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Mackie 1402 VLZ4 Mixer Review

mackie 1402vlz4

So your Mackie mixer finally died. Now what? There are a lot of options on the compact mixer market. Soundcraft, Allen and Heath, Yamaha, Tascam and Mackie all make quality units in the sub $500 price range. Some folks love the super affordable Behringer units.

In many video post facilities you'll find the ubiquitous Mackie VLZ series. This includes everything from the original VLZ series made in the USA to the more recent VLZ4 series made in China. Our 1202 VLZ Pro recently died after 12 years of abuse. Not bad.

This time we decided to opt for the Mackie 1402 VLZ4. While we considered all the other options in the sub $500 price range we decided to go for the Mackie for practical reasons and a history of quality. It's easy to swap out the cables from the old mixer to the new without dealing with a new mixer layout. And, there are a couple of Mackie features we really love like Mute alt 3-4 versatility and inserts on inputs 1-6 that make it super convenient to use our FMR RNC1773 with 1 TRS per channel. Plus, and perhaps most importantly, to our ears, it's sounds just as good as previous generations of Mackie mixers.

There are some things we don't like. While Mackie touts the new color scheme as user friendly with the neon colored Aux and Eq knobs, the knobs themselves have no texture, no grip. We miss the old knobs with the indents. They were a 10X better experience. Also, the amount of torque it takes to twist a knob is not consistent. For example, the pan controls on channel 1 and 2 feel completely different. Even after repeated attempts to twist the knob back and forth to loosen it up channel 2 is very stiff. Same goes for the Aux 1 knob. That's not a great experience and make us question the quality control.

We have mixed feelings about the faders. We actually think using the faders is a better experience despite the faders themselves looking and feeling cheaper to the touch. The faders have a good feel to them and the updated color scheme do make them easier to use. The outline around unity is helpful.  

The build quality seems up to Mackie standards. In spite of the cheaper feeling knobs and faders the chassis still feels tank-like and we hope will prove to be durable over time.

So how are the Onyx Mic pres. They're fine. Condenser and dynamic mics with enough output work fine on the 1402 VLZ4. Lower output mics like and SM7B need a preamp. Our use case is not critical recording but rather post production and the ability to keep multiple audio sources connected for easy access. While we may lay down some tracks we'd use a separate preamp instead of the built-in preamps on the 1402 VLZ4. They're perfectly fine, low noise preamps but there is nothing special about them.

The EQ works.  The 1402 VLZ4 has fixed frequencies for lows, mids and highs and we find the EQ musical when used sparingly.  Does it sound a little nicer than previous Mackies?  Yes, we think so but mostly because the overall design provides a cleaner signal flow overall.  More headroom also helps with AUX sends and results in better sounding reverb...etc.  The Big Sky sounds even more transparent with the new Mackie.  So overall, we think the 1402 VLZ4 sounds good and the EQ is good enough to tweak things a bit but we would use is sparingly just like we did on our previous Mackie mixers. 

So there you have it. The VLZ4 series has been out a while and maybe Mackie will address some of the cheap knob and fader issues in an upcoming release. The VLZ4 series is quieter and has more headroom then previous generations of Mackie mixers and still offers one of the best values in compact professional mixers for post production, despite the knobs. Did we mention we hate the knobs?

Visit Mackie for more information and all the specs on the 1402 VLZ4.

Will Ferrell Takes on Norway


Can't wait to see what GM starts rolling out. Love the ad. A next level dammit, lugers and Will channeling Magatu yet disarmed by the beauty of Noway / Sweden all cut perfectly. Thank you. More of this!

dbx 286s Mic Preamp/Processor Review

dbx 286s

The dbx 286s Mic Preamp/Processor provides outstanding value and professional quality audio in a 1U form factor. The 286s includes a single channel mic preamp with phantom power, compressor, de-esser, enhancer and expander/gate.

The dbx 286s retails at $225 but feels and performs way beyond that price point. The build quality is excellent with a metal case, integrated power supply and quality knobs with a good tactile feel. The controls have setting indents for easily dialing in each stage of the signal path. The LEDs provide enough feedback to understand how the signal is being processed and the layout is clean with a good flow.

We used the Shure SM7B with the 286s to see how it would handle this omnipresent mic in a professional broadcast setting. Could we achieve a similar sound using only the dbx 286s to something like a Daking Mic-Pre One with an FMR Audio 1773 insert and gate applied in post.

Well the Daking/FMR audio combination definitely sounds better as you would expect. It's beefier, sweeter and more analog sounding. It's just better. This is without any additional processing. However, the 286s all on its own sounds pretty darn good at about 1/4 the cost. To appreciate the differences you'll need studio quality headphones or monitors. For a non-critical studio applications and podcasts the 286s more than exceeds an acceptable level of quality.

Here is the SM7B, Daking Mic-Pre One and FMR RNC1773 combination

Here is the SM7B, dbx 286s with no external processing

The dbx 286s sounds excellent. It has plenty of gain to handle the needs of the SM7B without the need for an additional device such as a Cloudlifter. The compressor section works well to provide additional drive while taming the signal. The enhancer works well with very low settings, just a touch of the enhancer goes a long way to help provide a little sparkle. We prefer the high frequency enhancement versus the low frequency. The controls go to 10 (not 11) and we rarely ventured beyond 2-3. The expander/gate is really nice for limiting room tone is less than ideal conditions. This is great for eliminating the sound of a computer in the room or HVAC. For all of these controls it's very easy to dial in a setting and achieve broadcast ready results very quickly. The controls at extreme setting can be used to achieve some interesting effects as well.

The dbx 286s is hard to beat in terms of value for a quality mic channel, especially for podcasters where a little control and sweetening the signal is desired. It doesn't have the beefy sweetness of more expensive boutique mic pres like the Daking, and it's less attractive for musical performance and singing. So don't expect it to compete at that level. However, the dbx 286st offers convenient signal processing and excellent value in a single 1U space.

Visit dbx for more information and all the specs on the 286s. 

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