Review: Mackie Onyx 400F

Miracle of miracles, the Mackie Onyx 400F audio interface is finally in stock, as of December 6!

I’ve been using a MOTU Traveler since trying to buy the Mackie for my new studio rig in May of this year. It has been solid with the G5 and Logic 7.1. But I’m still going to try the Mackie because the Traveler has more options than I need, and the Mackie has the potential to sound even better with its Onyx pre-amps and AKM converters.

I’ll update this as I go…

My original setup had AES/EBU digital (XLR jacks) running between my DAT deck and Digidesign 888/24 interface. The MOTU Traveler also had AES/EBU so that was easy. The Mackie 400F has coaxial S/PDIF, so I had to run some new cables behind the desk. The DAT deck has optical S/PDIF, but my trusty old Midiman CO2 converter now has a job again.

The Mackie powered up fine, with an apt Christmasy display of its green LEDs. I turned it off just now, while I boot up the G5 and uninstall the MOTU Firewire drivers. I don’t want them interfering with the 400F, just in case.

It seems I have one of the earlier CDs which mistakenly didn’t include the Mac software. So I’m off to Mackie.com to download…

All installed, and the 400F is working perfectly. It sounds fantastic. There has been some talk on forums about the high-end sounding “brittle,” but I have a feeling this is a misconception based on something beyond the listener’s control, like ear fatigue or bad monitors. The high-end is not brittle. If anything, it is stunningly crystal clear. I fired up Logic 7.1.1, set it to 192KHz, and launched an FM synthesizer plug-in. Clean!

My unit does emit a high-frequency whine, but it is extremely faint. I didn’t even notice until I read about it online.

Mackie Onyx 400F (Front)

Mackie Onyx 400F (Rear)

The 400F also includes Tracktion 2 and a suite of VST plug-ins. While fully WinXP and OS X compatible, these plug-ins are unfortunately not available in AU format, nor do they seem to work properly with FXpansion’s VST-AU wrapper (which is unusual). I hope they release proper AU plug-ins at some point, since these plugs do look interesting.

A strange detail emerged when I ran a loopback test to determine recording delay. Let me first state that latency feels very good on the 400F, at least as good as the MOTU Traveler. In other words, I can play virtual synths on a MIDI keyboard and the sound doesn’t seem to “lag” behind my playing. But while the MOTU had a universal recording delay of only 64 samples, the 400F first tested at around 2540 samples. When I adjusted some forgotten settings in an attempt to improve this number, it actually went up, as high as 6000 samples even after restarting Logic. I finally rebooted the entire machine and testing was steady at 2544 samples. To be clear, this is not the amount of latency or delay of a live signal, but the offset at which Logic “prints” your audio after a live recording. I’ll take a guess that the large number is related to the native CoreAudio support from OS X. I also have the 400F on a Firewire PCI card, instead of the built-in ports. Whatever the reason, I now have my Recording Delay set to -2544 in Logic 7.1.1, OS X 10.4.3, running on a Dual G5 2.7, and audio prints dead on target.

All in all, the Onyx 400F is a fantastic value in this price range. It’s a keeper.

  • Dennis Graf

    Glenn – you have no idea how valuable this post was. I was considering several units, and after reading your blog, settled on the Onyx 400f. What a joy to use. I have a Powermac G5 2.5 gig dual processor and am using the Tascam 1884 as the human interface. Everything works together without a hitch. And what an improvement over the DA converters on the tascam. Didn’t know an acoustic guitar could sound so good! Thanks again,

    Dennis

  • emperorjon

    Hi, I am contemplating grabbing a Mackie 400f and I was wondering if you got rid of that whine? I heard new drivers fixed that issue that some people were having. Any new info as well on your thoughts about the unit?

    I currently use an E-mu 1820m and was thinking about swapping to the 400f for a number of reasons. Then selling the 1820m but I can’t decide.

    Thanks in advance,
    Rob