The M4 by Motu is an impressive interface at a super affordable price. In this Motu M4 review and spec breakdown, we’ll take a look at what sets this audio interface apart!
Motu M4 Audio Interface
The affordable desktop interface market is dense. Anyone who wants to produce music needs an audio interface, most people don’t want to spend much money, and every company out there has a product that fulfills those needs. It makes the consumer’s decision tough, because every entry-level interface boasts a similar set of features at a similar price. That said, the truth is, it’d be tough to buy a ‘bad’ one; however, it’s also tough finding a great one in the pile.
Enter the Motu M4: a 4-in/4-out, USB-C compatible audio interface with some of the best features and components in its class. It isn’t much of an exaggeration to say that Motu moved the goalpost quite a bit for what an entry-level interface should be.
The M4 comes with ESS Sabre32 Ultra converters. Those are normally found in interfaces in the thousand dollar and up range, and they provide an astounding 120 dB of dynamic range at the M4’s main outputs. At this price, Motu easily leads the pack with best-in-class conversion. The ESS chips also drive the headphone output so you can easily push whatever pair of cans you own. Motu’s headphone out competes with standalone headphone amps as far as power is concerned.
The M4 offers extremely low latency as well, tested at 2.5 ms roundtrip recording at 24-bit/96 kHz—virtually non-existent.
I/O, Metering, and Connectivity
M4 is a 4×4 interface, meaning 4 simultaneous inputs and outputs. The 2 combo jacks on the front provide a preamp with XLR connectivity for microphones, as well as 1/4″ Hi-Z compatibility. Rounding out the inputs are a pair of Line Ins on the back of the interface.
For outputs, the Motu M4 comes with two pairs of DC-coupled 1/4″ balanced outs; one is labeled Monitor and the other Line Out. Line Out can be sent to another pair of monitors, PA speakers, or any destination. Each pair of outputs is independent, and you’ll find them labeled as such in your DAW.
Additionally, there are two pairs of mirrored RCA outputs. Mirrored, in this case, means that they receive the same output that the Monitor outs and the Line Outs get. You can route those to more speakers, or another audio source with RCA inputs. MIDI in and out expands this interface’s abilities even further.
This interface is the only one at its price that comes with full color LCD meters for all connected I/O. It’s such a helpful feature normally reserved for way more expensive interfaces, yet Motu found a way to make it accessible. Finally, the Motu M4 offers bus powered USB connectivity to your computer with a USB-C type connection on the unit itself. The cable it ships with is a USB-C to USB-A, which is kind of odd, because you won’t be able to connect it to your computer’s USB-C ports without an adapter. Or, you’ll need to purchase a USB-C to USB-C cable separately.
These days, people aren’t just using audio interfaces to record music. Streamers and live broadcasters connect audio to their machines as well, and Motu took this into consideration when designing the M4. That sort of attention paid to users who aren’t music producers or engineers is admirable.
Loopback functionality blends your input signal with the output from your computer, then sends that blend back to your computer. That means you can record your computer’s output along with the input. There’s a separate Input Monitor Mix control on the front panel to dial in the right blend of computer output audio and input audio for playback.
Loopback is accessed through Motu’s dedicated M4 driver, and is clearly labeled Loopback 1-2. These channels return any signal being sent to Outputs 1-2 on the interface back to the computer for web streaming.
Loopback 1-2 Mix channels let you combine any signal sent from the computer to Outputs 1-2 with any live signals on the interface’s inputs. For streaming, you can send audio from the computer, speak into a microphone live, and mix all of that back to the computer for broadcasting.
Motu M4 vs. Scarlett 4i4
The Scarlett 4i4 is direct competition to the Motu M4. I/O is identical between the two, though the Scarlett does not have mirrored RCA outputs. However, that probably won’t be the deciding factor for many users shopping this market.
Overall, the quality of conversion is similar, the Scarlett also offers loopback through their proprietary driver software, and Focusrite’s award-winning preamps come with an Air circuit found on high-end Focusrite gear.
They ultimately share a very similar set of features; the Scarlett lacks useful (and attractive) LED metering, but that’s almost the only major difference between them. That, and about $10—the Scarlett 4i4 goes for $239.99, compared to the M4 at $229.95.
Motu M4 Review: Conclusion
We’ve ran down the specs and checked out some of the fancy features on this entry-level interface. Drawing a conclusive summary on this Motu M4 review, it’s easily one of the best-in-class audio interfaces under $300. The conversion is top-notch, the LED metering is a nice touch you don’t often see on affordable interfaces, and I/O is more than enough for most project studios…
It will be interesting to see how home studio interfaces evolve in the next few years; if the Motu M4 is any indication, we’ll continue to see higher quality, more features, and lower costs.