There are tons of interfaces available for transferring audio to and from your computer, and it can be hard to tell them apart as many of them have similar features. After having used the Mobile I/O 2882, or MIO, as we affectionately call it around the studio, for the past six months or so, I not only think it holds a unique niche amongst audio interfaces, but I also think it's one of the better interfaces available. Three things set the Mobile I/O apart from a lot of the other interfaces available today: superior sound quality, true FireWire interfacing, and an extremely versatile software control panel. I've used a lot of different interfaces in my studio over the past few years: Digidesign 001, 002, M-Box; MOTU 2408 MK II and 1224; Fostex D2424; Swissonic AD24; M-Audio Omni and Delta 1010. I think-and several of my studio's regular engineers have commented as well-that the Mobile I/O has some of the best converters we've heard. Granted, this is subjective, but I can safely say that if the features of the Mobile I/O are what you are looking for, then you will not be disappointed with the sonic quality of the box. The Mobile I/O interfaces to your computer with a FireWire cable and nothing else (the audio cabling is of course separate), getting its power from the computer's FireWire bus. Although a wall wart power supply is included, its really not needed. Although I'm mainly using the Mobile I/O in a studio application, the benefits for laptop recordists are obvious. I even did one session with the Mobile I/O where I powered not only the Mobile I/O from the FireWire bus, but also two RØDE phantom-powered condenser microphones all on an iBook running on its batteries! I just dig the minimalist design of the unit and how when I turn my computer on or off, the Mobile I/O follows suit from across the room. Feature-wise, the Mobile I/O is pretty consistent with a lot of the other interfaces on the market: eight analog ins and outs; eight digital ins and outs via litepipe; and a stereo digital I/O (for a total of eighteen channels) that is switchable between AES/EBU or S/PDIF, a nice touch as many interfaces only offer one or the other. OK, it would have been nice to have both AES/EBU and S/PDIF available simultaneously, but I won't get too picky here. There's also a headphone output that can access the Mobile I/O's extensive mixing capabilities that we'll get to in a minute.
Metering for the eight analog ins and outs is implemented in both the software control panel as well as via hardware meters on the front panel. Metering for the digital I/O is solely implemented in the software panel. This brings us to the control panel, which is easily the best I've seen on any ASIO interface. There are three well designed and laid out main screens. The first is the analog I/O screen, where your metering is done and you can set levels, 48 V, etc. on the analog I/O. The sample rate and clock options reside in both this panel and the next panel, the mixer panel. The mixer panel is where the Mobile I/O starts to separate itself from less worthy ASIO contenders. The analog input and clock section is repeated from the previous panel, but below that is an 18-channel mixer with faders, solo, and mutes, that can accept ANY input or output from the Mobile I/O or your ASIO host app. There are eight separate stereo mixes available, and you can even use other mixer outputs as inputs to another mix! To fully explain this (and describe how versatile and powerful it is) would take more space than we have here, but suffice it to say that this software panel makes things like (near) zero latency monitoring really easy. The third and final panel is the mix/output routing panel which works hand in hand with the mixer panel to route all the various inputs and outputs and mixes within the Mobile I/O's internal architecture. I'm only scratching the surface of the Mobile I/O's software interface here. This is some very deep software. The ASIO drivers seem very stable, although I have one minor complaint: with all eighteen inputs enabled, the S/PDIF/AES/EBU input comes up in Cubase, Logic, etc. as 9-10 after the analog inputs but before the 8 litepipe inputs. This can be a bit confusing when initially routing a session. I think it would have made more sense to put the S/PDIF/AES/EBU inputs after the lipepipe inputs, so that 9-16 were the litepipe and 17- 18 were the stereo digital inputs.
I do have one minor beef with the Mobile I/O however. As of this writing, support for more than one Mobile I/O is only available on the Mac in OS X, and as several of the apps we use are still not OS X-ready, this has been a limitation. While this probably won't be a big deal to most of the people using this unit, I sure wish I could chain two of these for more than eighteen channels of I/O with converters that sound this good.
Bottom line is that the Mobile I/O 2882 is a great sounding and very versatile interface. Metric Halo is a small company that has made some fantastic digital audio products over the years, like ChannelStrip and SpectraFoo. This is both a blessing and a curse. When you deal with Metric Halo, you won't be talking to some customer service rep, but with the guys who built the gear and wrote the software; and they will seriously listen to you and take your comments into account in future updates and revisions. On the other hand, things you'd like to see (like multi-box support in OS 9) may not get done as quickly as you'd like them to. I like to support small, innovative companies, so in my opinion, the trade-off for such a great piece of gear is well worth it. ($1495 MSRP; www.mhlabs.com)