Hands-On Review:Mackie 402-/802-VLZ3 Compact Mixers


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Bringing home the beacon—ultracompact mixers from Mackie that shine!

By Darius Van Rhuehl
Musician’s Friend Staff Writer

 

 

When I started my first studio I had a Mackie 32-8 mixer (which I  still regret giving up to go virtual) and I've used the 1640 Onyx mixer  to record a live comedy show for an NBC affiliate TV station. I tell you  this for one reason only: I know what Mackie mixers are capable of in  terms of sound quality. Now, the new VLZ3 series mixers promise the same sound quality as Mackie's big boys in a super-compact footprint. Let's see.

 

Synchronicity I

 

Abandoning my normal role as Kermit the hermit, I decided to throw  down and play guitar and keyboards with a band that was assembled for  our upcoming office-wide Musician's Friend Jam Night (Long John Chris  McCrellis and the Hack All-Stars Karaoke Band and Traveling Dry  Cleaners). I have two synths with stereo outs and a guitar effects unit  with a mono/stereo out. I needed a minimum of three inputs (6 maximum)  and setup/teardown had to be quick since eight other bands would be  playing. Also, I had no idea what the backline amps would look like. I  figured that a mini-mixer would do the trick, but I didn't want to buy  one for one night only; and more to the point, I'm a battery-sniffing  tone-snob who doesn't want the equivalent of a sonic speed bump  in-between my instruments and amps.

 

As the above subtitle suggests, it just so happened that I was tapped to do a hands-on review of the Mackie 402- and 802-VLZ3.  Call it providence or synchronicity, the mixers showed up on Tuesday,  the week of the jam, giving me the opportunity to see if they could back  up the promise of high-end sound quality with a footprint smaller than a  Chinese empress.

 

Tuesday afternoon

 

At rehearsal later that night (Tuesday), I decided to go with the 402-VLZ3.  I went mono out of the guitar effects pedals into channel one, using  the hi-Z button and 1/4" line in; synth 1 into channel 2's 1/4" line in,  and synth 2 into channel 3-4. To give you a mental image, synth 1 is a  61-note keyboard and synth 2 is a 1U rack module that sits on top of  synth 1. Placing the 402-VLZ3 comfortably on synth 2, the first thing I appreciated was having volume  and EQ controls at my fingertips. EQ is two-band high- and  low-shelving, which gave me the option of adding a little air or  removing some low-end rumble. Prior to having the 402, I'd been  struggling with the sound of the amps and balancing levels. I felt as  though I was running back and forth spinning sonic plates on sticks. I  can't tell you what a relief it was to have the 402. Everything was  under control and I heard a clean, professional sound. The only issue I  had was a bit of disappointment with this "Artist" modeling pedal I had  bought recently—I couldn't get it to sound right. I figured that maybe  mono summing was the problem, so I set the pedal for stereo output  (moved the synths to channel 3-4) and connected it to channels 1 and 2  of the 402, which both have a switchable Hi-Z 1/4" input and can be  combined into a stereo pair at the press of a button, which hardpans  them left and right—perfect! (I'm constantly amazed at how Mackie seems  to think of every possible scenario in advance.) I then went stereo  line-out into my trusty Summit preamp and sure enough, there was the  pedal's stellar sound as promised. Thanks to the ultracompact 402-VLZ3, I  was ready for Freddy.

 

Wednesday morning 3 A.M.

 

Couldn't sleep, so I decided to run through the show and test the 802-VLZ3.  Somehow, Mackie has managed to shrink a large-format console down to  munchkin-size and retain the sound quality and functionality. With three  XLR ins, three pairs of stereo inputs, and slightly larger size, it  still fit comfortably on top of my synths. That's when I started  wavering about bringing the 402. I liked the greater amount of control  the 802 offered—and I didn't know what I'd be facing at the jam. My  jam-night setup would be guitar effects into channels 1 and 2; synth 1  into channel 3, which can either be mono XLR or stereo TRS; and synth 2  stereo into line-in 5-6 (didn't need 7-8). Did I mention that the sound  of the Mackie preamps was so good, I kept thinking that I was hearing  the Summit pres? (Line-in bypasses the Summit's preamp section.) For  those who don't know, Summit makes high-end studio gear. Anyway, it was a  done deal—I'd be taking the 802 to the gig. If I had just the guitar  and one stereo synth, the 402-VLZ3 would have easily done the trick.  Keep in mind that there's absolutely no difference in sound quality  between the two. Getting back to the "Mackie thinks of everything"  department, the external power supply has a locking connector so you  never have to worry about accidental disconnection during a performance.  How clever is that?!

 

Mackie 802-VLZ3 Compact Mixer top and rear.
Mackie 802-VLZ3 Compact Mixer top and rear.

Friday on my mind

 

It's Thursday—night before the gig—our dress rehearsal. I brought the 802-VLZ3 with me. Setup went faster and the first thing everybody noticed was  how good the Artist pedal and the rest of my setup sounded. Having the  Mackie's three-band EQ made it easy for me to blend my instruments and  balance levels with the other players. Best of all, I could bring all of  my instruments up or down at once with the main volume knob. Finally, I  could actually play music instead of controls.

 

Synchronicity II

 

It's Friday night, our turn to play, and setup was a nightmare—I had  no amps to plug into. Meanwhile, the FOH engineer comes to help out. I  pointed him to the two TRS main outs of the Mackie (there's also XLR and  RCA) and I was plugged into the main board and ready to go. Had the  Mackie not shown up when it did, there would have been no gig for my  band—or at least plenty of pandemonium trying to get me set up. How did  the set go? Suffice to say, everything came together and we "punted  posterior and accepted billing information"—all thanks to the Mackie 802-VLZ3.

 

Kismet

 

I LOVE THESE MIXERS! Sorry, didn't mean to shout, but I really do.  Trying to find a small-format mixer that sounds like the big boys has  been near-impossible till now. The new Mackie VLZ3 series changes all that. I'd use these anytime, anywhere, and in any  professional setting without reservation. In short—great sounding,  super-functional for its size, and a gig/life-saver. If you have a small  computer-based recording setup, either of these mixers will do, but I'd  recommend the 802-VLZ3 hands-down for the small home studio. It gives you aux sends for  external processing, outputs to feed control room monitors, dedicated  tape in/out, and above all, fantastic sound. It also comes with Mackie's  Tracktion 3 Project Bundle music production software. (The 402-VLZ3 ships with the Tracktion 3 Basic Bundle). By the way, it seems we have  another Musician's Friend Jam coming up in three months. This time, I'm  buying the 802-VLZ3.

 

Features & Specs


402-VLZ3

  • 2 XDR2 microphone preamps
  • 4 line inputs (2 hi-Z switchable)
  • 2-band EQ (80Hz, 12kHz)
  • Stereo main mix bus
  • Channel 1-2 stereo pan switch
  • RCA I/O
  • Phantom power
  • Sealed rotary level controls
  • Stereo 8-segment LED meters
  • Dedicated phones volume knob
  • Mic stand mount option
  • Includes Tracktion 3 Basic Bundle music production software

802-VLZ3

  • 3 XDR2 microphone preamps
  • 8 line inputs (2 hi-Z switchable)
  • 3-band EQ (80Hz, 2.5kHz, 12kHz)
  • Stereo main mix bus and Alt 3-4 bus
  • 1 auxiliary send
  • 1 stereo return plus RCA I/O
  • Phantom power
  • Sealed rotary level controls
  • Stereo 12-segment LED meters
  • Control room source matrix
  • Mic stand mount option
  • Includes Tracktion 3 Project Bundle music production software