Like a MOTU M4, but works with Windows?
October 30, 2021 11:09 AM   Subscribe

I recently upgraded from a Native Instruments Komplete 6 Gen 1 audio interface to a MOTU M4, on the strength of my experience with older MOTU hardware, on macs. The M4’s Windows drivers leave a little something to be desired — they frequently don’t bloody work. What’s my next step?

Things I need: drivers that work on Windows. For me, the M4 has momentary audio dropouts several times per minute, and recently started doing a thing where video playback outright hangs. Turn off or unplug the M4, and it’s back (with no sound, of course). A restart is necessary to get it working again, though sometimes fiddling with the sample rate, buffer length, and power-cycling can get me a momentary reprieve.

To be clear, this isn’t a “too small buffer” problem. It happens at all bitrates and all buffer sizes. I’ve already followed support’s instructions re: USB power/standby settings, etc.

Features that are important to me in a new audio interface: balanced monitor out, at least 2 channels. At least one XLR w/phantom and one instrument in. More is nice. Separate headphone and monitor volume. The loop-back in the M4 drivers (to, eg, stream Ableton to OBS/Discord/whatever, without extra latency for monitoring) is fantastic. I’m not looking to spend too terribly much but I’d like to be one step up from Behringer/Scarlett if I can.

Mac support is nice, since I may be getting some new Mac hardware soon (new Macs to audiovisual creative me: Apple cares about you again, at least more than they did in the no-ports, butterfly keyboard era!). This will be primarily used with my Windows desktop though, so that’s the main thing.
posted by Alterscape to Computers & Internet (12 answers total)
Best answer: The only competitor for the Motu M4 in that price range is the Focusrite Scarlett 4i4.

FWIW, is it connected to the mainboard directly in the back, through a hub, or some other way?
posted by kschang at 11:22 AM on October 30, 2021 [1 favorite]

In general, unless you have a community of very technical people working to reverse-engineer the hardware and proprietary drivers that someone puts out, or the hardware itself is based on some sort of generic or standardized platform that functions with a more generic set of drivers, there's really no feasible way to use alternate drivers. From what I can tell looking at this, it doesn't look like either of these scenarios is the case, and the drivers that come from the company are your only option on Windows.
posted by Aleyn at 12:16 PM on October 30, 2021

Response by poster: Aleyn, apologies for being unclear! I'm looking to purchase a different piece of hardware, I realize I'm SOL with Windows drivers for this thing. The hardware's great and apparently it works well on OS X and in at least some Linux, but I'm primarily a Windows user so there ya go.

It's currently connected through a powered USB 3.0 hub. My mainboard has one USB-C port that I am not currently using, so I could try that, though other forum folk across the internet have tried that and reported no joy.

What would you consider the next price tranche up? My wife has a 2i2 and it's fine, I guess, but not really inspiring.
posted by Alterscape at 12:20 PM on October 30, 2021

Is it a good quality hub? I've had instances where the hub itself was at fault. Maybe you can use a USB3 to USB-C converter?
posted by kschang at 3:12 PM on October 30, 2021

Best answer: My experience with MOTU is that they never get Windows right. I would kind of assume that by now that would no longer be the case, but perhaps it's still true (haven't touched MOTU in 10 years).

I bought an RME Fireface 800 a very long time ago. It is still amazingly good, more power than I need in terms of inputs/outputs/routing/etc. I always ran an Intel-based firewire card but my current motherboard doesn't have a PCI slot any more so I'm using some more generic chipset. It's working fine.

I've been doing computer-based audio since the 1990's and it was only when I bought the RME that I stopped worrying about drivers. I'd recommend whatever they sell that has the number of inputs and outputs you need. I would not balk at the price. I've got over 15 years out of this Fireface and I expect to continue to use it for as long as I can find a firewire card. Over that time frame the original price ($1600?) is nothing. ($100/yr? Netflix is more expensive.)

I would buy a UC or UCX (currently priced $1150 / $1250 at BH Photo). I recognize this is a very different price class than the $250 M4 and hope you will forgive my advice to spend 5x your budget. For slightly less you can get a Babyface but it's still $950 for the lowest end model. For me, having the capability to plug in a bunch of mics is why I overspent in the first place.

The FF800 was released in 2004. RME released M1 compatible drivers for it. 17 years old and still supported (out of support but they're shipping stuff for it so not sure the term for that). I find this unbelievable in the modern era. I'm going to assume that it wasn't too hard/expensive for them to do. I'm sure they would stop making drivers if it was expensive to do. But the point stands. My ancient hardware still has drivers for the latest CPU arch/OS. I have literally zero regrets buying this expensive interface.
posted by cape at 3:18 PM on October 30, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: It's so new that there probably aren't many people with real-world feedback on it, but Universal Audio (mostly known for very high end gear) has the lower budget Volt line of audio interfaces.
posted by soundguy99 at 3:32 PM on October 30, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A long shot, but I'll suggest it just because it's easy and cheap/free: Stick a USB hub between your host and the interface. I've had weird USB disconnect/reconnect problems in the past when the host and target implementations lined up in a pessimal way that were fixed by inserting a cheap hub between the two.
posted by sourcequench at 5:42 PM on October 30, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: So, it was connected through a hub, but directly connecting it to a mainboard USB port seems to have drastically reduced the scale of the problem. It's only been an hour or so, but I have not noticed the dropouts (where previously it would've been a once-every-15-seconds thing), and Windows hasn't decided it isn't connected yet, so that's already a drastic improvement. Also marking cape and soundguy99 because these look like viable steps up if it won't behave.
posted by Alterscape at 7:56 PM on October 30, 2021

Best answer: One more variable to check... I know you said it's a powered hub, but this use doesn't require external power.

WHAT IF... You unplug the hub from the power, and use it as unpowered hub only? Do you still get the dropouts?

If you do NOT get the dropouts, the problem is your power brick connected to the hub.

If you DO get the dropouts, the problem is with your hub.

FWIW, I'd also check your USB-C cables. Some cables are NOT built very well.
posted by kschang at 8:01 PM on October 30, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: You were right, kschang. A friend just observed that my webcam was glitching, and I noticed that the glitch rate was about the same as the audio glitch rate. So I just swapped out the entire USB hub and power supply, and the webcam is now happy, so I suspect the audio interface will also be happy. Thank you for suggesting to do the thing!
posted by Alterscape at 8:45 PM on October 30, 2021

Ah, glad to know you figured it out!

I've actually had something like that happen to me once. A cheap USB2 hub was glitching out, leading to disconnect/connect sounds. Fortunately I have several spares on hand. :D
posted by kschang at 8:47 PM on October 30, 2021

For whatever it's worth, I have similar issues with my MOTU Ultralite MK3 Hybrid on Windows -- whether it's plugged into an external hub or into one of the built-in USB ports, it will eventually (after hours or days) stop producing sound altogether, or start emitting hideous glitches. Takes a reboot to fix it. Works fine on 3 different Macs, including an M1.
posted by runehog at 9:25 AM on November 1, 2021

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