Field Report: Avid Mbox Mini

September 1, 2011


Ever since I got my netbook computer I've tried every way I could think of to turn it into a fully functional production studio. I've had some success and failures in this attempt. USB mics made for some ease but at times seemed limited, and some mixing boards with USB interface were nice but portability became limited. Now, with the Avid Mbox Mini, I think I have found the perfect combination of size and functionality.

Avis Mbox Mini

An audio interface for a computer, the Mbox Mini can provide phantom power for a condenser mic, direct line-in inputs for musical instruments or audio components, and features capture and mix for high-quality sessions, with up to 24-bit/48kHz audio resolution. The unit I received was the Pro Tools Mbox Mini, which is shipped with a copy of Pro Tools LE. I have worked with Pro Tools before but I'm more comfortable with Adobe Audition. I thought I might have to switch my software for this and installed Pro Tools. After the install, out of curiousity, I tried Audition with the unit. Audition recognized the hardware no problem, and all the production work using the two together was flawless. In fact Avid's website says you can use Mbox Mini with any Core Audio- or ASIO-compatible software, such as Logic, Live, Record, Reason, Digital Performer, Fruity Loops, Cubase, Nuendo, Sonar and more. I tried the unit with Pro Tools, but the bulk of my production was done through Audition only out of habit.

Not only do I use my laptop for production for the radio station, but I also have friends and family who have bands and are always looking for clean recordings, so I took my laptop, a bag of mics, and a small PA system and set to work putting this unit through the works.

First off was what I considered a test of all tests: I have an old Shure 55s mic that I treat as my baby. I love the feel, sound and look of this mic and use it whenever possible. For the longest time I had the mic shelved because I couldn't use it with my portable production studio. The Mbox Mini made it possible to bring this dinosaur out of the vault and use it again. It even made the sound of this mic a little better. I believe I was able to brighten the sound using this unit. I also tried the Mbox Mini with a couple of handheld mics and a condensor mic that I have recently considered my second favorite mic (the AT4040). The unit was the perfect interface between any mic I chose and my netbook computer. I should probably mention that my netbook is a Windows 7 computer. With this unit I am no longer limited in mic selection.

Performance at a glance
USB powered
Compatible with most major audio software
Up to 24-bit/48kHz sample rates
2 x 2 simultaneous channels of I/O
Compact size fits in laptop case
Weighs less than 2lbs

The other feature I was able to use in the Mbox Mini is the ability to directly connect musical instruments into my computer. The musicians would connect directly from their amps into the Mbox Mini and then into my production software to create some really nice multi-track recordings. The musicians were able to get the sound they wanted and have the unit give a completely accurate output of the sound. I was able to run a line out using the front headphone jack of the unit to a PA and give the musicians control over how much of the mix they wanted, either more of what they were playing or more of the track they were playing over in real-time. Some of the mixing boards I have tried in the past would have a bit of a delay between live and recorded output and made it difficult for some recordings. This time around, for example, the vocalist could hear the music and sing perfectly with the track. Any production director who composes his/her own music for commercials, would love this unit.

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The right size

At times I wish the unit had more inputs available but realized that I was then venturing into the realm of larger size and realizing this was exactly what was needed and if not Avid does make a bigger version I could look into. I still wish there was more than one XLR connection but any creative engineer can easily work around that.

Since I mentioned it, I should at this point go over the controls and connectors for the Mbox Mini. On the back of the unit are the main inputs, the monitor outputs and the USB 2.0 connection. There are two input channels to work with. Input 1 has two jacks available: a 1/4" jack and an XLR connection with +48V phantom power available and a toggle button to turn the phantom power off or on. There is also a toggle button to select between mic- or line-level input. Input 2 has a 1/4" jack and a toggle button to select between line or direct-in input. The monitor output jacks are two 1/4" jacks.

On the front of the unit are the controls. Inputs one and two each have a gain control knob which when pulled out provides a 20dB pad. Also on the front is the 1/4" headphone jack, which has a mix knob to allow the mix to be more of input from line or computer. Finally one big knob on front for the monitor output control. At this point I just have to remark that these knobs are not cheap little knobs each one is rugged and durable. Not that I would want to chance it but I'm sure I could drop this unit and would not damage the knobs in any way.

Avid
P
W
E
800-949-AVID
www.avid.com
sales@m-audio.com

On the front of the unit are the controls. Inputs one and two each have a gain control knob which when pulled out provides a 20dB pad. Also on the front is the 1/4" headphone jack, which has a mix knob to allow the mix to be more of input from line or computer. Finally one big knob on front for the monitor output control. At this point I just have to remark that these knobs are not cheap little knobs each one is rugged and durable. Not that I would want to chance it but I'm sure I could drop this unit and would not damage the knobs in any way.

If you have limited production space or are looking to create a portable production system with a laptop this is the perfect unit to get you started.


Wilson is an announcer, producer, webmaster and promotions guy at WAKO-AM/FM, Lawrenceville, IL.


Editor's note: Field Reports are an exclusive Radio magazine feature for radio broadcasters. Each report is prepared by well-qualified staff at a radio station, production facility or consulting company.

These reports are performed by the industry, for the industry. Manufacturer support is limited to providing loan equipment and to aiding the author if requested.

It is the responsibility of
Radio magazine to publish the results of any device tested, positive or negative. No report should be considered an endorsement or disapproval by Radio magazine.



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