The whole reason to have a mixer in your editing suite is to, well, mix stuff. Most small studios, whether home-based or small business, have at least a half-dozen audio sources that occasionally need to be either captured or routed for different monitoring outputs. Getting all of these sources to blend in perfect harmony is the job of a reliable mixer, like the Mackie 1402-VLZ3.
The 1402 is a 14-channel mic/line mixer that packs some unique electronic wizardry inside. There are few external design surprises, and that's not a bad thing. If you've used a compact mixer before, you'll have no trouble feeling your way around this board. Ten channel strips feature the usual suspects of knobs, buttons and faders to tailor the signal.
At the top, two Aux Send gain knobs route your signal to outboard effects or additional monitoring or processing. The equalizer section is just below and is comprised of three knobs that add or subtract 15dB of gain around 12kHz, 2.5kHz and 80Hz, for your highs, mids or lows respectively. At first, having only three EQ controls might seem limiting, but Mackie handles this by shelving the lows and highs and peaking the midrange. This combination provides very smooth control over the entire range of the signal with just small adjustments.
The pan knob is below the EQ section and has a nice feature Mackie calls Constant Loudness. When panning, the apparent loudness remains the same, and this is not how all mixers handle panning.
Besides sounding great, we like our mixers to feel good to use; knobs should turn smoothly, buttons should depress consistently, even from an off-center punch, and sliders should glide gracefully. Each rotary knob on the 1402 has a central detent that lets you know you are at "unity" or have "normalized" that control, so that it is simply passing the signal through unaltered. We checked out two different 1402 units for our review. The first had six knobs that varied in the way they felt when turning, from nearly frozen to just very stiff. The second unit had two that were notably harder to turn than all the others; the other four did feel quite good and turned very smoothly.
The buttons all have a very positive feel, and each is marked with a small white strip at the bottom that makes it easy to tell if it is engaged or not. .
When our flesh hit the faders, we noticed two things: first, they didn't move as smoothly as others we've felt, and second, they make a little noise. Not noise into the mix, but noise generated from a semi-ridged membrane designed to keep out dust and perhaps even wayward adult beverages. If you are mixing with headphones or are in a live environment, then you won't hear what we're talking about. In a relatively quiet edit bay, it may be only a minor annoyance. The six-channel faders from the left control mono sources slide a little more easily than the four stereo faders to the right; a difference that Mackie does acknowledge.
Ins and Outs
The 1402 provides three types of input connections: XLR, balanced/unbalanced 1/4" TRS phono and unbalanced RCA. The XLRs all took connections smoothly and positively. The phono plugs all gripped firmly and consistently, and the RCAs felt solid..
On the output side, 1/4" TRS phono jacks provide channel inserts along with Alt outputs and control room sends. The 1402 uses balanced XLR connectors to feed a line-level main output signal to your speakers or, by the push of a switch, even another mic-level device like a second mixer. Mackie folks must have been getting enough feedback about users accidentally pushing this switch on past models, because now it is recessed and requires you to consciously depress it with a pointy object like a phono plug.
Testing 1, 2, 3
We did some side-by-side tests with a Behringer UB1622fx-Pro, a similarly-designed compact mixer, to get an idea of how each processed an identical signal. We first wanted to know how the relative quality of the mic preamps differed, something that arguably separates the good from great boards. So we sent a pure sine wave signal that swept from 20 to 20,000Hz over 20 seconds, directly to a single-powered reference monitor (a Mackie HR824). We placed an AKG C414B large-diaphragm studio microphone two feet from the speaker and ran that signal into the XLR inputs of both mixers. All of the EQ sections were normalized, and we captured the output using Adobe's Audition at 48kHz. We then did a frequency analysis of each, comparing where and how often the signal departed from a smooth response. There were large excursions in both samples, but that was due to other variables like the speakers, mic, room, etc. But when we looked closely, we saw that the Mackie had far fewer and less pronounced variations in loudness across the entire frequency range. This means the 1402 influenced our original signal less than our comparison mixer..
We then recorded a voiceover, using the same mic on both the 1402 and the Behringer. To our ears, the Mackie had far more overall warmth, clarity and richness. We heard more of the vocal nuances, distinguishing between fricatives, sibilants and plosives (F, S and P), among others. These can create stridence or muddiness in the signal that poorer-quality processing gear doesn't handle well. Our comparison system emphasized the mid-range frequencies, lacking the warmth and clarity we heard in the 1402.
The 1402-VLZ3 is an excellent-sounding mixer that comes packed with plenty of Mackie ingenuity, flexibility, robustness and even humor. The well-written manuals have become practically a feature in themselves. Check out Mackie's online description of its Rude Solo light, for an example. While we did find some tactile shortcomings, none impacted the quality of signal processing. If you are looking for a solid performing mixer, the 1402 is a good value and a good investment.
Main Mix Noise (fader down): -101dBu
Signal to Noise: - 95dBu
Total Harmonic Distortion (mic pre @ insert): .0007%
Crosstalk (main mix fader down): -100dBu
Frequency Response (mic input to any output): 20Hz - 60kHz = +0db/-1dB
Phantom Power: for premium condenser mics
Weight: 9.5 lbs
Dimensions: 12.9" x 14" x 3.2"
Power Consumption: 120VAC, 50/60Hz, 25 watts
- All-metal case
- Excellent signal processing
- Great manual
- Quality issues with some knobs and faders
- No test tone
One of the best-sounding and most solidly-built mixers on the market today.
Contributing editor Brian Peterson is a video production consultant, trainer and lecturer.
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