We took a look at Mackie's Blackjack compact two-in/two-out USB audio interface a few months back and now it's the turn of its larger sibling, Blackbird, which features the same Onyx preamps but is an altogether more sophisticated proposition.
Filling a single rack space, the Blackbird offers 24-bit/96kHz operation and, counting all the connection possibilities, is a 16 x 16 interface - as well as eight analogue inputs, you get an 8 x 8 ADAT connection and Word Clock I/O.
Blackbird can be used as a front end to your DAW using the FireWire connection and, with the ADAT facility you can connect another Blackbird or any ADAT-equipped preamp to give you a full 16-channel configuration.
Likewise, the Blackbird can be used as a standalone eight-input preamp unit connecting into a digital setup using the S/MUX II ADAT lightpipe with sample rates up to 96kHz.
All with front panel gain controls, the eight Onyx preamp-equipped analogue inputs feature XLR/jack combi sockets and are shared between the back and front panels.
Two are easily accessible on the front and are designated as 'Super Channels' as, in addition to the gain control, they also each have an 80Hz hi-pass filter, an insert point on a TRS jack and are switchable to Hi-Z mode to take guitar signals.
They also feature hardware direct monitoring, in either mono or stereo, with a front panel knob to route latency-free signal directly to the rear panel monitor output or the two headphone sockets. The rear panel also features main and alternative stereo outputs on quarter-inch jacks.
Monitoring and routing needs for all channels are neatly taken care of by the downloadable 18x16 Blackbird Control
DSP Matrix Mixer software application that can route any input to any output with control over volume and pan.
Operation as an eight-input FireWire interface to your computer is as easy as it comes - just plug in your mics and/or instruments, match input to recording track in your DAW and go.
Phantom power is available for condensers switched for channels 1 and 2 as a pair and/or channels 1-6 together. Individual switching for individual channels would always be our preferred configuration but the Blackbird's setup is a practical compromise that works just fine.
As with our previous experience of the Onyx preamps, these offer a clean transparent sound with plenty of headroom and allow pristine recording through the Cirrus Logic converters.
The two super channels are excellently positioned for day-to-day use when recording individual sound sources rather than a full mic array would probably the norm, and their direct monitoring comes in useful for quickly setting the instrument level against computer playback.
It's the Matrix Mixer that gives you real flexibility in setting up just what signal gets to each output. The software installs quickly and gives you a dead simple GUI in that you can route any input to any output.
It's great for creating monitor mixes when you are tracking and you can also save snapshots to recall configurations.
If you're looking for a way to get multiple channels of audio into your computer, this Blackbird might just be a fly-away success.
With a rugged construction, quality pres, flexible monitoring and routing arrangements plus connectivity for easily integrating with other digital gear, it offers versatility and practicality for a very reasonable asking price.