Flexible I/O, headroom, and
eight transparent preamps
LET’S GET real: There are a lot of audio
interfaces, and if you can’t find one that
precisely fi ts your needs, you probably aren’t
looking hard enough. So where does the
Blackbird fit in?
No one interface has it all. Some might
have exceptionally low noise but a bit
more THD than others, while some have
superior crosstalk but maybe slightly more
intermodulation distortion. These differences
tend to be quantitative, not qualitative, and
audible differences are subtle at most.
Blackbird’s main asset is its eight Onyx
preamps. These preamps have a great rep,
but when you put numbers on them, low
noise and extremely low intermodulation
distortion stand out. Subjectively, these are not
“character” preamps, but follow the “straight
wire with gain” philosophy. Gain goes up to
+60dB, and all inputs are true Neutrik combo
jacks that accommodate XLR or 1/4-inch
More than Mics You won’t find bells and
whistles like onboard reverb or processing.
Instead, Mackie has clearly gone for
“industrial strength” features like word clock
I/O, ADAT optical I/O (eight channels that
support the same sample rates as the analog
SMUX ports for the higher sample rates),
three stereo outs (Main, Mon, and Alt),
dual FireWire ports, dual headphone outs,
low latency (64 samples with ASIO/64-bit
Windows 7), and of course, direct monitoring.
Curiously, the optical ports can’t be used for
S/PDIF, and there are no coaxial S/PDIF jacks.
The first two preamps are “special” inputs.
They’re front-panel and switchable among
mic, line, and hi-Z for guitar; they also have a
low-cut filter (–18dB/octave with a cutoff of
75Hz) and rear-panel TRS insert jacks. The
remaining six inputs are rear-panel combo
jacks with no additional features.
Phantom power is switchable in two groups:
inputs 1+2, or 3–8. This is the one area where
there’s an obvious compromise, as you can’t
initiate phantom on individual channels, or
even each channel pair.
As to construction, the 1U chassis is all-metal,
and it’s built like a tank. If you dropped it, I
think the main damage would be cosmetic (e.g.,
a scratch or dent). Also, the software matrix
mixer GUI (which you need to download from
the Mackie site) is full-featured—it allows
linking, provides flexible direct monitoring
with eight individual mixes, indicates peaks
and levels, and much more. It also looks like a
Mackie mixer, which is a cute touch.
Finally, if you need expansion, the company
claims it’s possible to cascade four units on
both Mac and Windows platforms—so for less
than $1K street price, you can have 16 Onyx
pres for complex acoustic sessions.
Conclusions I’ve been impressed with
Mackie’s Onyx interfaces since the Onyx
400F hit the world several years ago; the mic
preamps aren’t just hype. If you’re looking
for “color” you’re in the wrong place, but if
transparency and headroom are what
matters, you’ll be very pleased with the Onyx
design. Add in the other pro-oriented features,
and the result is a solid, utilitarian, nononsense
interface that just sits there and does
its job—unobtrusively and professionally.
STRENGTHS: Excellent mic preamps.
Eight ADAT channels that also work at
88.2/96kHz. Very useful matrix mixer
software. Excellent build quality.
Dual FireWire ports. Clean, obvious
ergonomics. Cascade up to four units
on Mac or Windows.
LIMITATIONS: Phantom power can’t
be enabled for individual channels
or each channel pair (you can do
channels 1+2 and/or channels 3–8).
No S/PDIF I/O.