A small, convenient, quality mobile PA is a near necessity for the gigging musician and/or average live sound professional. After all, how often are you presented with a gig — an intimate event, indoors or out — where you don’t want to load/unload/load/unload a weighty, unwieldy, full PA, yet still need multiple mic/line preamps, a stereo line input, EQ and suitable digital effects for vocals, largely acoustic instrumentation and between-set background music?
For these types of gigs, the Alto MIXPACK Express portable PA system ($499 street) is an ideal solution. This incredibly mobile kit features nearly everything you need for a simple, low-key gig: sufficient I/O and effects, all necessary cabling and a couple of microphones and XLR cables to boot.
The three-piece MIXPACK Express has a lot in common with a Hasbro Transformer … except that this PA is no toy. In easily transportable “vehicle” mode, a pre-transformed MIXPACK Express is a long, sleek black ellipse with two casters and three handles. It is comprised of an amplified mixer with effects and two passive live monitors with a 10-inch woofer and a one-inch concentrically mounted neodymium tweeter behind a sturdy metal grille.
Each speaker is carefully protected by facing into the MIXPACK Express amped mixer. On front of the mixer, one speaker protects the knobs, buttons and I/O; the power switch, AC input, cooling fan and a bungee cord covering storage space is similarly protected on back on the mixer. Two lengthy speaker cables, an AC cord and two Alto AM6 dynamic cardioid microphones with on/off switch are provided in the storage compartment — a nice touch. Mounted on either end of the mixer, two heavy-duty black metal hinges snugly secure the speakers for transport.
As a “vehicle,” the MIXPACK Express is as easy to navigate as average, fully packed pullman-style luggage. With its in-line skate-style dual casters on the bottom of one monitor and a well-placed handle on the other, the OEX-400 is ready to roll. Its physical dimensions are 39- x 17- x 18-inches; total weight is about 40 pounds.
The MIXPACK Express offers 350 watts RMS of output power. Its mixer section features seven channels: seven line inputs and four low-noise microphone preamplifiers; three Neutrik XLR/quarter-inch combination jacks and one standard XLR are utilized. Channels 4/5 and 6/7 include stereo TRS line in and stereo RCA line in and out, respectively. Other TRS input/output includes an effects send, effects return, headphone jack and footswitch (not included in the package).
Each channel offers two-band high- and low-shelving EQ, a level pot and a DSP effects pot. At top and center of the mixer, a rotary knob offers adjustment of a 24-bit digital effects unit with 16 presets; its on/off switch can be used with the aforementioned footswitch jack and a ��DSP RET” knob adjusts effects return level. Finally, a seven-band graphic EQ can be used to sculpt the two-mix for the aforementioned headphone and RCA stereo outputs, as well as for a monitor TRS output (with pot and four LED signal level display) and dual mono main speaker TRS outputs (also with pot and four LED signal level display).
Club and small venue audio, mobile DJ, houses-of-worship (audio for small groups)
very portable; small size; 350 watts RMS amplifier; four microphone amps and seven channels; 16 digital effects; seven-band graphic EQ; two-band high- and low-shelving EQ; two monitors featuring 10-inch woofers and concentrically mounted one-inch tweeters
Alto Professional | www.altoprofessional.comUsing the MIXPACK Express was a pleasure, and quite surprising in more than a few instances. My first experience with it was at an outdoor event, a gig with an acoustic trio by a lakeside pool; sound sources included acoustic/electric guitar, acoustic/electric bass, a jazz-sized Gretsch drum kit and two vocal microphones. Only guitars were run direct into the Alto; for this gig, no drum mics were necessary.
Despite receiving a few initial odd glances by the musicians — obviously skeptical of its small size and unique look — MIXPACK Express was a hit. From the back of a midsize SUV holding all the equipment necessary for the gig, the PA was easily transported down several flights of stairs and to its appropriate spot by one person … also carrying a guitar case in his other hand. Set up was easy; the speakers were snapped from the mixer/amp, put on speaker stands (not included in the package) and then, after pulling and connecting a few cables and the two AM6 mics, we were quickly ready to dial in the sounds. [According to Alto, standard microphone stands can also be used to mount the speakers, and — with the OEX400ADAPT component for $15 — the mixer can be stand-mounted, too. — Ed.]
A quick spin through the unit’s available 16 effects brought us to an acceptable reverb + delay for vocals and acoustic guitar. In this instance, no channel EQ adjustment was necessary, but the graphic EQ came in quite handy and was surprisingly musical. While the AM6 microphones performed well, we opted to switch them out for a pricier pair: Samson Q8 super cardioid dynamics (which, interestingly enough, together cost nearly as much as the entire OEX-400 kit). The AM6 pair was, in comparison with the Q8, a little harsh/sizzly on the top end, yet far from unusable. If we hadn’t had the Samson mics available, I doubt anyone would’ve been unhappy with the essentially free Alto mics included with the kit.
Most surprising was the performance and sound quality of the OEX-400 speaker enclosures. Bass response and sound was brow-raisingly good, even when driven hard; a half-dozen of the partygoers commented on the good sound of both the live performance and the “DJed” iPod music between sets (including rock, dance and hip-hop selections). I was sure that I would eventually need to roll back the low end on the bass guitar, but it never happened, even as I pushed levels higher during the performance. All in all, the OEX-400 made this pool gig a great experience.
In a secondary review environment — a small/medium club setting — the MIXPACK Express was used for monitoring and amplification purposes; the two enclosures were again pole-mounted and directed at musicians as “hot spots” in tandem with a main PA and two 12-inch powered wedges at stage front. Finally, I also had time to audition all 16 digital effects on a male tenor with a great voice; each effect was quite good (especially considering the total cost of the kit). I even switched between several different effects for vocals depending on the song, using the footswitch jack to kill ‘verb while the vocalist rapped with the crowd during song breaks — it was quite nice.
Here, the MIXPACK Express performed beautifully as stage monitors in this secondary high SPL environment, further revealing its flexibility and usefulness to the regularly gigging musician and jack-of-all-trades live engineer. Arriving at a club to find insufficient stage monitoring can be a thing of the past with an Express in the trunk.
There were only two “negatives” I found in my experiences with the MIXPACK Express. The pole mounts on the bottom of the speakers were slightly loose on the poles, which allowed them to drift a bit from position. A simple clamp for each speaker’s mounting hole would easily solve this problem. Secondly, its monitor “mix” is the master mix; there are no means of adjusting separate levels sent to monitors, which makes it simply a non-powered master output with separate level control (considering the miniscule price of the Express, however, I almost feel like I’m complaining in mentioning this).
All in all, the Alto MIXPACK Express system is a bargain, and would be a useful tool for any busy live musician, DJ or live sound engineer regularly finding themselves in gig situations similar to those I explained above. For those running high SPL gigs with more necessary inputs and amplified drums, I would suggest considering the MIXPACK or MIXPACK Pro — larger, more powerful, three-way bi-amped systems. Either way, jump on this compact live sound vehicle and transform your small mobile gig into something a heck of a lot simpler.