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Behind the scenes of the new Mbox hardware design (Part 3)

Only published comments... Sep 19 2011, 12:00 AM by Ray Tantzen
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My home studio has seen many different

configurations over the last 16 years.


It’s gone from a couple cassette decks and a Radio Shack mixer to a 24-track studio that could accommodate a full band. Today my studio is scaled down considerably. It has become both a place for me to continue my audio work and a proving ground for new gear.


In this final installment of the blog, I’ll share some of the experiences that helped shape the design of the new Mbox Pro. I’ll also cover some of the unique functionality that makes this interface the flagship of the new Mbox family—and my personal favorite.


In the beginning there was the Mbox 2 Pro


When I started working on the new Mbox I decided to dismantle my home studio and rebuild it with an Mbox 2 Pro as my interface. I needed to know what I could and couldn’t do with the interface. I also needed my home studio space to be compact but versatile enough to handle my diverse audio needs (I do mostly editing and mixing at home, but also record myself and collaborate with friends).


Here’s my partially assembled home studio with the Mbox 2 Pro.



Almost immediately, I discovered that there were some things I wanted to accomplish that the Mbox 2 Pro didn’t facilitate. As you can see in the photo, I have two pairs of studio monitors. In order to use them both, I would need some kind of monitor management. There wasn’t much room to add another piece of gear to the desk so I had to go without my NS-10s for a bit.


I also had an opportunity to collaborate with some friends on a recording during this time. Again, the Mbox 2 Pro didn’t fulfill all the project needs. We were trying to track acoustic guitar and banjo simultaneously. In order to stereo mic each instrument, we had to use a 2-channel preamp connected to the S/PDIF input of the Mbox 2 Pro since it only has two preamps. I also encountered problems getting a unique low latency mix to both artists.


In these pictures you can see the stereo microphone setups and me working in my friend’s home studio. This was after half a day of messing with the gear to get the recording and cue mixes setup right.





The birth of the all-new Mbox Pro


After a few months with the Mbox 2 Pro, I had a pretty good idea of what I needed the new Mbox Pro to do. I needed four preamps, two unique low-latency cue mixes with reverb, monitor management, and of course premium sound quality.


The new Mbox Pro gives you two ways to get low-latency cue mixes. One is the LLM feature in Pro Tools, which works just as it has in the past with Mbox 2 Pro and the 003 interfaces. It manages the input routing based on the track assignment in Pro Tools. This provides quick and simple low-latency monitoring, but doesn’t provide some of the detailed control we needed when tracking multiple artists. The second option is to manually mange cue mixing in the Control Panel.



The built-in DSP on the new Mbox Pro features a unique 16-input mixer (8 hardware inputs + 8 software returns) for each pair of hardware outputs, including each of the two headphones. There’s also a basic reverb that can be added to the cue mix. With this configuration, I can have a unique mix for each artist on headphones, as well as for myself on the main monitors in the control room. This cue mixing functionality also means I don’t need a separate mixer or headphone system in my compact home studio.


Monitor Management is another thing the Mbox Pro does really well. Based on my own experience and the feedback we received from customers, we captured some basic needs for monitoring that included the ability to mute, mono, dim, and switch between sources. We also wanted to take full advantage of the six balanced line outputs on the Mbox Pro and made them all available as monitor outputs. Using the Control Panel, you can configure up to three pairs of stereo monitors or 5.1 surround.


As you can see in this image of the Control Panel, each pair of outputs can be assigned to the main volume knob. There are also individual trims for each output to dial in your system.



But wait, there’s more…


The Mbox Pro functionality goes so deep I can’t cover it all in this blog, but I want to point out one more cool feature that has proved to be valuable in my home studio— stand-alone functionality. There are three stand-alone modes for the Mbox Pro.


· AD/DA converter mode routes analog inputs 1 and 2 to S/PDIF outputs and the S/PDIF inputs to analog outputs 1 and 2.

· Preamp mode sends each analog input to the respective analog output so microphone input 1 is routed to line output 1.

· Mixer mode sums all the inputs and routes them to the first two line outputs, maintaining monitor control with the main volume knob, mute, mono, and dim.


These modes can be selected in the Control Panel under "Settings" as shown here. You can also toggle them from the front panel when you’re in stand-alone mode. Please refer to the user manual for details on changing settings from the front panel.



I mostly use my Mbox Pro in the mixer stand-alone mode. With my instruments and gear connected, I can play through the Mbox Pro without booting my computer or launching Pro Tools. This is great for just noodling on ideas or warming up while my session is opening.


Onward and upward


I’m now in the middle of changing my home studio once again. I’m going to put two Mbox Pros to use this time, one in the bedroom studio and one in the garage/rehearsal/tracking space. With an Mbox Pro as the mixer/interface in both locations, I can easily record to my laptop and jam with my friends without a computer. Here you can see the latest incarnation of the bedroom studio. I’m not sure how long it will stay this way, I have some new things to work on and may just need to see how other gear performs soon ;-)



I hope you enjoyed this blog series; I definitely enjoyed writing it and re-living parts of the development of the new Mbox Pro. Be sure to check out the Mbox Technology Guide for more details about the third-generation Mbox family and the Control Panels to experience some of the functionality for yourself.


Remember to have fun with you sound, experiment, and trust your ears.



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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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