Review of the
|Tweak's Mackie 1402 in its hostile project studio environment|
I am lucky enough to have an 8 output audio interface, the Delta 1010. When you get one you will find your digital audio freed in many ways of typical soundcard restraints. But when you get a multi-output card, you need to connect the outputs to something. You also need to connect the stuff you want to record to the inputs. I decided getting a submixer was the way to go. Something I could put right next to my computer, that had 4 stereo pairs for the 8 Delta outs, and had inputs left over for mics, guitar, a channel to route synths from my main board and a few extras for stuff I wanted to connect to sample, or record, direct to the computer without entering the treacherous sea of 1000 cables behind my main mixer.
So the mixer had to be small, have excellent preamps for mics, have top panel controls and had to have at least 12 channels and FX sends and returns. There were plenty of mixers that vied for my cash, some of those were the Mackie 1202, the Behringers, the little mixpad, the Sampson stuff, and even a few of the new small digital mixers. I quickly ruled out digital mixers. There's enough stuff to tweak and set, and when I want to record, I want to plug and go and not mess with any cursors or menus. I then ruled out everything except the Mackies, thinking the new XDR mic preamps might stave off the need to purchase a Bellari or Joe Meek tube preamp. So i swallowed hard and spent the requisite amount of cash, I think it was $549.00. More than I wanted to pay and i was hit hard with buyers remorse the next day.
Get the rack 1402 mount ears here
Then I got busy and remastered my Sessions with Ana album for MP3.com. This was very sensitive music: Female vocals and acoustic guitar recorded live, with poorly recorded dry synths and samplers in the background. There was heavy 60hz hum and ambient noise imbued in the tracks. I plugged the leads from my old 4 track into the new Mackie and started tracking. The tape tracks were so hissy I had to dramatically tweak the eq going in--process each track heavily in the digital domain in Logic then come back out to the Mackie to submix and master. It was when i heard the new submix pouring out the audio interface and then out of the Mackie that my buyer's remorse was gone. The old cassette tracks now had tons of high end, were warm, supple, and blended beautifully. Some tiny tweaks on the EQs and pans and the mix was solid, locked, and making a powerful statement. Of course, the plugins in Logic had a lot to do with that result, as did Sonic Foundry's Noise Reduction plugin to kill the hum, but I know, if it was not for the Mackie I could have not gotten near this new threshold of quality.
Its like the Mackie has a personality, like it can intelligently mix sounds. I am now a believer. The 1402 VLZ Pro is quality. I'm glad I bit the bullet and paid more.
Things I like about the Mackie 1402 VLZ Pro:
I use the Mackie 1402 as a "front end" for my Delta 1010. I have it conveniently located right next ti my computer keyboard in easy arm's reach as i work. Because the Delta, like most audio interfaces, does not have Mic preamps, the Mackie comes through to provide them. I can connect anything I want to the Mackie, such as guitars, my old ms20, my Korg Electribe, my DAT and can get the signal very quickly to the audio interface where the sources can be recorded as tracks in my audio applications on my computer. I also route the 8 outputs of the Delta 1010 back to the 1402 and then send the main bus back to my larger mixer. But my setup is a bit complicated. A small studio could use a much simpler setup.
Wishes and Hyperbole
Happy to say there is nothing that seriously bothers me about this unit. Yet, here's my observations where the 1402 didn't exceed my expectations.
1. The XDR preamp--hype?. Sure the preamps are very, very, good and they do exactly what you expect, with a little extra--not a lot of extra--headroom. They are high quality preamps--yes! I just wasn't totally blown away as the ads led me to expect, but I wasn't disappointed either. I was left with a feeling like "OK they work like a preamp is supposed to work". I've also asked many industry friends if they can hear the difference between the XDR and older Mackie Pre's. The answer is always 'not sure' so far. I don't have an older Mackie to evaluate that. But the proof of it is all the the use. I have connected sm57s, Cad E200s, my Rode NT1 and my Octava M012. There's ample power for any of these mics, and a convenient switch to turn Phantom power on and off on the back panel. There is no way to turn on phantom power for some inputs and not others, but that feature rarely makes it in a board of this type.
2. The fixed EQ. There is no parametric sweeping on mids here. The EQ sounds good. Doesn't need much to get where you want to go. Just a few times I wanted to zoom in on a frequency and couldn't scratch the itch. So i did it with Logic's software parametrics and used the Mackie EQ to touch that up. I was very happy. Not a problem as a submixer from a computer, but if its your sole eq coming from an eq-less digital multitrack, you might end up with an itch or two.
3. The RFI rejection-- Hype? I'm not displeased. I have the Mackie sitting in the most hostile environment possible. Connected to my AudioWerk inside a PC, between 21" (3 inches away) and 17" computer monitors, above a living sea of snaky cables running to printers, scanners, a massive net of scsi unshielded ribbon cables and less than an inch from a radiator like cable modem I can fry eggs on. There's a near field unshielded monitor less than 1 foot away. It's a darn lightning strike ready to happen. Yes, the Mackie picks up RFI. I guess the hype led me to think I'd be RFI free, but it looks like I still have to take the same meticulous cabling precautions as with any other mixer, which to me is a pain. It's probably not the Mackie's fault, but all the cables swimming below, and to be perfectly fair, its not bad enough to make me crawl under there to fix the cable paths. So I guess that may actually tell you that yes, it can still be musical in a set of horrible electrical fields.
4. I wish it had the ability to attach a gooseneck console lamp. And Peak signal leds. Alas, one can't have everything.
You get what you pay for
There is no doubt that the Mackie mixers are more expensive than the competition. Behringer sells mixers that have similar features to the Mackies for substantially less cash. Differences between a mackie and an Behringer have been debated at length in the newsgroups. Go check out the Buzz to read about the longstanding rivalry between these companies. But if you are of the sort that insists upon quality of components, the quality of the hardware build, quality control in manufacture and the availability of support and service then the Mackie may be the choice for you. One failed component in a compact mixer often spells disaster, and lets face it, its no fun having a mixer where a pot doesn't work or a send is intermittent. Your odds of having this happen are reduced with a quality mixer, and when it does happen, your chances of getting support and repair are better. This is one reason why, despite the extra cash, Mackies remain cost-effective.