The Mbox 2 Mini is the most compact of Digidesign's Pro Tools systems; it's almost exactly the
same size as a stack of four CD jewel cases. It has some heft due to its robust metal enclosure; I wouldn't be afraid to lose it for a few days within the depths of my courier bag, where it'd have to take on assorted junk as well as a 4 lb bike lock. The USB 1.1 interface is capable of recording two channels while simultaneously playing back two channels. Input 1 is selectable between XLR mic or unbalanced 1/4" jacks. Input 2 is 1/4" only. The mic jack can supply 48 V phantom power, and both 1/4" jacks have 20 dB pads, allowing them to take instrument (DI) or line-level signals. The output shows up on a pair of unbalanced 1/4" jacks as well as a front-panel headphone jack, with a single output knob affecting the level of both. A mute button allows you to turn on/off the 1/4" outputs whether the headphones are plugged in or not; a nice feature if you're switching between speakers and headphones while tracking. While overdubbing, a Mix knob adjusts how much of the audio from the analog inputs (before A-D conversion) is added to the output signal from the host application, allowing for zero-latency monitoring; without this feature, you'd need an external mixer or you'd have to reduce your host's buffer size to a minimum. Sample rates are limited to 44.1 and 48 kHz.
Along with Pro Tools LE 7.3 (reviewed in this issue), the Mini comes with a whole bunch of plug-ins, as well as "lite" versions of various applications and virtual instruments (see the website for a complete list). Installation is as straightforward as it can be, and the Getting Started PDF details how to optimize your computer for Pro Tools; I even learned a few things reading it! Getting Started also walks you through everything from connecting mics to making CD-ready bounces. Within minutes of opening the box, I had the software installed, the Mini connected, and I was recording audio into a session I'd created previously in PT HD.
On WinXP, ASIO and WaveDriver drivers are installed by default with PT LE; same goes for a CoreAudio driver on Mac OS X. Therefore, you can use the Mini with other audio applications. I had no problem using the Mini with Tracktion on my Toshiba subnotebook; everything worked and sounded great.
At $300 street, the Mini is a steal if you consider that if you could buy Pro Tools LE for the same price of PT M-Powered by itself, it'd cost you $250 just for the software. So whether you're a seasoned PT user in need of a portable rig, or you're new to PT and you want to get started at minimum cost, the Mbox 2 Mini is the way to go. ($329 MSRP; www.digidesign.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.