Today Mackie has released an updated driver for their Onyx Blackjack USB recording interface and I have to hand it to them… so far it has been incredibly stable.
It’s no surprise that Mackie has been under the gun with Windows users ever since the release of the Blackjack back in 2010. While Mac users raved about driver stability on OSX, Windows users have struggled to get drivers to run stable in both Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7. Even with subsequent updates to the drivers, the Blackjack basically was left rendered as an expensive brick. This sucked because the unit itself is wonderfully built and comes with high-end AD/DA converters as well as boutique preamps that run on all Onyx interfaces. Having previously owned a first generation Onyx 1220 mixer, I can attest to the build and sound quality of the mixer which is one of the main reasons why I purchased a Blackjack back in October of last year. Unfortunately, if you were a Windows user and planned on using the unit to track audio via USB, you were pretty much fucked.
I had some luck using Asio4All driver as a substitute (especially with the latest v2.11 beta1 build) which brought latency in Cubase down to about 12 milliseconds. But for casual use such as playing mp3’s or streaming audio online, I still had to use the bundled drivers with the Blackjack (the last version being v2.0), and that was a test in futility. Constant pops, glitches and audio dropping just made the unit incredibly unpleasant to deal with.
So here we are now with Mackie USB Driver v3.0 and I’ve been testing it for the last 4 hours and so far I have no complaints. The install was pretty straight forward and comes with a set of instructions for upgrading from both v1.9 and v2.0 driver installations which as expected will have you uninstall any previous drivers before installing the new driver. The installation was quick and after being prompted to reboot, I restarted my laptop and clicked on the familiar Mackie “running man” logo in the notifications area of my toolbar to launch the new control panel. Here I was greeted with options to set USB streaming mode and the Asio buffer size which I thoroughly tested. Both the USB streaming mode and Asio buffer size are directly related and you may receive a warning window which will notify you if you have set the buffer size to small for the current stream mode. This is done to avoid the notorious clicks and glitches that the previous drivers were known for.
I’ve had luck with “Minimum Latency” stream mode settings at a buffer size of 256 samples for casual audio streaming, and “Minimum Latency” stream mode settings at a buffer size of 64 samples for tracking in Cubase. This returned I/O latencies as low as 2.449 ms without any pops or glitches. I’m running on a fairly dated ASUS Intel Core 2 Duo laptop @ 2.13GHz with 4GB of RAM and everything is running smooth without any issues.
My final thoughts? Well, Mackie definitely delivered on their promise of putting out a stable driver for the Blackjack which I believe will be most welcome for all Windows users. Considering those who still own a Blackjack and have struggled as much as up to two years to get it to run as it should on the Windows platform, it may be a little too late to restore faith in the Mackie name, which at one point was synonymous with high-end quality. My personal opinion is I’m just happy to be able to use this little audio interface as it was intended and expected to work. As an extremely long Mackie user (since the late 90’s), it has restored some of my faith in the company to follow through and not just leave users hanging.
There has been a long discussion on the Mackie forums regarding the Blackjack driver issues which is actually pretty insightful and definitely opened my eyes a bit as to how driver engineering is approached. That being said, I’m also a consumer and at the end of the day if I am spending the money on a product, I expect it to work as it is advertised. This is paramount and it is unfortunate that Mackie did not properly field test the Blackjack on the Windows platform before releasing it to market. Regardless, thank you Mackie.