USB Audio Interface Guidance

I’m currently replacing my venerable M-Audio Delta 66/Omni I/O audio interface and looking into budget-minded USB interface options. I’ve narrowed my search down to the MOTU M4 and the Steinberg UR242. I’m running Windows 10 running Cubase 10.5 and need two mic/instrument inputs and two line inputs, which both of these devices offer.

What attracts me to the MOTU is, well, it’s a MOTU and looks very nice, good build quality, and from what I’ve gathered it has exceptional sound quality and very low latency for the price range. It also has the very lovely LCD input and output metering on the front panel, and offers flexible routing and monitoring.

The UR242, on the other hand, while being solidly built, isn’t as attractive as the M4 aesthetically and only has simple peak LEDs for level monitoring of the inputs on the front panel. I’m not sure how big of a deal that is, though, as the control panel software for the UR242 has full metering, so it’s just a matter of looking at the computer screen instead of a front panel display, I assume. I do like the ability to apply DSP to the input signals for monitoring (i.e. EQ, compression and reverb) with zero latency (direct monitoring), which makes the recording process smooth and enjoyable.

Both interfaces are similarly priced, with the M4 being a little bit more than the UR242, so that’s not really a factor in the decision. So my question is, which of these is the better interface to go with for use with Cubase 10.5? Is the performance and sound quality of the M4 so good that it’s worth forgoing the DSP and monitoring features of the UR242, or is the sound of the UR242 up to or close to the level of the M4 and the seamless Cubase integration that the UR242 offers makes it a stronger choice?

I’m interested to hear opinions on this as right now I’m completely torn and indecisive between the two, but I need to make a choice by tomorrow as I have a song production that I need to get done by this weekend.

I’m sure either of those would work fine. FWIW, I just ditched my MOTU 828mk3 FW, because MOTU no longer supports it and therefore it won’t work under the new MacOS Catalina because the ancient drivers aren’t 64 bit. MOTU hasn’t supported this rather pricy device for some time now, which makes me kind of grumpy about MOTU. I get that companies can’t support every product forever, but still - grumpy. I went with a Focusrite Clarett 4pre-USB because the mic preamps are high quality (I particularly like its “air” feature that tries to emulate a classic tube preamp), it’s very small and attractive yet expandable should I ever need that, and it was available refurbished on Reverb for a good price. It plugged right in and works seamlessly with Cubase Pro and everything else I use.

Really, though, preamps have gotten so good that even the cheapest are fine for most uses. Although I really like my Clarett, if we did a blind listening test between that and the cheaper Scarlett, or a Behringer, or the Steinberg, the odds are that I couldn’t tell you which is which. OK, maybe I’d recognize the Air feature, but I wouldn’t bet much on it.

Thanks for your feedback. I ended up buying both interfaces, but decided to keep the Steinberg UR242 and return the MOTU M4. Unfortunately, I couldn’t open the M4 to check it out for risk of ruining my ability to return it, per the store’s policy on audio interfaces that come with software. I bought the UR242 on Amazon, so I wasn’t concerned about being able to return it and opened it to check it out. It met (actually exceeded) my expections from a build quality perspective and sounds fine, though the headphone output is a bit weak. I’m only pushing 55 Ohm headphones and it was still low level. I solved that by getting a headphone amp.

While the MOTU is very nice looking, the UR242’s great integration with Cubase, especially with the zero latency monitoring with reverb, EQ, compression and guitar amp models, made it more attractive in terms of my workflow. I don’t have a great deal of outboard gear (i.e. no mixer, outboard compressors or EQ, etc.), so having this available in software for monitoring, and integrated right into Cubase’s mixer, is a big plus for me. I don’t know if the M4 might have sounded better or not, but I based my decision mostly on the Cubase integration and workflow, as well as reviews that indicated that the UR242 is a pretty solid device in terms of build quality, sound, pre-amps, etc. I think it will meet my needs nicely.

I’m hoping I made the right choice. So far I feel pretty good about it, but that MOTU sure does look cool with those LED level meters on its front panel! However, I had bought a more expensive MOTU interface a few years ago (I think it was an Ultralite) that I had to return because I simply could not get it to work correctly on Windows and whatever version of Cubase I was using at that time. All kinds of driver issues. It also seems that the positive reviews I’ve seen on the M4 are from Mac users, and the few reviews I’ve seen from Windows users have indicated some possible driver issues on Windows. Not wanting to go through that frustrating fiasco again, it might be a good thing that I’m giving the MOTU a miss this time around.

I agree with you in regard to modern pre-amps. The manufacturers all try to tout the quality of their preamps, but just about everthing has decent pre-amps these days. I think you’d have to spend thousands to get anything with a discernible difference in terms of pre-amp quality, and I just don’t have a need for that.

Enjoy your new preamp. I’m sure it will work great for you.