The 1248 is the flagship interface in the range, it offers the broadest range of I/O with a complement loosely equivalent to the many 8 analogue plus ADAT firewire interfaces which have become so common. Speaking very crudely in terms of the old LE interfaces if the Ultralite is an mBox Pro then the 1248 is a 002r (only way, way better).
The 1248 feels premium, mainly due to the deep blue display which is so much less bright than the Ultralite's. It has the cast metal case which is common across the whole range and the power supply is internal via an IEC. The construction is very solid, though I do find the pots, particularly the Main and Mon pots to be a little small. If you have used previous generations of the MOTU range you will know these pots as they are very similar to the ones found on the 828. I’m particularly pleased to see proper metal nutted jack sockets on the back of this unit. I’ve seen too many people trip over too many leads to settle for anything less!
The 1248 is a Thunderbolt interface, it also offers USB 2.0, the difference being total channel count, Over Thunderbolt a total of 128 channels can be simultaneously routed each way. Over USB this channel count is reduced to 64. It is also possible to connect a reasonably current Mac (anything recent enough to have thunderbolt seems to work) directly to the AVB network via Ethernet. All recent Macs qualify, but as this is a hardware requirement people using Hackingtoshes will have to do their homework. When running the OS X AVB driver you don’t need to be connected via Thunderbolt or USB through an AVB interface to connect to the AVB network and access AVB streams. This feature is relatively new, it required me to update the firmware on the units I had. As well as a qualifying Mac you have to be running OS X 10.10 (Yosemite) and the AVB driver does come with some restrictions. Apparently at present it uses an exclusive acquisition model which restricts routing options, for complex routing an AVB switch is recommended, and there are restrictions on available sample rates when using this driver. 48, 96 and 192 are available but 44.1, 88.2 and 176.4 are not. As the driver matures these restrictions are expected to disappear with subsequent updates.
The rear of the 1248 offers 4 mic inputs, 8 analogue inputs, 8 analogue outputs in addition to the 2 pairs of monitor outputs (Main and Mon), s/pdif I/O on phonos, 2 sets of ADAT connections and word clock I/O on BNCs (particularly necessary in this case as the potential for clocking to get complicated when connecting multiple AVB boxes is very real). Using this interface in conjunction with an ADAT 8 channel mic pre (Audient and Midas make nice units - see my review) I could comfortably track a typical band. Something which is worth pointing out is that this is an audio only interface, something which only occurred to me when I went round the back of the 1248 with a MIDI lead! This is far less of a concern these days but I take MIDI ports for granted and it really caught me out that there weren’t any.
I found myself wondering why the 1248 was called the 1248? It offers 32 inputs - counting the inputs on the back. I thought I’d lost two but then remembered the 2 DI inputs on the front. Where do 12 and 48 come from? I realised after giving it some thought that the 12 is the number of analogue inputs (4 mic + 8 line) and the 48 refers to the built in 48 channel DSP mixer (hang on, what about those two DI inputs on the front...).
The mic preamps offer 63dB of clean gain. I used these mic amps in conjunction with a BAE 1073 on an acoustic session and unless I deliberately drove the BAE preamp hard I had no specific preference between the two. The gains and trims can be remotely controlled from the web app allowing the interface to be placed near the players and monitoring and remote control of the interfaces to be carried out from a distance. This had a significant impact on the analogue cabling requirements on a typical mobile rig type of session. Cabling to networked, remote mic amps has been almost standard practice at the high end of the live sound market for some time and I can see these practices becoming more and more popular in recording. The front panel offers less convenient, but intuitive navigation of the hardware settings and I was particularly pleased to find the trim pot which, when pressed, offers a large display of the level meters in banks of four, big enough to be viewed from a distance. When adjusting gain from the front panel a large bargraph the size of the whole display appears but only while the pot is being turned. I didn't find a way to lock it on to the display.
Software And Mixer
I’m not going to go into any depth about the web control app and built in DSP mixer. These features are central to how this range of products work but they are common to the whole range so I would prefer to concentrate on the hardware of the 1248 in this review and cover the software in a later post. Suffice it to say that the software control, the built in mixer and the routing app are the really interesting bits and when you have some of these units (or even just one) the potential they offer can be bewildering. Of all the connections on the back of the 1248, the one which makes the difference is the network port…
As a standalone unit the 1248 is a lovely interface, I’ve found it a joy to use and would be very happy with it even without the AVB aspect of its operation. The reason for choosing this unit over any of the others is that it provides the broadest range of I/O available on any one box. Only some of the AVB range offer Thunderbolt, specifically the 1248, 16A, 8M and 112D. The 24Ai, 24Ao, Ultralite AVB and the Monitor 8 are all USB only. If you need Thunderbolt and want an integrated monitor controller then the 1248 is the right box for you.