Saturday, December 19, 2009

Black Lion Audio MOTU 24i/o Review

Alright, so here's the deal. I've been using a MOTU 24IO for quite some time. It's a nifty piece of equipment. No preamps, no effects, nothing that just wastes space, simply 24 TRS inputs and 24 TRS outputs. I use external preamps (API, UA, etc) and choose to go mixerless. With the 24IO, all of my routing can be done within the CueMix software mixer, which is just incredible. Here's a picture of the CueMix from the MOTU Website ( 7 is way too hot.)

Anyway. So I really love the MOTU and have had no problems with it other than one thing: the quality of conversion. I found that most all MOTU units sound like crap at 44.1kHz resolution, but really sound pretty great at 96k. What sucks is, who wants / needs to record at 96k all the time? It takes up over double the hard disk space and is twice as hard on your hard drive to record. Most sessions I do end up being 44.1 or 48k, so that's where I usually keep my clock set.

Still...I did some tests and found that the 44.1 really started to bother me. In comparison to the 96k, it sounded like I had a sock over the microphone at was that dark and muddy. Now, in a full mix after EQ and compression, the 44.1 always sounded okay, but it was never as crisp or as detailed or...something...that I wanted it to be. I couldn't really put my finger on it.

Soon I learned about a company called Black Lion Audio. They're based out of Chicago, IL and their basic service is as follows: take pro-grade gear (NOT top of the line...but widely used Lower-grade "Pro Studio" gear), replace the analog section, replace the clock, and you've got yourself one amazing interface. They mod all kinds of interfaces, such as the Digidesign 002, 003, and 192. They also mod the MOTU 24io, HD192, and I think a few others. Each mod is different, and for my particualar unit, the clock has to be external; the housing is already jam packed with electronics. So, I got the BLA "Microclock mkII," with my mod. Since they can't fit it in the chassis, they just knock off about $100 of the price to compensate for your trouble, which I found to be a pretty impressive deal.

Out the door, my Mod and Clock cost around $950. My MOTU cost $1400 brand new, so having a professional quality interface for a grand total of only $2350 is a STEAL. To get the same number of inputs and outputs from Apogee, you'd have to spend a good $10,000+. Plus, the MOTU 24io mod is one of the more expensive mods. Some really well known producers are using the BLA stuff...Butch Walker, Jay Ruston, plus artists like the Donnas, Dave Bazan, Weezer, and so many more. It's really impressive.

I scheduled the mod back in September, and my date was December 7th. This place is POPULAR. As of right now, their next available mod spot is in late February. Anyway, so I gave my downpayment (half up front) and I paid for the clock (which they sent immediately). When I got the clock I plugged it in and experienced an interesting change. The soundfield had more clarity and depth, with just a touch of brightness added. What was probably happening was a touch of darkness being removed because of clock accuracy. Anyway, I noticed just from listening to my Left and Right outs that I could hear a difference. It was subtle, but you really could hear it.

Months passed and the time for my mod FINALLY came! I shipped it on a Tuesday and got there Friday. My mod was scheduled for the following Monday, and it was finished a week and a day later. It was difficult being without my MOTU for two weeks, but I was sure it would be worth it. And OH YEAH it was.

I wire everything back up, hook up my BLA Microclock, start working with the unit, and immediately I can hear a big difference. There was a LOT more clarity in the spectrum, just more clarity in transients and especially in tonal balance. I was able to notice things like, oh the kick is too boxy or the bass is a bit too boomy. Things came together quicker in the mix and to my surprise it was extremely translatable! That was my favorite part. I usually mix on a handful of speakers, but I hate it when I get an awesome mix on one set and then it doesn't sound nealy as good on another set. I think that is a combination of things (that we don't have time to talk about right now) but I know the BLA Mod and Clock helped a TON.

And don't even get me started on how good it sounds once you record an entire SONG with it! My goodness! Imagine this for a second: your sound is only as good as the weakest link in your chain. Mine was my converters, for sure. Other than that I use great instruments, room treatment, mics, and preamps. So think: if your chain gets just 10% better because of the mod, and you've got a production of 40-60 tracks, then your production will theoretically sound 400-600% better. That sounds ridiculous at first, but trust me this mod will make you believe it. Things sounded SO crisp and real. Like I was sitting right there listening. It truly was the missing link in my sound that I always needed to get that "professional sound" that we all love. It's incredible!

The company is rock solid. They're honest, they're patient, they do amazing work, and they've got to be the nicest guys I've ever talked to. They really know their stuff and will sit there on the phone explaining everything they do and everything that goes into the mod until you run out of minutes on your cell phone. FIVE STARS for Black Lion Audio. GO check them out and see the inredible deals they provide.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome review!

    I've been wanting to get their mod on my 828mkii but haven't yet saved up the money. I was starting to convince myself that I could just live without it. Now I'm sold! Thanks again for the review. I hadn't found been able to find one as complete as this.

    -Tom N