Audio / Hands-on Review

Introducing the New MOTU MicroBook


Today MOTU announced the new MicroBook, a pocket-sized USB audio interface that blends professional and consumer connectivity with powerful mixing, routing and DSP effects. MOTU has a reputation for producing some of the most reliable hardware in the industry, but until now they've never offered an audio interface for under $500. With its $249 price tag, the MicroBook marks a new chapter for MOTU.

Here's the skinny... the MicroBook offers a single 1/4" TRS microphone input. It can supply 48 volts of phantom power to mics that require it, and has a -20 dB pad, which is handy when you need to place a sensitive mic near a loud drum or a cranked-up guitar amplifier. The front of the MicroBook also has a dedicated 1/4" hi-Z instrument input for guitars and basses. The rear features two 1/4" TRS line-level inputs, as well as a single 1/8" stereo mini-plug input. The 1/4" TRS inputs enable you to plug in the stereo outputs of a keyboard, or connect the line level output of external microphone preamps. The MicroBook enables you to send four inputs at a time to a computer (it's Mac and Windows compatible).

For outputs you get two 1/4" TRS (which are DC coupled for use with Volta), a 1/8" stereo line-level mini-plug jack on the rear, as well as a 1/8" stereo mini-plug headphone output on the front. There's also a digital RCA S/PDIF output for connecting digital effects processors, speakers with digital inputs and even home entertainment equipment.

A female XLR to TRS adapter is included so you can easily plug a standard XLR microphone cable into the MicroBook. It would also be a good idea to have a female XLR to TRS cable around, so you don't need to use the adapter. You can plug a guitar directly into the dedicated input on the MicroBook, but if your goal is to achieve the highest sound quality possible, you can upgrade the signal path by using the MOTU Z-Box as well.

The included CueMix FX software makes it possible to mix the audio from any of the four inputs with the audio from any tracks in your computer audio software. You can save five of these combinations of inputs and computer track mixes as presets, and have them routed to specific stereo outputs on the MicroBook. For example, you can have a preset saved with all of the routings necessary to plug your iPod into the rear 1/8" input, and jam out with your guitar plugged into the instrument input.

An ultra compact audio interface fashion statement

Another nice touch is its simple plug-and-play compatibility with both Windows and Mac computers. On the Mac side, the MicroBook is compatible with G4, G5 and Intel processors, and requires OS 10.5.8 or higher. On the Windows end it works with XP, Vista and Windows 7 (32 and 64-bit). On both platforms it's bus powered via the USB port, so there's no need for an AC adapter.

A host of powerful audio tools are provided with the included CueMix FX software (also Mac and Windows compatible). You can calibrate your equipment with the included sine wave, white and pink noise generators. Watch how a graphic EQ affects the frequency content of your material visually with the Spectrogram. Mac users can also take advantage of the included AudioDesk software, so you don't need to purchase additional digital audio workstation (DAW) software.

If that weren't enough, the MicroBook also enables you to apply DSP-powered effects to every channel. You can sculpt your sound with a seven-band EQ, which is modeled after classic British analog recording consoles. You can also put a compressor on each and every input and output without taxing the processor on your host computer.

The MicroBook offers a well thought out combination of professional inputs and outputs, coupled with powerful software for routing, mixing and applying DSP-based effects. It's a solid interface for a beginner and for experienced users who require ultra portability and MOTU's high standards of quality. It's also pretty cool that it can interface with professional equipment, as well as consumer products like the mini-plug jack on iPods as well as digital Dolby encoded home entertainment systems.

What do you think? Could you use an ultra compact USB interface like the MicroBook?