Small mixer recommendations for on-location classical?

Discussion in 'Live Sound' started by hughesmr, Mar 7, 2005.

  1. hughesmr

    hughesmr Guest

    I'm looking for recommendations for a small hi-quality mixer for doing location work, and hoped to tap the vast experience of the group 8) I want something that isn't going to color my source feeds or add noise of any discernable level.

    All I need now is 4 channels, but I can of course live with 8. I already have a really nice Earthworks 2-channel mic pre, so the mixer would need good pre's for additional channels, all with pan capability. Any decent units out there that are very clean and transparent?

    Sorry if this is an overly simplistic request.... I'm just leery of equipment that will muck up the clarity of my source material.


    P.S. Anyone ever use the Benchmark MPS420?
  2. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Fredericksburg, VA

    You've got a couple real good requests here!

    For a small format mixer - I really enjoy the Soundcraft M Series. The preamps are excellent and quite good for classical engineering. They also have a feature known as "Direct Pre" which, takes the direct output and bypasses all circuits beyond the gain (such as eq, pan, atten, sends, etc.) and the unit has outputs on all mic channels. The only thing I really don't like about the board is that 'Line In' isn't marked on the gain knob, so you have to do some figuring out.

    Of course, you will get strong recommendations from some of the other members here regarding the Mackie Onyx boards. I can't say I've ever tried them. I personally don't like the older Mackie pres, but I've heard amazing things about the new versions.

    As for the Benchmark - yes, I've tried it and can absolutely state that it's well worth the $1400. In some situations, I prefer them over Millennias. (Not in all situations though...They are friggin fantastic on piano and strings, but I do prefer the Millennias on brass, percussion and the absolute largest of ensembles.) They don't give much up to many of the other boutique pres out there.

    I ordered another one of these fine boxes recently, but they couldn't manufacture it in time for me (they took a little over a month) so I had to get a different box and wen't with the (pricier, allbeit 8 channel) True Systems Precision 8.

    If I had my choice, it would be the True Systems on almost everything (though my Graces are better on vox).

  3. JoeH

    JoeH Distinguished Member

    Jun 22, 2004
    Philadelphia, PA/ Greenville, DE
    Home Page:
    Yes, you know by now I can't avoid adding my recommendation for the ONYX series from Mackie. :wink:

    The 1220 has four mic pre's. With the firewire card option, it's about $900 or so. (Not cheap; in fact a LOT more than a 1202 VLZ Pro, but that was before the firewire interface.) The 1620 is eight mic pre's, and the 1640 is 16 mic pre's. The price spread between them isn't as wide as you'd think; the 1640 is about $1500 with the FW card option, and I THINK the 1620 is about midway between the two, about $1100-1200 or so.

    The 1640 is a LOT larger than the 1640 VLZ Pro predecessor, so beware if you go that route. Ditto for the 1220 ONYX vs. the original 1202 VLZ Pro. (1202 VLZ is tiny, you can toss it in a briefcase/bag and run with it. The 1202 is a bit bigger. They must've needed more space for the FW card option and better power supply. (They all have talkback sections, too - great for location session work w/talent out in the hall, etc.)

    They all still have the insert patch points for each input, so you can still do the analog outs the traditional way, plus they also have a DB-25 connector in pairs of 8; (the 1640 actually has two DB-25 connectors). This way, you can still run yet another direct out signal to your MDMs, etc. for further backup. Or skip the FW interface altogether.

    The only real complaint about the entire line is where they took the feed to the digital card for the individual channels: immediately after the mic pre's input trim. It is pre eq, pre "everything." I find it perfect for my needs, but others (usually rock/pop people who want to EQ kick drums and stuff) are put off by it. It's kind've a learning curve; there is NO reason you can't get the same (or better results) with digital EQ after the fact, and IMHO, you're better off tracking WITHOUT EQ anyway, but old habits die hard. I suspect the gain structure is the most ideal going this way (Pre-everything) and probably cost them a lot less in the R&D end of things, too. Until they make a mod or an upgrade, that's how it is.

    All three of the ONYX mixers also give you a digitial stereo 2-bus off the main L&R bus as well (still pre-eq). Perfect for backup 2-buses. And, there's a digital return - but it's just 2 channels - from your computer's main mix. I wouldn't recomend these as a cheap alternative to a full blown studio digital board, but for location recording, they're a great tool.

    They're kind've a dual function board and fill a certain niche - like doing live sound for a small duo or band - and enable you to track the results live right into a laptop or MDM. The EQ's are VERY nice (again, for the analog side - these don't feed the digital sends), and the aux buses are laid out well, if you need that too - Feeds to house mixes, video/press feeds, etc.

    The most important thing for me is sound (or lack thereof) of the mic pre's. As good as the VLZ pro mic pre's were, the ONYX has raised the bar even further. You probably will want to hear them to believe them, and my subjective (and admittedly biased) raving about them here wont do you much good, but I can tell you after using it for about four months now they're quite good (arguably as good as any stand-alone mic pre, IMHO). PLENTY of gain, even for ribbons.

    To put it another way: Preamps will become a non-issue for you on remotes. They are NOT colored, and they add nothing but gain to your signal. Which, in my case, is precisely what I want/need.
    For more exotic flavors & sound you WILL want to look into stand alone preamps, but for doing the basics with no excuses or coloration, they're well worth checking out.

    For the number of remotes I do, it's a perfect solution. Everything is there in one package; setup/teardown time is reduced as well.

    Of course, YMMV. Check 'em ALL out before you buy.
  4. hughesmr

    hughesmr Guest

    Thanks for your responses so far. Please keep 'em comin!

    Additional questions:

    1. How good/bad is the Mackie VLZ 1202 Pro against the 1220 ONYX? Is the 1220 a significant step up for this app? (I wouldn't be using the Firewire option).

    2. Any opinions on the Ashly MX508?

    Cheers yet again ---

  5. JoeH

    JoeH Distinguished Member

    Jun 22, 2004
    Philadelphia, PA/ Greenville, DE
    Home Page:
    1. How good/bad is the Mackie VLZ 1202 Pro against the 1220 ONYX? Is the 1220 a significant step up for this app? (I wouldn't be using the Firewire option).

    You know, that's a VERY good question. I've not done an A/B test, with a 1202 and 1220, but I'm guessing the answer is: Not much. The VLZ Pro preamps (same design in all of them) have been quite good for many of us for a lot of years. With the right mics and talent in front of them, many have made fantastic recordings with these mixers. The ONYX pres seem to have even more usable gain, somehow seem even quieter. Noise has become an absolute non-issue anymore.

    Although the 1202 VLZ Pro is still in production, I'm guessing the prices will start to drop now that the ONYX mixers are available and shipping. Just about EVERYONE I know with a new ONXY is looking to sell/unload their 1604 VLZ Pro. Should be a buyers market. I may sell one of mine as well. (I have two).

    If you don't need the firewire option, you may be just fine with the 1202 VLZ Pro, at least for now. If you use the DI's right out of the preamp, you'd have yourself a very nice, clean and reliable 4 ch. mic pre setup for remotes, for about $350 new. (Not sure what they're selling for these days...)

    By all means, give 'em both a listen, if you can!
  6. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    I have a Benchmark 420 and it can hold its own with my Precision 8s. If 4x2 is all you need buy it; they can provide a schematic for add-on panpots, but you are into homebrew at that point.

    If price is not a serious issue, go for a Studer or Cranesong Spider. While the Studer has more control, the Cranesong is truly modern and quiet.

    Sorry, but IMO the VLZ is not in the same league as these mixers.

    OTH use the $$ saved and get great mics, which will make a greater contribution!

  7. ptr

    ptr Active Member

    Nov 3, 2004
    Göteborg, Sweden
    Home Page:
    Does anyone here use a CraneSong Spider, I've never tested one, but on the paper It looks very smart in deed. -- Any insights?

    The Studer's are really built like tanks, I rent one (a 960 model I think, there are no vissible indications on the console and the Studer site is not helpful) for larger jobs, and the manager of the rental firm told me that it once had been dropped from eight feet, all it got was a small den and when they fired it up, it worked like nothing had happened...

  8. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    A colleague has a Cranesong and he is both picky and pleased. I owned 2 Studers, and while I would be more concerned with floor damage in ptr's story, I am doubtful that NOTHING broke. There are light bulbs in the meters, after all.

    Your can tell the 900 series because the faders look normal rather than flat, which is the hallmark of the older series.

  9. ptr

    ptr Active Member

    Nov 3, 2004
    Göteborg, Sweden
    Home Page:
    I belive they sent the consle I was talking about for servicing by the local Studer rep soon after the incident, incase of unseen damages. What I've been told is that Studer guys replaced a few light boulbs, and cleened the faders, the rest was left alone.

    I dont know what You mean with "flat" but its not like the one pictuured on the site below, with the faders in groves

    I think that my rental is an early 1980's model, still weighs like a small airplane tho... :D

    It looks like this one, a 961

  10. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Dec 12, 2001
    Oberlin, OH
    Home Page:
    If money is no object then I would recommend a SonoSax

    They are the Rolls Royce of mixers.
    Their importer is Jerry Brock at Posthorn
    They are the BEST mixer you could buy.

    If you cannot spend the bucks then I would have to agree with JoeH and get yourself a Mackie Onyx. There is a good review and comparison with older Mackies in this month's EQ and Recording magazines. Dollar for dollar and pound for pound you would have to go pretty far to beat the Mackie Onyx . I too like Soundcraft boards and own a series 200 which I use for classical recording.

    I guess it comes down to what you can spend and what you are looking for in a mixer. I have been on classical remotes with people using Studer, Neotek, Yamaha, Sonosax, Soundcraft, and home made passive boards with outboard preamps and they all got good recordings. I just did a piano and voice recording with the Mackie Onyx and was AMAZED at the quality and sound of the pre amps. But if I had to do something else I may take my Fostex board which also has GREAT mic preamps (IMHO). It all depends on what I am doing and the sound I am looking for or not looking for.

    Hope this helps.
  11. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    Tom mentioned the Soundcraft 200 series which is a good compromise between costand quality. The 200B is a classic-- John Eargle used one (likely modified) to do many Delos recordings. They can still be found on eBay and elsewhere.

    I do not recall the model of Soundcraft I had several years ago-- it was modern, lightweight, maybe 8x2, and only about 6 inches thick. When I replaced it with a Studer 200 series it was as though blankets had been removed from around the mics. Later I used the Precision 8 rather than the pres in the board and things got even better.

    The Onyx looks like a very reasonable choice, esp as the Firewire option enable you to go directly into a recording device.

    Your first priority is to establish a budget and timeline if you are willing to get a used item. With enough patience almost everything comes up on eBay-- even baby Neves!

  12. zemlin

    zemlin Distinguished Member

    Sep 4, 2004
    Indianapolis, IN
    Home Page:
    As far as Mackie 1202 is concerned - having A/B'd a 1402 VLZ and a 1402 VLZ Pro with acoustic guitar I'd say go with the VLZ. The Pro version seemed harder on transients.

    It sounds, however, that you're looking for something that's going to have more depth than a Mackie VLZ mixer. Do you really need a mixer, or would a bank of preamps get the job done?
  13. Exsultavit

    Exsultavit Active Member

    Jan 5, 2005
    I once agonized over spending for a Sonosax, Cooper, Studer, Millennia Media, etc. I eventually realized that my live 2trk mix would seldom really be my 'final', and so couldn't justify spending those big bux for a live, on-site mixer.

    For multitrack my computer's mixer (Pyramix) would do a great job and allow all those fixes & edits that are necessary to finishing a project well and (mostly) cannot be done live.



    I ALSO found an inexpensive workaround for live-to-2trk mixes where I'd get no 2nd chance to fix anything. It takes into account the nature of classical recording- that the 'main pair' is the lion's share of the sound and the spots are just for filling in.

    I just take the output of my mixer (in my case a Mackie 1404VLZ pro) and mix it with my main pair (usually DPA 4003 or Neumann M269s run thru a pair of Millennia pres) using a pair of passive mixer "Y cords". You can make this passive 'mini mixer" by soldering a pair of 820 ohm resistors on pins 2 & 3 of the y cord.

    With this plan, the mains never see your mixer at all and are in this way kept totally pristine. Better even than a Studer, etc in that the mics see NOTHING but a pair of resistors. Your mixer handles only the spots and the mains see only a pair of resistors.

    There is a drop of 6db using this method. In the world of physics, nothing is free.

    Of course, if you want your SPOTS to also be totally pristine, then a Sonosax or whatever is in order. Or the (digital) mixer in your PMX, Sequoia, Sadie, etc.

    For me, this y cord thing has been a real pleasure. It's especially interesting to get a mix, then raise/ lower all the spots instantly by adjusting the main output of the mixer, muting everything but the main pair if I want.

    more thoughts?

  14. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Moderator

    Feb 23, 2005
    If you are looking to onsite live recording, you might look at an
    Allen & Heath GL2. Not the MixWizards, this mixer was designed before Harmon took them over (and subsequently dropped them).
    I have 2 actually, and we can harness them together with a special cable they offered.
    When I do live jazz/theater gigs, I use them with True Systems P2 and FMR mic pre's, as well as the onboard pre's for the the "less critical" inputs.This mixer will drive circles around any of the other small-format mixers on the market today:it has 6 (SIX!) output drivers on XLR sockets that will push 28dBm! Plus 6 more on 1/4"
    sockets, a switchable matrix to assign bus/aux routing, 10 very good mic channels with sweet 6-knob EQ, a pair of stereo channels with decent 4-band EQ, and 100mm faders. I bought mine new from a sound company here that went under. I have seen them going for $500+. They are SO CLEAN !! Headroom is the key for that kind of use, and that 28dBm will knock a mackie's ---- in the dirt!
  15. hughesmr

    hughesmr Guest

    Many thanks for the valuable and varied responses! With my budget and logistics in mind, I think I might be going with an Ashly MX508, but am still waffling. Anyone want to try to convince me to stay away from Ashly? :wink:

  16. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Dec 12, 2001
    Oberlin, OH
    Home Page:
    I guess if I were in your shoes I would ask for a demo of the unit. Then I would use it on a gig and see how it sounds. If you like the sound then I would buy it if not I would look around some more until you find something, that to your ears, sounds good. I don't buy equipment any more on specs or reviews. I have been burned too many times. I want to audition the equipment in my own studio or on a remote before I commit to purchasing it for real. Hope this helps....
  17. Plush

    Plush Guest

    I'll convince you!


    Come on now! You are kidding us, right??

    YOu've received some good suggestions and basically this topic comes up with everyone who is starting to want to refine their location set-up when recording acoustic groups (large or small)

    There is a hierarchy to the recording chain that must be noted and
    observed. In order of importance (and effect on your sound) the hierarchy is:

    Source--both music and microphones
    Pre-amp--to amplify and PRESERVE your source
    What Format to store the recorded sound
    Console--to control balance

    Unless you can safely say that your source and musicianship are very good, then console choice is of little matter.

    I'm assuming you don't want to spend a lot for that muffler!!!

    In "budget" consoles we have had good luck with :

    Soundcraft 200B
    Audio Developments "pico" series
    Original Mackie 1202 --warmer preamps than later models
    Studer 089--when purchased used they are cheap--we paid $800
    sound is incredible--among the best ever

    When considering the high priced spread. . .
    We've liked:

    Neve 5442-meat and potatos (40dB of headroom on fader--OMG)
    Yamahoe DM1000--flexible with excellent converters
    Neotek Series II--only the ones made on Belmont Ave. in Chicago
    Cooper--any of his consoles are outstanding--San Simeon sound!
    Any Studer 169 or 961 is a joy---need strong back

    As a company Sonosax is unstable and, anyway, the Swiss rip you off.

    Start cheap and work your way up as you refine your technique.
    Your ears will "educate" themselves and ask for more detail--you'll know when it's time to move up.

    Observe the hierarchy!
  18. recordista

    recordista Active Member

    Sep 7, 2001
    Silver City, NM
    Home Page:
    I bought an Onyx 1620 as soon as they were available. Cost me $660 (sans FireWire) and IMO it was definitely worth it. Preamps are better than the previous Mackies but the RNP blows them away (in clarity at moderate gains--haven't really compared noise.) The EQ is in a completely different league than the previous Mackies (and it has a bypass switch.) Oh, and one more reason to get the 1620 over the 1220 is that it has two sweepable mids (versus one on the 1220.) Same 60mm faders, same (or nearly so) mixbus headroom issues. Better metering, builtin talkback, per-channel P48 switching, like the direct outs. All in all, well worth what I spent on it.

    If you're flush with cash, how about a Cooper?

Share This Page