Mackie’s latest breed of standalone IO still tout the favoured Onyx preamps - and whyever not? They do sound pretty decent and are nice and quiet too.
There are two flavours - the BlackBird, a FireWire 16x16 affair (8 inputs + ADAT IO) and the BlackJack. This one is a little less usual, in that it is a USB device. Not something that Mackie are well known for.
Nicely cased in a strong metal box with sturdy connectors (2x combi inputs, 2x bal monitor outs and a headphone jack) it has an air of quality about it. Knobs are all of the usual Mackie type and feel sturdy enough to stand up to the usual nonsense.
There’s no power supply required, this feeds purely from the USB port and shouldn't need much current, although with the 48v switchable fantom power it might pull a little more.
The two Onyx preamp inputs take XLR mic, jack - line and both have a Hi-Z switch for direct instrument pluggery. There’s a decent amount of gain in the system for even the quietest sources with additional level in the headphone amp should you need it - I just hate it when theres a puny signal for monitoring.
You can feed the live inputs directly into the monitor path using the monitor control to allow for zero latency monitoring. A nice touch is that inputs are hardwired L+R with a mono switch to bring them both into the centre.
Blackbird is class compliant, meaning you just dont need a driver for the Mac (10.4.11 and above) with a Mackie Universal Driver for the PC side.
In use on my system, I found it to be rock solid - actually better than my Onyx 820i (original version) which sometimes gets a little confused with the clocking. This may be something to do with the superior quality Cirrus Logic AD/DA electronics inside the BlackJack - which do seem to have a slightly fuller sound than my Onyx 820i.
In The End
There’s not much to say about the BlackJack - its solidly built, sounds pretty good, a piece of cake to use and doesn’t crap out in use.
However, it is a little pricey for a two channel system, and doesnt have any MIDI. If it's specifically the Onyx sound you want, maybe a better bet would be to spend roughly double but get an 820i - three mic pres, 8 channels, EQ and Aux etc. But for portability, quality and convenience, Blackjack has em beat.
Available in the stores shortly at £210/$259 - full retail price, you will find it for less.