A lot of people now split their recording time between on-location and studios, which for many people means buying two separate audio interfaces. Also, despite the fact that their needs are simple, they often wind up with interfaces that either don’t do quite what they need or, at the opposite extreme, are complete overkill. That’s why Mackie’s new Satellite Firewire Recording System looks appealing. It was introduced at NAMM in January, but it’s now available with a really low price: US$519.99 retail.

Here’s the idea: the interface is split into a docking station and mobile FireWire interface, so you can eliminate cable replugging and carry only what you need.

For studios, the docking station includes talkback and monitoring switching functions, vital to studio recording but often left off audio interfaces and requiring another piece of gear. (Sure enough, Mackie makes a piece of gear for just that purpose, the Mackie Big Knob.) The docking station also includes the extra I/O you probably don’t need as badly on the road: XLR, two balanced line ins, 1/4″ instrument on each channel, and insert points for outboard effects (something that just got taken off Digidesign’s mBox). Powered via FireWire bus or a power brick.

For mobile use, the Satellite Pod is pretty simple: Neutrik combo connectors for XLR or 1/4″ ins (with both instrument ins and 48V phantom power for mics), plus control room and dual headphone jack outputs. (I’m not sure if that headphone jack is independently assignable; I’ll check with Mackie.)

But what’s really nice here is, if all you need is some simple I/O on the road, you can dock the little Pod in the Base Station when you’re in the studio and pull it out for mobile use, all without repatching cords.

The whole package comes with Mackie Tracktion, the highly-underrated, simple DAW, plus Mackie’s Mastering Tools. I haven’t gotten the chance to try the Mackie Onyx line in my own studio yet, but I’ve been hearing great things about audio fidelity and reliability, and the price looks right. I keep walking into setups, particularly in academia, where someone blew all their cash on a huge Digidesign audio setup that can’t move, is tough to upgrade, and is far more than they need, thus leaving them with no cash for software and other equipment they do need. That’s nothing against Digidesign, but you do wish you could get people to think about their other options and find what’s best for them. This could be a perfect, flexible solution for people on Mac and Windows, and I’ll bet many people don’t consider their options beyond one or two brands.

As always, we’re glad to know what you think, though, particularly if you’ve had hands-on experience (positive or negative) with the Onyx equipment you’d like to share.

Mackie Satellite FireWire Recording System

  • Mies van der Robot

    The concept is not bad, but the whole "plug it into a dock" aspect strikes me as more marketing-driven than actually useful.

    Seems to me you could achieve the same effect (and possibly at lower cost) by just selling "cabling extenders" for existing firewire interfaces. You'd just pass a firewire cable from the extender to the interface, and decouple them to take the interface on the road.

    Yes, the docking station looks cooler, but it probably costs more to manufacture, too.

  • Yes, but that would require two separate interfaces. And whatever the cost to Mackie, the $400 or so street cost to the customer here is competitive (particularly within their Onyx line), given you have these additional monitoring outs, talkback, etc, which most mid-range interfaces lack. I don't think it's for everyone — it looks good for surround monitoring and studio setups, not so great for extensive multitrack recording — but for someone, I expect it'll be just right. I can easily see it working well for an academic institution, for instance, that has a studio and then needs to take a simple line in / line out interface for use onstage. (erm, except that someone might steal the pod — better install that security camera.)

    Given the number and variety of good audio interfaces out there, I can't imagine that *something* doesn't work for just about anybody.