Adding to the flood of new computer audio interfaces this summer is the Mbox 2 Pro from Digidesign, filling a gap left long ago by the old Digi 001. If you need some extra channels for Pro Tools LE and the M-Audio interfaces leave you cold, this could be a good choice, though I’d take a good look at the 002 first if you have the space. But other than Pro Tools, I can’t see a whole lot on this interface that can compete with similar interfaces in the same class. Interfaces from a number of competitors match the Mbox 2 Pro spec for spec but with additional inputs and outputs and more features.

The Mbox 2 Pro boils down to:

  1. Pro Tools LE with the new “ignition pack” bundle

  2. FireWire bus-powered (power adapter also included
  3. 24-bit/96 Khz audio over 4 inputs (2 combo jacks, 2 TRS) and 6 outputs
  4. S/PDIF audio I/O, phono preamp and RCA connection for turntables
  5. 1×1 MIDI interface with MIDI time stamping
  6. Dedicated stereo monitor outputs, 2 headphone jacks with independent volume
  7. BNC word clock I/O
  8. US$799/899 list, with or without Factory bundle (extra plug-ins and such)

Basically, this is an interface for Pro Tools lovers, although even they might take a look at alternatives from Digidesign and M-Audio, depending on needs. For everyone else, I’d pass on this one, because their are too many other options.

Here’s an example: with a street price around US$599, you can get the MOTU UltraLite, with 8 ins and 8 outs to the 4×6 configuration on the Mbox, onboard meters, and a dedicated headphone jack. For a little more volume and slightly higher price (just above the Mbox 2 Pro), MOTU’s
MOTU Traveler gives you four mic preamps instead of two, 192 KHz instead of 96 KHz (not that you’ll probably need either in most cases), a standalone mixer mode, truly independent mixing for monitors and headphones (a key feature the Mbox seems to lack), ADAT support, AES/EBU support, SMPTE timing support, and onboard meters. A lot of those are important “pro” features that are missing on the Mbox 2 Pro.

Again, if it’s Pro Tools you want, the Mbox 2 Pro could be a good deal. But I’m surprised so many people jump for Digidesign because of the brand name and ignore equally “professional” options that might fit their needs better. I think it’s worth shelling out a few hundred dollars on software if it means choosing the software that’s best for you, and I know for me it’s definitely not Pro Tools.

Not knocking you, Digidesign, but I have to point it out, because I know everyone else on the Web will just be copying and pasting your press release, and these kind of comparisons usually aren’t the thing we can even bring up in a review.

My dream bundle, in the place of this: Ableton Live 6 and the Focusrite Saffire. But more on that soon …

If you have questions about audio interfaces — and it is a personal decision more than anything, certainly more than “this interface is superior” — check out our forums. Right now we have a number of discussions of interfaces on the hardware forum:

Create Digital Music Hardware Forum

… and a number of us will be happy to give advice. And it’s possible the Mbox 2 Pro will be your best answer; I’m not ruling it out. See you on the forums.

  • Vermeer

    What we all need is a ProTools box halfway between the 002 and the HD system. Something in the $3,000 to $5,000 range.

    Personally, I still use my 001, but I bypass it with a 3,000 fully-loaded Apogee Trak2 unit. So far I have not felt any need to upgrade.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    That's a really great, idea, actually. HD Lite? HDbox? And for that matter, there's no reason Digi couldn't make an HD box that was slightly more portable. They'd sell like crazy. Digi is probably worried about cannibalizing their HD sales, but then you have all of these studios who are afraid to upgrade — there's no revenue there.

  • Theron

    Right on. Logic all the way…at least until Slow Tools runs with my 828…which won't happen in a million years.

  • http://thebside.org Andy

    I find this very perplexing. Now you've got the Mbox "pro" but it still only runs on Pro Tools "Limited Edition". So it's "pro" because…it's got Firewire? What a strange product placement. Was there a need to get a Firewire-based Mbox out there? Or was a 2-preamp version of the 002r badly needed? The LE interface line just seems lost. All those M-Audio devices…so many options. The Pmix and the 002. The Mbox 2 and the Audiophile USB.

    Avid would do well to simply merge the efforts of the LE and M-Audio hardware design teams.

  • http://www.alonewithaghost.com Mike

    I have an MBox 1. If there's a reasonable HW Exchange for this…I'd probably upgrade. I can't drop the 900 for an exchange to an 002R. I can however justify upgrading for a few hundred…I think.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Mike, worth checking into that, given the exchange on the Mbox 2 (non-Pro).

    Andy, I agree with the confusion … though I hope Digi doesn't merge in M-Audio. The M-Audio people are still catering to a customer who often runs software other than Pro Tools, even with the M-Powered initiative. They're a different company, and honestly, I like the independent work they're doing. Anyway, I doubt seriously that that's in the cards in the near future. What *does* sound like a good idea is a slightly simplified product line from M-Audio.

    I'm sure it was price point that motivated the specs of this model. But it doesn't necessarily add a whole lot of differentiation to Digi's lineup, or the enormous gulf between the LE and TDM (HD) models.

  • bobby

    this looks like overpriced nonsense….avid and digidesign have both totally lost their minds….

  • http://www.alonewithaghost.com Mike

    can someone clear up something for me?

    there's this list:

    Award-winning Pro Tools LE recording, editing, and mixing software

    Comprehensive Pro Tools Ignition Pack software and audio tool collection

    Professional sound quality

    Powered by FireWire* or included power supply

    Supports up to 24-bit/96 kHz resolution**

    4 analog inputs (2 XLR/1/4� TRS combo jacks & 2 1/4� TRS jacks)

    6 analog outputs (1/4� jacks)

    2 instrument DI inputs on the front panel

    2 channels of S/PDIF digital I/O (RCA)

    Built-in phono preamp input (RCA) for direct turntable connection

    1 MIDI input and output (16 channels in/16 channels out)

    MIDI Time Stamping (MTS) support for superior timing and accuracy

    BNC Word Clock I/O

    Low-latency monitoring

    Dedicated studio monitor outputs with volume control

    2 stereo headphone outputs with independent volume controls

    48V phantom power for condenser microphones

    Mbox 2 Pro list price: $799 US | Mbox 2 Pro Factory list price: $899 US

    are the 2 DIs the same inputs as the mic pre/line in combos?

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Good question, Mike. I'm pretty certain looking at the front and back panel images (see Digi's site) and the press release that it's a 4-in configuration.

    On the front panel are two instrument DIs. That's handy, because I'm assuming they're High-Z so you have the right impedance for your guitar/bass. But they're apparently not independent from the back panel inputs 1 + 2, which are combo XLR/line jacks with mic pres and 48V phantom power. You'll see that on both sides, and on the indicators on the front panel, they're labeled "1+2" — they're routed to the same input.

    Inputs 3 + 4 are *either* a phono in or line in.

    Here's something else odd, on the outputs side: line 5/6 looks like it's on a combined (unbalanced) stereo 1/4" jack. I'm hoping 1-4 are balanced, but I don't know.

    You can see my point: strip away Pro Tools LE, and this would be a wildly-overpriced interface for the cost. But if you really want Pro Tools and don't yet have a copy, given that you have to invest $300 or so to get Pro Tools M-Powered, it's in the running, and it's a little bit more I/O for a lot less weight than the 002s. If you recall some of the mixed feelings — on a totally different interface — regarding Native Instruments' new audio interface, I think it comes down to what you need. You add up exactly what you must plug in and might want to plug in, figure out your budget, and then you probably still have half a dozen choices. There are a few interfaces that stand out even then, but I wouldn't count this as one of them. Even if I were attached to Pro Tools, the stand outs are probably the ProjectMix from M-Audio and the basic Mbox 2.

  • http://www.alonewithaghost.com Mike

    well…according to sonicstate

    http://www.sonicstate.com/news/shownews.cfm?newsi

    they say 6 simultaneous inputs…which would make this a no brainer for me if there will be a hardware exchange

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Digi press release says 6 inputs, 8 outputs — that would be counting 2 x 2 S/PDIF digital plus 4 x 6 analog; thanks to FireWire you can run that at the same time.

  • subbasshead

    maybe, just maybe, the six outputs with this new MBox

    are for a future upgrade for ProTools LE to support 5.1?

    considering how fckgn expensive DV Toolkit2 is,

    5.1 seems like a feature they could add to it as a paid option…

    hey so when is AES?

    maybe that'll be when they reveal a few such things?

  • http://brokenpiano.com vector_sa

    Mbox2 should have been firewire in the first place. I returned my original mbox because the audio quality and lag was simply unacceptable..

    And they're still using cheap plastic? Digi are really pushing it here.

  • Milo

    Its not totally useless. The world clock means that you can use it on a lightweight mobile rig to chase a Post Production sound stage. Previously this was only possible with a seperate Timecode device or with the 002. It makes sound editors (music, fx, and supervisors) able to travel with their editing rig to the mix stage. Seeing as how PP film and TV is at least half of the Protools market then it makes a lot of sense.

  • George

    Hi Peter.I'm currently using a DIGI002 with protools.I'm very interested on getting a Mbox 2 pro.How's its sound quality compare to digi002?I really like to have a portable protools system.But i can't afford both.So i have to choose one between my old 002 downgrade a new Mbox 2 Pro.But the most thing i concerned about is its sound quality.Thanks

  • fred

    Mbox 2 Pro runs all line I/O at -10db… Even the digi 001 had the option of +4db I/O. So those of you that need to run outboard gear

    be prepared for a rude quality shock sending and returning analogue gear! Dodgy. Digidesign peddles crippleware.

  • Pierre

    Yes, Ultralite is great… ON PAPER!!!

    Audio desk doesn't allow save while recording, and can crash at any time with no apparent reason. i just lost 20 min of live concert.

    The preamp are just not good enough and the converter very marginal. Now, the convenience WOULD be fantastic. So I am back to Protools for concert recording.

  • casey

    Look.

    Without Pro-tools LE this would be priced at around $300

    That seems cheap. The point is you are getting for the Protools. For example. I use PT live to play stems. I have an HD system and needed something with monitoring options for a click and 2 track stems.. This does that and keeps me compatible at the other end for $600 from GC. Why not?

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Casey, I agree, absolutely. But that's my point — why should Pro Tools users have to pay for an extra software license *and* what amounts to a hardware dongle? (Particularly when Digi themselves give you a bit of an option with M-Powered.)

    Pierre, thanks for your feedback. I generally don't use Audiodesk. Mic pres and converters on all these units, including those from Digi, are generally proportional to cost (read: worth comparing models, but generally you might need to invest in a separate converter/pre if you want something higher-end).

  • Rafael Pantoja

    I wonder the same as George. Does the MBox 2 Pro's sound quality compare to Digi 002's? Just taking a look at the specs, it shouldn't sound THAT different or worse at all. My major concern is about the mic pres… Besides that, have you already heard NI's Audio Kontrol 1's sound? Anybody knows if it's really "crystal clear"? 192kHz seems attractive, but I'm not at all confident looking at the price… the pre must be low quality…

    Thanks.

  • JIMMY

    guys the discussion happening is cool but most of u have been talkin only abt a situation where u need analogue ins and outs but wht abt ppl who need only protools for thr film post production.now y?? protools coz this program has the highest compatibility ratio worlwide compared to any other.i mean make ur session(lay tracks,edit) at home and go to any pro studio and mix.here i dont care abt mic pres.on top u have 256 midi tracks,so u can actually program ur music and play other acoustic instruments in a pro environment.now a days v r available with lots of soft synths which r gud enough for scratch,demos or programmed music.for me its compatible and my comfort with protools n not with nuendo.for home musicians nuendo or cubase is better option coz pirated copies r available and gives u "N" number of tracks…so its all abt protools….reply…keep commenting….

  • Jorge

    Hi guys!

    very interesting what you've been saying.

    I love pro tools for editing audio but midi sucks! and I love logic for midi but editing audio is complicated.

    I had and mbox 1 and really sucked, latency was awful, I'm thinking of buying either the mbox 2 pro or the new 828 mk3, I'm really interested in buying the mk3 but that would mean that I wont be able to use pro tools again. does anybody know if protools m-powered works with motu interfaces?

    ok let me know!