Sweetwater is fantastic (5), Avid Mbox is OK (2), together (2.5)
Starting with the Sweetwater experience, everything about the Sweetwater process was superb. The Internet store was easy to use. The product arrived two days later. The Mbox was perfectly packaged and even included some candy in the box! Sweetwater even called me a few days later to ensure that all was well. Well done Sweetwater!
Now onto the Avid bundle. First, be aware that this product uses a USB dongle to authenticate the product, and its a tempermental beast. I fought on and off for three weeks, struggling to install the drivers and the iLok software on my music PC to no avail. When I contacted the iLok folks, they basically told me the translation was that the iLok doesn't necessarily work on every machine technically meeting the specs. Ugh! So, I ended up getting a new 64 bit machine with Win7. I figured that maybe it was time to upgrade. After another couple of days, I was able to wrestle the iLok software onto the brand new machine. It still took three cycles of install, fail, uninstall, a d try again. Second, the Pro Tools Express (PTE) installation was complicated. I had to purchase a trouble ticket from Avid to have them explain to me that the native HP software on a theoretically listed compatible machine (there are not many by the way) had to be disabled and uninstalled to allow PTE to properly install, even though there were no error messages indicating issues with the PTE installation. The problem was that the Mbox simply would not talk to PTE. Just a slight issue in a bundle product one might suppose! At long last, I was ready to start using the PTE & Mbox bundle. Third, PTE takes some significant getting used to. It is not intuitive to use. You'll have to devote a fair number of cycles to downloading the plug-ins, updates, etc. rom Avid. Also, just in case you didn't know, PTE doesn't work with all of the VSTs, etc. that you've bought over the past decade of music producing. So, I bought a $45 book on the basics of PTE. Fourth, that is when I found out the pre-amp internal to the Mbox is ... What is the technical term ... Um, oh yeah, aweful! You have to crank the gain on the mic to almost the limit and put your source within inches of the mic to get a good enough SNR even with 24 bit quality for a vocal or drum session to be useable. (I bought some high end mics for use with the new interface, and yes, I have three different mics and three cables and tried them all. Yes, the phantom power was on.) I would have sent it all back even several thousand quid in red from the lost time, new external gear, computer, etc., but online in the user community I found that this is a common issue. Apparently most folks use another pre-amp if they use the Mbox. Caveat emptor. All in all, Sweetwater is a fabulous company. PTE is an empire onto itself that you'll either love or hate once you invest a significant amount of time learning the new DAW and getting the software to chat with the iLok dongle, and the Mbox is not so great for live recording.