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The new MDB series of DI boxes from Mackie were unveiled at NAMM, and that’s where we got our first look at these rugged little units. While DI boxes might not sound like the most exciting new product announcement, we were actually pumped to see these in action. DI boxes can make or break a stage performance; it’s one of those things that you don’t truly cherish until it doesn’t function properly. Something you rely upon and forget about how much you actually depend on it.
For us, the USB version of the MDB series was rather intriguing. As more and more bands incorporate synths and laptops into their stage show to trigger sounds, sequencers and soft synths, we hadn’t really come across many units designed to take audio-over-USB and feed that directly to an FOH mixer. That simple idea works incredibly well here: the USB DI box takes the source (most likely coming from your laptop or hardware synth module with USB audio capabilities) and allows you to run it (in stereo) through a hi-res DAC to balanced XLR outs. Complete with ground lift, so no humming annoyances!
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You even get a decent built-in headphone amp for monitoring. In our tests, we used the digital output from a drum machine to the XLR preamp ins on a portable PA, with fantastically clear results. We A/B’d it against taking audio straight from the 1/8” minijack into a line input on the mixer, and the difference was clear.
This little box made the connection noise-free, and the outboard DAC performed noticeably better than the one that fed audio through the headphone outs on one of the cheap laptops we tested with soft synths.
Put simply, the MDB-USB did the job well, and is built like a rock. Better yet, the whole operation is bus powered, which means one less power adapter to clutter up your stage or studio rig, and there are no USB drivers needed. It’s truly plug and play.
We’ve used plenty of DI boxes in the past, most traditionally for sending bass guitar signals straight into a mixer. But we’d never thought to test out a USB-based DI box before. Shame on us. This is one tool that keyboard players, electronic musicians and even home studio users will want to integrate into their setup. It’s time to ditch those wimpy, noisy mini outputs on your computer or tablet and opt for a more professional method of connecting your digital gear and apps to your PA system.
Works great, rugged build, affordable.