Digidesign Mbox 2 Pro - EMusician

Digidesign Mbox 2 Pro

In the last few years, Digi’s famed Mbox line in particular has undergone numerous changes — growing from a single device to a whole family of portable LE interfaces. From the ultra-compact Mbox 2 Mini to the new Mbox 2 Pro, users have been offered a range of Mbox interface choices. But how does this new-fangled design hold up? What distinguishes this particular piece from the rest of the pack and, more importantly, how does this upgrade apply to you?
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OVERVIEW

Presently, the Mbox 2 Pro is the most feature-rich (and physically largest) unit of the entire family. While the rest of the line uses the USB 1.1 protocol, the Mbox Pro 2 is FireWire-based — taking advantage of the bandwidth increase compared to USB 1 to support up to 24-bit/96kHz resolution. (Note: For laptops or desktops that have 4-pin instead of the full 6-pin IEEE-1394a FireWire connectors, users will need to use the supplied 12 volt DC adaptor — test for this before taking it on location.)

For most recordings (done in 24-bit 44.1 or 48kHz), the Mbox 2 Pro supports six simultaneous inputs and eight simultaneous outputs. Other new features worth mentioning are MIDI In and Out and a BNC word clock I/O. A surprising, and very useful, addition comes in the form of a set of RCA phono preamp connectors (see sidebar). This makes the Mbox 2 Pro a great choice for archival, sampling, or DJ work.

I was really happy to see the small security receptacle on the side panel. This is the same lock slot found on laptops and other high-value electronic gear and while not foolproof, it’s a significant deterrent against would-be thieves.

Above that, I was impressed by the unit’s heavy-duty design. I had expected the knobs to get ripped off within two weeks of no-punches-pulled, on-the-road recording, but it stood up to some serious field testing — making the Mbox 2 Pro a great companion for remote assignments.

APPLYING THE MBOX 2 PRO

On the subject of remote assignments, I used the Mbox 2 Pro to record a live concert with Irish troubadour Mark Dignam. The first thing I noticed was that the two pres were pretty nice sounding: clear, relatively uncolored, and giving a good bit of gain before getting noisy. Likewise, the instrument inputs are solid, with a touch of midrange that proved to be flattering on Mark’s Taylor acoustic (and in other tests with a Yamaha bass loaded with EMG pickups).

The headphone jacks seemed to be more powerful than the original Mbox, and were definitely less noisy at high volumes. Having individual adjustment options is a plus, especially when tracking multiple players. But having MIDI available with my LE interface was probably one of my favorite features. As an original Mbox user, I’ve always needed an additional interface to hook up sound modules. That’s now a thing of the past. At about 10" wide and 9" deep (excluding rear connectors) the Mbox 2 Pro fits beneath most laptops, and helps declutter most MIDI setups.

DJs, remixers, and people who want a copy of their vinyl transferred to CD will be happy about the phono pres. There’s even a grounding post — a prerequisite for phono work. We do a bit of preservation work at Treelady Studios, so I can say the Mbox 2 Pro doesn’t have the rich sound of a $900 Acoustic Research phono preamp, but it’s as good or better than the common $50 Rolls phono pres I see in many studios.

I also used the Mbox 2 Pro as a digital-only interface. Recording a voiceover spot, I used a Millennia Media TD-1 going into the new Waves MaxxBCL as my A/D. I connected the S/PDIF out of the Waves into the Mbox 2 Pro, and added some BNC cables to handle word clock issues. The team worked seamlessly, but there is one thing to remember: The Mbox 2 Pro cannot be used as the clock source when choosing a S/PDIF input — so it’s important to make sure your digital source is capable of handling clock duties, or you’ll need a dedicated system clock.

The only real issue I had was a buffer underrun when recording sessions with a single mono track. Many of us have experienced buffer overruns; these happen when the audio data is coming in faster than what the interface/computer combination can handle. My problem was the exact opposite — which is fairly humorous when you think about it. The Mbox 2 Pro is essentially saying, “I’m much too powerful for your silly project. Why don’t you come get me when you need to track a band?” Fortunately, Digidesign’s tech support was able to help me remedy the problem, so no real complaints here.

CONCLUSIONS

Mbox users have been waiting for quite some time for increased throughput, MIDI ports, and improved mic preamps; the Mbox 2 Pro delivers these, and a good bit more. From multiple lines out to the phono preamp stage onwards, this unit packs a lot of flexibility in a relatively small package. Original Mbox owners will want to look into this unit for the improvements in the headphone amps alone. The short of it: This is a roadworthy, resilient unit that offers greater mobility and flexibility for Pro Tools LE users than its ancestors. My only complaint is that now I just can’t wait to look at those 003 units.