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Avid MBox Studio

USB Audio & MIDI Interface By Sam Inglis
Published January 2023

Avid MBox Studio

The MBox is back and it’s much better and certainly much bigger than it was before.

The original MBox, launched more than 20 years ago, was a hugely influential product. It made Pro Tools an attractive option for home studios and schools as well as professional environments, and established a design template that is still followed even now. It was followed up by another two generations of increasingly powerful USB and FireWire MBoxes, before the ability to use third‑party interfaces in Pro Tools apparently signalled the end of the road.

For quite a few years after that, the native version of Pro Tools was positioned as a software‑only product, and even when Avid introduced new HDX units such as the MTRX, they were essentially rebadged versions of other manufacturers’ products. So it came as a very pleasant surprise when Pro Tools | Carbon appeared late in 2020. Not only were Avid back in the business of making hardware interfaces: they were innovating once again, with a new Hybrid Engine that exploited the AAX DSP plug‑in format to effectively banish the problem of latency during tracking. And now they’ve followed it up by reviving the MBox.

Hot Desking

Like most earlier MBoxes, the new MBox Studio is a desktop interface that connects to the host computer over USB, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Its physical design is very different from that of any other audio interface I know, and the MBox Studio is a seriously chunky piece of kit. Its wedge‑shaped case measures about 29 x 22cm, stands more than 10cm proud of the desktop, and is correspondingly heavy. This must be a conscious decision on Avid’s part, because there are rival interfaces that offer lots of connectivity in a smaller package, Antelope’s Zen Tour Synergy Core being one obvious example.

The blackness of the case is offset by an attractive lightshow from the meters and controls, and the enormous pair of rotary controllers in the lower part of the top panel make it look more like a DJ controller than an audio interface. As on the Carbon, the buttons have internal lights that change colour to indicate different statuses, while the rotaries are backlit in purple. It all feels as heavy‑duty as it looks, to the point where the push action on the main rotaries requires quite a bit of force.

Connection to the computer is made through a Type‑C USB port, and the supplied USB cable has a neat adaptor to fit Type‑A or C ports at the other end. The MBox Studio requires mains power, and despite its generous dimensions, does not have an internal PSU, which is a shame. It does, at least, have an on/off button, though.

The Ins & Outs

Previous MBoxes were mostly quite small devices with only a handful of ins and outs, but the MBox Studio positively bristles with connections. To start with the more conventional aspects, there are four analogue inputs on combi sockets. The first two of these are located on the front panel and can accept mic, line or instrument signals, whilst inputs 3 and 4 are round the back and lack the high‑impedance option. The front panel also houses two independent headphone sockets and their associated rotary level controllers. Connection to loudspeakers is made using two pairs of quarter‑inch jacks on the back panel; the second pair can be configured as alternate speaker outputs or as generic line outputs depending on your needs. But that’s not the half of it...

As well as optical and S/PDIF sockets for digital interfacing, the back panel also houses eight more quarter‑inch jacks. Two of these are for footswitches or expression pedals, two are standard balanced line inputs, but the other four are altogether more interesting. They can operate as a pair of line outputs and line inputs, but they are labelled Line/FX, and their primary application is to integrate external effects devices. That includes guitar stompboxes, and the outputs can be switched into a special high‑impedance mode for that purpose. The second of these outputs is also mirrored on a front‑panel jack labelled Hi‑Z Out To Amp; this always operates in high‑impedance mode and is intended for re‑amping. It even has an optional ground lift function. It’s fair to say that someone on Avid’s design team is pretty serious about guitar recording.

The MBox Studio’s battery of sockets gives you some idea of its size — large.The MBox Studio’s battery of sockets gives you some idea of its size — large.

What’s more, although you might think that one...

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