For some years now, Mackie have manufactured two ranges of analogue mixers. The more affordable was the VLZ series, the first three generations of which received plenty of praise. In fact, in most respects the VLZ4 mixers can be looked at as updated versions of their VLZ3 predecessors, as they offer very similar feature sets. However, all of the VLZ4 mixers are fitted with the Onyx preamps. Even the headphone jack is on the back.
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Oct 15, by Mike Rivers It was 18 years ago that Mackie introduced the CR, kick starting the emerging eight-track home recording studio. In , a significant facelift brought us the VLZ, with a true 4-bus architecture, sixteen improved mic preamps, sweepable mid-band EQ, and a number of other refinements. The VLZ-Pro Series in further improved the input section, lowered overall distortion, and continued to be a consistent good seller.
Then, last year, the third generation VLZ3 line was introduced. Auxiliary send 3 can be assigned to submasters or With exception of the mic inputs which are on XLR connectors,? Phantom power is controlled by a single switch, which affects all channels. With 14 assorted condenser mics all I had handy connected and powered up, the phantom supply remains within tolerance at The power supply is internal with an IEC connector for the power cord on the rear of the chassis.
A voltage selector switch accommodates line voltages of , and volts. As shipped, the connectors are located at the back of the mixer. The connector can easily be relocated to the underside of the main chassis, putting the connectors behind the front panel to facilitate connections in a rack mounted installation. A pair of rack mounting ears is supplied. The chassis is heavy gauge steel, assembled with the Mackie standard too-many screws. So far, with exception of the multi-voltage AC power supply, This VLZ3 sounds just like the previous model … and functionally and feature-wise, it is.
There are some cosmetic improvements, but more interestingly, there are some important changes under the hood.
The equalizer section is different from the previous generation. The other significant change with the VLZ3 electronics is that the internal gain structure has been modified. One of the problems with the earlier generations was that, with a lot of hot inputs, the sum of the channels was a greater level than the mix bus could handle, resulting in clipping the whole mix.
Perceptive operators eventually learned to run the master fader high and keep the channel levels lower to provide more headroom for the mix when things got louder as they tend to do in a live show. This raised the noise floor a bit but it was hardly noticeable in a typical show, and a tad more noise is preferable to distortion. In the VLZ3, Mackie has essentially implemented this master fader trick internally by reducing the level of the channels going to the bus and making it up by adding gain just ahead of the master fader.
Newer generation op amps and quieter resistors has allowed for additional gain at the output without compromising the noise performance of the mixer. In Use Since for many, this mixer will have its primary use as a set of mic preamps for recording to a DAW, a primary concern is how they sound.
No worries here — Mackie has always done well in this area, and the preamps in earlier generation VLZ mixers have long been a solid economical choice for clean, general-purpose applications.
On more than one occasion, I set the gain to a specific value for a measurement and found that ten minutes later it had changed. Other rotary gain controls have a more practical taper.
One welcome mechanical improvement is with the quarter-inch jacks. This was always a little risky because the plug was a bit wobbly with the tip grabbed by the ring contact of the jack.
It does what it needs to do and it does it well with no big surprises. The VLZ3, with its narrower mid-band section, is more useful, with the difference being most apparent when cutting to clean up proximity effect mud or to reduce lower-mid frequency leakage.
With the earlier generations Mackies, it was difficult to get to where I wanted to go; when cutting what I wanted, as much as I wanted, other things changed too much. I found less of this out-of-band action with the VLZ3, resulting in less fiddling with the equalizer knobs and getting a good mix more quickly.
To confirm what I perceived about the EQ after mixing a couple of live shows, I fed the mixer some rather sloppy multitrack live festival stage recordings. By golly, it was indeed easier to get a decent mix. Thinking it might have been the second time because I had a practice run, I tried another set of tracks, mixing first on the VLZ3, then on the VLZ, and again, I found that the VLZ3 made it easier and quicker to clean up messy tracks.
In each case, I ended up preferring the overall sound of the VLZ3 mix, finding that it was cleaner overall and a bit fuller on the bottom end without sounding boomy or muddy.
The tiny offers two XDR2 mic preamps — a stereo line level input and two-band EQ on the mic channels. The larger has three mic input channels with 3 band EQ fixed center frequency as in the , one stereo and two mono line inputs. The , more applicable as a DAW front and back end than a mixer, has no pan pots. Instead, it offers a button which assigns the two mic channels either hard left and right or center panned, solving the monitoring problem that some DAW interfaces have when using a single mic.
The is a more conventional mixer design for the user who require just a few inputs with excellent audio quality. Summary The is a good, sensible design. The first generation mic preamps sounded quite good and have improved with every update, including this one.
One is the Tape Outputs. While the Main post-fader outputs are fine when using the VLZ3 as a recording mixer, having the Tape Output jacks pre-fader would have been my preference when using it as a PA mixer and recording the board mix.
Unlike the smaller models in the family, the 16 channel mixers and have the main outputs on? There are a lot of similar mixers out there, and most of them sound pretty good. You have a lot of choices, but the Mackie ?
And for me, that makes the job easier and more fun. Mike Rivers, a retired location sound recording engineer, operates a studio in Falls Church, Va. Subscribe For more stories like this, and to keep up to date with all our market leading news, features and analysis, sign up to our newsletter here.
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