The Definitive Motu M2 Review

Simple and stylish audio interface with superb audio quality
MOTU M2 review - abstract collage image

Reviewed by: Daren Banarsë
Review date: March 2024
Current price: Around $200

Mark of the Unicorn MOTU M2 reviewed
Mark of the Unicorn MOTU M2 bus powered audio interface
Motu M2 Review
Quiet clean preamps
On/off switch
Individual phantom power switches
Clear LCD metering
Only one USB-A to USB-C cable included

MOTU M2 USB Audio interface

The MOTU M2 is a high quality 2 input, 4 output USB-C powered audio interface with MIDI. Made by Mark of the Unicorn, the M2 is suitable for use with DAWS or stand alone, working with PCs, Macs, Linux and IOS.

What is it?

MOTU (Mark of the Unicorn) is a US based company, which entered the music industry back in the 1985 with their Digital Performer DAW software for the Mac. It was widely used at the time, before they began branching out into other popular software and hardware solutions.

MOTU M2 connected to the M3 Macbook Pro
MOTU M2 connected to the M3 Macbook Pro

MOTU’s first breakthrough audio interface was the rack-mounted, firewire MOTU 828, which came out around 2000. It’s still going strong today with as an 8 channel USB interface.

Since the success of the 828, MOTU have been launching a wide range of midi interfaces, for all levels of of music production. The entry level MOTU M series (M2 and M4), arrived in 2019, and the M6 in 2022, in a move to bring the MOTU sound and quality to the home recording market.

All of the M series MOTU interfaces are ‘class compliant’, so they work straight away with Mac (macOS 10.11 and higher), as well as IOS devices, such as iPads and iPhones. If you’re running Windows 10 or later, you’ll have to download and install a driver from here.

In the box

  • 1 metre USB-C to USB-A cable
  • MOTU M2
  • Quick start Info on the box lid
MOTU M2 - contents of the box
MOTU M2 – contents of the box

Design and Build Quality

The MOTU M2 has a simple sleek design, that feels like goos quality straight out of the box. The casing is solid metal, and so are the knobs which have no wobble at all. It’s attractively designed, rounded and minimal – all black, with a colourful LCD display at the centre.

The Motu M2 - a compact, solid audio interface
The Motu M2 – a compact, solid audio interface

There’s 2 rubber grip sections on the base, with four rubber pads. This gives it a slightly industrial feel, as most other interfaces at this price point have small, stick-on pads. These chunky strips also house 4 screws which help to keep the case attached to the circuit board inside.

The underside of the M2, with rubber mounts
The underside of the M2, with rubber mounts

After removing a few more screws from the back and front panel, the circuit board slides out if its solid metal casing, which seems to have been over engineered to mitigate any risk of accidental damage. It feels bullet-proof, actually very similar in design and strength to the casing of the Focusrite Scarlett Series.

Thick metal shell surrounds and protects the MOTU M2
Thick metal shell surrounds and protects the MOTU M2

All in all, it’s a very good looking interface, well designed for ease of use, and simple level monitoring.

MOTU M2 2019 vs 2021 versions

There were some upgrades to the MOTU M2 in 2021, 2 years after its launch which made some improvements:

  • Added an extra screw around each combo socket to stop any wobble while plugging in and unplugging cables.
  • Upgraded the DACs to ESS Sabre 32 (ES9026PRO)
  • An NXP chip has replaced the XMOS chip

Connecting the MOTU M2

Connecting the MOTU M2
Connecting the MOTU M2

Use balanced cables (TRS) wherever possible to connect devices to you 2i2 interface. This includes your microphones and studio monitors. Balanced cables are a bit more expensive, and have 2 rings rather than one ring. They’ll pick up less magnetic or electrical interference. This can show up as a constant hum, buzzing, or even radio signals.

Keep the volume on the audio interface at zero while you’re making any connections, and then turn it up to avoid any loud clicks or pops.

Front panel

On the front panel are 2 XLR TRS combo inputs, each with their own gain knob, and individual phantom power button. This is useful for the rare occasion that you want to record with a condenser mic in one channel, and a ribbon mic on the other. Condenser mics need phantom power, whereas many ribbon mics can become damaged if plugged into a source with phantom power.

MOTU M2 front panel
MOTU M2 front panel

Each input on the MOTU M2 also has its own monitoring button. This is a welcome addition to allow monitoring of your input signals without any latency (delay).

In the centre of the front panel is a small LCD screen – the left side displays input metering, with outputs on the right. They’re bright, colourful and clear – easier to set recording levels than with the Scarlett 2i2. What it lacks though, just like the 2i2, is a dB indicator, so you know at exactly what dB you’re setting to.

To the right of the M2’s front panel is a large, chunky output volume knob, with the headphone socket next to it, along with its own dedicated volume knob.

Motu M2 meter displays

MOTU M2 LCD meter displays

Many 2 channel interfaces have limited metering, many with 5 LEDSs, and the Behringer UMC204HD with just 2 LEDS – one to indicate a signal, the other to show risk of clipping.

MOTU really go to town with the level metering, including a high resolution, full colour LCD display (160×120 pixels). It’s a bit like the arc displays on the Focusrite 2i2, but much easier and clearer to read. This makes it possible to set gain levels and monitor outputs with confidence, at just a glance.

48v button

Motu M2 48v phantom power button for each channel

The MOTU M2 has separate 48 phantom power switches for each input. This is only seen on a few audio interfaces at this price point, and it’s a welcome inclusion. An orange light comes on when 48v is activated, so you can clearly see what your settings are at.

Direct monitoring button

Motu M2 direct monitoring button for each channel

Each channel has it’s very own ‘MON’ button, to allow independent direct monitoring. This is a rare feature, which means you could choose to hear your vocals running though reverb, while simultaneously recording a dry guitar with no latency.

It would be nice to see a monitor mix dial on the M2, as on the M4, which would allow you to adjust the level of sound coming from your inputs, versus the sound coming from your computer.

You can press and hold the monitor button for 3 seconds to activate stereo mode when you’re using two mics as a stereo pair. Do the same to return to mono, where channel 1 and channel 2 will be heard at the centre of the mix.

MOTU M2 Headphones performance

MOTU M2 headphones socket

I’d heard mixed feedback about the headphone amp, so I was keen to put it to the test. On paper, the frequency response is very flat, with a good 115 dB dynamic range.

With the Sennheiser 650 open back headphones (300 ohms), which I use for critical listening, the sound quality was excellent. On a Logic mix, I turned the volume to max, and there were no audible artefacts – it was very loud, but not deafeningly loud. I would personally leave the volume dial at about 75% with these headphones.

Listening with the Beyerdynamic DT 250s closed back phones (80 ohms), sound quality was also excellent, and I found a comfortable position at about 70%.

For the sake of completeness, I also tested with my old 30 ohm Sennheiser 686i earphones. I found a comfortable listening level at about 60% with pretty good, reasonably loud sound, but turning it up above 70%, the sound got very loud and excessively coloured.

MOTU M2 Back panel

On the back panel, the first thing I noticed was an on/off switch, which are becoming quite rare on audio interfaces. It saves you having to unplug the M2 from your computer every time you want to turn it off.

MOTU M2 back panel
MOTU M2 back panel

There are separate 5 pin midi in and out sockets to connect any old keyboards, and a USB C port. A USB-C to USB-B cable is supplied it’s rather on the short side!

As well as a pair of 1/4″ TRS balanced outputs to drive your studio monitors, there’s also a pair of unbalanced RCA outputs. You can use these at the same time to record the output or drive an alternative pair of speakers to check your mixes.

Inputs are the standard XLR and 1/4″ jack combo sockets, which accept signals from microphones, instruments such as guitar, and line level such as audio equipment.

It’s interesting to see that there’s no switch between line and instrument or ‘Hi-Z’ on the 1/4″ inputs. Normally engaging an instrument button raises the gain and impedance to match an instrument like an electric guitar, which needs more of a boost than a keyboard or other audio gear.

USB-C socket

MOTU M2 USB-C socket

The Motu M2 is a USB interface, with a USB-C socket located at the back. I found the socket to be a bit wobbly – the cable didn’t click into place, even when I tried alternative cables. This will be fine on your desk top, but watch out if you’re planning to take the M2 out into the field on a daily basis.

There’s also only one cable supplied – a 1 metre USB-A to USB-C cable. I would have like to have seen a USB-C to USB-C cable included, as many users will need one of these. Luckily I had one handy for testing.

On/off button on the M2

MOTU M2 on off button on rear panel

On off switches on entry level audio interfaces are rare these days, so I was really pleased to see a solid on off button on the rear panel. This gives you the option to turn off your audio interface without having to unplug it from your computer.

MOTU M2 abstract illustration

MOTU M2 Sound quality

The sound quality of the MOTU M2 was crystal clear, with a subtle fullness and warmth. The mic input frequency response is very flat within the audible range, with a slight taper in the lowest frequencies. I didn’t notice any change in the response while cranking up or lowering the gain, which makes it more sonically stable some of the other interfaces.

The round trip latency at various settings was spot on, comparable to some of the best interfaces I’ve tested. As is the standard in audio interfaces, it’s 48 bit, with a sample rate of up to 192kHz.

Excellent sound quality in the studio
Excellent sound quality in the studio

The MOTU M2 has a very high dynamic range of 115 dB, taking it very close to the 4th gen Scarlett 2i2. This leaves plenty of headroom for recording, so you can feed it a low signal without the worry of noise build-up. The outputs have a dynamic range of 120dB, which is equally as impressive.

Inside the MOTU M2 - circuit board
Inside the MOTU M2

MOTU M2 Pre amps

MOTU M2  Preamps - THAT 6263

Preamps are an important component of any audio interface. They need to boost the volume of the audio signal without introducing extra noise and distortion. The ‘THAT 6263’ mic preamps are very nice sounding – the quality was obvious – no perceivable distortion in either the inputs or the outputs, just fantastically clear sound.

With a gain range of 60 dB, it’s a bit lower than the 69 dB of the Scarlett 2i2. But using an SM7B (a dynamic mic with a weak signal), and talking loudly into the mic there was no problem with noise at all. I’m not sure this would be the mic to choose for very quiet AMSR work, as you’d have to take the volume to max, and inevitably introduce some noise. But for general recording situations, it’s great.

Also – you won’t need an external signal boosting device with the MOTU M2 preamps, there’s plenty of power.

MOTU M2 Digital Analogue Convertors

MOTU DAC and ADC - ESS Sabre 32

As a signal from a mic enters the audio interface, it converts from an analogue to a digital signal, where it can be processed within the computer. Once processed, and exits the computer to the studio monitors, it’s converted again, this time from digital to analogue.

The quality of the DA and AD convertors is imperative to the quality of sound the audio interface is capable of producing. The M2 uses the same ESS Sabre 32 Pro DACs that you’ll normally only see in their higher end audio interfaces. And the ADs are the original AKM AK5552VN convertors from the 2019 model. These are both great quality convertors.

The MOTU M2 in Stand alone mode

It’s possible to power the MOTU M2 with a USB battery pack or high quality adaptor to enable it to work in a limited standalone mode. This way you could make use of the preamps and digital convertors to amplify your sound for headphone practice or straight to speakers.

The MOTU M2 in standalone mode
The MOTU M2 in standalone mode

Make sure to engage the MON (direct monitor) buttons, as this will route the signal directly from the inputs to the outputs.

MOTU M2 Loopback feature

The loopback feature is appearing on a lot of budget audio interfaces now. It makes it easy to record the audio from your PC along with your microphone. This used to be a very complicated process, but can now be achieved with minimal effort through the MOTU M2.

MOTU M2 from above
MOTU M2 from above

An obvious use for loopback would be if you were live streaming or podcasting. To make use of the full loop back feature, you’ll need to install the M Series driver whether you’re using a Mac or PC.

MOTU M2 software

There’s no software specifically for the MOTU M2, so you won’t be able to mix, route signals, or send specific mixes to your headphones of the main outputs.

MOTU M2 Bundled Software

The MOTU M2 comes with a selection of software and sounds to get you started, including of course a lite version of their own Performer DAW.

Included with Performer Lite, there’s a selection of all the basic instruments – guitar, bass, drums, world instruments, keyboards and more. You can combine this with the included sample packs from Big Fish Audio and Lucid Samples, as well as loops from Loopmasters.

They also include a lightweight version of Ableton Live 11 – Ableton Lite, which is an alternative to using Performer. It also has its own effects and a different workflow to Performer.

MOTU M2 dimensions and weight

As well as looking similar, the weight and dimensions of the M2 are close to the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. It’s heavy enough to sit on your desk and plug and unplug cables without it moving around.

But its not too heavy – I’d also consider the M2 a light weight interface choice for carrying around with you, to other sessions or studios.

MOTU M2 dimensions and weight
MOTU M2 dimensions and weight

If you were to compare it with the M4, which has the extra 2 line inputs, the M4 is slightly heavier and bigger.

MOTU dimensions – M2 vs M4
M2 (reviewed here)M4
Weight601g (1.35 lbs)700g (1.55 lbs)
Height4.5 cm (1.75″)4.5 cm (1.75″)
Width19cm (7.5″)20.1cm (8.25″)
Depth10.8cm (4.25″)10.8cm (4.25″)

Other audio interfaces by MOTU

MOTU make a large range of audio interfaces, mainly for the professional audio market. The M series are the first foray into the home recording market. If you like the sound of the MOTU M2, but need more channels, there’s two other audio interfaces in the MOTU M range – the M4 with 4 inputs, and the M6 with 6 inputs.

If you need a ton of inputs and outputs, take a look at the MOTU UltraLite Mk5 (reviewed here). It’s in a different price league, but will safeguard you for the future. It only has 2 preamps, but if you need more microphones, you can add something like the ADA8200 8 channel pre amp unit from Behringer.

MOTU M2 vs M4

The M4 is very similar to the M2, and uses much of the same components and circuitry. Like the M2, the M4 still just has 2 preamps, but also two line-ins, where you could connect external preamps or other audio gear. It also has an extra pair of balanced outputs, and an extra pair of unbalanced RCA outputs.

It also has the additional Input monitor mix dial, so you can find your own balance between the sound from your DAW and the input signal.

Motu M4
Motu M4


If you require 4 preamps, have a look at the MOTU M6, which has 4 TRS XLR channels with individual phantom power, plus 2 line inputs (balanced or unbalanced). Instead of RCA outputs, the MOTU M6 has just 4 balanced TRS outputs which can be connected to two sets of professional studio monitors. You also have the option to run it from DC power.

Motu M6
Motu M6


The MOTU M2 USB interface - a solid workhorse
The MOTU M2 USB interface – a solid workhorse

With quiet and clear preamps, a good dynamic range, low latency, and very low distortion, the MOTU is a great interface to consider. Whereas it’s contender, the Scarlett 2i2 has some excellent features to make the recording process easier, the MOTU M2 has brilliant alternative benefits.

There’s an on/off switch, an extra pair of outputs (for DJ gear), and individual phantom power switches should you need it. Depending on your taste, you may also find the traditional LCD level meters easier to read. It also comes with a sizeable package of software including 6Gb of loops and sounds from Big Fish Audio and Loopmasters.

The MOTU M2 is a professional quality audio interface, suitable for the audio engineer, podcaster, live-streamer, or home recordist looking for high end sound.

MOTU M2 frequently asked questions

Does the MOTU M2 have separate phantom power for individual pre amps?

The MOTU M2 is unique in that it does have the option to turn phantom power on for individual pre amps. This enables you to use a condenser mic and a ribbon mic at the same time.

Should I buy the Scarlett 2i2 or the MOTU M2?

The Scarlett 2i2 or the MOTU M2 are both great interfaces, each with their pros and cons. The 2i2 has features which make it easier for complete beginners, while the M2 has an on-off switch, extra RCA outputs, and individual 48v phantom power switches.

Should I buy the MOTU M2 of the M4?

Both the Motu M2 and Motu M4 have 2 preamps, while the M4 has 2 extra line inputs, more outputs and a direct monitoring mix dial. If you don’t need these extra features, there’s no need to buy the M4.

What are the alternative 2 channel audio interfaces to consider for your home studio?

Other recommended 2 preamp interfaces

Review modelInputsOutputsDigital
Scarlett Focusrite 2i2 4th gen22No
RME Babyface Pro FS42Yes
Behringer U-Phoria UMC204D26No
MOTU UltraLite mk5810Yes
Solid State Logic SSL2+24No
Universal Audio Volt 27622No

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