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Sound On Sound Reviews The Traveler

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This month (June 2005), the UK's Sound on Sound magazine (SOS) reviews the Traveler, giving it their usual extensive and thorough examination. But even with their intense scrutiny, the editors of Sound on Sound have nothing but good things to say about the Traveler.

“By any standards, it's a hugely capable, great-sounding and brilliantly conceived product which will not disappoint.”

Bus Power

"Used this way [bus powered] with an Apple 1GHz G4 PowerBook, the Traveler gave me a very respectable two and a quarter hours of use before my PowerBook battery ran down, and this was with none of the laptop's energy-saving options enabled."

Portability

“The Traveler strikes a superb balance between audio performance, digital and analogue connectivity, and portability. A pleasure to use—thoroughly recommended.”

"From just seeing the box the Traveler comes in, you know it's a lot more compact than other 19-inch rack-based interfaces. It's still a 1U height, and, at 25cm, reasonably deep, but the Traveler's width is only 37.5cm. Not coincidentally, this puts it at about the same size as an average 15-inch screen laptop. It's not pocketable by any means, but capable of fitting in a laptop or other similarly sized bag. At 1.8kg it's surprisingly light, and its case, with friendly rounded corners and edges, is manufactured not from plastic but a more confidence-inspiring aluminum alloy."

Look and Feel

“The Traveler inspires confidence from the moment you take it out of the box.”

"The Traveler inspires confidence from the moment you take it out of the box. The construction quality is excellent, and all sockets and controls have a nice solid feel. Setting up and software installation is very straightforward and it's quite a liberating moment when you power up a laptop-based system for the first time and realise there's not a mains lead in sight."

I/O

“All in all, the Traveler is an exceptionally well-equipped interface”

"All in all, the Traveler is an exceptionally well-equipped interface, and with the exception of the shared ADAT/TOSlink optical connectors, there are no real catches with input- or output-channel provision—it looks like you get 20 inputs and 22 outputs, and that's just what you do get."

Audio quality

"The on-paper specs for virtually all modern audio interfaces and digital mixers are so good, and so broadly similar, as to make comparison almost meaningless. In any case, it's always the subjective feel factor that is much more important to end users, and it's that that I'll focus on here.

"The Traveler's four mic preamps are equipped with MOTU's new Digital Precision Trims, which allow gain to be set precisely, in 1dB increments, and even to be stored as part of a CueMix Console preset for later recall. To get an idea of their quality, I compared them to two other mic preamps I own: the SPL Goldmike MKI valve/transistor hybrid, and an M Audio DMP2. the DMP2 is of similar quality to the VLZ Pro preamps used in older Mackie mixers but offers more gain, whilst the Goldmike is often considered to be on of the best preamps on the market short of really big-money models.

“To cut a long story very short, the Traveler mic pres are excellent.”

"To cut a long story very short, the Traveler mic pres are excellent. They're more fluid-sounding than the DMP2, especially at higher frequencies, but leaner too, with more transparent low-mids. Putting them up against the Goldmike, I was a little shocked to hear how similar the two units sounded."

"I'd have no hesitation whatsoever in using the Traveler mic preamps for almost any application—they return a colourful, involving sound with bags of detail and a convincing musicality. I was also surprised to discover that a whopping 73dB of gain is on offer—this is just what's needed for low-output dynamic and ribbon mics, and compares favourably with the 60dB on offer from a Mackie Onyx preamp, for example. The gain comes without a noise penalty, too. As someone who works with classical musicians a lot, using small diaphragm mics in fairly distant locations, I was delighted to discover that even with maximum gain dialled in, the sound remained transparent and fluid, and with an impressively low noise floor. Compared to the Goldmike's maximum 72dB of gain there was nothing to choose between the two in this respect.

“As expected, the sound was lively, articulate and reassuringly ballsy without being obviously coloured.”

"I also checked out DI'd electric bass into one of the Traveler's mic pres with its 20dB pad engaged. As expected, the sound was lively, articulate and reassuringly ballsy without being obviously coloured. An external DI box may increase your tone options, but the Traveler does a great basic job by itself.

A/D Converters

“In the time I had with the Traveler whilst writing this review, I tried to build a balanced picture of its strengths and weaknesses, and I can honestly say that while there's lots to like, I could find almost nothing to criticise!”

"As for A-D conversion quality, this again comes over as being excellent. Listening critically to very low-level recordings made on a Tascam DA20 MkII DAT machine using its own converters, and then the Traveler's (routed using CueMix Plus to the S/PDIF outputs) the difference was pronounced, with the Traveler being apparently quieter, smoother and more detailed, and the Tascam rather fuzzy by comparison. I also briefly fired up a dbx 386, a valve mic preamp which has a rather nice A-D stage, and other than a hint of difference in high-frequency detail, which I couldn't say was better or worse, the two sounded exactly the same. It's possible that very slight gains in detail may be possible using outboard A-D conversion, like that offered by the likes of Apogee's Rosetta, but there's nothing shabby about the sound of the Traveler."

SMPTE Time Code

"For users in the audio-visual field who work with timecode, the Traveler can both sync to and generate SMPTE using its analogue connections. This feature is configured with the bundled FireWire SMPTE Console software (shown opposite), and is easy to work with whilst providing a sophisticated implementation including freewheel and regeneration options."

Bottom Line

“It's quite some package, and the portability and flexible powering options are the icing on the cake.”

"Having owned several MOTU FireWire and PCI interfaces over the years, I wasn't expecting the Traveler to offer very much more than I'd grown used to. Nothing could be further from the truth, though—MOTU have equipped the Traveler with such an extensive and well-balanced feature set, implemented for the most part with great elegance, that it is a genuine pleasure to work with and to have around in the studio. The CueMix Plus monitoring makes mixerless setups a reality, not just a possibility, and has benefits in the studio and on the road for users working in a variety of different areas. The Digital Precision Trims are wonderful, especially together with the four great-sounding mic preamps and bags of available gain. And I very much appreciate the multitude of digital connections on offer, negating the need for any external format converters. It's quite some package, and the portability and flexible powering options are the icing on the cake.

“MOTU have equipped the Traveler with such an extensive and well-balanced feature set, implemented for the most part with great elegance, that it is a genuine pleasure to work with and to have around in the studio.”

"Of course, the FireWire audio interface market is somewhat more crowded nowadays than it once was." Sound On Sound goes on to say, "MOTU appear to have been careful, though, to give the Traveler some distinctive features that not all the others can match — genuine stand-alone operation, the excellent mic preamps and digital gain controls, flexible powering options, the extensive CueMix Plus monitoring facilities, and of course genuine portability. The Traveler also plays well with additional MOTU FireWire and PCI interfaces should you ever need to up the total number of inputs and outputs available on your setup. Its software is also not particularly biased toward Mac or PC—both are equally well supported, with the exception that Mac users additionally get access to AudioDesk. If all these are features that are important to you, then the Traveler presents itself as the stand-out choice. By any standards, it's a hugely capable, great-sounding and brilliantly conceived product which will not disappoint."

For the complete story

Pick up a copy of the June issue of SOS today. SOS online subscribers can read the story online.