Anyone who knows me will tell you that my desk is not in any way neat. It’s not something I’m necessarily proud of, but in my mind it means that anything that’s got its own space on the laminate top is probably important. I see it as a zen filing system, regardless of doubters.
Returning from making a coffee, I found a new addition nestled inbetween the various bits of paper and, erm, other coffee cups. The Mackie Onyx Blackjack is small, unassuming and as it turns out, an incredibly professional audio interface.
It looks it, too. You always get quite a mixed bag when it comes to the build quality of interfaces, especially ones with smaller numbers of inputs. I suppose that originally manufacturers assumed that they wouldn’t be taken out on the road, but now that laptops are growing ever more powerful and there are a lot more home producers than there are ‘proper’ studio spaces, I personally think it’s a bit silly to assume that a setup will be staying in one place for any length of time.
Mackie obviously agrees, and has applied the rugged construction ethic that underpins the build quality of 99 per cent of its models across every range. So, instead of flimsy plastic, you get a powder-coated, all-metal design. The controls, too, are sturdily set into the top with a smooth, consistent operation – we’ll talk about what they actually are in a second.
You’ll have already noticed that there’s a little flare for ergonomic comfort in the mix there too – the machined silver band propping up the entire unit. It’s the sort of thing that makes you wonder why no-one else has thought to do this kind of thing in the past, and although it’s hardly a deal breaker you can now at least get comfy access to all your knobs to twiddle without craning over to see what you’re looking at, or at which point the chickenhead is resting. It’ll at least save your spine, eh?
Still, for all the prettyness, we should probably take a look at what you’re actually getting underneath the good-looking chassis, and I may as well cut straight to the jewel in the crown. Because, you see, you’re getting two Onyx mic preamps. Those who have come across an Onyx 1640i console before will know that this is good news – I’ve had good experiences recording with Mackie’s preamps before, so I’m looking forward to plugging everything in. For now, though, know that the marketing blurb that describes them as ’boutique-quality’ isn’t an exaggeration. You get a huge headroom and minimal noise. Promising stuff.
Around the back you’ve got XLR connections around the back for each, with a built-in, hi-z DI (switchable) for those looking to go straight in with guitars and basses. Once you’re hooked up, on the top panel you’ve got separate gain controls, an overall input monitor (with a mono/stereo switch), separate levelling for monitor send and headphones, and the ability to kick in your 48v phantom power too.
Everything you’d expect from a professional setup, then, and a feature set shared by a great many interfaces. The cue to take from this is probably that the emphasis in terms of USP rests with the preamps and the sturdy build. This isn’t a bad thing, especially since the price has been kept happily low, so in part two we’ll be taking a look at exactly how special a sound we can achieve, and whether, as I suspect, the Blackjack turns out to be a fantastic, portable home studio companion.