Part 3: In which we review the Metric Halo 2882 3D audio interface
Just because almost every musician who uses synths and music software needs an audio interface, what could that have to do with a quasi-review of the Metric Halo 2882 3D audio interface?
A lot, and it’s part of a bigger picture. Computer changes of the upcoming scale affect the peripherals attached to them – specifically, whether they’ll even continue to run. Their software and often drivers may have to be updated, and it’s not an article of faith that they’ll work with adapters to “legacy” ports they plug into.
Parts 1 and 2 of this Upgrade Fever series are musings about how Apple’s switch to Apple Silicon (M1-series processors) in Macs portends open-wallet season for those of us with a music software problem.
And that’s why you’re reading about the Metric Halo 2882 3D audio interface, which has been updated so it’ll continue to work. It also happens to be an excellent choice for musicians who use synths and software.
Let us count the ways, and let us count them in no particular order:
– Eight balanced analog ins and outs, enough for someone with a couple or three hardware synths to get by without a mixer (although you can integrate one easily, plus the Metric Halo software responds to MIDI control surfaces). That leaves some inputs free for mics and other hardware.
All eight analog inputs accept instruments, line inputs (found on hardware synths, of course), and mics (with phantom power). The one limitation is that unlike Metric Halo’s other – and subsequent – interfaces, the mic inputs only have 42dB of gain.
Now, the sound of the unit is really good, and 42dB is enough for most applications. But it can be a problem with dynamic mics, especially when they’re not close to the source.
That’s really my one criticism of the interface. I happen to use a high-end outboard mic preamp, but it would be good if all the inputs had more gain for mics.
– If eight inputs aren’t enough, the unit is expandable, either through its 8-channel lightpipe I/O or by networking with additional Metric Halo interfaces. You can also add an inexpensive card, called an Edge card, with up to four 8-channel lightpipe inputs. (Edge cards come with various digital input configurations.)
– The multi-interface networking feature, called MH Link, makes racks full of their interfaces behave as a single one as far as the host computer is concerned – you don’t need to create aggregate devices.
– The physical analog and digital inputs are only part of the story. There’s also a 128-channel internal mixer that adds a whole lot of flexibility. It works at standard and expensive sample rates (up to 192kHz).
You can use the mixer for in-the-box summing, monitoring, routing, and many other applications. That might mean something as common as setting up multiple no-latency cue mixes, perhaps going through on-board reverb and other included plug-ins that run on the 2882’s hardware.
Another application could be “loopback,” if you need to route the output of one program running on the host computer(s) into another. Maybe you want to run something from another DAW though some AAX-format plug-ins that only run inside Pro Tools, for example.
– A monitor control section. It works in surround or stereo. Here’s mine: three different sets of speakers + lightpipe going to a sound bar. You switch between them with a key command, and each has its own volume offset for balancing the levels. Only one source is set up here, but you can set up multiple sources to monitor, for example if you want to listen to a cue mix.
– MH Link is part of the 3D upgrade, as it’s called, which follows their 2D upgrade from a few years ago. New interfaces are all 3D, or you can order the upgrade and install it yourself. There’s no difference between an upgraded unit and a new one.
– 64-bit driver for compatibility with current Macs. Before 3D, the 2882 and all of Metric Halo’s interfaces used a 32-bit driver, and all 32-bit software breaks in the latest macOS versions. There’s also a USB Class-Compliant port that we’ll discuss in a second.
– FireWire begone. Metric Halo used to connect to Macs – they used to work only on Macs – by FireWire. FireWire was once all the rage… until it too became “legacy.”
3D units replace the FireWire port with a wired Ethernet connection to your Mac.
– A USB connection that works alongside the Ethernet one – simultaneously, so two computer devices can share the interface. The 2882’s Class-Compliant USB port connects to Mac, PC, iOS, or Linux. (Class-Compliant, capitalized, means the driver is built into the operating system so you don’t have to install one – it’s plug and play. And this one really is.)
iOS requires that you spring for an Apple Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter (or a generic Lightning-to-USB adapter, but I can confirm that they don’t all work and the official Apple one does). Confession: I had too much fun playing the Korg iM1 synth on an iPad through my studio speakers.
– Support for two computer devices simultaneously! This feature requires its own bullet point. For some reason Metric Halo doesn’t shout about the second computer support, but it’s a huge feature for musicians using multiple computers.
For example, let’s say you add a new Apple Silicon Mac to your setup, keeping your current computer running for compatibility with older software. Or maybe you use a Windows machine in your studio as well as a Mac (raising hand).
This feature means you don’t need to add a new audio interface – both machines can access the same speakers and other hardware in your setup, and it’s convenient being able to route audio between the two.
Now, the USB connection only provides basic input and output. It’s the interface’s software, called MioConsole3D, that accesses all the other features, and you need to connect the interface by Ethernet to use it – but to be clear, the USB inputs and outputs do go into the mixer. Also, the manual mentions that USB itself has subtle sound quality limitations vs. using Ethernet.
– A Cue section, with talkback. No latency for live tracking. You can use the built-in plug-ins we’re going to talk about in a couple of paragraphs on individual cue mixes, e.g. to give the singer reverb in his/her headphones.
– Metric Halo has made improvements to their digital clocking in their 3D-generation interfaces.
This is probably subtle – not enough for me to have heard an obvious improvement in the sound quality after installing the upgrade. It’s likely to be audible when A/B-ing the current and old units, however.
– A formidable collection of plug-ins that run on the interface hardware is included. Among those are some saturation plug-ins that can add a really nice color to synths – or you can use them to create distorted sounds, like running them through a guitar amp.
In addition to the individual plug-ins, you can insert a Grid and “wire” processors together in any order that makes sense. Don’t worry if this rotary speaker macro makes your head spin as well as your speaker – this one is a preset:
We’ll double back in the future and give this section the attention it deserves.
– The 2882 is very rugged and portable, so in addition to being great for a studio, it would work very well for stage use and live recording – in fact it was called the Mobile I/O when it came out. You can power it by battery for live recording (a large percentage of the people on Metric Halo’s mailing list seem to be live recording engineers).
Originally the interface could be powered by the FireWire bus alone, and it’s called the Mobile I/O for that reason. But Apple’s laptops stopped providing enough juice years ago – even if you used the FireWire bus – so now you have to make up an external 9V battery pack. It sounds better if you use the 24V external power transformer, however.
Also, it used to pop your speakers if you powered it by the FireWire bus when the computer started up. That’s gone in the 3D upgrade.
Doing the upgrade. This is boring – and that’s exactly how you want it to be. It took half an hour to do the upgrade, including the time it took to find my needle nose pliers.
There’s nothing to it, as long as you’re careful and follow the very clear and simple instructions. You open the case, remove and replace a couple of circuit boards (they just plug in), and screw it back together with a new rear panel that has the new ports. They also include one new side panel that has a little more room to clear the new innards.
Okay, there was one minor dramatic moment: the first time, I hadn’t worked the digital board down far enough onto its pins, so the meters moved but there was no audio. Opening it up again and working it down took another few minutes. But you don’t need any expertise to do this upgrade.
The bones of the 2882 were very solid when it came out 20 years ago, so it’s almost funny to be using the words “future-proofing” with an interface that old. But this interface has been working day in and out in my project studio for almost that long, and the upgraded version is a serious improvement. Metric Halo said from the beginning that their interfaces are life-long investments, and they’ve backed that up.
List price: $1795, but it’s $1595 on the Metric Halo site and you can buy additional units at a further discount.
We’ll outsource a more detailed overview of the prices, but mainly to the product details, to Metric Halo: