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Mbox2 First impressions

Unwrapping
    As a happy owner of a Mbox1, I will sometimes refer to this model in this short article that is nothing more than my very first impressions after using the Mbox2 for two weeks.

    As soon as you unpack it, the Mbox2 impresses you with its professional look, something that (in my opinion) wasn't the case with the Mbox1. The Mbox2 is bigger (7cm x 22,4 x 18,4) and heavier. It also feels sturdiest. It does give you the sensation of being robust and reliable, even if the knobs and faders on the front panel look somehow fragile. But this often the case for gear in this price range. I you happen to have strong fingers, you may want to be extra gentle with the Mbox2!
Installation
    The installation of the Mbox2 went very smooth. When Pro Tools LE is installed, the Mbox2 connected to a USB port is identified by the computer not only as a Pro Tools audio interface, but as a generic audio interface for other audio software, like Peak, iTunes, Reason, Live... all running together.

    Like the first Mbox, though, the Mbox2 doesn't work properly if connected to an USB Hub, even with an external power supply. The Mbox2 has to be connected to the computer's USB port. In my case, I didn't have to do any special installation: I just had to unplug my Mbox1 to plug the Mbox2, which was right away recognised as an audio interface. Any adjustment related to your computer and MIDI set-up follow the normal Mac OS X procedure, by simply using the audio-MIDI utility (in Applications/Utilities), and the "Sound" menu in the Mac OS X Preferences panel.

    When the Mbox2 is installed you'll see something new in the Mac OS X System Preferences: In the bottom part, you'll find a new menu called "Digidesign Mbox2", where you can check the Firmware version and set the Clock to Internal or S/PDIF.

    Those of you who went through configuring the first Digidesign Core Audio drivers will appreciate how everything is easier now!...
Connections



    There are two analogue inputs on the Mbox2 rear panel. Actually, both inputs are available in three configurations:

    - XLR with 48V phantom power doe condenser microphones.
    - TSR lines inputs for jack 6.35 jack for Keyboards, small mixing desk etc.
    - DI input (TS for guitar, Bass etc.) also for 6.35 jack.

    Also located in the back, RCA S/PDIF in and out can be used together with one pair of analogue IN and Out, for a four IN and four OUT configuration. And, of course, two 1/4-inch monitor outputs. Something was missing in the Mbox1: MIDI IN and OUT! The Mbox2 is now a true Audio and Midi interface!




    On the front panel, the Mbox2 has Source selectors for each Input, a -20dB Pad and a gain pot for input level as well as a very useful Mono switch and a Phantom Power switch for the two Inputs (no separated power switch for each individual Input, Phantom Power is either on or off for both Inputs.).It is also not possible to connect a XLR source and a TRS source on the same Input.

    Like it's sister, the Mbox1, the new Mbox features also two gain pots for headphones and room monitoring. A third switch labeled "Mix" can be used to choose between monitoring the signal pre (with no latency), or post the Pro Tools. It is also possible to mix of both pre and post signals.

    The new Mbox also feature Peak LEDs for both inputs, one Control LED for USB statute, one for S/PDIF connection, one LED for Phantom Power switch, one LED for MONO function, and Selection LEDs for Input Sources (DI, Microphone...).

    The headphone 6.35 mm jack is also on the front panel. Much more logical that for the previous model with its mini jack in the front and a 6.35 jack in the back, but without the possibility to use both at the same time.

    Personally, I think that the Mbox2 has more potential that its predecessor: MIDI Interface (at last!), a good choice of analog Inputs and digital connections. We would have also appreciated two more analog Outputs, and inserts. Regarding the quality of the Input preamps, there was a heated debate about the quality of the Focusrite in the Mbox1 when it came out. I am not entering this debate. My stand on this subject is that for audio interfaces in this price range, the microphone preamps have only one function: to power the mics. From this angle, the Mbox2 preamps do great job, no more and no less than the Focusrite's in the Mbox1. Everyone can have his opinion on the subject and if necessary, add a real preamp. For what the Mbox2 has designed for, the build in preamps do quite correctly what they are supposed to do. Nothing to complain about .

Software
    Apart from the last version of Pro Tools LE, like the former Mbox, ships with nice bundle named "Pro Tools Ignition Pack". (more comprehensive than the one shipped with the Mbox1):

    - Reason Adapted 3, Propellerhead virtual studio with synthesizers, samplers, Drum module, and other effects.
    - Live Lite 4, Ableton Live sequencer.
    - BFD Lite from Fxpansion with three different drumkits.
    - SampleTank 2 SE, sample bank player from IK multimedia.
    - AmpliTube LE, IK multimedia guitar plugin, with amps, speaker and foot pedals simulations.
    - T-RackS EQ,Tube simulation of a parametric EQ.
    - Melodyne uno essential from Celemony, for quality time-stretching and pitch shifting.

    Plus a Pro Tools training DVD, very precious for newcomers, A Bunker 8 REX files CDR and one-year subscription to Broadjam for online promotion.
Design
    The design of the Mbox2 has stirred some controversies since its commercialization. Design being the art of producing an object both aesthetic and functional, the Mbox2 comes quite close to fit both requirements. The Mbox2 does look great. But I have some reservation regarding the functional aspect. The Mbox2 come with a removable handle so that it can sit flat on a table, slightly tilted at the back. This position helps for air-cooling, but it also means that the Mbox2, because of the angle, will rest on the audio and MIDI cables. And this is something I can't handle! The solution could be to set the Mbox2 on the edge of the table so that the cables will nicely drop down, or slightly raise the rear of the Mbox. It's not such a big thing, but it could easily been avoided....




    This same handle allow the Mbox2 to be set vertically, (like the Mbox1), but I think that it's not really safe to set it up like that. Of course, you can also remove the handle, which make it also easier to carry it in a bag. By the way, the Mbox2 doen't fit in a Mbox1 bag...

Conclusion
    The price of a Mbox2 is about 450 to 500 Euro. It is a way to enter the univers of Pro Tools with Digidesign hardware. But I think that there is more to it / the Mbox2 a outstanding interface for it's price: Well designed and rugged, variety of quality connections choices, good sounding audio converters, efficient preamps and a rich and coherent software pack offer. It adds the MIDI Interface that was lacking to the Mbox1, and it is perfectly stable and easy to use. Even more, it doesn't need any driver and can be used with several applications.

    My first impression is very positive. I didn't have any problem at all with the Mbox2 regarding quality, functions or stability. Even more, I tried it on a iBook G3 800 with OS 10.4.5, hardware and software not endorse by Digidesign, without any problem. Not that I encouraged you to do the same though!...
Links
Technical information
    Four simultaneous input channels with two channels of digital S/PDIF (RCA I/O) and the two analog inputs (each have XLR, 1/4-inch DI and 1/4-inch line-level TRS jacks)
    48V phantom power for condenser microphone
    24 bits/48 kHz

    MIDI I/O
    Zero latency Monitoring
    USB Powered

    2 Analog Inputs with separate source selector for each Input
    Microphone: XLR with 48V phantom power
    Microphone Preamps: > 120 db EIN @ > gain 50 dB

    Line: jack 6,35 mm
    DI: jack 6,35 mm
    Maximum Input level: 8,7 V RMS (symmetric), or + 21 dBu

    2 Analog Outputs
    Maximum Output level: + 4 dBV under 1 kOhm
    Output connection: asymmetric

    2 Headphones outputs with separate volume control
    6 mW , 50 Ohms

    Digital I/O
    I/O S/PDIF (24 bits)
    Jacks
    RCA

    Resolution : 24 bits from and to the computer
    USB type B (v.1.1) ; (with cable)
    Not USB Hub compatible

    A/D
    Sample Rate: 44,1, 48 kHz
    Dynamic Range: 106 dB (weighted A), 103 dB (unweighted)
    THD+n (line IN): 0,00079 % (-102 dB) @ 1 kHz
    THD+n @ +40 dB (mic IN): 0,006 % (-84 dB) @ 1 kHz
    IN Micro (unweighted): -120 dB @ gain de 40 dB, source 150 ohms
    Frequency Response: + 0/-0,5 dB, 20 Hz - 20 kHz
    Maximum INPUT level: + 21 dBu
    Input Impedance (pad OFF): Microphone = 3,5 kOhm ; Line = 10 kOhm ; DI = > 1 MOhm.

    D/A
    Sample Rate: 44,1, 48 kHz
    Dynamic Range: 106 dB (weighted A), 103 dB (unweighted)
    THD+n : 0,003 % (-90,4 dB) ; -1 dBFS @ 1 kHz
    Frequency Response: + -0,5 dB, 20 Hz - 20 kHz
About the author: clouvel
Electroacoustic music composer @ sound designer
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