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Behind the scenes of the new Mbox hardware design (Part 2)

Only published comments... Sep 03 2011, 10:00 AM by Ray Tantzen
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The Mbox has come pretty far

from that first blue USB interface

introduced almost 10 years ago.



In particular, the third-generation Mbox family delivers a significant evolution in driver technology. With the new Mbox, we wanted a reliable driver that worked just as well with other audio applications as with Pro Tools. In order to deliver the full Mbox hardware functionality outside of Pro Tools, we would need a control panel application. In this post I’ll take you behind the scenes of the driver and Control Panel. I’ll also go over how the multi-function button improves Pro Tools workflows for the new Mbox.


Mbox Driver and Control Panel


The sound quality and performance of an audio interface depends just as much on the drivers as on the hardware itself. If the drivers aren’t reliable and solid, you can end up with errors and audio glitches. For the third-generation Mbox, we redesigned the drivers from the ground up. We developed a new driver framework to be more robust and efficient. This also makes it faster and easier for our Engineers to implement and test updates.


Part of this new framework included the firmware control layer and the Control Panel application. There are a lot of things the new Mbox can do under the hood. We needed to find a good way of controlling that functionality without getting lost or overwhelmed with the options. We started with some basic line drawings to determine the layout.



From there, we started fine-tuning the Control Panel application with our UI design team. We had a set of user workflow examples to use as the basis of the design. These workflows would include things such as adding reverb to a vocal cue mix or controlling the mono and dim functions without having to reach for the front panel. As we started digging into these workflows, the layout and functionality evolved. In this image you can see an update to the master section of the control panel mixer.



As the UI team started making the Control Panel aesthetically appealing, our driver and Control Panel engineers were able to build a special version of the Control Panel that could run without the hardware. As a result, we could send the Control Panel to our beta testers and folks from Support, Sales, Test and Engineering. They provided invaluable feedback on the usability of the application. As you can see in the final version, the basic layout of the line drawing continued to the final release of the Control Panel. We also added some new items and a slick, easy-to-read look after a few rounds of feedback and testing.



Improved Pro Tools workflows


We also added a new Multi-function button. This button provides a direct link between the Mbox and Pro Tools through our new driver framework. We made it possible to assign this button to a number of functions in Pro Tools in order to enhance various individual workflows. Here’s one example of a workflow we had in mind when developing the Multi button part of the driver framework.


Guitar overdubs:

Imagine you’re a guitar player who needs to lay down some tracks for a new song. You want to record a couple takes on one track and then double the guitar on a new track. The default settings for the Multi button in Pro Tools are start/stop record for the press and release function and create new track from selected for press and hold.


While you’re sitting in front of the computer, you open the Pro Tools session and set up your guitar track. Once this is complete, you pick up your guitar and get ready to lay down some killer tracks. From the front panel of the Mbox, you can press the Multi button to start and stop recording. When you’re ready to go to the next track, you just go to the Mbox front panel again and press and hold the Multi button. This will create a new track with the same input and plug-ins as the selected track, take that selected track out of record, and record enable the new track. You’re now all set to press the Multi button and start recording on the new track. All this without having to lean over your keyboard and mouse with your guitar in your hands!


Here’s a variety of functions that you can assign to the Mbox Multi button—just imagine the ways you can enhance your workflow and stay creative.

· Add Last Track

· Add Selected Track

· Toggle Marker Locations

· Tap Tempo

· Start/Stop Record

· Start/Stop Play

· Loop Playback

· Undo

· Save Session


When we released the final version of the Mbox Control Panel application, the code featured the ability to run the panel without hardware. You can download the Control Panel application with our drivers here. There are some cool geeky features throughout the application you may not notice at first glance. I encourage you to explore the Control Panel applications and experience the functionality for yourself.


Be sure to check out part 3, the final installment of this series, which will feature a detailed look at the Mbox Pro. It’s so much more than just an audio interface. I’ll take you into my modest home studio and show you how I’m using it as a stand-alone mixer, audio interface, monitor controller and stand for my computer monitor.




PS: Continue on to Part 3.



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About Ray Tantzen

As Product Manager for Avid’s professional audio interfaces, I’m responsible for the Mbox, 003 and Eleven Rack product lines. I started my career in audio as a music, post and location sound engineer in the Seattle area. After six years as an audio engineer I fell into Product Management. Since then I’ve managed products for Ampeg, Mackie, Tapco, Symetrix, M-Audio and now Avid.

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