Recently I received a call to go out and design a tour at the last minute. The tour was mostly track and needed a playback system. I had most of the parts for the playback system, and the show was willing to rent it from me, so all I needed was an audio interface. It didn’t take much research for me to know what I wanted. I headed straight for the Mark of the Unicorn (MOTU) website to check out an audio interface I had heard about. After reading the specs, I was sold, and I ran out to my local audio shop and bought a couple of MOTU UltraLite-mk3 Hybrids.

This box has quite a few special features, but at the top of the list for me was the Hybrid spec. The UltraLite-mk3 can run on Firewire or USB2. This gives the box incredible versatility and the UltraLite-mk3 can produce sample rates up to 192 kHz. The UltraLite has two mic/instrument inputs, six line-level analog inputs, 10 channels of analog output, stereo S/PDIF, and a stereo headphone output. It is decked out in a rugged, compact half-rack enclosure. For my needs, I was set with the USB2 ability, the 10 outputs, and the renowned MOTU quality.

Not all was completely rosy when using the UltraLite, though. As far as setup and sound quality, it was simple and stellar. It was a simple plug-and-play. I was using the unit on a Windows 7 64-bit computer to playback the tracks in the show. I was sending timecode out the MIDI port with every track, and for some reason, every once in a while the computer would lock up and have to be restarted. I had what I would consider a normal reaction. I blamed the playback software for locking up and crashing. I was using Stage Research SFX, and I contacted Carlton Guc at the company. He suggested I move the timecode to a separate MIDI device, which I did, and I never had a problem again. Then he contacted MOTU, and they sent him am UltraLite to test this problem, putting the unit through several tests, and found that he could cause this reaction over and over again using multiple pieces of software and multiple computers. Obviously the problem was not the software but the driver for the hardware. Guc actually captured the error in the driver code and sent it to MOTU. MOTU is currently reviewing the problem, and I am sure they will have it fixed soon.

It was a good lesson, though, because in theatre, we are using equipment not necessarily the way the manufacturer intended or tested, and we are using computer-based playback software, whether it is SFX or Figure53 Qlab, or Show Cue System, and these programs depend on the hardware to function. If you have a problem, it is very easy to look to the software as the culprit, but sometimes the problem is beyond their control. We have to be patient and tolerant when we find issues, and we need to keep in mind what a niche market we are. We are lucky to have such amazing people building software for us, and we are fortunate to have such amazing hardware to choose from these days. Even with the MIDI problem I had, the MOTU UltraLite-mk3 is an incredible audio interface, and it has been rock solid for me.