Hands-On Review:Mackie Onyx 400F FireWire Interface
Premium computer-based recording
Over the past few years FireWire recording interfaces have proliferated like dandelions on a summer lawn. If you hang out at Harmony Central, read any recording mags, or browse the recording section of Music123, you’ve likely noticed what I’m talking about. Computer recording with a FireWire interface works for a lot of reasons. FireWire gets audio in and out of your computer fast, is easily portable, works reliably, and has a big bandwidth that gives you lots of headroom and audio channels.
While it may be easy to find a FireWire computer audio interface these days, it becomes a lot harder if you want a truly professional all-in-one unit—one that is rugged enough to go on the road and has the audio quality you need for critical studio recordings. Lots of FireWire interfaces do one or the other, but the Mackie Onyx 400F does both extremely well. It delivers all the benefits of FireWire as well as the pristine circuitry and premium analog preamps you need for serious recording too. It is capable of the highest resolution available (192kHz), has four of Mackie’s stunning Onyx microphone preamps, boasts Mackie’s legendary build excellence, and comes with a full version of Tracktion 2 recording software.
With its first-rate sound, the Onyx 400F competes with interfaces that retail for twice as much. And while the 400F costs more than an entry-level FireWire interface, its features blow them out of the water. This 24-bit/192kHz computer recording interface boasts 10 channels of I/O including S/PDIF on channels 9 and 10, 1x1 MIDI interface, 10x10 DSP mixer, and 64-bit floating-point processing. Combined with the Onyx preamps, that means you don’t have to shell out big bucks for a studio-quality microphone preamp or mixer when you get a 400F.
The 400F is billed by Mackie as a “Superior recording preamp and FireWire interface in a single box.” I put it through a variety of recording applications and at the end of the day I have to agree with their assessment. I liked the Onyx preamps as well as any preamp I’ve ever used on a computer interface, mixer, or outboard preamp. I think you’d have to spend twice as much money on an outboard preamp to get a performance equal to the 400F. The Onyx pres have a warm high-fidelity sound that’s spacious, deep, and clean. Everything I recorded with the 400F had more detail with a big 3-D soundstage; a sonic characteristic I’ve previously only heard from mega-buck studio consoles.
Mackie designed the circuitry in the rest of the 400F to be just as hi-fi as the preamps. It has superior analog circuitry, extremely high-quality converters, and an advanced DSP chip to handle the 400F’s 64-bit processing. The analog-to-digital converter chipset comes from the Digital X Bus and boasts a 192kHz sampling rate. These converters process the audio from the analog circuitry fully intact, without missing a single harmonic or transient in your music. The DSP duties are handled by a custom-designed, 64-bit Texas Instruments chip that trumps any other DSP chip currently available.
The Mackie Onyx 400F also has an impressive level of flexibility. Using the DSP mixing software that ships with the 400F, you can set up a mix on your computer, save it, then unplug the 400F and take it with you to use as a 10x10 rackmount mixer or patchbay. Another super-cool feature lets you daisy-chain multiple 400Fs through the extra FireWire port on the primary 400F to create one monstrous audio interface. It also has dual independent headphone jacks, monitor level control, TRS inserts on the four Onyx preamp channels, and a generous plug-in bundle aimed at professional productions.
The Tracktion 2 recording and sequencing software that comes with the 400F is extremely versatile too. Designed from the ground up to be fast, intuitive, and powerful, Tracktion doesn’t get in your way. It’s a fresh approach to DAW software that simplifies everything and gives you a single uncluttered window with all the things you need and nothing you don’t. Tracktion also only takes up about 35MB of space on your hard drive and uses up the least processing power of any recording software I’ve seen.
When you buy the 400F you get the whole enchilada: first-class analog preamps and advanced digital circuitry combined with intuitive software that make recording easy. When it comes to single-box recording solutions, the 400F is it.