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Need a decent compact stereo mixer. Any suggestions?

Discussion in 'Pro Audio Equipment' started by John3, May 28, 2008.

  1. John3

    John3 Guest

    Hi there,

    Last two weeks I have been surfing the net in search of a compact stereo mixer for recording (mainly classical music). But I can't seem to find what I need.

    I am looking for a compact desktop model like a Mackie 1202-VLZ3, but since I already have some good mic pres I actually don't need a mixer with built-in preamps. So a stereo line mixer would do.

    I need:

    - at least 4 stereo inputs (jack);
    - at least 2 stereo sends/returns (jack);
    - balanced main outputs (XLR and jack);
    - at least 1 stereo input + output (RCA); and
    - at least 1 phones output.

    Faders on all channels and some inserts would be great. While EQ's can be missed.
    I would like to spend about the price of the Mackie.

    I am looking forward to hearing your suggestions. Thanks in advance!
  2. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    I don't know that there are any good suggestions.

    First, which kinds of pres do you already have? If you're feeding Grace, Gordon, etc through a Mackie, you're going to be pretty miserable.

    I've got a Ramsa line level mixer (well...it does mic level as well, but its lines are separate) and it does acceptably well, but I'd hesitate to use it on more serious projects.

    You might want to consider just a simple summing mixer with some kind of bus assignment - companies such as API, Dangerous, Manley, and others make such products. They're far pricier than the Mackies though.

    Do you really need the sends/returns? What would you be using those for while recording classical music?
  3. John3

    John3 Guest

    Thanks for your reply, Cucco.

    Untill now I have been mostly using portable equipment for recording small house concerts for a local radio station. We have a weekly show with live music. Recordings were done using only two mics. Recently I have been expanding my gear with microphones and and another portable stereo mic preamp (now have an Aerco MP-2 and two preamps by Doug Oade).
    Now that I have the possibility of using more mics I will be needing a mixer. And I mentioned the Mackie for model size and type.

    I checked the mixers Ramsa are selling these days, but I am afraid they are not compact at all. And I am willing to pay more if necessary, but these machines are in a total different price range. Same counts for API, Dangerous & Manley.

    As for the sends/returns: Most of these locations are quite dry so adding a touch of reverb is very welcome. And besides classical music I will be using the mixer for popular music also.

    Any other suggestions that do fit my budget are highly appreciated.
  4. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Sadly, I don't think there are many options.

    The Ramsas that I was referring to are the older ones which are dirt cheap on the used market (albeit, mainly in the US market, but can be found elsewhere for little $ as well.)

    IMHO, you may be better served by getting something like an API 3124+ or a Benchmark (420 I think) with the built-in mix bus.

    Otherwise, something like a Mackie Onyx 1220 would work well also (though both of the above options would negate the need for your existing preamps).

    Soundcraft makes a series of small-fortmat mixers that have a great deal of line inputs that are dedicated (don't feed preamps) - this may be a viable option as well.

    Regarding the reverb - do you go straight to broadcast with this, or could you add reverb in post? It seems to me that adding reverb to a live print could be dangerous at best.

  5. John3

    John3 Guest

    Thanks again. I understand that my wants are not that common?

    I thought (maybe naïve) that if I would not need a mixer with mic pres I would be able to get a higher quality mixer for the same price. But anyway, I am going to check out the machines you suggested. I will get back on that.

    The weekly show is a straight to broadcast, no post adding possible. I am interested in your objections to putting some reverb in the mix. We have not done this live as yet, so we have not entered the danger zone yet. ;-) But we thought many registrations would have benefitted and will benefit from it.


  6. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Hey John -

    You're truly right in your thinking. A mixer without mic pres would be great and should be less expensive. However, very few exist. There are line-level mixers made by companies like Shure, Rolls, Rane, and others but they are more geared for ENG than live recording (not to say that they couldn't be used.)

    My favorite line mixer to date is the Speck LiLo, but at nearly $10K, that's probably a tad outside your range... ;-)

    In any case, the reverb thing shouldn't be too much of a problem so long as you're careful. A quality reverb box is crucial - lesser units need not apply. Also, less is more when it comes to applying reverb.

    My advice would be to take a hundred or so recordings of the ensembles done in that hall and put the raw tracks through your reverb processor and fiddle with the settings until you get a sound that is acceptable on all of the sources. Then, for each ensemble, adjust the wet/dry mix to taste (again, less is more....)

  7. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Building your own line level, summing mixer, is not really that huge an ordeal. Getting yourself a small cage of API 325 and/or 312 cards is all you need. If you have good preamps that can drive a 600 ohm load, you could use 600 ohm, stereo, audio taper faders that would provide you with a passive balanced input. Those would in turn feed summing resistors, in a balanced manner to the differential input summing amplifier, etc..

    You can also go the route of Op-Amp Labs of Santa Monica, California. Still in existence today. I love their stuff. Much like pro audio Heath Kit and totally affordable with a memorable quality sound like API/Neve, etc..

    I built just that in the early 1980s for NBC radio, Washington DC., out of a box full of API cards. And a Op-Amp Labs console in 1978 for Hallmark Films & Recordings, Baltimore. Sounds great. Works great. Still to this day. Of course you guys are slightly below sea level so I would suggest waterproofing?

    Ms. Remy Ann David
  8. John3

    John3 Guest

    I am afraid that (even above sealevel) I would be drowning myself if I took such a DIY-project on. :wink:

    But thanks for your reply, Remy Ann.
  9. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    I'm confused, perhaps I've missed something.....You already HAVE four sets of stereo line inputs in any given version of the Mackies, be it the original VLZs, to the Onyx to the VLZ3 series. (channels 9/10, 11/12, 13/14 and 15/16).

    These are not the same as the padded "line"/mic pre's that reside on the channel inputs, these are dedicated L/R line inputs, and at least on the ONYX series, the EQ's are defeatable. You can use them as "locked" stereo inputs, or you can use just the left input and use the pan pot for positioning a signal in a stereo mix.

    When my higher end stuff (RME Fireface, etc.) is tied up on other gigs, I often use the eight line inputs of my ONYX; they have a unity gain setting that makes them all but transparent with the EQ switched out. I've used my Grace m802's into them with gorgeous results, going out of the mains to an ISDN/DSL broadcast line, or using the RCA outs to a CD recorder, or via the firewire interface multitracking at 24/96. Not a bit of problem at all with them.

    There's also aux sends, balanced outs and everything else available that you've listed initially, and the quality will more than exceed any live broadcast (I'm assuming standard FM radio which gets converted to high level MP3's via the ISDN, and/or before it's sent out to digital transmitter equipment.).

    You need EXACTLY what the Mackie's offer, and you say you want to spend what the Mackie's cost. The VL3 is supposedly the best version yet. (I'm sticking with the ONYX because of the FW interface, but I like what I've seen with the VL3 series...)

    What, exactly, am I missing here??
  10. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    First, which kinds of pres do you already have? If you're feeding Grace, Gordon, etc through a Mackie, you're going to be pretty miserable

    Not true at all. I do it all the time, (into Channels 9-16, that is). There's no discernable difference or loss of qaulity if the gains/trims are set properly, and the levels aren't clipped, etc.

    The signal passed through the Mackie's LINE inputs are virtually indistinguishable from the original. I'd use the channel line inputs ONLY in a pinch....they're really just padded-down mic pre's. (which aren't all that bad anyway, but you don't want to double-route mic pre's into mic pre's if you don't have to...)

    Remember, this was asked for use in broadcasting, NOT audiophile work.
  11. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    It's not the line inputs that I'd be worried about. If you were going straight into a computer or taking the direct outs to a multi-track recorder, then I'd say "go for it."

    It's the summing bus. As much as I LOVE Mackie mixers (regardless of MS/VLZ/Onyx), their summing bus has never really been fantastic.

    Since he's going straight to 2-track, this is going to be a bottle-neck.

    Otherwise, I'm with you all the way.

  12. John3

    John3 Guest

    Thanks for your reply, JoeH. It' only that I would have preferred buying a mixer with only stereo line inputs, instead of paying for mono mic/line channels that I am not going to use. But hey, I'm a (stingy) Dutchman after all. :wink:

    Untill now I have only found stereo line mixers that do fit my budget but not my needs and vice versa. So I guess it is going to be a Mackie anyway. I might even buy an Onyx since they go pretty cheap because of the Euro / US Dollar exchange rate. But I am just not sure yet. I am going to decide this week.
  13. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    well John3, maybe you can look at it this way: You're getting some decent mic pre's for FREE when you buy any of the VLZ or Onyx mixeres with the four stereo line ins. ;-) Even if you use your "Good" mic pre's, it's still nice to have the extra onboard mic pre's in a pinch when you need something extra beyond the eight you'd have in a Grace or Millenium, etc. package.

    FWIW, I just got a VLZ3 micro mixer, (the 402-VLZ3) which is going to go into my living room audio system. It's mainly for running a CD player into my Focal 8's, and some other aux inputs, including a turntable, cue send from the studio room, etc. I doubt I'll hear any difference from the over-sized VLZ Pro 1402 I had in there 'till now as a stop-gap. This thing is TINY and fits on the shelf perfectly. It's got two mic pre's in it as well; although I didnt' even buy it for those.

    I understand you're situation with only needing line inputs, but I would get a little nervous when buying a gig-based mixer that has no mic pre's. I mean, there's ALWAYS going to be a time when you need one more mic, one more input. (When you need to turn it up to 11, that is! ;-)

    Hope you find what you want, regardless. :cool:
  14. achille

    achille Active Member

    I have a StudioProjects 828, 8 chanel mic pre (Burr Brown IC's) & line mixer,Housed in a 1U 19 in. rack , it's not expensive, verry helpful, sound good, the pre are transparent. The projectors are not on this preamp but take a look.
  15. John3

    John3 Guest

    A couple of weeks ago I bought the Onyx 1220 and I am very happy with it. It has all the features and quality I need. And the 'free' onboard mic pre's are good enough to leave my externals at home in some cases. So thanks to all for the input.
  16. DonnyWright

    DonnyWright Guest

    There's a really great little mixer that does everything you want and more except its not table top and doesn't have faders, but hey...you can't always get everything. Look for an Ashley MX-502. New they are spendy say $1200 but used, you can find them for $400. They are flat packed with features and the sound is top notch. Sweepable mid EQ, two Auxes with send masters, two returns, all in three rack spaces. Serously consider this mixer. It will handle a lot of work.

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