I was browsing through the Avid website this morning to come across something strange. I could not find any Avid Mbox 3 product listings under audio interfaces for Pro Tools. The only non HD Pro Tools audio interface currently listed on the Avid website is the Eleven Rack. I searched through a number of Pro Tools dealer websites to find the Mbox 3 range either "out of stock" or not listed at all. We believe Avid quietly discontinued the Mbox 3 range and furthermore retired the Mbox name altogether, that's a shame - It's an end of an era.
Mbox Through The Years
The first generation Mbox was the first properly affordable entry-level Pro Tools system released in the early noughties - home recordists around the world went crazy for the 2 input USB Mbox. At the time, half my music student peers owned Mbox systems because it was the all-in-one entry level Pro Tools system that didn't break the bank to purchase.
The Mbox included all the necessary I/O features that solo singer-songwriter needed in order to record and mix in Pro Tools. Focusrite collaborated with Digidesign in the development of the Mbox by including Focusrite preamps, Sadly though, these preamps sounded terrible. What the first generation Mbox is remembered for is the trend it started, it was a revolution in small form factor audio interfaces - A well equipped, easy to connect, personal and affordable Pro Tools studio in a box.
The Mbox second generation, released in 2005 and named Mbox 2, ditched the Focusrite preamps in favour for new and equally terrible sounding preamps. The Mbox 2 design changed and introduced a new range of boxes from the USB dongle style Mbox Micro through to the Mbox 2 Pro that featured extra I/O and dual headphone outputs. The Mbox 2 was more popular than the previous generation and I remember it received mixed reviews, it was a bit of love or hate interface. Like the Mbox first gen, the Mbox 2 was still the most affordable route to getting Pro Tools and this was at a time when Digidesign interfaces were required for Pro Tools to work.
When the Mbox 3 launched in 2010 Avid scrapped the Digidesign branding from the Mbox and decoupled Pro Tools software dependence from Digidesign/Avid interfaces. Pro Tools was also now available to purchase as a standalone application enabling Pro Tools to work with third party developer interfaces. The Mbox range in 2010 had to now compete with other audio interface products in the Pro Audio Market as prior to the Mbox 3 the only saving grace and selling point of the Mbox was that the Mbox was the only affordable option for getting Pro Tools, not when the Mbox 3 launched, other options were available meaning users could buy a copy of Pro Tools and choose a different interface from the new breed of small form factor audio interfaces from other companies.
In terms of the Mbox 3 hardware, thankfully Avid didn't disappoint. The preamps sounded very good, the build quality was greatly improved with an aluminium shell, the cost was similar to previous generations and Pro Tools was still bundled in the purchase price. At the time a major Mbox 3 selling point was that it featured components from the newly revamped high-end Avid HD I/O series. I owned an Mbox 3 Mini for a few years, it never let me down. Many users experienced driver problems and compatibility issues but in terms of hardware, the Mbox 3 was one of the best audio interfaces in the affordable price bracket.
Say Hi To the Digi In the Sky
Like the brilliant Digi 002 and Digi 003 interfaces of old, the Mbox has sadly been put out to pasture. The Mbox, love it or hate it, revolutionised the small form factor audio interface market for the home studio - For starting that trend, Mbox we thank you. Don't forget, The Pro Tools Expert Community voted the preamps in the Mbox 3 Mini the best-sounding preamps compared to high-end mic pres for vocal recording in our Pro Tools Expert Microphone Preamp Shootout.