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I have a long history with audio interfaces. When starting to build up my drumming studio, I had no idea what I needed. I just knew that an interface was one of those things. Little did I know that it would become the most important component of my whole studio space. In realizing that, I had to upgrade my interface more times than I’d like to admit.
Choosing a good interface is incredibly important to your workflow when recording music. So, I’m going to look at a few of Avid’s Mbox interfaces in this article. We’ll discuss whether they’re still worth getting, where to find them, and how they may benefit you as a buyer.
Bottom Line Up Front: The Mbox is an audio interface made by Avid, the creators of ProTools. There have been a few iterations of these interfaces over the years, and the latest versions are called the Mbox 3. There are three versions – the Mbox Mini, Mbox, and Mbox Pro. The size and number of features offered get larger as the type of Mbox gets more expensive. All these interfaces are fairly high-quality and more than capable of running a decent recording setup. However, Avid doesn’t produce these anymore, so they’re quite difficult to find.
What Is an Audio Interface?
Audio interfaces allow you to run signals from instruments or microphones into a computer. If you want to do professional recordings with multiple tracks being recorded at once, using an interface is the only way to get there.
Audio interfaces give you extended control over your recordings. Depending on how heavy-duty the interface is, you get multiple onboard settings that will aid you in achieving the best recordings possible.
It’s possible to record without an interface. For example, you could use a USB studio microphone and connect it straight to your computer. However, you’re going to need an interface to record 3 or more channels at a single time. The interface does a lot of work before those signals get to your computer.
Also, you’re going to need a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) to read the signals coming from the interface. There are many to choose from, and interfaces often come included with a DAW.
What to Look for When Choosing an Audio Interface
Number of Inputs
Checking the number of inputs is one of the most important steps in choosing an interface. My first interface had 2 channels. When I learned to connect drum microphones to it and record, I realized that I only had room for 2 XLR drum mics. Ideally, I needed to have 4 or more drum mics to get a high-quality recording. So, I had to get a new interface because my first one didn’t have enough inputs.
Inputs come in different shapes and sizes. Personally, I needed several XLR inputs on my interface, but you may only need line inputs if you’re recording guitars or keyboards. Establish what you’re going to be recording, and then make sure you’re getting an interface with enough inputs for that. It’s most ideal for the interface to have a few line inputs and XLR inputs.
Connection type refers to how the interface connects to a computer. I’ve only ever used USB audio interfaces, but many people that are way more professional than me will opt for other inputs such as Thunderbolt, FireWire, or PCIe. PCIe is a bit different as those interfaces get installed directly into your computer.
USB, Thunderbolt, and FireWire are all viable connection types that you may be considering. Most Macs come with a Thunderbolt connection, so that could be preferable for Apple users. FireWire is more consistent than USB or Thunderbolt, making it most ideal for doing heavy recordings with multiple channels being tracked.
A USB connection is common to find, and arguably the easiest type of interface to use as USB connections are so universal.
Phantom power was another thing that I never considered when first buying an interface, and it bit me in the backside. I’m happy that I can use my flaws to help others!
Phantom power comes in the form of a button on an interface that provides a specific channel with a bit of a power boost. You need to have phantom power if you plan on recording with condenser microphones. Condensers can’t function without phantom power as the added volts through the interface work as a replacement for having your condensers sit with large, bulky power packs.
Drum kit overheads are typically condenser mics, and I realized the hard way that I absolutely needed phantom power if I wanted to record my drum set.
The last thing to consider when buying an interface is the cost. Audio interfaces range drastically in price. One can cost $50 while another costs $5000. If you’re new to the audio interface world, it’s vital that you find out why things are more expensive and decide whether you actually need that.
A simple 2-channel interface is all you need if you want to record guitar and vocals in your bedroom. If you’re building a professional recording studio, you’ll need something a bit higher-powered.
I eventually bought a $400 for my drum recordings, and it’s lasted me many years of excellent use. The great thing about audio interfaces is that they tend to be more sturdy than other music gear. I know some producers who are using 20-year-old interfaces.
So, if the cost of what you want is quite high, it may be worth investing in it as it will last incredibly long.
Now that you know what to look out for, let’s move on to checking out these Avid Mbox interfaces!
Avid Mbox Review
The features may change according to which Mbox you get, but here are some of the features that remain consistent between all 3 of them:
- Sleek black design
- Multiple line and XLR inputs
- Phantom power
- Included version of ProTools software
- Monitor outputs
- -20dB pads
The Mbox Mini is the smallest and cheapest of the 3 Mbox options. It’s an ideal interface for anyone wanting to record one or two channels at once. It has a USB port that supplies power, stopping it from needing an external power supply. I find interfaces like this incredibly ideal to place on top of computer towers at your desk.
It has a maximum audio resolution of 24/48kHz. That isn’t game-breaking, but it’s more than enough to do some small recordings. This interface has 3 inputs on the body, but only 2 can be used at a single time. That’s one of my biggest concerns about it, but if you’re recording music solo, you most probably won’t need that third input.
The interface has a single XLR input which can be used as a line input as well. This XLR port allows you to use at least one microphone when recording. It also has phantom power, so you can use a condenser mic.
Along with the standard monitor wheel and input gain knobs, the Mbox Mini has everything you’ll need for solo recording. If you’re looking for something small and affordable, this is for you.
The middle version is called the Avid Mbox. This is the standard version that many people gravitate toward. It has all the same features as the Mbox Mini, with some upgraded parts, more inputs, and a higher maximum audio resolution.
The maximum resolution is 24/96kHz, giving you slightly higher-quality recordings than what you’ll get with the Mbox Mini. This interface also has 4 inputs to use. Two of them are XLR/line combo inputs while the remaining two are standard line inputs. Another thing this interface has that the Mini doesn’t is MIDI In and Out ports.
One of my favorite things about the Mbox is the soft-limiting feature. You press a button on the interface that interferes with the signal, stopping it from clipping when it gets received by the computer. I can only imagine how useful this would be when recording the high frequencies of cymbals at my drum kit.
The standard Mbox also allows you to do DSP monitor mixing. You get to mix the inputs on your computer with software before the signals reach your DAW for recording.
The Mbox Pro is the top-quality option in the Mbox interface line. It has the highest cost, but it also boasts the most powerful features and settings.
Instead of using a USB connection like the Mbox and Mbox Mini, the Mbox Pro uses a FireWire connection, and it requires a standalone power supply. As I said earlier, FireWire is the most ideal connection type for heavy usage and multiple tracks being recorded. So, that shows you that this interface means business. The max resolution is 24/192kHz, which is incredibly impressive.
In terms of channel numbers, you get 8 inputs and outputs. That’s the perfect number of inputs for a full drum kit mic setup, so this is undoubtedly the interface for me. If you play drums, or you want to record a full band, you’d need to get this one as well. However, the interface only has 2 XLR/line inputs, 2 standard XLR inputs, and 4 standard line inputs.
The Mbox Pro has LED gain measuring meters. These make setting your input levels much easier as you can see when the sound is clipping before even opening your DAW.
Another benefit of the Mbox Pro is that you get two separate monitor channels. This allows two people to record and have separate mixes to listen to.
Overall, the Mbox Pro is the best Avid Mbox to get if you can afford it.
Pros and Cons
- The Avid Mbox interfaces work very well with ProTools, but they’re compatible with other DAWs as well
- The Mbox Mini and Mbox are quite affordable
- The soft-limiting feature is incredible
- The Mbox Pro has everything you need to record a full band professionally
- All 3 versions of the Mbox come with ProTools
- Avid Mbox interfaces are difficult to find as they aren’t being produced anymore
Who Should Get an Avid Mbox Interface?
If you use ProTools as a DAW, you should highly consider getting an Avid Mbox. While Avid doesn’t manufacture them anymore, you can still find the latest drivers on the Avid website.
These interfaces were designed with ProTools in mind, so they cater best to that software. However, you could still get excellent use out of an Mbox while using something like Logic Pro X or Reason.
If you’re looking for a new audio interface and you come across one of these, know that they’ll work excellently. The Mbox Mini is perfect for a small bedroom studio setup, the standard Mbox is great for a slightly larger setup, and the Mbox Pro is the top choice to go with if you’re looking to make professional recordings.
Are Avid Mbox Interfaces Still Being Sold?
Avid Mbox interfaces aren’t being manufactured anymore. However, you can still find them in stock at certain music stores. Other than that, the best place to buy these would be on secondhand marketplaces.
eBay and FaceBook marketplace are excellent ways of finding these Mbox interfaces for cheap prices. Also, remember how I said that audio interfaces tend to last decades? That fact is incredibly valuable when considering buying a secondhand interface. It may even feel brand new to you.
Available Alternative Interfaces to Consider
Since you can’t easily find the Avid Mbox interfaces anymore, here are some alternative options that are readily available from most music gear retailers.
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 thrives in its simplicity and power. Focusrite is one of the most popular brands in the world when it comes to audio interfaces, and this particular one is a best-seller.
It has a max resolution of 24/192kHz, making it just as powerful as the Avid Mbox Pro. You get 2 XLR/line inputs, phantom power, an excellent headphone monitor, and 2 preamps.
One of the standout features of this interface is the Air mode. You simply press a button, and it gives your recordings a brighter sound.
This is an ideal interface for small bedroom setups. Even though it’s a small and portable interface, it’s packed with high-quality sounds and features.
- Air mode allows you to press a button to brighten up sounds
- Has phantom power
- Small and portable, yet very powerful
- Preamps sound amazing
- Doesn’t have MIDI ports
Focusrite Scarlett 18i20
If you liked the sound of the Scarlett 2i2, but need something bigger, the Scarlett 18i20 is the perfect answer. This interface has everything you need, and it’s relatively affordable considering all that it offers.
It has 8 XLR/line inputs and 2 high-headroom line inputs that allow you to track guitars and keyboards. With 10 inputs in total, this is a great interface to record an entire band with.
It also has the Air mode along with a max resolution of 24/192kHz. I’ve always found it incredible how Focusrite manages to make these Scarlett interfaces so powerful, yet they still have such low latency.
This thing is incredibly easy to set up, and it will last decades if you keep using it. It’s one of the best interfaces in its price range on the market at the moment, and I highly suggest getting it if you plan on recording multiple tracks at once very often.
- 10 inputs in total
- Excellent for tracking multiple instruments at once
- Very powerful
- Easy to set up and use
- Relatively expensive compared to the other interfaces we’ve looked at
Behringer U-Phoria UMC1820
The Behringer U-Phoria UMC1820 is always my go-to suggestion as a cheaper alternative to the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20. While Behringer is a brand known for making cheaper and lower-quality audio products, I personally love the UMC1820.
Since audio interfaces act as middle ground devices between playing and hearing what you recorded, you won’t notice a quality dip if you’re new to recording music.
This makes it the perfect option for anyone buying a recording interface for the first time. It has 8 XLR ports with preamps and phantom power. It’s good enough to record a full band, your recordings just won’t be as high-quality as possible.
- Very affordable
- Has 8 inputs
- Easy to set up and use
- Great option for first-time audio interface buyers
- Quality may be too low for experienced audiophiles and producers
Answer: Yes. Even though the Avid Mbox is made by the same company that made ProTools, you can easily use the interfaces with other DAWs. However, some features on the Mbox interfaces are intended for ProTools. There is a button that you can press on the Mbox Pro that allows you to assign shortcuts to it from ProTools.
Also, the Avid Mbox Mini and the standard Mbox come with older USB connections. If you’re using a recent Apple product that only has USB-C, you’re going to need to use an adaptor. While adaptors are great, they’re not as reliable as connecting with one straight cable, making recording music more stressful than it needs to be.
Answer: Avid is a brand that mainly specializes in software. There two most popular software applications are ProTools and Sibelius. Since software is their specialization, they didn’t have the resources to continue pushing their audio interfaces.
The brand has tried many times to create popular pieces of hardware over the years. This hardware has always been bested by competing brands. So, Avid decided to stop the production of the Mbox interfaces as they likely weren’t seeing the returns and profits that they needed.
Answer: The best type of interface to get for home recording would be a USB interface that doesn’t need a power supply. Having one of these will allow you to plug it straight into your computer without worrying about things you don’t need to.
Simple home recording setups don’t need to be extravagant, and cheaper USB interfaces are more than good enough to handle tracking two to three instruments in your home studio room.
If you want to bring your bandmates over to record a demo album, you may need a larger and more powerful interface. However, you can still find USB ones for decent prices that have several input channels.
Answer: This depends on how detailed you want your drum recording to be. I’ve been able to get decent drum recordings over the years with only 4 channels, and 4 channels would arguably be the minimum. Two overhead mics, a kick mic, and a snare mic are what would fit in a 4-channel interface.
If you want more detail from your drums, you’d need to put close mics on the toms. You could also put a mic by the hi-hat and underneath the snare drum to get the most clarity possible. In this case, you’d need up to 10 input channels on your interface, and they’d all need to be XLR inputs. Gear isn’t cheap for drummers!
Answer: This is a timeless question that will never have a resolute answer. There are several high-quality DAWs to choose from. Some of them are free, some of them can be bought with a single purchase, and some of them have subscription models.
LogicPro X is one of the most popular DAWs for Apple users. It’s also one of the easiest DAWs to use thanks to its simple layout. ProTools is another popular DAW, especially in the professional music industry. If you’re wanting to make electronic music or perform live, Ableton is an ideal option.
It’s best to check out all the options. You can read this guide to get a more elaborate idea of all the DAWs.
There are so many incredible audio interfaces to choose from. Once you establish how many inputs you need, what audio resolution you’re looking for, and what connection type you want to use, most interfaces will serve you well. It’s all about finding what other extra features are offered and choosing to buy what you think is the best.
If you manage to find one of the Avid Mbox interfaces somewhere, you won’t be disappointed if you get one. They’re incredible, and many musicians made high-quality recordings with them when they were freely available. Many still are.
If you can’t find an Mbox, consider choosing one of the interfaces that I mentioned in the alternative options section.
Good luck on your studio gear journey. Getting a good audio interface is only the first step. The gear hunt never stops!
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