Digidesign Mbox 2 Micro

In my experience, something this big plugged into a laptop’s USB port runs a high chance of getting broken off; thankfully, Digi has thought ahead and includes a short USB extension cable to eliminate this risk.
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The Mbox 2 Micro is currently the smallest and most portable Pro Tools system available. The USB powered interface provides Pro Tools mixing, editing, and sequencing as well as high-quality audio output — no input — for mobile Pro Tools|HD, Pro Tools|LE, and Pro Tools M-Powered producers, engineers, and musicians. At roughly the size of a USB thumb drive, the Micro includes Pro Tools|LE, Xpand!, and over 45 plug-ins.

Features

The Mbox 2 Micro has a $279 price tag (street price less than $250) and is built into a small, 3-1/2 inches high, by 1-1/4 inches wide, by 7/16 inches deep and tough anodized aluminum case, weighing only 1.2 oz. In my experience, something this big plugged into a laptop’s USB port runs a high chance of getting broken off; thankfully, Digi has thought ahead and includes a short USB extension cable to eliminate this risk.

The Micro has a 1/8-inch stereo output with a maximum output of +3 dBV into 600 Ohms for headphone or speaker monitoring and a thumbwheel volume control. The Micro’s frequency response is 20 Hz -20 kHz, +0/-2 dB with a 103 dB A-weighted (THD+N: 0.002%) dynamic range. The device supports 44.1 and 48 kHz sample rates with a maximum 24-bit word length. The Micro is a USB 1.1 device that acts as both a hardware dongle and an output-only audio interface. When coupled with a laptop, the result is a sleek, portable Pro Tools|LE rig.

The Mbox 2 Micro requires a Digidesign-qualified Windows XP or Mac OS X 10.4-based computer equipped with 768 MB of RAM (1 GB recommended), DVD-ROM (or equivalent) drive for software installation, minimum 1024 x 768 screen resolution, and an available USB port. Digidesign documentation states that USB hubs are not supported, but during the review process I successfully used the Micro with a USB hub without any problems.

In addition to Pro Tools|LE, the Mbox 2 Micro includes Xpand! and over 45 plug-ins. Xpand! Is a sample-playback/synthesis workstation that, according to Digi, was designed for songwriters, film composers, DJs, electronic musicians, music producers, and sound designers. (Isn’t that everyone?) This plug-in provides quick access and manipulation of thousands of high-quality sounds from within Pro Tools and it includes over 1,000 presets.

The Micro includes a pile of the famous Bomb Factory plug-ins including the BF76 Compressor, the BF Essential Clip Remover, and the Funk Logic Mastererizer and a ton of DigiRack Plug-ins including D-Verb, DeEsser, DigiReWire, Dynamics III, EQ III, Flanger, Mod Delay II, Multi-Tap Delay, Ping-Pong Delay, Pitch Shift and Click.

Fast FactsApplications
Studio, project studio, broadcast, post production, live/location recording, and houses-of-worship/theatres

Key Features
1/8-inch stereo output device for Pro Tools|LE in the form of a USB dongle; bundled|LE DAW software, Xpand! MIDI workstation, and 45-plus plug-ins; thumbwheel volume control; supports 24-bit/44.1 kHz and 48 kHz

Price
$279 list

Contact
Digidesign | 650-731-6300 | www.digidesign.com

PRODUCT POINTS

Plus

  • Pro Tools as its most portable and affordable
  • Good headphone amplifier
  • All the bundled plug-ins and Xpand! software
  • Useful tool for Digi VENUE live console users

Minus

  • No inputs
  • No operation above 48 kHz sampling rate

Score
The Mbox 2 Micro is one of the best audio innovations to come around in a long time.Additionally, the Micro makes it convenient and easy for Digidesign VENUE-based live sound engineers to mix their live multitrack recordings while en route to their next show. Regardless if the show was recorded on a Pro Tools|LE or |HD system, the Micro allows sessions to be opened and tweaked as long as they were recorded at 44.1 or 48 kHz.

In Use

The Pro Tools|LE v7.4 software was a cakewalk to install. I ran into some problems when I discovered that it doesn’t work to have LE v7.4 and M-Powered v7.3 running on the same computer. I made a quick call to Digi’s tech support and was incorrectly told that it’s not possible to have Pro Tools LE and M-Powered running on the same machine. After some more experimentation, I found that I did need to upgrade my M-Powered to v7.4 to have everything work in tandem, and once I did, switching between |LE and M-Powered has been flawless.

After a month of use, I’ve found that the best thing about the Micro is that it lets you run Pro Tools (sans audio input) virtually anywhere; yet, in full disclosure, the users of virtually every other DAW — Apple Logic, MOTU Digital Performer, Steinberg Cubase, etc. — have been able to run their software anywhere without an extra device all along. That said, the Micro is an answered prayer to most Pro Tools users I know. The included software/plug-in bundle is an exceptional value, and I’ve had great results using my Edirol PCR-30 keyboard to augment various projects with Expand! Micro supports the Music Production Toolkit and DV Toolkit 2 options, making it possible to work on projects up to 48 stereo tracks while on the go.

I was surprised at the sound quality of the headphone amp, which I’ve used with a wide variety of headphones. It sounds quite good, somewhat better than my MacBook Pro’s internal headphone amp, which is leaps and bounds better than most notebooks that I’ve encountered. The audio engine also works with other applications, making it easy to upgrade your audio playback quality for movie viewing, music listening, or even working within other DAWs.

Although it has made it a challenge to leave my work at the studio, I have absolutely fallen in love with the Mbox 2 Micro over the last month. Could it be better? Yep — it could provide optical digital output on the same 1/8-inch jack that provides analog output. My MacBook Pro has that feature built in, and it allows me to listen to my Logic Pro 8 sessions through my Benchmark DAC1 without any sonic compromise. I wish it supported higher sample rates as well (high sample rate Pro Tools|HD sessions have to be down-converted before they can be opened with the Mbox 2 Micro). I find myself working at 88.2 and 96 kHz more and more often, and it’s disappointing that I can’t easily work on these projects with my Micro. All this aside, the Mbox 2 Micro is still one of the best audio innovations to come around in a long time.

Summary

The Mbox 2 Micro is a wonderful device that makes it easy to take Pro Tools|HD, Pro Tools|LE, or Pro Tools M-Powered sessions virtually anywhere. Whether you are a producer or engineer that currently uses Pro Tools and needs a way to work outside the studio or you are new to Pro Tools and need an affordable way to get the program and the included plug-ins, the Mbox 2 Micro may be the perfect solution for you since it puts the power of Pro Tools editing, sequencing, and mixing within your grasp — virtually anywhere.