Recording Reviews: Mackie Onyx Artist 1•2 Audio Interface and Onyx Producer 2•2 Audio / MIDI Interface
Mackie Onyx Artist 1•2 Audio Interface and Onyx Producer 2•2 Audio / MIDI Interface
Two new interfaces for you to use at home or on the go…
by Phil O'Keefe
Mackie has long had a major interest in the home studio market, and many of their products over the years have been designed specifically for musicians who record themselves at home. Of course today you're just as likely to want to record someplace else as you are at home, so mobility is important too. That kind of dual use flexibility was obviously on the minds of the folks who work in new product development at Mackie when they were working on their new Onyx Artist 1•2 and Onyx Producer 2•2 interfaces. While they're very similar to each other, there are some differences - let's dig in and check out the details.
- Both the Mackie Onyx Artist 1•2 and Producer 2•2 interfaces support 24 bit recording and playback at up to 192 kHz sample rates, and work with all major DAW software applications. Both are bus powered over the USB connection, and no external power supply is provided or required.
- Both interfaces work with both Mac and PC computers. System requirements are Mac OS X 10.8 or later or Windows 7 or later, running on a computer with a 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo processor (or faster) with 2 GB (or more) of RAM. You'll also need an available USB 2.0 port to plug the interface into - a USB cable is included with both models.
- Windows users will need to download an ASIO driver, while on the Mac both interfaces are class compliant, and no additional software driver is necessary.
- A card with an authorization code for Tracktion T7 is included with each interface. You'll need to download it, but it does give you a full DAW application for recording, editing and playing back audio and MIDI that you can use along with your new interface if you don't already have one.
- The Onyx Artist 1•2 has a somewhat misleading name. You probably think it's only has a single input, but the 1 in the product name more likely signifies its single microphone preamp - there are actually two input channels - we'll cover the specifics in a moment.
- The Onyx Producer 2•2 is a 2x2 audio interface, with two mic preamps instead of just one.
- The Onyx Artist 1•2 is physically the smaller of the two interfaces, measuring 4.5" D x 6.4" W x 2" H and weighing 1.2 pounds, while the Onyx Producer 2•2 has the same depth and height dimensions except it is an inch wider and weighs 1.4 pounds.
- Both interfaces are built nice and sturdy to take the occasional knocks and bumps that any mobile-capable interface is going to be subjected to, with all-metal housings. The knobs and pushbutton switches have a sure and solid feel to them too, with none of the cheap and wiggly feel that often betrays low cost audio products.
- All of the pushbutton switches illuminate (green) when they are depressed.
- Both interfaces have a green LED in the upper right hand corner of the front panel that illuminates (again, in green) when the interface is connected over USB to a host computer.
- There are some notable differences between the two interfaces in the input department. The Onyx Producer 2•2 has two fully-featured input channels, with Mackie Onyx Mic preamps available on each input.
- The Onyx Producer 2•2's inputs use combo XLR / 1/4" jacks for mic, line and instrument level input sources. Each channel has a Hi Z pushbutton to facilitate direct recording with high impedance instrument sources such as electric guitars and basses.
- A single Gain knob per channel allows you to set the appropriate amount of gain for the input source. There is up to 55 dB of gain available, and the Onyx preamps are generally low-noise, neutral and clean in character.
- A SIG OL LED that is located immediately to the right of the Gain knob illuminates in green when signal is present and turns red when the input signal is too hot, which aids in getting your input Gain levels set properly. You get this indicator on both input channels of both interfaces.
- The Onyx Artist 1•2 has a mic preamp on input 1, but instead of a combo XLR / 1/4" input, it has a regular XLR jack - there is no way to connect a 1/4" plug to input 1 without using an adapter of some sort. You still have a Gain control and there is a 48V Phantom Power switch, but there's no Hi Z switch.
- Input 2 on the Onyx Artist 1•2 is intended to handle direct recording of high impedance sources, as well as line level signals. It has a 1/4" input that accepts balanced or unbalanced line or high impedance input sources, but there is no phantom power switch and no mic input.
- It is possible to use both inputs simultaneously on both the Onyx Artist 1•2 and Onyx Producer 2•2 audio interfaces.
- The monitoring sections of the two interfaces have some differences of note too. This is where you'll find a universal 48V Phantom Power switch that applies phantom power to both inputs on the Onyx Producer 2•2. The phantom power switch takes the place of the Hi Z switch on input 1 of the Onyx Artist 1•2, as previously mentioned.
- Both interfaces have a large (not quite Big) silver knob for Monitor playback level control.
- The Onyx Producer 2•2 has a Mix knob that allows you to hear just the inputs when it's rotated fully counter-clockwise, and just the playback from the DAW when it's turned fully clockwise - by setting the knob somewhere in between the two extremes you can get just the right balance between your input signals and the DAW playback for near zero latency monitoring while recording.
- Instead of a knob, the Artist 1•2 has a Direct Monitor button. While even simpler to use, this gives you a preset balance between the input sources and DAW playback levels that can not be user-adjusted.
- Both units have a 1/4" stereo TRS headphone jack on the front panel, as well as a headphone level control.
- There isn't a lot on the back side of the Mackie Onyx Producer 2•2. There are a pair of 1/4" line output jacks (that will accept either balanced or unbalanced connectors), and a USB port for connecting the interface to your computer.
- You also get a pair of 5-pin MIDI ports on the Producer 2•2 for MIDI input and output. A corresponding LED on the front panel next to the Monitor knob illuminates when MIDI signals are received or transmitted by the Producer 2•2.
- The back side of the Artist 1•2 is even simpler, with just the USB port and two line output jacks that can accept either unbalanced TS or balanced TRS 1/4" plugs.
- There is no MIDI interface on the Artist 1•2 interface - it's audio-only.
- The gain knobs, as well as the headphone knob, seem to jump up a bit more in the last bit of their travel than you might be expecting. If you're having to max them out (or are coming close to it), they can be a bit tricky to adjust.
- The Direct Monitor pushbutton does provide zero latency direct input monitoring on the Onyx Artist 1•2, but without the Mix knob that the Producer 2•2 has, you're stuck with the pre-set ratio of input source to DAW playback level that Mackie provides, which isn't nearly as flexible as being able to set the mix to suit your own preferences.
Mackie has come up with another nice pair of musician-friendly audio products that I'm sure many people will enjoy using in the form of their new Onyx Artist 1•2 and Onyx Producer 2•2 interfaces. Both of these units are ruggedly built and have equally solid playback audio sound quality whether you're using the line outputs or monitoring with headphones, and their Mackie Onyx preamps are capable of giving you clean, quiet and professional-quality recordings too. Either would make a good recording interface for the home studio, and since they're bus powered, I suspect many will be used for mobile recording purposes too.
While the Mackie Onyx Producer 2•2 is a touch wider and a little heavier (and a bit more expensive), what you get in exchange makes the trade-off more than worth it in my opinion. While the Direct Monitor button on the Artist 1•2 works okay, having the flexibility of setting your own ratio of direct signal vs. DAW playback is far preferable. I've always held the opinion that the more comfortable musicians are with what they're hearing in their headphones, the better, since it will have a direct bearing on the quality of their performances, and thus the tracks you get from them - and that includes yourself when you're working alone.
Of course the Producer 2•2 also has the second mic preamp, which opens up all the possibilities the world of true stereo recording has to offer. And if you're into MIDI, its built-in MIDI interface has obvious benefits too. Given the added functionality and features, I think paying a bit extra for the Producer 2•2 makes a lot of sense, but if you are recording narration for books on tape and only need the single input, getting the Artist 1•2 will save you some money and still give you the same high quality sound. -HC-
Have questions or comments about this review? Want to share your experiences with one of these interfaces? Then head over to this thread in the Studio Trenches forum right here on Harmony Central and join in the discussion!
Mackie Onyx Artist 1•2 USB audio interface ($139.99 MSRP, $99.99 "street") and Onyx Producer 2•2 ($209.99 MSRP, $149.99 "street") audio and MIDI interface.
Mackie's Onyx Artist 1•2 And Onyx Producer 2•2 product web page
You can purchase the Mackie Onyx Artist 1•2 and Onyx Producer 2•2 audio interfaces from:
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.