squarewave

Super-Cheap Mixers
« on: March 11, 2020, 11:09:51 PM »
Does anyone have an opinion about Mackie mixers?

I have never owned a mixer but occasionally I wish I did. I know I don't really need one (I should be writing code!) but these things are so cheap now how can I not own a mixer?! That's like not having a cordless power drill.

Looking at Mackie VLZ service manuals, I can't really see any major problems. The PS is totally normal. Mic amps are CFP which is at least as good as any other transparent mic pre (minus the better THD of CFIA amps like THAT chips). It's all NJM4560 which are pretty good amps IMO. The mix resistors are only 5K1. The main mix amps are NJM2068 which I've never heard of but presumably they're different for a reason. There's no stupid high-Z or gimmicky stuff in the signal path. EQ is simple and to-the-point mid control with BAX. Unbalanced outs are actually 120R quasi-balanced which are arguably better than balanced if you're not driving long lines. Balanced outputs have 120R buildout resistors which is fine (I would prefer slightly lower since I have some 600 ohm passive stuff that is damped for 100R but it's close enough).

So has anyone had experience with these? Don't be ashamed to admit it! Is pot tracking bad? Are there problems with crosstalk? Are they known to be defective / break in some way? Has anyone actually cracked one open and hacked on it? There are piles of these things on Ebay for less than $200 USD.

What's a good alternative small / cheap mixer? Allen-Heath? Soundcraft? I don't want anything that needs re-capping so it needs to be newish.

Specifically I'm looking at the Mackie 1202vlz4 largely because it's the smallest mixer that has an alternate group bus that isn't unconditionally tied to the main bus (piggy-backed on the Mute button which is slightly clever) which effectively means you can have two completely separate mixes.


Re: Super-Cheap Mixers
« Reply #1 on: March 12, 2020, 10:08:46 AM »
Very good & technical questions there..

I've used a Soundcraft and own an A&H, I also have a Mackie D.4 Pro mixer (which was a thing in the past in DJ circles as it had FW I/O, very sturdy but the LED pots burn out quickly, are hard to service and the panel markings wear out over time although I got mine used)

The Mackie aside (as it's for DJing) the A&H was far superior but it had pots for volume instead of faders (the ones in SC were sort of flimsy like most, if not all faders, as well as the rest of the channel pots)

This could mean they're not tightened to the panel with nuts but use the PCB for holding them in place instead, a very SMD-esque "feature" although I believe the A&H is built with surface-mount components too but at least the pots had nuts to secure them.

This in turn means it's harder to service. Faders need lubing too, and are prone to let dust inside.

I know in some circles people use 2nd hand Mackie (and Yamaha etc) desks for overdriving synths and for summing so I'd look out for dead channels (they're a problem in just about every desk)

Also, some like to categorize mixers sounding "American" or "British".. iirc Mackie is from the US whereas Soundcraft and A&H are from the UK. Stuff from the US is usually described as having more saturated low end and the UK sound is described as transparent or neutral.

In terms of overall build quality within the same price range there shouldn't be much of a difference (then again I've never used a Mackie in mixing desk format, but afaik it has the same mic preamps)
« Last Edit: March 12, 2020, 11:31:08 AM by efinque »

Pip

Re: Super-Cheap Mixers
« Reply #2 on: March 12, 2020, 11:10:44 AM »
I have sailed a thousand ships with Mackie Consoles.  The products since the company was bought by Loud I can't speak to. The older stuff is ballistic!

I still have my first generation 1202 VLZ and it won't die (almost 30 years and counting).  I just sold my Mackie Hard Disc recorder.

The only thing I ever had a problem with was the EQ choice on the consoles. All of them really never did what I was trying to do. The 8 Buss series never really sounded great for guitars to my ears. That all said I, and a lot of my friends, have made great recordings through Mackie products. Greg Mackie did a great thing when he built all these tools for the independent recordist .  The price-point was exceptional for the feature set.

A lot of what made this stuff affordable was the advent of surface mount and machine component placement. So they are not easily accessed for repairs and upgrades. 

The console thing is subjective and personal to say the least. I like consoles and what they offer (I'm old) but they are not necessary at all for quality recording and production. All this gear is just tools.
« Last Edit: March 12, 2020, 11:17:31 AM by Pip »
Pip
New York City
http://geosonixlab.com

pucho812

Re: Super-Cheap Mixers
« Reply #3 on: March 12, 2020, 12:14:36 PM »
I remember aes where fletcher speared a mackie and an adat and put it at the front of his booth. greg mackie laughed and said the mixer probably still works, I would have agreed with his statement. Having used mackies for ages and such I can assure they are pretty nice especially the older ones for their money. Rumor has it that massenburg designed the 1st  gen eq's on the original 16, 24, and 32 channel desks but I don't know if it is true, just a rumor I heard in audio circles.
You tell me whar a man gits his corn pone, en I'll tell you what his 'pinions is.

JohnRoberts

Re: Super-Cheap Mixers
« Reply #4 on: March 12, 2020, 12:45:13 PM »
Does anyone have an opinion about Mackie mixers?
Who me?

Back last century I competed for the exact same customers so yes, I may have peeked under the hood..  ::) and formed opinions.   8)

I recall chewing the fat with Greg during a trade show when Greg admitted a mistake in his 8-bus, joking about how Behringer copied his mistake.  :o

Over the years I identified a handful of design decisions (engineering tradeoffs) I did not embrace. Most notable was not sampling the post fader gain stage for clipping, another was using borderline undersized capacitors in series with preamp gain pot. Another tradeoff I discovered was an unbuffered insert jack.  I discovered this by accident when the 600 ohm termination of my bench test equipment loaded it down. That insert point interrupted the feed to a Baxandall tone control, so driving it from a modest source impedance (like 600 ohms) could cause a frequency response error due to changing input impedance of Baxandall circuit varying with boost/cut setting and frequency.

Note: these design tradeoffs were not present in every model.

Not to cast aspersion on their motives.... but, at high gain settings the undersized cap in the gain leg will roll off very LF (like 1/F) noise subjectively appearing quieter during WFO listening tests, while still delivering full bandwidth for spec sheet measurements at more modest gains. Likewise ignoring brief clipping events in the +10dB post fader gain stage may go unnoticed by typical users. All while spending millions of dollars advertising high headroom, and super ultra quiet preamps.  ::)

I could beat them on the bench but not in customer's perception thanks to ad budgets I could not come close to. They gained a lot of market share from my product lines.  :(  Here is a real life example one of my sales reps shared with me... he was visiting one of his Peavey dealers who also sold Mackie products. This dealer was feeding a Mackie mixer output into a Peavey amp and speakers for floor demos. The audio was obviously distorted. When my rep asked him about it, the dealer who was clearly drinking the Mackie koolaid said that the high headroom (cough) Mackie mixer was overloading the Peavey gear.  :o Since I had educated my reps about this exact shortcoming  he walked over the Mackie mixer, pulled down the channel fader a few dB to stop the clipping (with no clip light indications), and restored the gain in the master section fader. 
Quote

I have never owned a mixer but occasionally I wish I did. I know I don't really need one (I should be writing code!) but these things are so cheap now how can I not own a mixer?! That's like not having a cordless power drill.
If you need a mixer they are probably as good as most.
Quote

Looking at Mackie VLZ service manuals, I can't really see any major problems. The PS is totally normal. Mic amps are CFP which is at least as good as any other transparent mic pre (minus the better THD of CFIA amps like THAT chips). It's all NJM4560 which are pretty good amps IMO. The mix resistors are only 5K1. The main mix amps are NJM2068 which I've never heard of but presumably they're different for a reason. There's no stupid high-Z or gimmicky stuff in the signal path. EQ is simple and to-the-point mid control with BAX. Unbalanced outs are actually 120R quasi-balanced which are arguably better than balanced if you're not driving long lines. Balanced outputs have 120R buildout resistors which is fine (I would prefer slightly lower since I have some 600 ohm passive stuff that is damped for 100R but it's close enough).

So has anyone had experience with these? Don't be ashamed to admit it! Is pot tracking bad? Are there problems with crosstalk? Are they known to be defective / break in some way? Has anyone actually cracked one open and hacked on it? There are piles of these things on Ebay for less than $200 USD.
be aware when buying used gear that some of these may have been abused.
Quote

What's a good alternative small / cheap mixer? Allen-Heath? Soundcraft? I don't want anything that needs re-capping so it needs to be newish.

Specifically I'm looking at the Mackie 1202vlz4 largely because it's the smallest mixer that has an alternate group bus that isn't unconditionally tied to the main bus (piggy-backed on the Mute button which is slightly clever) which effectively means you can have two completely separate mixes.
I clearly have a bias, if you can get the features you need at a fair price do it, do not be swayed by any halo effect from all the advertising***, or my whining.

JR

*** Mackie got hoist on their own petard, by investing millions of advertising dollars into bragging about made in USA (by Mackoids), then shifting their own production to China after customers declined to pay the price premium for made in USA (been there seen that).
Don't only half-ass tune your drums. Visit https://circularscience.com to hear what properly "cleared" drums sound like.

Gold

Re: Super-Cheap Mixers
« Reply #5 on: March 12, 2020, 12:57:11 PM »
The only thing I’d add is that the internal operating level of at least the 8 bus is closer to -10dBbv than +4dBu. It sounds much better if you keep the levels low.

squarewave

Re: Super-Cheap Mixers
« Reply #6 on: March 12, 2020, 05:07:38 PM »
Mic amps are CFP which is at least as good as any other transparent mic pre (minus the better THD of CFIA amps like THAT chips).
Looks like I'm wr-wr-wrong again. All of the schems I was looking at were a little old but Mackie has vlz3 schematics on their site! I see the circuits are a little different. The mic pres are actually CFIA and use the NJM2068 for the IAs and debal of the pre as well as for summing. Gain cap is 3300uF (same as THAT chip datasheets :-). Low-cut is 18dB/oct. EQ is not Bax so it uses an extra amp but mid band pot impedance is way lower. Line-ins and returns are TL072 with no caps (it's all about that bass?). Elsewhere is NJM4580 and NJM4565 on outputs. Mix resistors are 6K81. Phones out are doubled-up NJM4580 w/ 120R||120R buildout resistors which is probably just about right for limiting power with no caps.

Combined with generally positive comments, I'm still looking for something not to like ...

Rocinante

Re: Super-Cheap Mixers
« Reply #7 on: March 12, 2020, 05:43:23 PM »
For live use, especially older Mackie's they are bomb proof. I did sound and recorded several bands during Burning Man, a place that sometimes gets so covered in dust you HAVE to wear goggles just to see (which you need to wipe constantly). After the festival I took an air compressor and a vacuum to the mixer and it was fine, and it would continue to tour with me for another 7 years.
I can't attest to the newer models past VLZ but I have used Mackie's across the country and found most of them to be workhorses.
Now as far as recording; I would maybe use a Mackie to mix with for a demo (keep in mind I would use my API and Neve Mic pres to record with) but they don't have the headroom and flavor or transparency I prefer.
If there's a harder way to do this, I haven't found it yet.

john12ax7

Re: Super-Cheap Mixers
« Reply #8 on: March 12, 2020, 05:55:25 PM »
It's been a while but I remember them being solid.  Good for live,  or a band rehearsal spot. Good for pre-production recording, songwriting.

But you also need to consider what is the intended use.  For a recording studio I would prefer to get a modular board that was easy to repair and modify if needed.

squarewave

Re: Super-Cheap Mixers
« Reply #9 on: March 12, 2020, 09:29:26 PM »
Here's some interesting parts of the VLZ3:



First, each channel has it's own ground MAIN-GND or ALT-GND that is linked to the SUM-GND through smallish resistors (510R / 150R). Meaning the summing amp is driven deferentially. Nice.

But I did find a minor wart. Apparently the low cut uses electrolytics. I realize the distortion is probably not audible. But still. Not nice.


Newmarket

Re: Super-Cheap Mixers
« Reply #10 on: March 13, 2020, 07:33:32 AM »
The only thing I’d add is that the internal operating level of at least the 8 bus is closer to -10dBbv than +4dBu. It sounds much better if you keep the levels low.

I think those figures refer to the I/O level.
Typical internal nominal levels are typically -2dBu (less - -8dBu ? - in Neve I read here hence more headroom ?)

JohnRoberts

Re: Super-Cheap Mixers
« Reply #11 on: March 13, 2020, 09:35:38 AM »
I think those figures refer to the I/O level.
Typical internal nominal levels are typically -2dBu (less - -8dBu ? - in Neve I read here hence more headroom ?)
Active balanced outputs add +6dB of signal swing, to keep saturation of internal single ended paths similar to external balanced outputs I kept internal paths feeding nominal +4 dBu outputs at -2 dBu nominal.

[edit- I don't recall which specific models Mackie did this for but i recall an advertising campaign about running some buses cooler for extra headroom... Close inspection suggests this makes more sense as an advertising feature, than actual benefit IMO /edit]

JR 
« Last Edit: March 13, 2020, 09:38:44 AM by JohnRoberts »
Don't only half-ass tune your drums. Visit https://circularscience.com to hear what properly "cleared" drums sound like.

abbey road d enfer

Re: Super-Cheap Mixers
« Reply #12 on: March 13, 2020, 11:10:59 AM »
There are piles of these things on Ebay for less than $200 USD.
And there's good reasons for that. People realize that they are slowly dying under them.
I tried to fix one but I gave up. Most fixes take complete dismantling. The problem was one dead opamp but replacing it would have taken the best of a working day.
Who's right or wrong is irrelevant. What matters is what's right or wrong.
Star ground is for electricians.

Rob Flinn

Re: Super-Cheap Mixers
« Reply #13 on: March 13, 2020, 05:27:30 PM »
A friend of mine used a bunch of the 12 ch Mackie mixers with built in FX for a studio monitor system a bit like the hearback system but analog.   It surprises me the amount of people on this thread saying how reliable this series of mixer are.    Pretty much all of the desks he used developed a mutitude of faults from faders wearing out to electronic issues.   Fortunately they are so cheap that when they develop a fault that is unfixable they can just buy a new one.     

I used to use one of the 16 channel rackmount  version for live sound.  Great functionality for the footprint.   I personally found the eq to be quite fierce.  In the end we changed it for an A&H mix wizard which was much better IMHO.
regards Rob


 

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