MOTU Ultralite MK3 Hybrid by Me2
I spent a long team reading various boards and reviews before eventually plumping for the Motu Ultralite Mk 3 Hybrid.
The key factors that steered me in the direction of the Motu were:
- 2 built in instrument/ mic preamp inputs for on-the-go recording
- plenty of clean gain for use with the most demanding dynamic mics (I've successfully used this with a pair of MD441s)
- stable software drivers with a long history of MAC support
- compact and portable, with firewire bus powering
- Hybrid: you can also use USB2 if there are ever firewire driver problems
- easy to use user interface on the front panel
- plenty of additional line in channels, as well as midi and spdif.
- truly stunning price/quality ratio
The unique differentiating feature that was the final breakthrough for me was that the outputs are DC coupled, so they can be used for CV to control an analogue synth. Volta (the MOTU software to do this) is expensive, but there's no reason why you can't just output your own control waveforms direct from within your DAW.
The unit has lived up well to those promises in practice so far. It has proven very stable in use and I've not had any significant problems (running under MAC Snow Leopard).
The knobs on the unit are fairly small, but the menu structure is very intuitive, and the controls are a piece of cake to figure out, meaning great stand-alone operation without any software app at all, so you can be up and running real fast.
MOTU Audio Setup works well for controlling the core audio settings on the Mac if you do need to tweak anything (I've rarely needed to).
The only real criticism I have is that the Cue Mix FX software routing is extremely confusing at first, and it took me a few attempts to get the routing exactly the way I wanted it for a specific application. Although to be fair, for most simple set-ups you probably wouldn't even need to start up this app, as you'd just use the front panel controls.
The Ultralite Mk3 Hybrid would certainly suit a mobile musician who wanted to throw down a few ideas quickly when inspiration struck, and could theoretically produce decent finished recordings on both MAC and PC.
If it was lost or stolen I'd certainly buy another one.