A 1RU preamp with multiple I/O options, gain control and some monitoring features is cool. If the preamps are pristine, that's better. Having full software control of up to four units on an intuitive on-screen virtual control surface along with the aforementioned amenities is the berries.
The Blackbird Control software is an easy-to-use matrix mixer that makes internal audio routing and control a breeze. Upon installation, the user will probably not need to pick up the manual. A familiar mixing console pops up on the screen with 18 faders, mutes, pans, solos and several outputs. There are 18 inputs faders because two are added for monitoring the DAW or editing software. The fader levels are manipulated by clicking and dragging, or typing the decibel value in the fader level text box just above the solo buttons. The first eight faders correspond to the analog mic/line inputs. Faders 9-16 are for the ADAT inputs. Each fader can be labeled accordingly by double-clicking in the source text block. All the input channels have detailed high-resolution meters alongside the faders. Each channel has a peak indicator that can be reset by clicking the clear peaks button.
The output section of Blackbird Control is comprised of main mix, alt mix, phones 1, phones 2, ADAT 1-2, ADAT 3-4, ADAT 5-6 and ADAT 7-8. Selecting each output (by single-clicking on it) will cause the fader setup to change according to user settings. This is indicative of the matrixing nature of Blackbird Control. Any input can be routed to any output. Each output has a set of level faders and can have its own input routing structure. The ability to control routing inside the Blackbird has virtually endless capabilities. If the guy listening to Phones 1 needs more kick drum, that task is easily accomplished. If the Mic/Line 6 level is overdriving an audio software recording channel, that too is easily fixed with a simple "click and drag." Each mix scene can be saved, loaded, copied and pasted. A reset button will revert the unit to factory defaults on a tab-by-tab basis.
In addition to the mixer tab (on the top left of the fader section) is the settings tab, which opens up a world of internal nuts and bolts for properly setting and interfacing Blackbird Control in any given scenario. Clock settings, sample rates, buffer size, WDM settings, latency adjustment and firmware updating are a glimpse of what can be controlled under the Blackbird's hood. Just like the rest of the unit, the settings are intuitive and not too complex. The Blackbird can be up and running in minutes. As an added note, near zero-latency during monitoring and recording is an added (and valuable) bonus.
The Onyx Blackbird is an effective and nifty way to control and route audio for DAWs and PC or Mac-based audio editing software. Installation takes minutes, and several driver options work in any operating system/editing software environment. With clean Mackie preamps onboard, and an intuitive layout and design, any engineer will find the Blackbird a valuable tool. If an efficient step up to non-linear multitracking I/O and control is needed, Mackie has more than met the needs of the radio production crowd.
Wygal is the programmer and engineer for Victory FM at Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA.
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