Avid MBox Pro (Gen 3)
I purchased this unite to upgrade an M-Audio Fast Track Ultra. I will not discuss the Ultra's shortcomings here... save that for another review.
The MBox Pro (Gen 3) drivers are rock solid. I have them installed on a win7 Pro 64bit system and have not had a single problem or issue. Installation was smooth and the interface is mostly self-explanatory. Pro-Tools 10 interacts seamlessly and reliably. Sometimes when Pro Tools gets too overloaded during a mixing session, the interface will get stuck on a specific sample and repeats it over and over until PT responds again. I am assuming this is an issue with PT and not the MBox.
The Mbox allows for a separate mix to be generated for each of its 6 output pairs: Stereo 1 (Front L&R), Stereo 2 (Center & Sub), Stereo 3 (Rear L&R), S/PDIF, Headphone A, and Headphone B. Effects can be mixed in with any output pair but the per channel effect sends are global. The effect returns are independent for stereo 1, 2, and 3 out but grouped for S/PDIF and the Headphone outs. There is a single global effect consisting of delays and reverbs.
The setup and front buttons allow for either 5.1 channel operation or 3 sets of stereo speakers.
The MBox operates in 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, and 192 sample rates with some limitations. If you go above 96k you can only set up two stereo mix channels. The other mix outputs on Stereo 3, s/pdif, and headphones default to using the stereo 1 mix. They can always be set to directly follow the inputs or returns as well as mix 1 or mix 2.
Front and Rear Panels:
The MBox Pro has 4 mic pre channels. Each has an optional 20db pad, limiter, and direct (hi-z) option which skips the mic-pre circuits. The jacks for channel 3 and 4 are on the rear while 1 and 2 are on the front. The limiter works nicely and is reliable. You will want the limiters if you use this interface in situations in which a second take is not possible such as in live events or radio. There is a single global phantom power of/on button. There is a button that will allow you to switch between three sets of stereo outputs and another that lets you listen in mono. These are not functional if you run in 5.1 channel mode. There are two headphone outs each with its own volume control.
On the rear there are 6 balanced monitor out channels and 4 balanced input channels. There are two additional rca type unbalanced input channels. There are also 4 insert jacks. There are two firewire ports and a footswitch jack that can be used with PT to control punch-ins or playback start and stop. The MBox uses a power supply that is in-line with the power cord (as opposed to a wall wart type). There is a switch for +4 or -10 input levels.
Clock MIDI and SP/PDIF are on a breakout cable.
The MBox Pro Gen 3 has a heavy duty aluminum case and all components appear solid. The volume control has a nice feal and is large enough to find easily. In my environment, I am currently experiencing problems with static electricity. I regularly shock myself when touching the MBox (as I do with other devices in this environment.) This does not cause any problems with the MBox. I have other equipment that will reset when shocked, the MBox is not one of them.
I have found the sample rate conversion to be trouble free within the limits of my setup. The Pre’s have enough headroom to handle my dynamics and condensors and are clean. At the top of their range they do start to introduce self-noise but this is at the very top of the range. While this is definitely an upgrade in sound quality from the M-Audio interface I had, I currently don’t have anything else to compare it to. I use this unit to produce radio programming and do mixdowns of remotely tracked sessions or performances. It is more than up to the task. The audio coming through the pre’s and into the PC is clean and doesn’t have that odd “sparkle” sound present in the M-audio Fast Track Ultra. I see no evidence of noise or DC offsets when I expand the waveforms. And I don’t hear any coloration of the sound coming in or going out.
Good price, solid unit. Unless you have a need for more than 4 outputs operating at 192k sample rates, this would be a good addition to any project studio or radio studio system. Don’t forget to consider bundling ProTools 10 with your purchase. I paid 950 for the MBox Pro, Pro Tools 10, Velvet, Smack, and Eleven LE. I have also seen this unit advertised with non-profit educational pricing.