MOTU 896 mk3 BLACK LION MOD- A GOOD INVESTMENT?

KevinD

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This is related to the home recording threads, particularly recent ones mentioning the MOTU 896.
I have the MOTU 896k mk3 (both firewire and USB ).

I am NOT unhappy with the built in pre-amps on it but I have been considering the Black Lion upgrade for that unit.

I’ve read on various forums/reviews that the clocking enhancements, and op-amp replacements on the analog ins & outs offer a noticeable improvement on the overall sound.
Like I said, I am satisfied with the way things sound now, but I figure any investment in improvements are worthwhile. I really like this unit though, easy to use and really versatile, so I don't mind spending some money to extend its life.

I have decent mics for my setup (Beta 52, SM 57, Sennheiser E 604s and a pair of SM 81s (which seem to be on semi-permanent loan from a friend who is no longer doing music) and some other misc. mics.

I’m only interested in doing drum tracks, no instruments, and no vocals (where pre-amp selection becomes more of a specific thing ).

As we know, Firewire interface Is no longer supported on new Macs, USB C/Thunderbolt has leapfrogged Firewire so USB C is the way for them these days. (The newer MOTU products use a different architecture from the older platforms and different interfaces as well).

Given the fact that the MOTU Firewire design is getting long in the tooth now is it better to save my money for something else that will eventually replace this device?
(FWIW, my set up with all drum tracks usually 6, 8 at most, MAYBE once in a great while 12 with a submixer, does NOT tax the transport speed of the FW connection so I'm not in need of more speed, nor am I in need of any of the newer networking technologies that the newer MOTU and Focusrite boxes and others now have)

OR
Do I save some additional money and invest in invest in a good, used single channel, or even 4 channel Preamp like the Daking Mic Pre 4 or the UA 710 D or similar? (I’m a little hesitant to get into the whole API lunchbox thing at this stage, seems like too many options and DIY configs in that area.)

If I went with outboard pres for select channels like Sn and Kick, or even OHs I can bypass the MOTU Pres by using TRS in.

Just curious as to what the consensus is.
 

bongomania

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I’m sure there’s no consensus, but imo the upgrade is NOT worth it for home recording of drums. The improvements are in the “cork sniffing” range. If you want to upgrade, go for a newer interface or stand-alone premium preamps.
 

KevinD

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I’m sure there’s no consensus, but imo the upgrade is NOT worth it for home recording of drums. The improvements are in the “cork sniffing” range. If you want to upgrade, go for a newer interface or stand-alone premium preamps.
Well that is kind of where my thoughts lie, but it isn't all home recording. I have, and still do work with some artists that I've done tracks for at home, at one point I was going to do "drum tracks over the internet" for others but it kind of became a racket when customers started bidding things out... with some people doing tracks for $5 so I let that idea go to the back burner. With the C-19 and less mobility around here (NY-NJ is not really opened up yet) there is still interest in collaborating virtually. I figure If I'm going to participate, i may as well take some steps ($400 for the Black Lion upgrade) so I can get things sounding as good as they can.

I'm more curious as tho what people's experiences are with the BL mods.
 

musiqman

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I am looking into the Motu B16 because of the AVB option.

If purely as step up in pre’s, I think a new interface like Universal Audio X8P, Antelope Audio Synergy Core or maybe Apogee Symphony would be a better investment.
 

owr

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I think dcrigger mentioned in my for sale post that he has the BL upgrades, maybe hit him up directly for an opinion? I didnt know such an option existed and am not sophisticated enough to need such things. I will say with my Motu I was able to get it working with a 2019 Macbook Pro with a firewire conversion cable. It was a bit flighty at times with the computer not recognizing the device and the unit as a whole was more than I needed, which is one of the reasons I got a newer smaller Focusrite unit.

I mostly work with Ableton and have started playing with Sensory Percussion triggers, but if I was purely into recording live instruments I would probably stat looking ahead to the UA interfaces and Luna. I have a buddy who does a fair amount of recording and has been an avid Logic guy for ~20 years, and he has switched cold turkey to to Luna and is loving it.
 

mfk252

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IMHO, the order of importance in terms of recording sound quality is this (descending order):

drummer>drum kit>room>microphones>mic pres>converters>interface

I would look into either a used 4-channel Daking or an API 3124 (I have both). I'm about 10 years into doing home drum recording. Provided my performance is up to snuff, I can get pro results in a larger acoustically treated higher ceilinged bedroom. My interface is nearly 10 years old (RME UFX) and my converters are even older (Apogee AD16X).

The mic pres make a noticeable difference with good mics (which you have). You notice the difference much more once the drums are thrown into a mix. I haven't upgraded my converters or interface as my old gear still serves my needs (track drums directly to USB drive - 14 channels at 96k sampling).
 

eigentone

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$400 for an interface that is nearly 10 years old? Not worth it IMO. Save it for your next converter. Conversion tech is still advancing quickly and prices are dropping. Or put it towards pro level mics and pres. Those are the better long term improvements IMO.
 

phdamage

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i had a MOTU 24io modded by BLA long ago. they did a good job, but admittedly, the clock upgrade did the most to improve the sound and I kinda wish I had just bought a new interface instead. (aside: i would encourage you NOT to go down the clocking rabbit hole).

I'll add, as someone with a lot of fancy mic pres, your instruments and your mics make a far bigger difference, as has already been stated. If you must, I'd push you to invest in a 500 series rack and buy up some CAPI mic pres - most folks think they beat the current API offerings and they cost a helluva lot less! you can often find them used for the price of an unassembled kit.
 

dcrigger

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Hi Kevin - lots of great pondering and questions you've got going here.

I have and use two 896HD's that were modified by Black Lion. i also use four channels of Neve 1272 preamps that I got years ago from Brent Averill. So the BD in mic, the top SD mic and two overheads run through the Neve's into the 896 line inputs (bypassing the pres) - everything else runs through the BL modified pre's - with everything clocked by one of BL's external clocks.

I got the Neve's long before the 896's - so compared to the junk I was using before - they were a huge jump up. I actually borrowed/rented some Neves and API's to do a direct shootout - focusing just on drums. And while both were indeed wonderful - I simply preferred the Neve's. Again particularly for drums. It's the way they passed the transients through that was simply better than the API's - you could hear the difference and could see it clearly in the captured waveforms.

But again all some pretty fine distinctions.

So prior to the BL mods to the 896's - the difference between the Neve channels and using the stock pres was pretty evident. The stock 896HD didn't suck - but using the Neve's was noticeably better. After the mods, that is is far less the case. The BL mods moved those boxes up into the pro level Apples and Oranges distinctions. Which is why I still use them.

That said - I had those modified over 10 years ago. And lot has changed - and the cost performance ratio of this stuff has continued to greatly improve.

At the time of my mods, BL was not modifying the 896 mk3's - they told me if I wanted a second one to mod (I has one 396HD) to seek another 896HD or even an original 896 - as the mods would bring both up to the same spec. So I don't know what's changed and why they now offer to upgrade the newer units. Further confusing any thoughts I would have as to whether it is worth it.

That said - if it was me - I wouldn't go that route. There is no aspect of this stuff being made better in the past - these aren't vintage mics - IMO things have simple kept improving - with a lot of value trickling down into the more affordable part of the market.

There's no getting around our 896's getting older and older - and everything isn't spruced up with BL mods - the power supply stays the same, the pots or digital encoders stay the same - these things all wear out over time. So those does start to be like continuing to sink money into an old car.

Sadly you can't test run the BL mods - you have them done or you don't. But newer interfaces you can test drive - and put them up head to head with what you've got now. One of the upshots of the online marketplace is the essential need to allow returns - as you can check something out in purpose on Amazon like you can in a store.

SO for little items like this all a test drive costs is the return shipping - and sometime not even that. My ex and I recently did this shopping for a new flute mic for her - pitting a couple of mine against a couple we bought online. Carefully unwrapped them - did our shoot-out - determined our winner - and return the losers.

So I would suggest doing something like that when you're ready. Along with that mic shootout, we got her a new interface... which I didn't have chance to check with drums - but was very impressed by. That was one of the Audient interfaces - so would suggest checking out that. Along with the more obvious Focusrite or UA contenders. The Audience seem pretty easy on the budget as well. But again I'm not saying go for it, just check it out - as I haven't yet.

But along the way here I probably will just to seesaw much better something might sound compared to the pretty long-in-the-tooth stuff I'm using.

Also re: external mic pres - for drums only, it depends on the music. A single pre means very little. A upper end dual pre could be useful - for BD and SD for pop or for overheads for jazz. Obviously while the better pres sound better - if your regular interface is good, then the improvement offered by high end outboard pre's is going to be more and more subtle depending on how good your stock pres are.

As you probably know, those last few percentage points of quality get really really expensive. Same with mics. Heck - more so with mics.
 

KevinD

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Everyone, especially David thank you very much for your advice and guidance.
You've given me some great suggestions and I will start researching those now.

And I really like the premise of David's mic shootout...great idea to be able to compare them in my environment, and be able to return the ones that don't quite fit.

I do agree that technology is changing, and for the better in this area this is a good time to take advantage of it.

Thank you all very much once again.
 

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