a compressor to both analog inputs.

    upload_2020-6-14_14-13-3.png
     
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2020
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  3. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Impedance Measurement

    Excuse the mess of wires, but with a known resistor value and third party software like ARTA, we can take impedance measurements for IEMs and headphones. I should write a manual on how to do this. All the outputs and inputs (x2) are necessary on the front panel to do this. The ULmk4 is also a lot less flaky than the Focusite 2i2, which I used prior.

    IMG_20200614_142444.jpg
    [​IMG]

    Audio Analyzer

    It actually makes a great analyzer too. Motu provides an FFT tool but it kind of sucks. Initially I thought the inputs couldn't hot regular ol' DAC outputs, until I realized there was the pad button. Doh! It's not as good as the dedicated instrumentation of today, but it's easily as good as John Atkinson's prior measurement gear before his AP-555.

    IMG_20200614.jpg

    [​IMG]
     
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  4. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Three Band Parametric EQ

    The ULmk4 is also a parametric 3-band EQ. I remember asking folks WTF they needed the RME ADI-2 if they were only using is has a DAC. A common answer was the built-in digital EQ. Well the ULmk4 has this function too. It's a bit limited in that there is no graphic EQ, but a parametric three-band should do. The three bands are marked low, mid, and high; but these markings are only for organization, there's actually no limit on the frequency ranges with each of the bands. Anyone who needs more than three bands for parametric EQ should be shot anyway, or is better off using software impulse response correction, if surgical EQ is your thing.

    upload_2020-6-14_14-43-27.png

    I can have different EQs for each channel. This would allow me to apply one EQ for an output for Jot R -> Requsite/RAAL SR1a earphones and another for an dynamic amp -> HD650.
     
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  5. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    USB to Coaxial to Toslink SPDIF Conversion

    While to the USB to internal DA was fine, the USB to coaxial conversion, possible via the routing options sounded like poop, thin and all. I much preferred the Eitr, and I assume the Gustards and such would be a better option. But it's there if you need it.
     
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  6. Walderstorn

    Walderstorn Friend

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    So many options got my eyes twisting. Can i assume that you feel the price is adjusted to the product or...?
    I greatly appreciate the fact that there are independent EQ's for each channel, that makes life so much easier.

    Great read, thanks for the insight.
     
  7. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Other Stuff (sampling rate, 0dbFS, lowering output for IEMs, headphone output, digital filter, USB drivers):

    Sampling Rate / 0dbFS performance

    The Motu ULmk4 appears to take whatever its given and resample internally like with any other mixer. This is something to keep in mind if it's important to you. Note that the highest sampling rates such as 192k will disable some effects in the mixer such as EQ. Too much CPU power and no one works at these sampling rates anyway during production, except for those boutique houses that record monks chanting with sheep to EDM effects or girl with mediocre non-dynamic voice strumming guitar. It's probably best to set the output of your applications and/or OS to resample to what the ULmk4 will like. However, the internal resampling doesn't seem bad nor does if affect the sound in any way that I could tell or care about.

    upload_2020-6-14_14-58-11.png

    @atomicbob found some odd behavior at 0dbFS with any input. The behaviors were still too low to be of concern, but if you are worried, just set the output settings on Main to -1db. It's likely a small rounding error that firmware can eventually fix. If you are super neurotic about digital manipulation resulting in poorer audio quality and insist on bit-perfect, you are better off with NOS DACs where you can rest comfortably that the signal is unmolested bit-perfect while gleefully ignoring the even more imperfect analog signal. I don't think I heard any difference with the trim set a few db lower.

    Lowering Output for IEMs

    In fact, this feature came in handy to lower the output for use with sensitive IEMs. Dial in the trim to -6db.

    Headphone Output

    The headphone output is not bad all at. It doesn't change the character of the ULmk4 - that is, it's a good match for the DAC and doesn't impart glare or other nasties. However, a good amp will be more resolving and less dull sounding. Don't bother if you have a Schiit Heresy or JDS Atom at x1 gain. Just use the built-in headphone output. The headphone output is controlled by the main vol knob just above it.

    DA Filter

    Looks like the standard linear phase fast roll-off. For reference, I believe the LH Labs GOV2 only provided a minimum phase fast (too etchy) and linear phase slow (better but too rolled). I think Motu made the right decision here. Note that the filters for the EQ in the mixer are minimum phase for low latency. I measured this but forgot to save the images. This is a production tool, not a post tool.

    IR.png

    FR.png

    USB Drivers and Performance

    I haven't hit this thing hard (there is a CPU meter that tells you how much processing is left), but so far everything has been stable, provided that I don't hot swap the Motu ULmk4 to different USB ports throughout the day while testing. The Motu did not like that. I'm using a desktop PC running Windows 10.

    Installation was simple:
    IMG_20200614_152350.jpg

    It took me a while or maybe a reboot for the Motu software to recognize the ULmk4 connected to the PC. I think it was my fault because I didn't have it turned on. The hardest thing was for me was to turn it on. And this was only because it was a night where my bad vision didn't allow me to make out the "HOLD" under the power symbol. One just needs to hold power the headphone volume knob for a few seconds. It's wasn't anything at all like the Topping D70 where I wanted to murder someone because the only way to change the outputs from SE to BAL was to use a remote control where half-the buttons were assigned to no function and the other half was Engrish; or a secret procedure to hold two buttons while plugging the unit in (seriously).
     
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2020
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  8. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    It may seem overwhelming but take it in stride. It's easy enough to just start with it as just a DAC and then slowly explore all the different things it can do. I was using as a DAC for first week, until use cases came up: my kid's guitar lesson, the Focusrite 2i2 flaking out on CFA Ara impedance measurements, requiring another analyzer to confirm results, etc. I've actually got a desktop speaker project coming up where I think I can finagle the ULmk4 into an active crossover. (More on that later).

    As for price / value. On a technical performance level for DA, it's somewhere in between Modi 3 and Modius. Closer to the Modius, maybe equal. But ultimately the presentation is very different. However, if you need a AD and a microphone preamp, that's another $150, and even then, the AD and preamp in those units is a tier below this one. Plus, it's a fricking mixer with gates and compressors. And EQ. And the DA conversion is good, it's no slouch. (TBH, I never used Modi 3 or SDAC - it was more like it's good for you if you can't afford better).

    Let's add it up (noting some things are better and some worse with the pieces):

    $200 Modius DAC (overacheiver)
    $428 Behringer DEQ2496
    $150 Cheap microphone preamp and AD
    ? Gate / Compressor for instruments or microphone
    ? 8 in / 8 out mixing console with full routing

    The value proposition is sky-high already.
     
  9. Psalmanazar

    Psalmanazar Most improved member; A+

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    You can turn off the mixer and just use it as an interface too. Unlike RME. The interface alone will also change sample rates upon output. It will take a bit to reorient and lock the digital clock. It won’t randomly crash on this like RME can.

    Hardly anyone uses linear phase eq for music production anyway. The pre-ringing can do weirdness to transients. Linear phase converter filters (unless you’re Prism with the special tech) and minimum phase eqs are the standard.

    MOTU AVB is an insane deal. The full rack ones are even more solid. To compete with what they’re offering, you’ll need a 1000 dollar RME Madi/Audinate Dante/Lynx AES card, 1500-2000 dollars minimum for every 16 channels i/o, and a balanced monitor controller or stereo pre amp. Even the old Apogee 16s are still 500 bucks a unit and low detail. The RME usb dongles are expensive too while the rack mount interfaces are ass. The other good Thunderbolt starts at like 3-4K for the Apogee Symphony and Lynx Aurora. A Pro Tools HDX rig is at least 7-10k with the good DAD converters. Metric Halo 3d is still in beta and windows drivers are far away.

    MOTU, a company that made a pro daw and mostly prosumer western made hardware, decided to undercut all of those guys and got away with it without killing the sound. Chi-fi can’t hang at all. I consider the western companies who sold out to China to be Chi-fi too.
     
  10. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Neve is just a brand now like Altec Lansing. Rupert sold and got out in the early 70s. The red on the Focusrite gear has become more synonymous with garbage. Metric Halo, LOL, they will never have windows drivers or software.

    I don't know what to think about this for $500. I figure the AliExpress DIY look is intentional.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
     
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  11. Armaegis

    Armaegis Friend

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    @purr1n
    I sent you guys a Focusrite Clarett a few months back. I'd be curious to see how that measures us to this or the 2i2 that you have.

    There was a used MOTU AVB on Amazon.ca that I nearly bit on, but went with the RME Babyface because I wanted a bus powered interface. Oh well. Too much gear, not enough time.
     
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  12. Psalmanazar

    Psalmanazar Most improved member; A+

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    Yep and The current AMS Neve stuff can be spotty too even if the 1073 will always be cool. Rupert Neve is in Texas now and his own current stuff is Rupert Neve Designs and pretty clean sounding. He makes some very cool stuff that’s not super expensive. Focusrite and SSL sold out to China big time.
     
  13. Psalmanazar

    Psalmanazar Most improved member; A+

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    There’s nothing else bus powered that’s vaguely stable. MOTUs own m2/M4 are good if they work but... the Babyface pro is more likely to work. Sound sucks but it works for recording a rapper in a hotel room or a busker or an acoustic barista. Otherwise, it’s pretty limited.
     
  14. Psalmanazar

    Psalmanazar Most improved member; A+

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    Triple post at @purr1n but that head amp sounds like it looks: ass. I was referring to the classy and expensive production hardware.
     
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  15. atomicbob

    atomicbob dScope Yoda

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    That feeling when it becomes apparent there is a numerical issue with the DAC near 0 dBFS causing data to not be representative of the DAC performance:
    Doc Brown 1dB error.jpg
    Two days of data collection now trash and requires redoing. But corporate responsibilities have priority so it may be days before I can return to the measurements of the particular device and then have to remember where I left off.

    Eventually I end up feeling a bit like this:
    Napoleon_Porky_small.jpg
    So anyone attempting to responsibly measure components and produce reliable, repeatable results will be challenged over the data acquisition, data vetting and cataloging process, let alone keeping it all straight during the process of posting.

    Let us not forget that often some modification to a standard configuration is necessary for a given measurement on a particular component, with analyzers being rather complex and hundreds of parameters all of which must be correct, to achieve a result that accurately reflects true performance. Any distraction to the researcher could result in an incorrect measurement.

    That feeling of being nuts means you are likely doing it right.
     
  16. Andre Y

    Andre Y Friend

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    Has anyone had a chance to compare it to their M2 and M4 units for people who don't need a lot of inputs?
     
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  17. cameng318

    cameng318 Rando

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    Really excited about this listenable multi-channel DAC with modern chip, that made me signed up and posted the introduction.

    Are the other analog outs as good as the main one? or at least listenable without adi glare. If so, I think the MK4 might be really useful for speaker systems. You can do digital crossover with the 10 output channels. If digital crossover sounds bad to you, what about doing digital delays to correct the lobing of the analog crossover before the amp. If the loopback delay is really as low as 1.8 ms, you can probably even mic up a subwoofer and run it like a servo woofer with feedback. with 1/8 rule of thumb, 1.8 ms can make feedback up to 70 Hz. With the SINAD of ESS9016, no potentiometer needed for all the applications above.

    Maybe I'm daydreaming after all, but I believe that's the future in the speaker world.
     
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  18. The Life

    The Life Almost "Made"

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    Would this be a good option for making good vinyl rips?
     
  19. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    The MiniDSP stuff is better for active overs. However, one complaint I've heard is that their built-in DACs don't sound as good as dedicated units. There is the MiniDSP DIGI stuff that only handles SPDIF, but that of course requires us to buy dedicated DAC separates.

    Main issues with using he Motu as an active xover is that the there is only one HPF (12db butterworth) and the LPF has to be faked with a shelf (should be OK considering that low drivers will typically roll off).

    All analog outs appear to be the same. However will test to make sure.
     
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2020
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  20. EagleWings

    EagleWings Friend

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