The Mbox 2 Mini offers a simplified feature set in order to maximize portability.
With stereo I/O that includes a single XLR mic input, it's safe to say that Digidesign created the Mbox 2 Mini ($329) with singer-songwriters in mind. The USB 1.1 bus-powered Mbox 2 Mini (M2M) is less than half the width of the Mbox 2 Pro, and a third as heavy. And because Pro Tools interfaces act as a dongle — you cannot use the program without one — the M2M's small form factor makes it useful for the traveling Pro Tools user who might not have the space for a larger Mbox but needs only basic I/O for listening and editing.
The M2M also provides the cheapest way into a Digidesign-branded Pro Tools system. (Although you can get into an M-Audio Pro Tools M-Powered system for around the same list price, that system won't let you use the DV Toolkit option for postproduction work.)
To reduce the interface to this size, Digidesign includes a minimum of analog I/O, completely eliminating MIDI and S/PDIF ports. The rear panel holds a single XLR mic input, a pair of unbalanced ¼-inch line/DI inputs, a pair of unbalanced ¼-inch line outputs, a USB port, and four buttons — a pad switch for each channel, a 48V phantom power switch, and a Mic/DI switch for channel 1. This last button lets you select between the XLR and ¼-inch input, so you can keep cables plugged into both jacks.
The front panel has a ¼-inch headphone jack and level control, a mute switch for the monitor outputs (which doesn't affect the headphone output), an input level control for each channel, and a control that mixes between the direct input signal, for latency-free monitoring, and the playback signal coming from the computer. A green LED indicates when the M2M is receiving power from your computer. The package also includes the Pro Tools Method One instructional DVD for new Pro Tools users.
The interface's housing feels solid but is reminiscent of a metal project box. Four rubber nubs on the bottom of the case keep it from sliding around the desktop.
The M2M's specs are similar to those of the Mbox 2 Pro. The main differences are less than 50 dB of gain, as well as unbalanced line-level jacks and a few decibels less dynamic range on the M2M's I/O. However, the two interfaces sounded nearly identical to me in daily use with my 1.33 GHz Mac G4 laptop running Mac OS X 10.4.8. When I wanted to edit my Pro Tools sessions while touring, the M2M was the winner hands down, not only because of its size but also because it doesn't require external power. If I had a wish list, it would be to have balanced I/O and the buttons relocated to the front panel.
On the Go
The Mbox 2 Mini is great for Pro Tools LE users who don't need more than one mic at a time. It's also a boon for those of us who like to get some work done while in planes, trains, and automobiles.
Value (1 through 5): 3