Digidesign mbox2 micro

Digidesign has gradually helped Pro Tools users unchain themselves from the bulky interfaces the software once required. (Anyone remember the days of hooking up an entire expansion card chassis to a laptop, back in the day? Yipes!) But until recently, you still needed an Mbox to lug along. The Mbox2 Micro has a novel twist: it packs an audio interface into an anodized aluminum USB key. You get just one audio output: an 1/8″ stereo output jack, upgrading your laptop’s headphone out jack to 24-bit, 48KHz monitoring. But that also means the Micro is all you need to carry to run Pro Tools. (In other words, it’s a dongle with a headphone jack.)

The “Mbox dilemma” continues: for new users, the Micro is a great bargain. You get Pro Tools LE, 45 plug-ins (Bomb Factory + DigiRack), and Xpand playback and synthesis, for US$279. Or, anyway, it’s a good deal if you’re not planning to record … this is an output-only interface, with no input. (It’s well worth considering Pro Tools M-Powered for use with M-Audio interfaces or the rest of the MBox line for mobile recording.) But for existing users — the ones who, according to the press release, are “seeking a greater degree of portability when using Pro Tools on the road” — you’ve got to spend $279 for what amounts to an extra dongle. Bummer. So, I’ll say again: Digidesign, why not give your existing LE (or Pro Tools HD users) an option to buy this thing for $49 or something? (I’m guessing the answer to “why not” is because it’d allow people to easily pirate Pro Tools LE, but that’s going to be little comfort to users who have invested in Digidesign’s stuff.) By comparison, Apple’s Logic Pro is $500 and doesn’t require any USB dongle at all; their entry-level $200 Logic Express includes far more built-in plug-ins. There are similar deals from Cakewalk’s SONAR on Windows, which also requires just serial numbers, not specialized hardware. Both of these will work with your existing headphone out jack or other mobile interfaces.

At the same time, I think the idea of a USB key that gives you higher-quality monitoring is a terrific idea, and I’d love to see ASIO/Core Audio-compatible alternatives. And on the Digidesign front, if you’re looking for an affordable mobile Pro Tools companion, the Micro looks promising, for those who don’t yet own LE.

Digidesign Mbox2 Micro

Mbox2 Micro plugged into laptop

  • Adrian Anders

    I still don't know why Digi is holding on to their outdated design philosophy. They should open their software up to having ASIO and VST plugs natively without requiring additional hardware to run. Of course this is in reference to the LE/M-Powered line of their products. That said, if they threw in VST support for their higher end products that would be nice as well 😀

  • I expect that'd be not the easiest thing to do technically, Adrian — and adds an additional layer of support. Digi has their platform, and it works. But I think this question of the way they're pricing their mobile hardware is something to consider, because you don't have the ease of swapping hardware — even from Digi's line — that you get with competing products, because you have to keep re-purchasing LE to do it. I'm sure that'll work just fine for some people — and annoy some others.

  • Confused


    Yeah cause we've been totally dying to be able to play back Pro Tools sessions on the road and mix on headphones. Even if you were just mixing wouldnt a left and right jack for ref monitors be better than a single headphone jack? Using an adapter would only make this thing bigger, hanging off of the usb port. And if you're using monitors, how inconvernient is it to carry the mbox?Why would you ever need to only play back sessions? It's not like this is Ableton and you might be performing with it. And even so, is the Mbox really all that big to "lug" around? Maybe it's for mixing on planes!! Yeah thats it!

    I dont get it.

  • While we're at it, this almost certainly won't work as an iLok dongle. So while you're doing this mixing on an airplane, or whatever other ridiculous use they've got in mind, you've probably also got to plug in at least one more dongle in order to do anything useful…

    It's a weird idea, this thing.

  • Rozling

    Can anyone confirm whether Protools can be used with other recording interfaces, specifically MOTU Traveler? If so this would be a cheap(er) way of getting the software if you already have the I/O you need, but even then it's only $50 more for the Mini.

  • Well, what *would* have made this design work is something with breakouts, a la the new Apogee Duet — then you could just use it for headphone monitoring if you want, or switch to the breakout if you need to do recording.

    There are definitely situations where you don't have monitors handy and would use headphones, and hotel rooms, etc. are for sure a realistic scenario. But yeah, I did find the Digi press release amusing, given the number of people *already* doing this stuff on the road — with their Mbox line, and with competitive products. (A typical approach is for people to work on elements in Reason or Live and drop them into a Pro Tools session later, etc…. and, of course, not everyone uses Pro Tools, either.)

  • For its target audience, this thing will sell a bunch. Drum comps on the train anyone?

  • Mike

    I think this is a great release, I do wish it was cheaper as I have already paid for PT twice when I bought my 003 and Mbox 2. While the Mbox 2 is portable I only ever use the headphone output, the main outs and inputs are redundant.

  • i am one of those people who would just want protools le for compatibility.

    i would definitely buy protools le if i could buy it seperately… i guess $300 isn't too much to spend but… really i could do without the hardware.

    i don't know if anyone has seen "pro convert"… ssl announced it at AES… (they bought it from another company called Cui Bono… but the idea is it lets you convert any file format into any other format. they dont offer 100% support yet but they say they're working on it. very cool stuff except for the price (around $1000!)…

  • clarification — i am talking about DAW file format conversion… (protools into nuendo…. etc…)

  • Barry Wood

    $250 seems pretty steep for a device that probably costs at most $25 in parts. How can they justify a price of $250 when $300 will get you a Mini?

  • Aahzekiel

    I hope they've somehow reinforced the usb connector. That thing looks like it would snap right off with the addition of the 1/4" to 1/8" headphone adapter I'd need to use any of my decent headphones… the micro itself, sticking far out and supported only by the usb port on the computer, plus the weight of the adapter, the (in my case) lengthy headphones cable, and any godawful leverage you happen to put on it when you accidentally catch the cable with your foot… adds up to what appears to me to be an immediate recipe for a $250 disaster – and that's if it doesn't mangle your usb port too. I've already snapped a bluetooth dongle off the front of my G5, and that didn't have anything lengthy or heavy attached to it.

  • aj

    mmmmmmmm no.

    On the VST angle — it would introduce so many hairy new bugs that people would hate PT for years. Right now it's quite stable (compared to other platforms) and that's a good thing.

    But as a PTLE option this looks just weird…maybe it's really just for headphone mixing!

    Avid uses software as a way to get people hooked on their hardware. Unfortunately, the PTLE hardware's always seemed a bit lacking compared to what you can assemble from the open market (not talking about PTHD of course).

    Maybe it's time for something called Pro Tools Open, a version of PTLE tweaked for ASIO and CoreAudio. Maybe it costs a little more and comes with a dongle but…surely they'd sell many, many copies if at the same price as Logic Studio?

  • Bobby Fever

    dude this rules! i was *totally* looking for a really, really expensive dongle. Thanks Digi for listening to my prayers!!! Next please someone make me pay for the air I breathe!!! Or… just come over to my place and steal my wallet when I'm sleeping. THANKS!!!

  • bliss

    Who mixes with headphones, really? I mean other than DJs. I guess it's for when you have already recorded a session and then you're on the plane and maybe you want to hammer out some edits or something? Definitely not useful for serious effects processing of audio. The Mac already has a headphone jack. Much cheaper and more versatile to just pick up a copy of Logic Express. Bounce to BWav later if you need to get the files into ProTools. For a brief moment I thought this was competition with Apogee's Duet — NOT! And the more I think about Duet the more it makes pretty good sense. At first glance it doesn't because it lacks a MIDI interface, and balanced inputs and outputs, but if there's enough demand Apogee could possibly release a balanced XLR breakout cable option, the same as RME does for their HDSP9632 series PCI cards. Anyway, even if its not workable, it's a far better and more versatile solution than that $300 dongle gimmick. "Wow, it's blue and it has a gold plated headphone jack, too. Cooooool." Please. No doubt Pros in between stops will buy into this scheme, but I bet many will just FTP the session files ahead and have some trustworthy studio assistant get out of bed at 2am in the morning to take care of the editing duties needed for the next day. Better than taking the chance of leaving that $300 cigarette lighter in the ashtray in the hotel lobby.

  • I do think (cough!) Digi, if you're listening, there's a way to make customers happier — offer an upgrade price for existing LE purchasers, especially those who bought this recently. $49 or even $99 for this thing might get some people to jump.

    I do think there are times when you would need to run LE + headphones on a mix, I can see that. But it is a pretty specific audience, because the folks wanting mobile LE rigs may want to then plug into the PA, and a headphone jack is not the way you want to do that. I can see it with this kind of customer, though: you've got a PT HD rig and you want to do some quick edits on the road, or you're in a band touring with VENUE and this is what you use in your hotel room. Seriously — and I've met some of those folks.

    But, yeah, there's a way they could make the pricing make this more accessible. And even though PT is not my personal choice for mixing, even I would rather see people spending the money on excellent stuff like Structure than having to pay a hardware tax just to take their rig on the road.

  • Wow, very odd feedback here! This is something Pro Tools users have requested a long time! You can easily see that by just searching a little on the DUC. I'm pretty sure this will sell well and be received by the the more "hot shot" users that travel a lot, and not so much the new users (they should get something that can be used for recording right?). I don't know how many times I've heard people ask about something so they can do some editing in Pro Tools on airports or wherever they are when they travel. For that you don't need anything but microphones, Mixing will still happen in the big facilities.

    Now, in my opinion (as I wrote on Slapdelay) they should have made it totally native or – which was more likely the way I see it – iLok based and FREE to registered users of any Pro Tools system. But I have no doubt in that this was a good move by Digidesign sales-wise.

  • martin wheeler

    I really never thought i'd be defending digidesign from criticism of its marketing strategy, but, really I think a lot of the comments here are totally missing the point of this thing

    whatever digi are saying (i haven't read their PR) for users this is obviously not primarily about mixing (though judging by their comments, I think some of the posters here would be surprised how much stuff out there actually _has_ been mixed partially or completely on headphones …

    this is all about composing/arranging and its all about compatibility

    I used to write & arrange a lot of stuff inside of Pro Tools, but I don't write much in PT anymore, mainly because, for me, Ableton Live is currently a decade or two ahead of PT as a composing machine, but also because up until now PT tied you to a non-micro interface, and for me the writing & arranging process now takes place almost exclusively on a MacBookPro and it continues wherever I am, in the studio or out of it, wherever I have my MBP and headphones … I have an Mbox, but I don't carry it around with me with my MBP … so goodbye PT for writing … but with this thing, I will keep it with me, which means PT might get a look in again as a composing tool, and certainly will as an arranging tool.

    and then its about compatibility … like it or not, PT is, for the moment, the de facto global standard for multitrack sound file transfer, studio to studio, and for cinema & TV, between composers, sound editors & film mix … and there are many times I have dragged an Mbox (acting as a very fat dongle … OK, mine is an Mbox V1, the new mini whatevers are already smaller, but, in the absence of a Pro Tools Free, this thing is precisely what we need) to a film or TV mix, just in case there are last minute changes necessary to something i've done … it happens all the time … and it doesn't matter if the mix studio you're going to is across town or on another continent, dragging an Mbox around for no good reason is a mega-pain, and believe me, it is fairly unusual to hear people say, I wish my dongle was the size of an Mbox like yours …

    ( boys, enlarge your dongle up to 12" – buy my newly redundant Mbox … on Ebay very soon)

    so yes, a company that preferred not pissing off its clients with its every move would probably price this at $ 99 (at least for existing PT owners), but this is Digidesign so little chance of that.

    But, make no mistake, there is definitely a market for this, and i'm part of it …

  • martin wheeler

    … and concerning the fragility issue … it would certainly be nice to see this come with a little matching blue and gold "digidesign certified" USB extension … because quality headphone into minijack adaptor into MicroBox hanging off of USB port, in the train, plane, café, boudoir environment that this is pitched at is seriously asking for trouble …

  • Mat

    Peter is right- with the release of Logic Studio the landscape has changed dramatically. Still tools is still the editing supremo and logic in part acknowledges that by adopting the single layer approach – for musicians without attachments there is no reason not to go for Logic and MOTU or RME Hammerfall option..

    And on the people above saying who mixes on cans anyhow? Your fairly hilarious. I use my cans a lot when I mix….not just on the train or the plane…

  • In fairness, SONAR on the PC is also a full-fledged DAW/bundle with pricing similar to pricing (not quite as competitive after the Logic price drop, but still the same ballpark), and serial-only authorization. And out of all the DAWs, *only* Pro Tools requires specialized hardware just to operate. HD at least has a technical reason — reliance on DSP hardware. But LE does not. People keep buying Pro Tools, so it's clearly not a deal killer for everyone, but it's worth noting. And if Digidesign really wants to be competitive, they'll make the necessary hardware more accessible, rather than charging people for the software each time they buy the hardware. (again, people keep buying, so I see why they might not do that)

  • craven moorehead

    Now somebody may very well prove me wrong, but name one album, producer, or engineer who mixed on headphones. And don't tell me, "Well, I do". I'm talking about someone who has sold some records.

    No matter how good you think you are, surely you are familiar with "ear fatigue". You can only accurately reference with heaphones for so long before you start to hear frequencies that just are'nt there. Ever take off headphones and hear that ringing in your ear? Not good.

    If you're composing or arranging, fine. For compatibility, fine. But 279 dollars?!!! C"MON!!

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  • AeroPlain

    at first glance i thought, perhaps, i had sold my mbox too soon (as i was desperate for a more mobile workflow). but then i saw the price tag and felt more secure than ever in my decision. the last thing the music world needs is another overpriced digi dildo.

  • martin wheeler

    " "Now somebody may very well prove me wrong, but name one album, producer, or engineer who mixed on headphones. …

    If you’re composing or arranging, fine. For compatibility, fine. But 279 dollars?!!! C”MON!! " "

    -> Craven

    It obviously depends on what sort of music you are making, and in what context, but it seems to me that in a lot of cases the mutually exclusive division between composing / arranging / mixing doesn't really exist anymore … if you are a rock band its probably clear when you are writing a tune, when you are arranging that tune, when you are tracking and when you are mixing, and frankly this Micro MBox thing probably isn't very appropriate to much any of that process, but for a lot of electronic music of all genres, it seems to me that the process from starting a piece to completing it is often much more like a continuous flow. Some or all of this process can be, and often is, accomplished on headphones … and something like this is fine for that.

    I often set up final mixes on headphones if i'm out of the studio, and though personally I would always finish them off using preferably a couple of pairs of speakers AND headphones, often this "finishing them off" is just a matter of tweaking a couple of levels, so one could say that the majority of the mixing process sometimes gets done on phones too … as for $279 … as I have alreday said, $99, at least for existing PT users, would seem fairer, but if this thing is useful to someone making music profesionally then "even" at $279, frankly its a no brainer …

  • I'm surprised there's so much reaction to the headphones thing.

    I don't think Digidesign is saying "do your final mixing and mastering" on headphones. In fact, the likelihood with many, many engineers is any album you can name was at least monitored on headphones — routinely you'd do just that to double-check your mix, partly just because it gives you a different perspective, and partly because people are likely to listen to your work on headphones at some point.

    But I don't think that's the idea; here I think composing, arranging, on-the-fly mixing, stuff you'd need to do on-the-road … it's that hotel room situation, plane delay/layover thing, where you want to get *something* done because the alternative is doing *nothing*. And yeah, you'll definitely want to go back to real studio monitors at some point. Digidesign clearly was getting feedback that people wanted that, and we see it even here.

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  • Jason Nashville

    First off, I applaud Digidesign for addressing the issue of truly portable mixing. I do think, however, they are aiming a bit in the wrong direction. What we really need is a feature that should come natively with the software already. This is the ability to run ProTools WITHOUT any additional hardware. We already have to have one dongle hanning off the back of our computer, now two, and have to pay $279 for it (granted we get more copies of the "free" bundled software that we already have).

    I think a fair middleground would be for Digidesign to write a coreaudio or ASIO driver that would be compatible with the majority of our soundcards and make it a $10.00 add on (just like the MP3 option). This way everyone wins. I mean do we really need DAE when we're doing something through headphones anyway?

  • The Mbox 2's anodized aluminum design means you can tuck it in a pocket with no fear of damaging your precious ideas and pop it into your USB port later when you're ready to rock. Using the convenient volume wheel and 1/8-inch stereo output for headphone or speaker monitoring, you can play back sessions with up to 24-bit/48kHz high-quality audio. Whether you're looking to edit and mix studio-created or live sound Pro Tools sessions on the go, mix your live sound recordings on the way to your next performance, or create loop-based or virtual instrument-driven music, all you need is your laptop and the Mbox 2 Micro.

  • We use the micro every day as a secondary edit workstation. Patched into some nice ADAM monitors, it sounds pretty terrific. And because we're in the familiar Pro Tools environment, we have full access to all of our Waves plugins.

    It also works well on the road. So far, so good. It comes with a little short USB extension cable BTW, to keep it from breaking-off if bumped.

    As many reporters are using Flash recorders with no need for preamps, this product fills a niche there too.

  • This is what I have been waiting for. It is clear that Ableton's customizable tools are catching on with the kids here in the States now, and I have been waiting to see all of the unique controllers that they will be building. The one feature that is missing most of the time (I would love to see this on a Livid controller) with on-the-market controllers is an X-Y controller like a tiny joystick. Actually two of these would be nice – one for the built-in yellow effects circle which clearly is an X-Y function, and for "driving" around through the clips on screen. I solved this issue with a $30.00 Logitech 3D PC gamers' joystick. It has a dozen or so assignable buttons on it too. We also use a Novation X Station 25 for controlling Ableton, as well as a set of Percussa Audio Cubes. So far the CME Bitstream and Fedaerfox controllers are the best equipped for Ableton.

  • I'm a professional engineer / sound designer. I wouldn't do any serious mixing in headphones, but this little device is great for editing VO and creating simple sounds for flash and web projects. As a freelancer, I'm always a bit "on call" for my clients where there are active projects.

    Now, I can go out of town for the weekend and just slip the micro into my backback without needing have the mBox take up half of my bag.

    I can also go to school during the week, and if a client needs a tweak something during the day, I can bust it out between classes. My micro is ALWAYS in my bag.

    The ilok dongle sucks though… but it only needs to be in when loading up ProTools, then I slip it back into the bag.

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  • Peter Henningsen

    I agree with John Randahl

    The issue with headphones is for simple or temporary use. For instance when I´m on the train for a couple of hours, I mix with headphones, not to disturb other travellers.

    The bummer is that I lost the card, DAMMIT!!

    I have yet to invest ALL the money to buy a new Micro system. "I make do" with Pro logic. Maybe if it's possible to attacth the microcard with a powerfull string to the powerbook. Is that possible in any way?. The Kensington lock is a little bit to much?

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