JoeCo BlackBox Recorder Review

Jul 27, 2010 2:40 PM, By Kevin Becka

FEATURE-PACKED, 24-CHANNEL LIVE-CAPTURE SOLUTION

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SMART OPERATOR
The BlackBox has a number of smart fail-safe features designed to shield you from catastrophic events such as accidental playback during performance or hitting the Stop button by chance. The unit defaults to playback lockout, and to exit Record you must hold the Stop button for two seconds. It also makes it hard to screw up a recording. For instance, I intentionally pulled the power to the BlackBox during a recording. Upon reboot, I found that the files existed on the drive up until the time I pulled the plug. Also, there is no menu feature allowing you to delete files. At first I found this inconvenient, but as I got into using the unit, I liked the fact that neither I, nor others, could easily erase files accidentally in the field. Instead, I had to plug the drive into my laptop and audition, erase or export them that way. Speaking of exporting, with its cross-platform FAT-32 format, it’s a simple matter to drag and drop the files into any PC/Mac DAW when production moves to editing and mixing. For more tech info, be sure to view the BlackBox bench tests that incorporate an APx500 test and measurement system in the “Mixed Media” section at mixonline.com.

GREAT IN THE FIELD
My first gig was a live recording of a concert in a large church that featured a grand piano and saxophone (read more about it on Mix’s “Tech Ticker” blog). I needed only eight inputs so I decided to run at the maximum sample rate of 24-bit/96kHz. Before the gig, I armed the tracks I needed and set the sample rate and other needed parameters, and then unplugged the unit for the trip to the venue. When I got there and powered up, all of my settings came up instantly and I was ready to go.

The concert was slated to run 90 minutes, but because it was in an improvisational format, I had no real idea how long it might run. This was no problem as a quick glance at the Remaining Disk readout on the LCD screen assured me that I had more than enough recording time. Once I hit Record, the button went red, SMPTE started running and a ring of lights ran clockwise around the scroll wheel. This offered me plenty of confidence in the system and was easily viewable from my seat in the venue. As an aside, I had hooked up the Millennia HV-3R preamps with a wireless router so I could view and manipulate my levels on larger meters, group tracks and even apply phantom power from my seat in the front row. The recording went smoothly and the tracks sounded great. In addition to the BlackBox, I also had an on-site backup recorder as there’s no facility onboard for redundant recording. However, the BlackBox was recently tested with Glyph’s GT 062E RAID-configurable two-bay drive, making it easy to take a simple and trustworthy recording solution on the road.

The next application was in a live sound venue with a band where 16 channels were recorded during two live performances. Once again, the tracks sounded great and the unit operated without a hiccup.

READY AND ABLE
The BlackBox is a unique tool for capturing great-sounding live recordings and was easy to operate once I got through its quirks. Its easily triggered buttons were troublesome at first, but once I figured them out, I found it easy to navigate and choose menu options. I’m not crazy about the wall wart, but if the power supply should go, it would be an easy matter to switch to a spare without popping the hood. I do think that a Locking function on the DC power input would provide confidence that the plug won’t be accidentally pulled; in fact, JoeCo notified us during fact-check that production units now feature a small lug to tie down the power inlet.

I really liked the visual confirmations that the unit was recording. The front panel displays redundant assurances that you’re in Record mode. After the gig, it was a snap to take the files off the drive for backup and export them to my DAW.

If you’re looking for a first- or second-line recorder for live sound, I strongly recommend the BlackBox. It’s affordable, reliable, sounds great and makes it easy to have confidence in the field.


Kevin Becka is the technical editor of Mix.

Click on the Product Summary box above to view the BlackBox Recorder product page.

Click on the Product Summary box above to view the BlackBox Recorder product page.

APx500 bench tests performed on the JoeCo BlackBox recorder

Crosstalk between adjacent channels was a very low -94 dB

Crosstalk between adjacent channels was a very low -94 dB

Frequency response at 96kHz/24-bit was dead flat out to 45 kHz

Frequency response at 96kHz/24-bit was dead flat out to 45 kHz

Signal-to-Noise ratio just below clipping was over 89 dBm

Signal-to-Noise ratio just below clipping was over 89 dBm

THD at nominal level was 0.014 percent or better

THD at nominal level was 0.014 percent or better






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