I had the opportunity to use the MR816 for the entire Musician’s Friend grace period as my main interface in a period where I was in the studio 8 days a week. Let’s see what I thought of it.
Super Fast Latency
The first thing I noticed about the Steinberg MR816 was it’s ability to handle to turbo low latencies. For a majority of the tracking, I kept the MR816 fixed at 64 samples. Only under extreme loads of sample usage and/or plugin-intense mixing did I find the need to switch to higher latencies. I really liked how quickly I was able to change latencies. There was none of this 15 seconds of goofing around that I’m used to on the Firestudio.
Low CPU Usage
Compared to other interfaces I’ve used, the MR816 gave me the ability to use more plugins and more VST instruments. How much more? It’s hard to say, but on some complex movie score work with tons and tons of orchestral samples going, I had a hard time switching back to my Presonus Firestudio.
Sounds Pretty Good
The MR816 doesn’t sound half bad. I’m used to using high end preamps and converters (even though I’m rarely as wound up about their effect as most), but for a wild weekend of movie scoring and fast-paced songwriting using the MR816 exclusively, I was able to stand the results.
I do think there is a TON of hype as to this thing sounding like a million bucks. Let’s just say I’m not giving up my Manley TNT or Mytek converters any time soon. I guess it’s a bit ridiculous to expect the MR816 to be in this league. However, with such extreme hype about the sound of the unit and then guys like myself who don’t use exclamation points at the end of sentences describing the sound of ANY preamp or converter, it’s easy to lose context. This thing sounds slightly better than other interfaces I’ve heard, but this whole preamp thing is always subtle.. There is less 2k emphasis and smear with it than other cheapo pres I’ve dealt with, but this thing is definitely not top of the line.
I guess the guys who are really happy with the sound of this thing were used to a really cheap interfaces. That, and I think the “new and shiny” effect probably had something to do with it.
I couldn’t be more thrilled about the reliability of this thing. I demand gear that won’t screw up on me. I’ve been on a massive journey to find an interface that will deliver day in and day out and meet various other random, ridiculous criteria I’ve concocted over the years. Without a doubt, the MR816 gets my approval in that department. I had zero problems with the interface. (I did bitch a bit about an S/PDIF input issue that ended up being a cable that died in a 10-second period.)
Even killing the power mid-session caused no major issues (which was often a 30-minute setback with the Firestudio). Simply giving the MR816 it’s juice back allowed it to re-sync in just a few seconds. I gave it a 10 in this department. Very impressive!
I couldn’t find one freakin’ guy on the planet who could give me a straight answer about Cubase integration. This was before I invented my ultra-revolutionary theory of reading the manual before I buy (only to be nudged out for the Nobel Prize by the guy who invented the ketchup bottles you keep upside down all the time).
The manual clearly lays out exactly what Cubase Integration is all about. For those who are interested, I will spell it out here.
Cubase Integration means that if you have certain versions of Cubase (which ones? You got me. I can’t keep up with all the freakin’ versions. I know it works in Cubase 5), you can highlight a new track, press a little button on the front of the interface, and instantly the corresponding input will be routed to that track. So if I decided to toss a room mic on input #8, I could create a new track, highlight it, and click the button above input #8. Done.
IF YOU HAVE ACCESS TO THIS, this is a very handy feature. I’ll be ranting about this “access” in a minute. Let’s just say that certain users of the MR816 have to go to the back of the bus.
Back to this feature. Does it save hours? Definitely not. It saves a few seconds, but when you are being creative, nothing sucks worse than opening menus. So there is some real value to this thing particularly if you are the kind of guy that keeps all your instruments plugged in at once and kinda sorta use your interface as a patchbay. I’ve been flexing my muscle that switches from creative stuff to technical stuff and back to creative stuff for a long time. For people who get frustrated when making this jump, this button means practically zero interruption from creative time.
Cubase integration also means you can setup multiple zero-latency mixes (or at least ultra-ultra low latencies….more likely in the 1ms department) using the Control Room sends functionality in Cubase. Direct monitoring did come in handy, but I never needed the use of multiple mixes in Cubase. Just one direct monitoring bus was enough for me (which I’ve become a huge fan of on vocals). If you need more than one mix at zero latency, this is a great feature.
They’ve moved several of the menus used to control the MR816 (such as master volume, headphone volume, and effects) in to Cubase menus, but I can’t say I was thrilled with their implementation. I found it easier to deal with the front of the rack, which was actually pretty handy.
In short, these Cubase Integration features are nice, and they certainly make this unit stand out in its catalog ads, but don’t get your panties in a wad over any of them. They are not a revolution. I’m not sure why anyone else couldn’t just come out and say the Cubase Integration features weren’t going to solve the world population crises. I guess I just did. Vote for Brando on Tuesday.
To keep things in perspective, as I’ve moved on to a new interface that’s decidedly stripped down everywhere it needs to be, I’ve not missed any of these features.
The Back Of The Bus
I use my Mytek AD96 via S/PDIF for pretty much all of my overdubbing using one or two channels. For anything I listen to through my Focal Solo 6BE monitors , I use a Mytek DA96 via S/PDIF out. This puts me in the minority. I’m guessing most home recorders are relying on the interface for AD and DA conversion.
If you are in this minority, those fancy features of Cubase Integration, DSP Effects, etc go out the window. You can’t use them completely.
Just a minute ago I explained the push button routing on the front of the interface. This finger routing only works on the eight analog inputs. If you use S/PDIF or ADAT, you are out of luck. So this features was useless to me.
I’ve been looking for some better effects, particularly in the reverb department. I was excited to see the MR816 CSX had reverb powered by it’s on board DSP chip. Great! Then I got to the part where if I’m using a DA converter via S/PDIF, then I’m just shit out of luck. This sucked! I hadn’t expected this one, at all. The reverb was off-limits to me both in mixing and during zero-latency monitoring. (No reverb for singers when using my fancy converters. Yuck!)
I did rig up a headphones option and the reverbs did sound nice and dense, but it’s hard for me to give it a fair review unless I’ve gotten to actually use it in a real mix. I wasn’t willing to take my rig apart and downgrade some gear to hear the reverb. So you’ll have to go elsewhere for that review, unfortunately.
75% of ADAT Inputs
When S/PDIF is in use, you must give up two ADAT inputs. Fro those of us who don’t start counting on our fingers when buying an interface, they really are taking the “16” part in the MR816 literally. (It makes a person wonder what the 8 means.)
This isn’t the end of the world, but it certainly gives me a bad taste in my mouth. There should have been asterisk or something next to the S/PDIF mention in the ads.
I was viciously disappointed when I wasn’t able to route the stereo out from Cubase to both my DA converters (to my studio monitors) and to outputs ½ (to my headphone amp). This is something that I depend on. The Firestudio had excellent routing options and being able to send any signal to whatever I gadget, was a big deal for me. It came in handy way more than I had realized.
I was able to scrape up a workaround in Cubase 5′s control room, but it had its drawbacks, for sure.
Again, this is something most people aren’t going to deal with too much. The fact that Cubase 5 (and presumably other software makers) have created fancy options for routing signals via the software, this is less of an issue. Regardless, for an interface of this caliber, it was downer that I had to scrape up such a solution.
I purchased the Steinberg MR816 CSX though Musiciansfriend, gave it hell, and ended up sending it back. My needs are a little more advanced than most. I need more than 16 inputs and I need full use of S/PDIF and ADAT. I’m sure they realized I’m not the only dude on the planet and they chose to cater to people who are debatebly more sane.
For a dude who doesn’t plan on dumping a dumb wad on fancy converters, needs 8 good inputs and maybe the option to add 8 more channels via ADAT later, I can’t think of a better interface. This thing is rocksolid,bulletproof, and does give a slight sound quality boost over other interfaces I’ve heard.
I had a hard time letting this one go. With better routing and full access to the features I THOUGHT it had, I’m not sure there is a better interface out there. I have no problem recommending this interface over less expensive interfaces in a heartbeat. If you are thinking of spending $600, I think you should take a look at the MR816 CSX and it’s cheaper little brother.