Portable studios have always been questionable. On one hand they are compact and functional enough, on the other – they can not compete with full-sized analogues. Let us find out whether it is worth purchasing.
Mbox mini is an important tool in “Professional Musician Starter Pack”. It allows to entry the world of global recordings and make the first steps into creating sound of high quality.
Let us get started with describing its’ physical characteristics. Mbox is a small aluminium rectangular case. It’s black in colour, light-weighted and extremely compact. One can see lots of ports, indicators, buttons etc.
This device is being sold by itself for the sum of around 200 dollars. However, it is quite a useless piece of metal without Pro Tools software, which needs to be installed separately. It is the soft, that makes recording music possible.
The software is not the richest and juiciest thing ever. It only includes eight musical instruments. This low number is partly compensated with the high quality of hardware and large amount of options to try.
Mbox mini is not the best compact studio in the World. However, it suggests a lot of value for such a decent price, so it is that exact thing that starting musicians are looking for. Durable, functional, valuable. The right thing to make the first studio record.
System Requirements and Options
Mbox mini was first created in 2010, so it will most likely meet modern system requirements. There are three things needed to get started: either PC with Windows 7 or above, or a Mac with OS X 10.6.8 or above along with two free USB ports. One is needed for connecting the mini-studio itself, second – for activating iLok protective cable.
Mbox mini is fully-powered with USB only, so it does not need any extra batteries or charging. There are only two active sides: front and back.
- Backside. It is where are all plug sections are placed. One can easily find two ? output jacks, two ? inputs, one direct and one line, switchable XLR input ( with 48v phantom power) and its’ activation button. It is quite laconic, but has everything needed for comfortable connection and work.
- Frontside. The first thing that catches an eye is a large, rubber, volume control button on the right side. Then there are two LEds, one for each of two control channels, a headphone jack, blue indicator, showing that system is ready to work and mute button.
This kit is solid and suitable. The only problem with it is the lack of the second headphone jack. Device would have been more functional, but this feature was sacrificed for making Mbox as compact and small as possible.
Built-in Rode NT-1A microphone works nicely, even when working with multiple recording and MIDI tracks. Though it has slight dips, overall quality is more than satisfying. Everything works nice with both in and out audios.
Pro Tools Features
One of the most advertised features of Mbox Mini is its’ high compatibility with ProTools software. The program has following features when it is started together with Avid hardware:
- Flexibility. High portability is combined with possibility to create multiple tracks, using Avid hardware and audio interface.
- High record quality. The built-in microphone system is capable of recording sounds of any musical instruments, their combinations, and even virtual performances. 24/192 resolution makes record deep and clear.
- Looping. It is possible to record same tracks multiple times in order to get in shape. The same function allows to choose the most successful attempt and cycle it multiple times to make record nice.
- Working with other programs. ProTools has a lot of built-in editing potential, but when even that is not enough, it can easily connect with other installed software and share files.
- Going for professional analysis. ProTools makes learning on your own mistakes easy and pleasant. It has Sibelius Score Editor, which allows to track down notes and create new compositions in a pro-like manner. It also has MIDI, that is working with all types of records and making it possible to rearrange dynamics, sections and pitches.
- Recording with built-in virtual studio. It only has 8 instruments, but they meet the basic requirements and make it possible to start DJing as well as recording some simple audios.
These options will satisfy needs of new player and an intermediate one. However there are almost no opportunities to upgrade, so it is not the best long-time investment.
ProTools is not the best software. It is expensive and suggests less opportunities than cheaper analogues:
It is one of the oldest audio interfaces available on the market. FruityLoops Studio has a large amount of built-in instrumental and a lot of free and cheap samples. Alongside it has stepsequencer and VST plug-ins. It is a bit harder to start with, but has much more development options.
Cubase is good for beginners as it has the biggest number of free samples to work with. Another feature is possibility to connect to cloud storage, where tracks of all artists using Cubase are stored. It’s helpful for tracking progress and comparing yourself to others.
Ableton does not have that many options, but its’ interface is one of the simplest things, so it is easy to learn.
Even with all the advantages ProTools is not the best audio interface to pick. It works nice with Avid hardware, but needs replacement in order to get development.
There are some USB audio interfaces in 300$ price range, which are worth considering:
- Focursite Scarlett 18i8. It costs 280 dollars (the cost of Mbox Mini and ProTools app combined). The hardware is much more powerful. It has eight inputs, but, what’s more important it has the best frequency rate (192 kHz) in the price category. Unlike Mbox it has no lack of headphone jacks. The device works with ProTools, Ableton Live, and other programmes. However, Focursite Scarllet is not that mobile and convenient.
- M-Audio M-Track 2×2 C Series. The 2-in 2-out concept does not leave much room for creativity, but makes it easier to work with for new users. M-Audio is a cheap device, available for a hundred dollars. It also has bonus software as a gift: Eleven lite, Strike, Xpand!2 and Grand.
- Focursite Scarlett 2i2. The closest Mbox Mini analogue both in price range and functional capability. It has less ins and outs (2 of each kind), but better conversion (the best of class in fact) and super low latency. The software setup is similar to previous models.
Mbox Mini is one of the best devices in its’ price range. The closest opponents either differ or cost too much.
Recording sound is required in music, voiceover and live performances. People that are involved in this sort of action shared their opinion on Mbox mini.
Ann, 22, Theatre actress
- There was an experiment in our studio, where we recorded dialogues for improving theatre performance quality. We bought that small pocket studio, cause there was not much space. It’s done its’ job pretty well. Voice record was nice and deep, with all intonations sounding exactly as they had. It is a pity that our experience was short-termed as we had to leave the studio.
John, 37, guitarist
- I am not calling myself a professional, but I’ve been playing acoustic guitar for almost ten years now. The decision to purchase Mbox Mini was taken mainly because I wanted to start recording some singles at home and had limited budget. So small studio seemed pretty decent.
The problems started almost immediately. The first thing I found out was that I have to activate the full version of software to get access to all functions. It costed almost as much as the device itself.
The next three weeks were OK, and I actually managed to move forward with creating some tracks. But suddenly it just stopped working properly and started bugging sound. Three days later the box started smelling as if it had some serious problems with electronics, so I took the only correct decision – returned it to shipper ang got my money back.
Julia, 26, Voiceover actress
- To be honest I am only starting my career. Some friends of mine said that they really liked funny voices I made and gifted me Mbox Mini. I tried recording my voiceover for cartoons. I don’t think that this is exactly how my voice sounds, but it’s OK. I don’t know if I have any further success, but if I do, I’ll surely upgrade sound recording hardware.
Mbox does not receive the warmest feedback ever. People complain that though the sound is clean, software features are limited and hardware quality is not that high. The value of device can be called OK, but it is definitely not the most secure purchase.
Mbox Mini is an arguable purchase. On one hand, it has all the necessary functions to start recording, is convenient and compact. On the other hand, the quality of hardware depends on delivery service and software seriously lacks some features. It’s OK to get started with, but if you are looking for something that will allow continuous development, you, probably, should consider other options.