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.