I have to start by saying I love my Mackie Onyx mixers.  I started out last year by purchasing the Onyx 1220i as my introductory interface to the world of digital audio.  Since then I’ve added an Onyx 1640i to my setup.  The 1640i is an incredible piece of technology.  While the 1220i gives you a great deal of Firewire integration the 1640i features DEEP Firewire integration.  I can slap an effects rack onto a vocal channel and use it in real-time without any noticeable latency.  And that’s on a Mac from 2008.  Which brings me to the subject of this article.

The Mac I use in my studio is a 21″ iMac from ’08.  Nothing super smoking fast but not a total slow-poke either.  If you’ll recall from my earlier entry describing when I first received the 1220i you might remember that this Mac has a Firewire 800 port rather than a 400 like the mixer has.  No problem, a 400/800 cable solved the problem.  I never had any problems when I used the 1220i with this Mac.

Now the 1640i is connected to this Mac with the same 400 / 800 cable.  Everything seemed fine.  One feature of the 1640i is that you can route the audio output of the Mac down any firewire channel.  When I first connected the 1640i I used strips 1 and 2 for the Firewire input.  Come to think of it, those are  the only channels where when I depressed the Firewire Input buttons I would get a sound.  That never seemed to be an issue until I wanted to use strips 1 and 2 for Hi-Z guitar inputs.  I wanted to redirect the Mac’s audio output to strips 15 and 16 thereby freeing up the mixer’s 2 Hi-Z strips.

No dice.  I used the Mac’s Audio application to rout speakers A and B to channels 15 and 16. While the test sound generated white noise on these channels the Mac continued its audio output down Firewire channels 1 and 2.  I contacted Mackie and went over this with a very knowledgeable technician.  She said something sounded wrong as I was doing the right thing but wasn’t getting the right result.  I then tested the mixer on a Windows PC and was able to route the audio to strips 15 and 16.

Then I brought my 24″ iMac from my office into the studio.  This machine has a Firewire 800 port which I connected to the Onyx 164oi.  Bingo!  I was able to route the Mac’s audio out strips 15 and 16.  So it looks like the Firewire 800 port may be the culprit.

Then I got a bit inventive.  I’m stuck using the 21″ Mac in the studio and therefore stuck with the Firewire 800 port.  I then brought the 1220i into the studio (I use it in my office now as my interface for mixdown time) and I connected the 1220i to the Firewire 800 port in the Mac.  I then connected the Firewire 400 port on the back of the 1220i to the Firewire 400 port on the back of the 1640i.  This was getting fun!

From there I used the Mac’s Audio app to create an Aggregate Device.  This was a combination of both mixers giving me a total of 24 channels.  I then told my DAW that this was my mixer and voila; 24 channels at my disposal.  Very cool.  I should point out that Mackie does not officially support the use of Aggregate Devices (but it was their tech that told me about it).  Everything worked great however the output, no matter where I directed it through the Audio program would only go out strip 11/12 from the Onyx 1220i.  I couldn’t redirect it anywhere else.

At that point I ended my experiment, put the 1220i back on the 24″ Mac and the 1640i on the 21″ Mac and reported my findings to Mackie.  I’m still using strips 1 and 2 for audio output when I have to listen to the Mac’s output.

I’m hoping to soon upgrade my office Mac and move my 24″ Mac into the studio.  The trouble is the new line of Macs are dropping the Firewire interface altogether in favour of Thunderbolt.  There is a Thunderbolt to Firewire adapter available but I wonder what effect it will have on devices like the Onyx series mixers.

Mackie Onyx 1640i Mixer
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