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The Onyx Satellite is a 24-bit, 96kHz Firewire audio interface providing two analogue inputs and up to six analogue outputs. It doesn't do MIDI at all, has no digital I/O and doesn't offer any on-board DSP processing, but what it does provide is a pair of good-quality mic preamps and some useful monitor controller functions, as well as the innovative two-part docking design that gives it its name. The larger of the two parts is the 'Base Station' which provides analogue inputs and outputs, source selection and monitor level controls, plus a slot in its slanted top designed to hold the smaller 'Pod' unit. The idea behind this arrangement is that the Base Station can be left wired into your studio setup, with mics, instruments and monitors all left permanently hooked up and ready for use, then when you want to work on the move you simply slide out the Pod and pop it into your bag with the laptop.
Although the Satellite only provides two input channels to your DAW software, the Base Station has a total of eight physical inputs on the back: each input channel has a choice of an XLR microphone input, two (balanced or unbalanced) line-input jacks, or a high-impedance instrument-input jack, and there is a corresponding row of eight source-selection buttons on the front panel. These buttons invite you to press more than one at once to mix multiple sources together, but this doesn't entirely work, as we shall see later on! Each input channel also has an insert, so you can easily patch in a hardware compressor.
The front panel of the Base Station has a source-selection button that allows you to monitor the input signals independently of your DAW software (see the 'Use The Source' box) and also a built-in talkback microphone, with a volume control and a pair of momentary switches to route it either to the headphones (so you can talk to the talent in the vocal booth) or to the DAW inputs (for slating, or maybe for recording lo-fi 'telephone' vocal parts!). Both buttons mute the control-room outputs while held down. There is no way to plug in an external talkback mic.
When the Pod is plugged in on its own, the DAW will only see a single pair of output channels, which feed the same stereo signal to both headphone outputs and the rear-panel control-room outs. The first of the front-panel volume knobs affects both the control-room outputs and the first headphone output, while the second headphone jack has its own dedicated volume control.
When the Pod is docked with the Base Station, however, the Satellite displays six separate output channels to your DAW, and these are fed to a collection of eight (balanced or unbalanced) physical output jacks on the back panel. If you work in stereo you can connect two alternate pairs of monitors to separate 'A' and 'B' outputs, and switch between the two using a button just to the right of the control-room level knob. Output channels 4-6 from the computer are fed to the outputs with the corresponding names on the back of the Base Station, and by default these have a fixed output level which is not affected by the control room level knob, making them suitable for use as hardware effects sends, or to feed headphone amplifiers to provide alternative foldback mixes.
Just to the right of the monitor A/B switch is another with options for '1-2' and '1-6'. If you press this down to the '1-6' position, the control-room level knob will affect all six of the outputs from the Base Station, allowing it to be used as a surround monitor controller.