Some notes on Apple’s rumored audio break-out box

From the picture, it looks like Apple’s new $130 audio I/O has eight inputs, but Todd Maffin says it’s only got two mic inputs. Having only two mic inputs would be a monumental mistake.

To record a real garage band using GarageBand, you need at least four microphone inputs (XLR or otherwise), and ideally you need eight, with the option of using microphone-level sources or line-level sources. Without more microphone inputs, you’re pretty much limited to two accoustic and six electronic instruments at once. To record a drum set reasonably well, you need at least three microphones. Two mic inputs is fine if you’re using drum loops and playing one instrument at a time, but won’t get you a live demo of your band in its proverbial garage. For that you need more than two microphones.

Also, there are already plenty of two-channel microphone-capable I/O devices that work through USB for under $200. These devices already work with GarageBand, and your band can do pretty much all the same things that you can do with an 8-channel I/O that only has two mic inputs. Having additional line inputs is better, but you’d need an external mixer to use those for microphones, and the mixer might cost you another $300-500. Now we’re in the $450-700 range.

Now we might be better off looking at some of the pro-level FireWire I/O options like the Mackie Onyx 1220 12-channel mixer — with the FireWire option it’s about $900. Or the MOTU 896HD 8-channel I/O with 8 XLR or line inputs and outputs, ADAT LightPipe I/O, AES I/O and integrated metering for about $1,150. Both of these boxes have sound that’s likely to be superior to the one Apple is working on.

Here’s the thing: Just about any real garage band I can think of, and even college bands, wouldn’t think twice about paying $300, $350 or even $500, for a portable 8-channel I/O. Along with GarageBand, you’ve got a viable digital multi-track solution for a lot less money than any of the other options currently available. Assuming that it would work with other software besides GarageBand (no reason it shouldn’t in these days of CoreAudio), Apple could really score big with a slightly more expensive box that you can hook 8 microphones to for recording your band, and watch your DVDs with true surround sound to boot.

The same amateur and part-time musicians regularly buy things like ADATs, and hard-disk based multi-tracks for two-to-four times as much money, and many of them may have already bought an mBox from DigiDesign for $500 that only has only two channels of I/O.

I’m pretty sure the $300 price point would be possible, considering that the 8-channel Behringer ADA8000 is only $230. Unfortunately the ADA8000 only has ADAT fiber-optic LightPipe connectivity and no FireWire, but its existence proves that it should be possible for Apple to do this at or near the $300 mark.

BTW: If they added phantom power for powering condenser mic’s, then it’s worth an extra $50 to me.

Talk to some musicians at your local clubs and music stores, and you’ll quickly get an idea of what I’m talking about. Apple would do well to do the same.


  1. just me said:

    I believe that GarageBand only supports recording 2 ch at a time, so more inputs would be a waste for users of GB. (Unless we see that limitations changed in iLife 05).

    Perhaps there will be 2 versions?

    One for GB users (2 inputs) and one for Logic users (8 inputs)?

    Just a thought.

    November 25, 2004
  2. Anders Brown said:

    I totally agree here. The failure of the MBOX is that is has only two mic inputs. I’m in a two person “garage band”, and we still struggle with how to find the time, set up, and mixing for multiple takes through two mics. We are a garage band! We play off each other! Timing and energy matter! What I really want is to mic the amps, singer, and three on the drums (so eight would be great!) and do it all in one take. Sure, there will be cross pick-up, but so be it. Most of our sound comes before the mixing anyway. Anyhow, I would absolutely pay more (up to my MBOX prices of $500) for somethign that was much better. Apple shouldn’t try to compete at lower prices for what the MBOX does – it shoudl make a better product for the same price because that’s waht we’re used to.

    November 27, 2004

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