Interfacing Linux: MOTU 828 MK3

The original 828 ushered in a new era in desktop recording as the first-ever FireWire audio interface. It was simple, to the point, and painfully blue. Ten years later MOTU released the 828 MK3 featuring onboard effects, 192 kHz sampling rate, dual headphone jacks and most importantly, not blue. Lets see if it knows how to Linux in 2021.


Technical Specifications

Converters 24-bit
Sample rates 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192 kHz
Analog inputs 2 x XLR/TRS combo-style mic/guitar inputs
8 x 1/4″ TRS line inputs (balanced/unbalanced)
Analog outputs 2 x XLR balanced main out
8 x 1/4″ balanced TRS line out
2 x 1/4″ TRS stereo headphone
Digital I/O 16 channels of ADAT optical at 1x sample rates
8 channels of SMUX optical at 2x sample rates
2-channel TOSlink (optical S/PDIF) up to 96 kHz
2-channel RCA S/PDIF up to 96 kHz
Total I/O 28 inputs and 30 outputs at 1x sample rates
20 inputs and 22 outputs at 2x sample rates
10 inputs and 10 outputs at 4x sample rates
Computer I/O 1 x Firewire 400
Sync I/O 1 x SMPTE time code in (LTC)
1 x SMPTE time code out (LTC)
1 x word clock in
1 x word clock out
Headphone output 1 x 1/4″ TRS stereo phone (assignable)
1 x 1/4″ TRS stereo phone (mirrors main outs)
Phantom power 2 x individual +48V
Front panel 2 x XLR/TRS combo mic/guitar in
2 x 1/4″ TRS phone
2 x digital rotary encoders • phone/main volume
2 x digital rotary encoders • mic trim
4 x switches • Pad and 48V Phantom
4 x digital rotary encoders for LCD control
2 x 16 character LCD
8 x 4-segment ladder LEDs • 1/4-inch analog in
8 x activity LED • 1/4-inch analog out
2 x 4-segment ladder LEDs • RCA S/PDIF in
2 x activity LED • RCA S/PDIF out
2 x 10-segment LEDs • mic in with V-Limit
2 x 5-segment ladder LEDs • main outs
6 x LED • sample rate indicator
1 x LED • LOCK/TACH indicator
2 x activity LEDs • optical bank A/B
1 x activity LED • MIDI in/out
1 x AC power switch
Power International 100-240V autoswitching supply
50-60 Hz • 20 Watts

Drivers

For those of you in the future running Kernel 5.14+ you can skip these steps. The following instructions are for Debian but should work for Ubuntu, Mint, and PopOS.

1. Install kernel headers, dkms, and git.

sudo apt install linux-headers-$(uname -r) dkms git

2. Clone the repository and install

git clone https://github.com/takaswie/snd-firewire-improve.git
cd snd-firewire-improve
sudo ln -s $(pwd) /usr/src/alsa-firewire-4.17
sudo dkms install alsa-firewire/4.17 (superuser)

3. Reboot


Pulseaudio

With the ALSA drivers installed the MOTU 828 MK3 should function like any other sound device in pavucontrol.


Jack

Since we are not using the FFADO drivers remember to select ALSA and the correct device.


Round-trip Latency

While many kinds of audio latency metrics exist, one useful and well-understood metric is round-trip latency; the time it takes for an audio signal to enter the input of a device, get processed, and exit the output.


Testing setup

CPU AMD Ryzen 7 1700
RAM Corsair Vengeance LPX 16GB
Motherboard MSI B350 Tomahawk
GPU Nvidia NVS 300
SSD Samsung 840
PSU: EVGA 600 B1
Firewire: Syba SY-PEX30016
Network: Intel i350-T4
OS: Debian Bullseye
Kernel: 5.11-rt-amd64
Desktop: NA

MOTU 828 MK3: Round-trip latency @44100 Hz


MOTU 828 MK3: Round-trip latency @48000HZ


MOTU 828 MK3: Round-trip latency @96000HZ


MOTU 828 MK3: Round-trip latency @192000HZ


Verdict

The MOTU 828 MK3 still sounds great in 2021 but it’s a nightmare to work with. I spent an entire afternoon configuring it to work as a standalone microphone preamp with digital out. This is something that would have taken all of 3 minutes to accomplish with the original software. Unless you have an old Windows XP/Vista box to perform the initial setup you’re going to be using the four front panel knobs. To make matters worse, the manual glosses over config-by-knob because nobody in their right mind would attempt such a thing. Then we have the price, good luck finding one that you would want to own for less than $300.

At the end of the day the MOTU 828 MK3 can be made to work if you’re up for the challenge and have plenty of free time to set on fire.


Where to buy

eBay (used)


Check out our Amazon idea list, and take a look at our studio gear.

MOTU 828 MK3

6 out of 10
Works out of the box
3/10
Ease of setup
4/10
Stability
10/10
Features
7/10

Pros

2 preamps with 53 dB of gain.

Digital trim for +1 adjustments.

Insert jacks for outboard gear.

Standalone operation.

Cons

No ffado-mixer.

That 16 second startup time is rough.

Mixing & effects have to be done with the front panel.

Price.

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