Hands-On Review:The new standard for high-quality, compact mixers

by Zoyd Wheeler

Like all of Mackie Designs' mixers, the CR1604-VLZ is designed for rugged 24-hours-a-day use. It's a supremely flexible mixer, not just because of its multiple input/output configurations, but because of its true 4-bus architecture, 6 aux sends, and extensive routing capabilities. 16 high-headroom, low-noise mic preamps make vocals come through loud and clear, and a low-cut filter on each channel keeps unwanted low frequencies from being reproduced.

Completely Configurable To Fit Any Situation: No matter what the application, the CR1604-VLZ can be configured for optimal use. As a tabletop mixer, input/output jacks can be positioned at the rear of the unit. Placed in a rack system, the CR1604-VLZ can be set so that jacks are facing front or facing the rear, keeping wandering hands from playing with cords. Whether used in a permanent installation, or as a portable mixer, the CR1604-VLZ is completely at home.

Built like a Tank for Hard Core Use: The CR1604-VLZ is a team player that can stand up to vigorous use, day in and day out, any place it is installed. Its sturdy-yet-lightweight steel monocoque construction houses rugged, double-sided through-hole-plated fiberglass circuit boards, and 60mm faders with ultra-tight lip seals for keeping out dust and other contaminants.

Impact resistant knobs are mounted so they "ride" just above the steel chassis, where they absorb impact without trouble. The knobs themselves are made with co-molded potentiometers that don't get brittle and crack up. Mackie also uses metal standoffs at regular intervals to mount thick fiberglass circuit boards inside the CR1604-VLZ.

Mackie uses metal jacks, instead of plastic, and shunting capacitors, which virtually eliminates radio frequency interference from TV/Radio stations and cellular phones.

The CR1604-VLZ's built-in power supply is beefy enough to handle major power consumption without breaking up. And there's no bulky "wall wart" to be kicked out of place or to cover up extra outlets.

Mackie designed the CR1604-VLZ by considering two main questions: First, what made the original CR1604 so popular and critically acclaimed. And second, what additional features or improvements would make the CR1604-VLZ the new standard in high-quality mixers.

Sixteen high-headroom, low-noise mic preamps (with -129.5dBm E.I.N., 0.005% THD, and 60dB max. gain), mean plenty of mic inputs for virtually any use. Plus, each channel has its own switchable low cut filter (18dB/octave @ 75Hz), so mic thumps, room rumbles and stage mishaps are left out of the mix without diminishing the audible bass frequency range.

Four Buses Make the CR1604-VLZ a Routing Giant: Channels can be assigned to buses 1-2, 3-4, and/or Main Mix, and the four subs can be assigned to left and/or right main mix. A Control Room/Phones source matrix lets you route any combination of tape, subs 1-2, 3-4, main mix or Aux 4 to headphones, control room outputs, and meters. This enables you to monitor 2-track tape output or route a click/cue track to phones, create special phones or broadcast mixes via the subs, or create an extra stereo mix (with its own gain control) for another zone.

For that matter, the CR1604-VLZ's mono main out has its own level control, so a mono mix can be sent to another zone and adjusted accordingly.

The CR1604-VLZ has six aux sends, in a four knob per channel strip scheme. Aux sends 1 and 2 are switchable pre- or post-fader, and the next two knobs can be switched between aux sends 3 and 4 or 5 and 6 (all four are post-fader).

Solo has its own volume control and is switchable from AFL (in-place) to PFL. Level setting is easy in PFL, especially when used in conjunction with the mixer's level set LED and marker (near the 12-segment stereo LED ladder). You can check a channel's stereo placement by switching to AFL; the CR1604-VLZ's constant-power pan pots maintain a consistent loudness across the stereo horizon.

Log taper 60mm faders deliver constant fade throughout the fader's throw, so choppy fade-ins and fade-outs are history. These faders have a co-polymer membrane that provides a continuously sealed barrier against dust and liquids without interfering with fader travel. Similarly, the fader's long-wearing contact material means longer fader life and improved resistance to the elements.

VLZ, Headroom and more: VLZ means very low impedance, and that's not just a catchy phrase, it's a fact. Mackie designed the CR1604-VLZ so that noise is minimized and dynamics are maximized. The noise created by many channels running simultaneously can really add up. Mackie decreases this "thermal" noise by making internal impedances as low as practical, in as many places as possible inside the mixer. Our robust power supply delivers the high current levels necessary to implement VLZ, resulting in astonishingly low noise levels and minimal crosstalk.

Likewise, Mackie's internal UnityPlus circuit design allows for maximum headroom. The CR1604-VLZ can handle multiple, intense signals without distortion because of its negative gain mix amplifier architecture. What's it mean? Channels are mixed together at -6dB, then restored to unity. This gives the mixer the ability to sum 4 times the number of signals before clipping. That's about double the amount of mix amp headroom available with many other compact mixers.

What Are You Waiting For? If you have a MIDI suite or a studio with lots of sound sources, or if you plan to expand, the CR1604-VLZ will suit you just fine. Besides giving you plenty of channels up front, it provides plenty of AUX sends/returns and hip features that give you mucho more flexibility. And as you probably know, Musician's Friend can deliver at the best price you'll find anywhere.

You'll appreciate the CR1604-VLZ's amazing sound and unquestionable reliability, and you'll appreciate Musician's Friend's affordable price.

CR1604-VLZ Features

  • 16 low-noise / high headroom XLR mic inputs
  • 16 balanced / unbalanced mono line inputs
  • True 4-bus design
  • Inserts on all channels
  • Direct outs on channels 1-8
  • 3-band EQ with sweepable mids
  • Low cut filter on all channels
  • PFL/AFL (solo-in-place) on every channel
  • Very Low Impedance (VLZ) architecture
  • Control room / phones source matrix
  • 6 aux sends, 2 with master level controls
  • Wide input gain range with "virtual pad"
  • Mono main output with level control
  • Balanced inputs and outputs (except RCAs, phones and inserts)
  • Made in U.S.A. and includes a 3-year warranty