M-Audio has released Ozonic ($599), a FireWire-based MIDI keyboard/control surface and 24-bit/96 kHz audio interface. M-Audio's design team must have

M-Audio has released Ozonic ($599), a FireWire-based MIDI keyboard/control surface and 24-bit/96 kHz audio interface. M-Audio's design team must have had some help from the Swiss Army, because this all-in-one unit has just about every feature one could ask for, except for maybe that little plastic toothpick.

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M-Audio''s Ozonic combines a 37-key MIDI keyboard controller and 24-bit/96 kHz audio -interface. Programmable buttons and -sliders provide real-time control.

Ozonic comes bundled with a free copy of Ableton Live Lite. Registered owners can also download Enigma, M-Audio's free editor/librarian software. Ozonic is compatible with the majority of current DAWs that work under Mac OS X or Windows XP. As M-Audio is owned by Avid, which also owns Digidesign, Ozonic is also compatible with Pro Tools M-Powered (sold separately).

Audio Interface

Ozonic offers a headphone output, four audio inputs, and four audio outputs. The inputs consist of a microphone in with phantom power, a ¼-inch DI instrument in, and two unbalanced ¼-inch line ins. The first two outputs are balanced, and the third and fourth are unbalanced. The included driver software allows you to specify input and output routing assignments.

The audio controls are optimized for Ozonic's particular input and output structure. There is a master headphone-volume knob, and a headphone-source knob. The source knob determines the relative mix of the pair of stereo outputs to the headphones. There is also a monitor-level knob, which controls the amount of input level bused directly to the outputs. That is useful for trying to deal with latency issues in host-based systems while recording. There are also mic and instrument input-level knobs, each with clip and signal indicators. Two output-volume sliders are positioned beneath the headphone-source knob; each slider controls a stereo pair of outputs. Curiously, there are no line-input knobs, although those levels can be set within the driver software.

The mic preamp is serviceable. As might be expected for a product at this price, however, it's bland and neutral in nature. Though not great, it's good enough for many applications and doesn't add appreciable noise to the signal, even with the gain turned all the way up. Kudos to M-Audio for including a dedicated phantom-power button, which illuminates an LED on the front panel when engaged.

MIDI Controller

Ozonic packs a lot of controls into a moderately small space. I'm happy that they chose to use 37 full-size Velocity- and Aftertouch-sensitive keys for their keyboard. The keys have a springy, rather tight synth-action feel. In addition to the keyboard, Ozonic has dozens of programmable MIDI controls — which can be configured in your DAW, software synth, or on the Ozonic itself — for a wide variety of parameters. There are nine programmable faders, which work well for mixing eight tracks of material, giving you a master-level control to boot. Below each fader is a programmable button, which is perfect for assigning to mute or solo functions.

In the center of the keyboard are five buttons meant to be used for transport control, though they could be programmed for other functions as well. Above them are eight continuous-controller knobs, which make good pan pots, aux sends, or synth-parameter knobs. Ozonic also features a 2-axis joystick, pitch and mod wheels, and octave up/down buttons. It's a MIDI interface as well: rounding off the MIDI complement are MIDI In and Out ports, and Sustain and Expression pedal inputs. Finally, a large blue LCD screen monitors MIDI activity, showing you the value of the last control touched.

Ozonic in Action

I used Ozonic as a portable Pro Tools post-production workstation and was pleased with the results. Setup was minimal: I had to install the software on a laptop, plug in headphones, and network into my main production system. Within a few minutes, sound designer Aren Downie was editing metal shings, dowel whooshes, and dry ice bubbles and then feeding me his elements for further design. As a quick, on-the-go, inexpensive system, that approach can't be beat.

But Ozonic really shined when I booted up Propellerhead Reason Adapted. In less than five minutes, I had mapped Ozonic's controllers to Reason's parameter set and was mixing levels, setting pans, changing filter settings, and generally abusing Reason with delicious abandon. Ozonic sports enough controllers to allow a fluid and expressive level of control over programs such as Reaktor, Live, and Reason. That type of control lets electronic musicians tweak and tweeze their tracks.

If you are looking for a small, relatively portable and affordable all-in-one front end for electronic music, Ozonic is a pretty tough act to beat. Grab a laptop, some of your favorite software, headphones, and the Ozonic, and you've got the bases covered. It's the right size and feature set for students in their dorm room, touring musicians in their hotel room, or weekend warriors on their kitchen table. The unit is lightweight, the keys feel good enough, and the feature set is amazing. Add to that the free editor/librarian and Ableton Live Lite software, and M-Audio has a killer product on its hands.

Overall Rating (1 through 5): 4.5