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Fireface vs Mackie Onyx

Discussion in 'Recording' started by suckamc, Dec 26, 2007.

  1. suckamc

    suckamc Guest

    If I decided to not get the Fireface 400 and got the Mackie Onyx + some mics instead, would there be anything in the Mackie that I could use in a few years, when I upgraded all my stuff? Are the pre's THAT good, or only very good "for the money", or only good "for live"?

    Also, since I only need two channels at a time (guitar and vocals are all I'll record), is the Satellite good enough?

  2. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Mark, although my needs on live gigs are probably different than yours, I'm one of those odd ducks that has both - the Mackie Onyx line plus other pre's, including the Fireface 800. It may be a simple matter of running the numbers for an Onyx 1220 (4 mic pre's) or the 1620 (8 mic pre's) with the FW card option vs. the cost of the Fireface 400. Then you can decide.

    Both have their strengths. No matter what anyone tells you here or elsewhere, the Mackie Onyx mic pre's are VERY VERY good and will serve you quite well for a lot of things, both now and in the future.

    Ditto for the Mackie Onyx firewire interface card. There are those that "Hate the sound" of it, but I am not one of them. To me, there is no "Sound" at all of the Mackie FW converter card. It does what it does, period. I've never seen any true, real-world scientific comparison between it and any other AD-DA converter. And, I doubt if you'll hear or experience any discernable difference for what you plan to use it for, now or in the future.

    Of course, there are things that other pre's and AD/DAs that can do some things better. Ribbon mics, for one thing; you'll need a separate ribbon mic pre for serious work, although you CAN get almost enough gain out of the Onyx mic pre's to do it in a pinch. However, it'll be up near maximum gain, and many (myself included) don't like the way the end of the pot trim works with the Onyx mic pre's. There's very little control at that point..it's almost all or nothing when set that high. If you're going to live in the Ribbon mic world a lot, consider something extra, like the AEA TRP stereo mic pre box.

    Also know that these are closer to "straight wire with gain" pre's than many others. You won't hear much if any coloration. (Of course you can get that with the EQ circuit, but the send to the converter card is BEFORE the EQ circuit.) Ditto for any kind of tube pre emulation or overdriven sound, etc. THese pre's of course don't work that way, nor were they ever designed to do so. The Fireface 400 is probably the same way.

    For audiophile, no-excuses work, I use the Fireface 800 (in the same rack) paired with a Grace m802. The combination of the two is unbeatable, and the FW implementation is superb. I haven't even tried the faster Firewire 800 interface, I'm still only using the Firewire400 port on the Fireface 800. I'm still learning my way around the software mixer/interface as well, but I can tell you the default mode works quite well.

    I have not yet used the Fireface 800 and the m802 "alone" in gigs yet, but I know it's possible to do so - many on the Acoustic Music forum, including Jeremy Cucco, are doing exactly this. With all of its features, it's possible to do so - use the 8 rear analog ins/outs, front panel mic pre's, drive a CDr backup recorder, run ADAT ins/outs, route to Headphone and Playback speakers, etc. etc. It's a VERY versatile unit. I don't know how much the FF400 does in comparison, but I'm sure it's all on their website for you.

    I still pair this with the Onyx 1620, and even if I'm not using the 1620 for tracking per se, (the Fireface 800 FW connection goes to the computer in this case). I will use it to mix the CDr backup, run talkback lines to the talent, extra headphones for the producer, etc.

    Very often, I use the Onyx FW interface is when the Fireface800/m802 rack is being used elsewhere. The results are often indistinguishable from the FF800/m802 combo.

    For the FW card, that's 16 outs total (plus a stereo 2-mix, if you want it). So, I can also (with the m802) add eight more pre's going into the 8 (four stero pairs) line inputs on the Onyx. As you can imagine, I use this a lot for gigs that quickly grow beyond 8 mic inputs, and the better mic's go into the m802, especially any ribbons.

    I have not done any "TRUE" A/B comparisons of material into the Fireface 800 pre's vs. the Mackie Onyx Pre's. I would expect them to be close, almost similar. And of course, the Grace m802 mic pre's are in a completely different league, in terms of headroom and flexibility, overall sonic performance. But again, I have to say: The Onyx' pre's really ain't that bad at all. I have done TONS of beautifuly sounding recordings with the Onyx pre's. In over five years of use, not one client has voiced a complaint over the "Sound" of any of my pre's.

    What's in FRONT of the mics, and the mics themselves, is FAR more important than anything else, and this is true for your positiion in life, as well as anyone else along the curve. To put it another way: If you can't get a good sound with the Onyx' pre's, there's probably something else wrong with the situation.

    If you're just starting out, you may want an all in one solution like the Onyx 1220 or 1620's, with 4 or 8 mic pre's, and grow from there, adding more mic pre's via the line inputs, then to the AD/DA to your converter. If space is an issue, you can probably do almost the same thing with the FF400, but less mic pre's, of course.

    Hope that helps ya.
  3. aaronr64

    aaronr64 Guest

    Outboard preamps and Mackie Onyx


    I've been all over the internet looking for an answer to my question, and it seems maybe you'll be able to help. My band has an Onyx 1640 and would like to record. We have the money to use outboard preamps to get better quality/flexibility than just using the onyx pres (we are thinking a Focusrite 4Pre and a Focusrite ISA 428, if that's of any help). My question is: in order to use the Firewire card for the Onyx, we either have to get a mod and use the insert to allow for recording the outboard pres, or take an outboard pre into the onyx pre. Since you state that the onyx are pretty much straight wire with a gain, do you have any opinion on how putting an outboard pre through the onyx will change the outboard pre's character (it would probably add noise, put would this be noticeable in a rock music recording)?

    thanks in advance,
    aaron robertson
  4. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Re: Outboard preamps and Mackie Onyx

    The simple solution for using the outboard preamps is to bring their outputs into the insert returns of the Onyx 1640. This by-passes the 1640's preamps, and you can choose hardware by-pass of the EQ section as well. You will need to make a special cable for the link: XLR pin 1 to TRS ring, and screen/ground from XLR pin 3 to TRS sleeve. Leave TRS tip and XLR pin 2 unconnected unless your preamps have floating transformer outputs in which case connect XLR pin 2 to pin 3 (screen/ground). Keep your lead lengths short (<1m) but don't worry about it being unbalanced at these signal levels.

    You will find the native 1640 preamps are pretty good, but wiring up a few channels with external preamps as described gives you the option of a more coloured sound if you need it. The Mackie ADC->FireWire route is first-class - you would be pushed to find better in this price range.
  5. aaronr64

    aaronr64 Guest


    Thanks for the reply. However, according to the 1640 schematics, the path to the firewire in before the insert (and EQ). I have no idea why they would do this. I do find the 1640 preamps quite good (probably used for toms and maybe a second kick mic), but would really like the option of different colors while not having to buy a whole seperate ad/da firewire interface.

  6. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    The argument on "Why" they did what they did with the firewire routing has been beaten to death, esp on their own forum/website. You can read all kinds of stories, good and bad, pro and con, on the Mackie website. (Personally, I'm totally cool with the routing they did, but that's just me and the way I work. I would never track with EQ or other stuff, while others want to do it that way.)

    As for inputs, yes, you're right about that as well. Don't let the "line" inputs fool you on the Mackie 1640 (it did me for a while....) It's running through the same op amp /circuit as the mic pre. All in all, it's not that colored anyway, but if you're looking for total sonic purity, then technically you're running your other outboard pre's into the Mackie pre's again.

    As I mentioned above, I get around this with the smaller Onyx board - the 1620. It has just eight mic pre's, and four stereo line inputs (9/10, 11/12, 13/14, 15/16) The line inputs are not mic pre circuits, just simple line inputs. Mainly, I run stereo mic pairs and occasional single mic preamp sends into these channels' line inputs.

    In the end, I don't think it will make much difference how you go, as long as your levels are set correctly. Try the line/mic inputs set to unity gain on the 1640 and see if you like what you hear with your outboard pre's. Better yet, try the mic inputs without all the botique stuff inserted, and see if you like what you hear as well. Once all levels are set properly, you may hear only the slightest difference - not better or worse, just different.

    You may save a few bucks in the long run.
  7. aaronr64

    aaronr64 Guest


    Thanks for the help. I was a bit worried about preamp into preamp, but will try it out.


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