Mar 24

INTRODUCING THE MACKIE DL1608 DIGITAL MIXER

Mackie, who are renowned for their quality speakers and mixers have come up with an idea which allows you to mix easily and wirelessly away from the stage with an iPad and introduced the Mackie DL1608 digital mixer. Namm 2013 has brought two further products in this respect, one from Behringer (who love to copy ideas from other manufactures) called the iX16 iPad Mixer and the other is from Mackie themselves but as a smaller 8 channel mixer the DL808. You can’t help notice the speed at which iOS devices are being used more and more in serious professional music applications as an excellent tool to display all kinds of information in a much readable presentation than many small LCD screens have struggled with in the past. Maybe there will come a time when every piece of hardware has a facility to work with a tablet of some description.

Combining the quality of Mackie hardware with an iPad and an App sounds to me like a recipe for something special. I thought I would give one a look to give me a taste of the future.

You may wonder like me, why such a piece of kit costs over £1000 when to some extent, it is just a shell of a digital mixer with the iPad controlling it. I am sure that the cost of developing this futuristic technology doesn’t come cheap but in comparison with Roland’s App for the Jupiter 50/80, the difference is that the Mackie DL1608 needs the iPad as an essential part of its requirements. This means that if you don’t have an iPad you have more money to find on top of the £1000 plus for the mixer – so is it worth it?

Well to answer that question you have to think about the fact that you can detach the iPad from the DL1608 and wirelessly control a mix in real time out where the audience is listening to it. Would you believe the mix can be controlled with up to 10 iPads). No longer does the mixing engineer need to sit behind a desk all night in a fixed position. Whereas he can be free to move about and listen and adjust the mix and doesn’t need to move back and forth from the stage to the back of house. He also does not need to set up a long and expensive multicore. I found it interesting that one mixing engineer was so pleased about the release of the DL1608 he said that for the first time in sixteen years he can now sit with his family.

All the processing is done in the mixer itself and the iPad controls it. Also some of the cost must also be that it has Built-in DSP and gives you outstanding EQ, compression, and gate plug-ins, as well as high quality reverb and tap delay.

MAKING THE MACKIE DL1608 MIXER CONNECTIONS

The free App called ‘the Mackie Master Fader App’ downloadable from Apple was quickly on my iPad ready to go and it was surprisingly fast to setup, attach your iPad, switch on and load the app and in seconds you can see the interaction. As I turned up the gain knobs I could instantly see the movement on the faders which are displayed on the iPad. You may not think about it straight away but in order to get the wireless connection, you will need to connect the DL1608 mixer to a wireless router. There is an Ethernet port on the mixer provided for this.
Whilst the iPad is docked it will charge the iPad which in my opinion is essential. The mixer can be secured with a Kensington lock which is a good thing but better still you can also secure your iPad in the dock of the mixer with the hardware provided.

In the box (apart from the DL1608) you will find DL1608 PadLock, a 12V DC Power Supply and a Limited 1-Year Warranty. It will take all three versions of the iPad and the mixer comes with adaptors to accommodate the three different sizes.

MACKIE  DL1608 HARDWARE

The hardware is fairly small and portable and weighs less than 7 lbs. but it is solidly built with quality controls and there are no hardware faders. If you have a look around the back you will see it has 16 inputs powered by Onyx mic preamps which have 60dB of gain and these have high-end Cirrus Logic converters which have a dynamic range of 114dB (that should give you some headroom). Closer inspection shows that these are 12 regular XLR inputs and 4 XLR / quarter inch Combo inputs and they all accept both line and mic signals. There are also stereo XLR master outs, six aux send jack outputs and a headphone out with its own gain control. Strangely enough there are also 16 hardware knobs for manual control but thinking about this as with all stage gear there will no doubt be times when things go wrong. You may lose the wireless connection or there could be something that goes wrong with your iPad for example. At least with these physical controls you have some fall-back, so that makes perfect sense.

MACKIE DL1608 SOFTWARE MIXING

I quite often like the look of Apps as they are clear and easy to follow and the Mackie is no exception. It is well laid out and excellently designed. It doesn’t look or feel in anyway cluttered and allows you to get on with the job in hand. Everything responds quickly, smoothly and easily to the touch, I immediately loved it and thought how much better it was over the hardware equivalent and other computer software mixing applications such as those found on many popular DAWS.

Every channel gives you a Fader, Mute, Pan and Solo. If you touch the EQ curve at the top, it takes you to a Plug-ins page of the App. Every channel has a four-band equaliser with a sliding high pass filter. On my own mixer I have some channels that are linked, but I was unable to find a way to link two channels together. Perhaps a later software upgrade may make this available. What was a nice touch (especially in dark environments) is that on every control you adjust on the iPad as you select it, it glows so that you know exactly what control you are adjusting.

What I didn’t realise here to start with is that you need to flick the pages to get to the other screens and plug-ins. If you flick side to side (swipe horizontally) you can access the fader banks, but as you flick up it takes you firstly to a Channel Gate and Compressor page. Flicking again takes you to a global Reverb and Delay page -it is really easy to navigate.

There is also a 31-Band Graphic Equaliser and a Compressor / Limiter for the main L/R output and all the aux outs. You adjust this band by band, by moving the “sliders” up/down, or simply by pressing on the touch screen and drawing the desired curve. Also, you can then store these as presets for recall or later use.

You can use an iPad or an iPad mini. Using up to 10 of them at once allows multiple engineers to control the mix. Probably the best use of this, is that each band member could control their own monitor mix. Recent updates to the software include some new plugins for channel processing such as the new vintage EQ. You can also use the iPhone as well now and mount the iPhone on a mic stand if you wish.

The other thing I like about this App is that it can store presets that you can load into any channel. Mackie even provide a few presets to get you started. If you want to you can name the channels and have a picture associated with them. Well as it is an iPad, I decided to take some pictures with it, of my own gear. That made sense to me as it clearly showed which bit of my kit I had in each of the channels. No doubt if you are in a band, mixing you could have a picture of each member of the band if you wished.

MACKIE DL1608 EQ

You can look at the EQ screens by simply tapping on the channel’s EQ icon that you can see above the mute buttons. There are four types of icon and the EQ curve illuminates in green when it is engaged and grey when it is disengaged. The other icons represent the EQ curve in relation to whether or not the High-Pass Filter is off or on.

As you go through to the EQ page, you can clearly see that you have four-band EQ which has points that you can easily drag. Apart from the adjustable Q values there are bell or shelf types selectable by simple buttons. At the bottom of the page is the high-pass filter option. The four-band EQ has high shelving, high-mid peaking, low-mid peaking and low shelving. These are used to either boost or cut all frequencies past the specified frequency. Each of the four bands also has adjustable gain and frequency and on bands two and three you also get adjustable Q bandwidth.

I found that you have to be careful not to overdo it here – you don’t want too much EQ. There seems to be quite a bit of boost and cut available and if you go mad with it, you will ruin the mix. Moderation is the key word here. Lastly there is also a Polarity invert button which allows individual channel polarity inversion of 180 degrees. That sounds like something Dr Who would have said but as I understand it if you are working with live signals and you have a few mics and/or the drum kit is mic’d up it is possible to get phase problems. Reversing the polarity here could help you get a better sound.

MACKIE GATE, COMPRESSION, REVERB AND DELAY

You certainly get some quality DSP effects with the Mackie DL1608 and all the processing is carried out using the mixer’s internal DSP which does not put any strain on the iPad’s resources.

I love the Gate facility here that is very easy to use for you to eliminate leakage from mics for example. Mackie sensibly put Compression on the same screen page so at a glance you can see what is going on and adjust to improve the sound and remove problems.

For the Gate you get simple clear slider controls to adjust the Threshold, Range, Attack, Hold and Release. Alternatively on the graph image, you can move the Threshold and Ratio Balls.

The Compressor has a simple on and off switch. Similarly, you can adjust it by using the gain, threshold and ratio balls. There is also a soft or hard knee switch to set the shape of the gain reduction curve.

Scroll down further again and you will find reverb and delay. There are nine reverbs; Plate, Ambience, Small Room, Medium Room, Large Room, Hall, Cathedral, Gated Reverb and Spring. For each of these reverbs you get a set of sliders to adjust Predelay, Damping, Decay, Rolloff and Release as well as a master level fader.

There are five types of delay; Mono, Tape Echo, Stereo, Ping-Pong and Multi-Tap. For the slider controls you get Delay Left, Delay Right (for manually setting the repeat rate), Feedback and Damping.

MACKIE DL1608 TOTAL SNAPSHOT RECALL

They certainly come up with some names for these functions, but Total Snapshot Recall allows you to recall mix functions quickly and easily. Mackie say that you can save and access sound check settings for multiple bands, complex song mixes and previous mixes from challenging venues.

RECORDING AND PLAYBACK ON THE MACKIE DL1608

When you think about this incredible integration of the iPad with something as good as a Mackie mixer it starts to make you realise of all the possibilities now and in the future. Don’t forget how regularly Apps get updated these days with improvements and additional facilities. Anyway looking at today and what an iPad can do, you may be thinking about playing mp3 files, backing tracks, recording to the iPad and integrating music from your other Apps. Well it can do all of these easily.

You can record your excellent mix from the L/R stereo outputs directly to your iPad and if you want to you could upload it and share it with others. Recording does have one problem I noticed – you cannot do it wirelessly because there is insufficient bandwidth. The other excellent idea here is that there is channel specifically assigned to the iPad. What this means is that you can play back you mp3, backing track or Garage Band Track and add it in with your live mix without even using one of the 16 mixer channels – great stuff.

CONCLUSION

Well I loved playing around with this. It has an excellent build and sound, sets up easily and quickly and puts a whole new slant on live mixing as well as being extremely portable and compact. It has an easy learning curve and will not take you long to be familiar with all of the iPad’s software pages. The DSP effects are great and so easy to control with the iPad. If you are very used to using hardware faders, you may find it strange moving to a touch screen but after a while it feels second nature. The inputs are all mono so if you want to add a synth for live performance you would need to split it across two channels. Mackie offer a suggestion for improvements on their forum and the Stereo channel seems to be a popular request.

The iPad wireless control is without doubt its main selling point. Of course a wireless control on a touch screen may not suit everyone and don’t forget a wireless control is only as reliable as the wireless router it is connected to. However, like I have said everything moves on with improvements and enhancements and what is already an extraordinary useful and exciting piece of kit today will evolve tenfold now that the idea is a reality. Already it is being copied and they say that to copy is the sincerest form of flattery.

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