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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. The paint finish is also not great. We noticed some of the paint wearing off near the main faders. We asked Mackie about any quality control issues with paint but were simply told the mixer is out of warranty and there was nothing they could do.  Again, this mixer is used in a controlled editing editing envronment so we were really surprised by this issue with this powder coast finish.  The smaller 802VLZ4 has a much nicer finish in a slightly lighter color. So we're not sure what the deal is here but we found this disheartening.  

We have mixed feelings about the new design of 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 white highlighted outline around unity is helpful.  

The build quality seems mostly up to Mackie standards in terms of operation. However, the powder coast finish and cheap feeling knobs and faders were a letdown.  Overall,  the chassis still feels tank-like and we hope will prove to be durable over time, even with the paint wearing off.

So how are the Onyx Mic pres? They're fine. Condenser and dynamic mics that have enough output work fine on the 1402 VLZ4. Lower output mics like the SM7B need a preamp. Our use case is not critical recording. We use a P-solo preamp for our VO work.  Our main use for the Mackie mixer is for post production and the ability to keep multiple audio sources connected for easy access. While we may lay down some tracks or scratch VO tracks duing an edit. The preamps in the VLZ4 are 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. A little goes a long way.  Overall, 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 works to tweak things a bit but we'd use is sparingly just like we did on our previous Mackie mixers.  We tend to do all our final mixing in our DAW and rarely burn in a sound direct from the mixer.  So subtle is the key.

So there you have it. The VLZ4 series has been out a while.  We hope Mackie will address the powder coat fiinish, cheap knobs and fader issues in an upcoming release. So perhaps we'll see a VLZ5 series in the future.  For now, the VLZ4 series still offers one of the best values in compact professional mixers for post production with a great combinatino or routing options despite its fit and finish shortcomings and those horrible knobs. Did we mention we hate the knobs?

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