I have successfully extended the life of my MOTU 896 audio interface. This solution required buying a new product, but I am so happy with the result that I wanted to post about it anyway.

I had two problems with the MOTU. One was that the volume knob is on the unit which I had to keep nearby my seat at all times, which even with a custom rack makes my room layout cluttered and makes me reach awkwardly for it to adjust the volume. The pot was also dirty and created scratching noise when I turned the knob.

The other problem was that if I wanted to record microphone audio with headphones, the volume knob would control both the headphone levels and the active monitors, and I would have to turn off my speakers in order to set the levels in the headphones to prevent track bleeding and feedback. This was a major pain.

I found a solution by getting the TC Electronic Level Pilot. At $80 it’s fairly pricey but it’s much cheaper than getting a new audio interface or outboard mixer, and I’m quite happy with it. It’s a high-resolution analog volume control with two XLR inputs and two XLR outputs.

The speakers are still going through MAIN OUT, but the signal runs through this new volume knob first. I switched the rocker switch next to the volume knob from “Main Out & Phones” to “Phones Only”. This causes you to have no volume control through your speakers and a line level signal blaring through them, but now with the Level Pilot I can set the level on the phones with one volume knob and the speaker levels with the pilot.

The knob sits happily next to my keyboard for easy control, and I’ve rearranged my whole studio now that the MOTU rack doesn’t have to sit right next to me. I’m very happy with the Level Pilot. It feels very durable and I have a much finer control of audio levels. My only complaint is that sometimes the base pivots on some surfaces making it harder to control. Placing it on a wood surface or putting some double stick tape underneath it solves this problem.