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In-depth Feature:  1202 VLZ3
Mackie 1202 VLZ3 Compact Mixer
Does Mackies latest compact range raise the bar?
Nick B writes: .

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Compact and Bijou
I was an early adopter of Mackie stuff, starting with a 1202 way back last century, which foolishly I sold when I entered the digital realm. It was rugged, and it sounded great - due to it's (then) new-fangled mackie pre-amps, balanced connectors, and quiet, high-headroom circuitry Mackie pioneered with the original CR-1604 project mixer.

So a decade or more on, and several product iterations later, how is their compact mixer range faring?

1202 VLZ
The first thing I noticed was just how heavy this little mixer is, compared to my Behringer Xenyx 1204 it weighs a ton. Unsurprising when you look at it's solid construction and hefty - switchable (manually between 100, 120 and 240v - so watch out!) - power supply. A nice new touch is the handle under the scribble strip for easy carrier, carriability, carriableness - er, portability.

Mackie make much of their new XDR2 preamps - their aim was to achieve the quality of boutique mic pres costing a great deal more than this desk ulltimately does. These preamps feature in the first four mic/line channels and give up to 45dB of gain. You also get four stereo channels (with no gain control), two stereo aux returns (with level control) and a tape input on phonos. Aux return 2 can be routed to Aux send 1 to allow you to mix effects into the monitor signal if you need.

All 12 channels have 2 Aux sends (Aux 1 switchable pre/post globally) and a 3-band EQ (80Hz low shelf, 2.5kHz fixed mid, 12kHz hi shelf). Additionally, the mic channels feature a 75Hz hi-pass filter to get rid of the rumble. In classic Mackie style, the channel mute removes the signal from the stereo master bus and puts it in the Alt 3+4 bus - which has dedicated outputs and can be monitored if desired.

So, nothing unpleasant to report, apart from the lack of any LED indicator for signal present, or to show whether the channel is muted. I used the 1202 for recording Sonic TALK #49 (you can hear the results here) and found that I did miss this - a quick glance at the desk in the heat of the moment and you wont find it easy to see what's muted or live.

Due to the compact size of this desk, there are no faders, everything being controlled by knobs - none of which have centre-dent at unity gain (the optimal gain setting) apart from the Submix. This is a Good Thing mainly, as any fade-outs will not suffer "bump" as you go past the dent.

The only peculiarity I found was the doubling up of the Control Room / Submix Level on a single knob - meaning that if you were using the Alt 3+4 bus you wouldn't have independent control over the monitoring level and the bus out. I guess this is in part due to lack of panel space, but might be irksome for some, so worth a mention.

So how did it sound? Well as I said, the mixer previously occupying my Sonic desk was the Behringer Xenyx 1202, which was was fine for my needs. However, when plugging the 1202 VLZ3 in it's place - essentially a straight swap - it was clear that the Mackie has superior sonic qualities. My mic signal became larger, more defined and yes, "phatter" too. The noise level also decreased and the sound sort felt more well - confident. I was pleased - these XDR2 preamps are pretty good. The EQ was okay too, gone are the days when Mackie EQ was to be avoided at all costs, the original 8-bus had a horrid sound when boosting and suffered from unpleasant phasey side-affects - at least mine did.

All-in-all, I'm pleased to report a thumbs-up from me. The solid construction and confident, clean sound are clearly audible, and a prime feature in a desk of this siz and price. You do now pay a premium for Mackie stuff, but it's not as if their stuff is expensive in the first place - it's only that there are others who can make a mixer for less by putting lower grade components in. If you are using mics at all, you should notice quite a difference with one of these desks. The rugged construction is also likely to give this model a longer overall life, so you get what you pay for.

Pricing 1202 VLZ3 $389.99 US/ £239

More Resources              Articles - full listing
  • Mackie Product Page
  • 1202 VLZ3 @ Zzounds ($299!)

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