Motu M4 Review: Overview
(out of 5)
- Line Output Dynamic Range: 120 dB
- Headphone Output Dynamic Range: 115 dB
- Line Input Dynamic Range: 115 dB
- Mic Input Dynamic Range: 115 dB
- Great overall performance with excellent dynamic range on the mic inputs
- Simple set-up, almost everything can be controlled from the interface itself.
- Direct monitoring
- Midi in/out
- Level Meter could be more accurate
- No real-time effects monitoring
- Included software is nothing special
An interface that won’t disappoint. Excellent build quality with great performance at a very reasonable price.
Known for higher end interfaces, Motu recently released the M2 and M4 interfaces. In the competitive market of entry level portable audio interfaces, we found the Motu M4 to be one of the top 5 interfaces out there.
See here for reviews of audio interfaces and other gear.
Alternatives to the Motu M4
The same interface at a lower price with fewer inputs and outputs.
Universal Audio Volt 276
Same class as the Motu M4. A solid unit with built in compression.
Universal Audio Apollo Solo
The Apollo line are the best portable audio interfaces out there.
Focusrite Scarlett 4i4
A popular, quality interface with weaker performance than the M4.
The Motu M4 is a sturdy, durable interface with metal housing and metal dials. It’s built like a tank with an LCD level meter on the front. The heavier weight (700 grams) of the unit falls into the solid rubber feet which keeps it nicely anchored on your workspace.
There are a lot of nice touches that make this interface truly competitive in a crowded market. For instance, the direct monitoring buttons, located on the front and the dial, allow you to adjust the input/playback mix directly from the interface. Also, midi in/out, useful in any studio set-up, is rare on interfaces in this price range.
In general, the unit is designed so that you can control more directly from the knobs on the hardware, rather than the usual launch software fiddling that is part of using most audio interfaces out there.
Both inputs have their own 48V phantom power switches (very handy). And, there is an on-off switch saving you the not-so-elegant tug of the cable to power down.
Small criticisms: the level meter and the included cable could be improved. The display looks bright and nice but the level meter lacks scale markings on it, so it’s not as useful as it looks.
It ships with a USB-C to USB-A cable. Unfortunately, you will need to use your own USB-C to USB-C if that’s how your set-up connects.
We shortlisted 7 popular interfaces specifically for guitar applications and thoroughly tested them to find our favorite.
Inputs and Outputs
The Motu M4 interface has
- 2 1/4-inch line in analog inputs
- 2 XLR/TRS combo jacks for mic, line, or Hi-Z inputs
- 4 1/4-inch TRS balanced outputs
- 4 RCA unbalanced outputs
- 1 1/4-inch TRS stereo headphone output.
- 1 MIDI input
- 1 MIDI output
The setup for the Motu M4 involves registering online so that you can download the driver software and perform any firmware update necessary. For connections with a Mac, you will need an additional driver to access all the features (such as loopback) and to improve the overall software performance.
Software included (after you register) is:
- MOTU Performer Lite – DAW
- Ableton Live Lite
- Free loops and sample packs from Bigfishaudio, Loopmasters, and audio samples
The software needs to be downloaded separately, which can take some time with individual logins. Other than the Performer Lite DAW, most of the software is just three-month trials.
The Motu M4 does not require any launch software to function like many competitors. Once the firmware is updated, you only need to plug in and load up your DAW.
About Our Audio Test
As a reminder, we test everything on this site ourselves.
We have provided audio examples from our tests below so that you can hear the results for yourself.
The guitar examples use a Martin Special Edition recorded by a single Neumann TLM 102 and a Fender Stratocaster plugged directly into the interfaces with the same amp plugin (Amplitube Fender 65 Super Reverb).
We also provided spoken word using a Neumann TLM 102 with no compression or EQ to give an idea of the raw sound of the preamps. The text is from the Mad Gardener’s Song by Lewis Carroll.
Technically, the Motu M4 is excellent. It has an impressive dynamic range on the line and mic inputs (115 dB) and on the main outputs (120 dB) and headphone output (115 dB) along with very low self-noise and low round-trip latency. At this price point, those numbers are exceptional.
The analog/digital converters are powered by an ESS Sabre32 Ultra DAC which is found in Motu’s high-end interfaces.
Using the Motu M4 is refreshingly straightforward. With no launch software or driver necessary, everything can be controlled from the dials and buttons on the interface.
The ‘MON’ button gives you the ability to directly monitor your performance without latency. The processed signal is bypassed and you hear your performance without any of the effects plugins used in your DAW.
Although you’re not getting real-time effects monitoring, the option to direct monitor without effects is a big plus.
In our tests, the preamps were quiet and clean with loads of headroom. There was silence even plugging in with hot pickups.
It is worth noting that the M4 also comes with convenient loopback channels. This is very useful for podcasters and streamers. If you are using a Mac, you will need to download an additional driver to use the loopback routing functions.
Conclusions About the Interface
The Motu M4 (and M2) are interfaces that outclass most of the competition. With midi inputs, extra RCA outputs (handy for DJs), loopback functions (handy for podcasters), direct monitoring, and blazing technical performance (handy for anyone), these interfaces are tough to beat.
After our tests, we conclude that in this price range, you will not be disappointed with the Motu M4.
Motu M4 Audio Interface
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