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.