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MOTU UltraLite Mk5

USB 2 Audio Interface By Chris Korff
Published July 2024

MOTU UltraLite Mk5

MOTU’s newest UltraLite interface is a Jack of all trades... and master of most of them!

Since the Mk1’s release in 2006, the UltraLite has always been something of a misnomer. While they’ve always ‘only’ been half‑rack interfaces, UltraLites have also been pretty rugged affairs, and so not at all light in terms of weight. They’ve also managed to cram a remarkable amount of I/O into their compact chassis, so they’re not light on channels either. In fact, they’ve arguably encroached on the ‘full‑fat’ interface territory occupied by MOTU’s own 828s, and the latest Mk5 is no exception.

The UltraLite Mk5 has been around for some time now, but while reviewing it last year, I contacted MOTU to mention a few limitations to the software control side of things, and they replied to tell me that they had a major update planned that would address my wish‑list and add more features besides — some of which come directly from the recently launched next‑gen 828. I’ll cover those features later on, but first, the basics.

Let There Be Lite

The UltraLite Mk5 is a USB 2.0 interface. The USB 2 standard has more than enough bandwidth for the Mk5’s I/O count, and its use here has allowed MOTU to make the Mk5 class‑compliant — so you can connect it to a macOS, iOS, iPadOS or Android device without needing any drivers. (On Windows, as ever, you need to install ASIO drivers to use it with most DAWs.)

The I/O on offer are many and varied. You get two mic/line/instrument inputs on combi sockets on the front, plus a stereo headphone socket. Round the back, you get six further analogue line‑level inputs, a whopping 10 line outs, a pair of optical I/O (for ADAT or S/PDIF), a pair of S/PDIF coaxial I/O, and full‑size MIDI I/O. Completing the socketry are the USB‑C port and a 15V DC power inlet. Speaking of power, unlike the first three generations of UltraLite, which had FireWire connectivity and could be bus‑powered, the USB Mk5 must be connected to a PSU. Not much of a problem if you’re using it with a computer or laptop, where you’ll probably be near a mains socket anyway, but it might be a frustration for people who use tablets and the like for mobile recording.

The rear panel hosts no fewer than six line inputs (in addition to the front‑panel combi sockets), and a whopping 10 line outs, plus digital I/O and full‑size MIDI ports.The rear panel hosts no fewer than six line inputs (in addition to the front‑panel combi sockets), and a whopping 10 line outs, plus digital I/O and full‑size MIDI ports.

Twist It, Push It

The front panel offers hands‑on control over the two combi inputs, the headphone output and the monitor level, as well as power on/off (via a long press of the main volume encoder). Phantom power and an input pad are engaged individually for each preamp using buttons along the bottom fo the front panel, which feature blue and red backlights for the pad and phantom power respectively. Encoders above those buttons adjust mic gain — up to a massive +74dB. The third encoder adjusts monitor level or, after a short click, the headphone output. The two gain knobs also provide access to a housekeeping menu: a click on the channel 2 encoder brings up options on the screen for changing the sample rate (all the usual rates are available, from 44.1 to 192 kHz), choosing a clock source (internal, optical or S/PDIF), the optical I/O format (ADAT or S/PDIF, independently for input and output), engaging ‘thru’ behaviour on the MIDI output port, setting the display time‑out time (30 seconds, half an hour or off), displaying the serial number and firmware version, and performing a factory reset. The channel 2 encoder scrolls through the options and selects/changes them with a click, while channel 1’s encoder lets you click to go up a level.

When the display is timed out, a solitary pixel slowly bounces around the screen in Pong fashion, to let you know the unit is still on. In its default state, though, the screen functions as a meter bridge, showing the levels going into and out of all the analogue I/O, alongside the current sample rate, clocking status, and digital I/O activity (including MIDI). It’s clear, bright and easy to read, and the menu is easily navigable.

The Device page in CueMix. The monitoring section at the top has been recently added, and lets you set up A/B monitor switching.The Device page in CueMix. The monitoring section at the top has been recently added, and lets you set up A/B monitor switching.


Like other MOTU interfaces, the UltraLite Mk5 is graced with built‑in DSP mixing abilities, which are configured and controlled using the CueMix software. The Home tab duplicates the front‑panel functionality, with knobs for monitor/headphone output level and preamp gain, and buttons for pad and phantom power. There are also buttons here to enable direct monitoring, whereby each analogue input can be sent directly to either or both of the monitor and headphone outputs, avoiding the computer’s audio buffers and providing near‑zero‑latency monitoring.

The Device page provides all the same clocking, sample rate and digital I/O options as the front‑panel menu, as well as drop‑down menus for setting the input meters to pre/post fader, engaging a low‑latency mode (Windows machines only), making the stereo output mixes from the computer available to the input mixer (so any mix you set up for a pair of outputs on the UltraLite will get its own fader within each output mix tab), and for changing the buffer size. This can be set as low as 16 samples, which at 44.1kHz yielded a commendably low latency of 1.2 and 2.0 ms (input and output, respectively). At a less CPU‑taxing 64 samples, I/O latency was...

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