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MOTU UltraLite-mk5 Review (Audio Interface)

amirm

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the MOTU UltraLite-mk5 Audio Interface (ADC, DAC and headphone amplifier). It was kindly purchased new by a member and drop shipped to me for testing. It costs US $595.

I like that the UltraLite-mk5 comes in metal chassis but otherwise, it doesn't look exciting with its black and white screen:

MOTU UltraLite-mk5 Review DAC ADC Headphone Amp Audio Interface.jpg


There are a lot of inputs and outputs here:

MOTU UltraLite-mk5 Review back panel TRS DAC ADC Headphone Amp Audio Interface.jpg


It may be a pilot error but I was unhappy to plug the thing in and not have Windows recognize it. Fortunately their download package and control app is pretty small. Once there, Windows recognized it as well as having the usual ASIO interface that I used for my testing. Upon starting its control app, it offered to update itself which I let it. Was nice to see online update this way.

There was something strange that I had not seen before. As I was testing the unit, all of a sudden it started to play things on its own! I realized some background app was accessing it. Usually when you use ASIO interface, it puts the device in exclusive mode. Doesn't seem to be the case here. You may want to unselect it as the default Windows device or you get mixing of its sound together with your main app!

These interfaces have a ton of functionality so fasten your belt as we go through them in steps.

MOTU UltraLite-mk5 DAC Measurements
Many people here are interested in using these professional interfaces in hifi applications so let's see how its DAC performs:

MOTU UltraLite-mk5 Measurements DAC.png


That is really good performance for an interface!

Best audio interface DAC.png


Typical of other pro interfaces there is a lot more output than 4 volt nominate that I measure at so let's look at the full spectrum:

MOTU UltraLite-mk5 THD+N vs Level Measurements DAC.png


If you have an amplifier with low gain, this is one way to can get better combined SNR.

Dynamic range is well short of desktop products but for an interface, it is OK:
MOTU UltraLite-mk5 DNR Measurements DAC.png


Disappointing to the see the "ESS DAC chip IMD Hump" that we discovered some three years ago still manifesting itself in new products:
MOTU UltraLite-mk5 IMD Distortion Measurements DAC.png


What a lousy company ESS is by not teaching all of its licensees how to solve this problem.

Multitone test shows excellent performance:

MOTU UltraLite-mk5 Multitone Measurements DAC.png


I was super pleasantly surprised to see the most accurate reconstruction filter I have seen in a DAC:
MOTU UltraLite-mk5 Filter Measurements DAC.png


Notice the full flat response in audible band and then truncation before the "Nyquist" frequency of 22.05 kHz. Wonder if this is a custom filter. Further, there is no scalloping of the noise floor. Very well done here.

Jitter performance is very good although noise floor is a bit high:
MOTU UltraLite-mk5 jitter Measurements DAC.png


Linearity is a bit disappointing seeing how error starts to accumulate before we get to the end of our sweep at -120 dB:

MOTU UltraLite-mk5 Linearity Measurements DAC.png


Even $99 DACs these days nail this test.

EDIT: Motu contacted me shortly after the review and said the problem was the EQ filters at 192 kHz overflowing with full amplitude signal. Shutting off the filters fixed the problem and even improved the linearity above. See: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...view-audio-interface.24777/page-3#post-840477


By this time in my testing of DACs, I am happy as only one test is left which usually doesn't show anything untoward, namely the THD+N vs frequency. Such was not here:

MOTU UltraLite-mk5 THD+N vs Frequency Measurements DAC.png


What on earth is going on here in red? Investigating, I realized the sample rate was at 192 kHz. Strangely, when I switched to 48 kHz, the problem vanishes! Keeping at 192 kHz, we clearly see the problem at 100 Hz:

MOTU UltraLite-mk5 FFT Measurements DAC.png


This is all artifacts right in the audible band! I can't think of any instrumentation that would cause such a problem. MOTU needs to investigate this and figure what is going on here.

MOTU UltraLite-mk5 ADC Measurements
There are both mic capable inputs and line level. I started testing with the Mic input set to its lowest gain:

MOTU UltraLite-mk5 Measurements ADC Mic in.png


Performance is nearly as good as line input which is nice:

MOTU UltraLite-mk5 Measurements Line In ADC.png


This again is an excellent result:

best audio interface adc review.png


Dynamic range is good especially at full 12 volt input:
MOTU UltraLite-mk5 DNR Measurements DAC.png


Nothing of note in frequency response:
MOTU UltraLite-mk5 Frequency Response Measurements Line In ADC.png


Linearity is underperforming though due to noise:

MOTU UltraLite-mk5 Linearity Measurements Line In ADC.png


IMD distortion is good:
MOTU UltraLite-mk5 IMD distortion Measurements Line In ADC.png



MOTU UltraLite-mk5 Headphone Amplifier Measurements
Headphone interfaces are usually pretty bad on audio interfaces. Let's see how it performs here:

MOTU UltraLite-mk5  Measurements Headphone Out.png


There is really good news here as far as low distortion+noise. Not so good is the 2 volt output which limits power similar to portable headphone dongles at high impedances:
MOTU UltraLite-mk5  Power into 300 ohm Measurements Headphone Out.png


And low impedance unfortunately generates more distortion:

MOTU UltraLite-mk5  Power into 32 ohm Measurements Headphone Out.png


So better than a checklist item but best to use a proper headphone amplifier.

Conclusions
The MOTU UltraLite-mk5 seems to be a well engineered interface with a couple of glaring problems. Worst issue is the very high distortion at mid to lower frequencies at 192 kHz sampling. This shouldn't be there at all. The second is less severe and it is the IMD distortion rising at mid levels which is long behind us in desktop DACs as companies figured out how to deal with that.

Given the 192 kHz sampling problem, I can't recommend the MOTU UltraLite-mk5. If this is something that can be fixed with a firmware update, and I have access to verify the same, I will upgrade this rating to recommended.

With the bug with 192 kHz sampling resolved, I am going to give a recommendation to MOTU UltraLite-mk5.

Note as always that my assessment of interfaces is on their engineering and measurements. You need to judge their functionality.

-----------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Any donations are much appreciated using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
 
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Χ Ξ Σ

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Aha! In the past few days I had been baffled by the slightly brighten-up sound from my Motu UltraLite mk5. To my ears it just sounded crispier than my Motu M2. Now seeing the measurements, maybe I wasn't imagining things after all. Gonna play with the sample rate and see if that is the cause.

Really thanks Amir for the review!
 

DWPress

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I've used Motu gear in the past including the MK4 for my active XO. Glitches in their software drove me to get the Okto - no regrets.
 

ririt

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Amir, I think that you pasted the wrong graph into the headphone amplifier section to show the power vs distortion for a low impedance load…Can you please update the review?
 

Χ Ξ Σ

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@amirm if you don't mind can you also test the 1khz spectrum and thd+n vs frequency at 96khz? This is the sample rate that I have been using most of the time and noticing the crispy sound. Thanks!
 

Atratusnex

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Its price seems to be missing
 

RolandRa

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I just checked in EU ~735€

Seems very well engineered and interface simple and great à la RME.
I hope that they would respond about the distortion issues and also the linearity accuracy errors seem surprising.
Here in Italy the online store price range between 609 € to 649 €.
 

Tks

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The lower impedance graphs is a duplicate of the 300ohm one. Slight error in linking images perhaps.

At any rate, seems awesome, but just what the heck happened with some of the 192Khz stuff...

Though I'm a bit surprised the SINAD isn't a bit better as I would have assumed compared to something like the M4, or even M2 for the DAC section. Also no idea what compelled them to use a 1-bit OLED panel. Makes zero sense since levels that are colored like on the M2/M4 are far easier to understand at a glance when something is clipping. Just seems like idiotic marketing nonsense that mandated they needed to do something different so it doesn't look like a higher end device has resemblance with their lower end. Super weird how they would shoot themselves in the foot like that.

Otherwise, I want one >_>
 

BeerBear

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Usually when you use ASIO interface, it puts the device in exclusive mode.
That happens if Windows sounds (WDM driver) and the ASIO driver don't have the same sample rate. Otherwise, they usually play just fine together.
(Note: I'm talking about Windows sounds+ASIO here, but even ASIO+ASIO often works fine with current sound cards.)
 
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amirm

amirm

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Amir, I think that you pasted the wrong graph into the headphone amplifier section to show the power vs distortion for a low impedance load…Can you please update the review?
Sorry. Just fixed.
 
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amirm

amirm

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@amirm if you don't mind can you also test the 1khz spectrum and thd+n vs frequency at 96khz? This is the sample rate that I have been using most of the time and noticing the crispy sound. Thanks!
I will test tomorrow.
 

abdo123

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this is is a highly regarded interface in the pro world, known for very low noise with microphone inputs.

It's a bit shocking to see the leakage at 192 KHz, this issue doesn't need an analyzer to find!
 

DSJR

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That 192kHz rate distortion issue - I can think of one or two amps that would kill to have their almost audible spray of distortions that low ;)

I'll get me coat...
 
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amirm

amirm

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Is there a difference in ADC performance between front and rear inputs?
That is what the two measurements show. The mic one is the front, the line ones are the back. Difference is negligible.
 
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