Responding to the demand for budget audio interfaces and inspired by the hardware design of their flagship Onyx-i series mixers, Mackie introduced the Onyx Blackjack, a dual channel USB audio interface. We’ve had our hands on one for the past few weeks and here are our thoughts.
First impressions are that the metal-encased interface from Mackie has a rather uniquely designed exterior. Looking smartly finished in a black powder-coated chassis with silver highlights, it’s the unusual form factor of the unit that really stands out. Best described as ‘wedge shaped’, the Blackjack appears sturdily constructed and weight is reassuring at 1.5 lb (700 grams). An aluminum bracket circles the unit and props the interface up a convenient angle for easy viewing and adjustment of the controls. If so desired the bracket can be removed by unscrewing it from the chassis, but we’d prefer if it could be folded away instead to make storage and transport of the unit easier. In practice the bracket is functional and provides excellent visibility to the top panel which is home to smooth turning knobs made of a high quality plastic. Rubber feet are mounted on the bottom and combined with the weight of the unit do a decent job of keeping the interface stationary on a desk.
Taking a look at the rear panel of the unit we have USB input on the left for connection to a computer and the sole method used to power the interface. Moving along to the right we find the balanced/unbalanced monitor outputs, followed by two Neutrik combo input jacks that’ll allow you to connect XLR or TRS 1/4 inch inputs.
The input control section mounted on the top of the unit is similarly straightforward, beginning with a gain control and selection switch for line/Hi-Z (instrument in) for each of the inputs. An LED above each gain control glows green to indicate that a signal is present and turns red if the input signal is close to clipping. Next we have direct monitoring controls, allowing for zero-latency monitoring by taking the input signal received and sending it straight to the headphone and line outputs on the interface. A switch allows for mono or stereo monitoring.
On the second half of the top panel we have knobs for monitor and headphone volume followed by the headphone input. Above these controls we have a 48V phantom power switch for condenser microphones, and a further two LEDs which indicate a detected computer USB connection and a power connection.
Setup & Software
Setting up the Blackjack was a plug and play affair on our Mac running El Capitan (10.11). Similarly our Windows 10 machine was able to download a working driver without intervention, though interestingly Mackie don’t appear to officially support anything above Windows 7. We haven’t yet tested the interface on a Windows 8 machine but we’ve noted reports that installing the driver in compatibility mode (for Windows 7) will result in a fully functioning setup. We feel
Once installed we found Mackie’s interface to be rock solid in operation with no dropouts or audio glitches. Performance also impressed, with latency as low as much more expensive interfaces.
The Blackjack ships with Mackie’s Tracktion 3, a DAW with an unusual workflow that you’ll love or hate. Underneath Tracktion’s awkward looking UI is a fairly powerful suite of production software that actually becomes a pleasure to work with after learning some basics. For those that can’t get settled in we can say that with a plethora of DAW options now available on the market, finding a cheap alternative is not as difficult as it once was.
The Onyx Blackjack mic preamps are the same as those used in Mackie’s Onyx-series mixers for which Mackie have received much acclaim. There’s plenty of headroom available here, with up to 60dB of gain on tap. Levels will need to be checked and adjusted carefully but the clipping signal indicator appears well calibrated to help keep everything under control. The preamps sounded clean and musical to our ears and offering sample rates of up to 48 kHz, the interface is aligned with the majority of low to mid range interfaces available today. In practice, many users of this interface will be recording at 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz and should find their needs well met here.
Overall, the Mackie Onyx Blackjack has a lot to offer. For around $100.00 you get a rugged, simple and reliable USB interface that performs its primary task admirably.
If you have a modest budget, don’t see your needs expanding and can manage without MIDI connectivity then we think this interface is well worth your consideration.
- Rugged build
- Excellent price
- Solid performance
- No MIDI connectivity
- Questionable driver support