Small multipurpose mixers have long been tools that serve the varied signal flow needs of the on-the-go audio professional. Today, with the prevalence of laptop-based tracking and mixing by the new generation of “do-it-all” audio pros and/or gigging performers, many end-users desire a great-sounding, flexible, featurepacked, and affordable small mixer.
For example, “feature-packed” may include any of the following: built-in digital effects, EQ, and compression; per-channel analog compressors; two-bus graphic EQ; power amps for sound reinforcement; comprehensive connectivity including digital I/O via USB, FireWire, S/PDIF, and/or ADAT Optical ports; built-in recording capability or bundled-in DAW software; and so on.
Here, we confidently recommend a half-dozen of the most impressive and innovative product choices in this category: Allen & Heath ZED-R16, Mackie PPM1012, Peavey 16FX, Phonic Helix Universal, PreSonus StudioLive (a most interesting digital mixer and 2008 PAR Excellence Award winner), and the Yamaha MG166CX-USB.
Allen & Heath ZED R16 Allen & Heath ZED R16
While not exactly “small,” the ZED-R16 ($3,499 list) is a high-quality and highly portable analog mixer with unique features that will make it at home in the studio, on the road, and many places in between. Reviewed by PAR contributor Mike Rivers in our February 2009 issue, the ZED-R16, while “clearly studio-oriented,” explains Mike, “can also serve as a versatile live sound mixer with the bonus of recording outputs…The ZED-R16 is an ideal, small-mid format analog studio/live mixer for our digital world.”
Key features of the ZED-R16 include 16 “excellent-sounding” discrete mic preamps, 4-band EQ (two mid-bands fully parametric), four aux sends, control room outputs with alternate speakers outputs, two studio monitor feeds, 18 channels of 24-bit FireWire I/O (up to 96 kHz sample rate), 16 channels of ADAT Optical I/O, and comprehensive MIDI control for DAW integration (with bundled Cakewalk Sonar LE software).
Considering all its features, the ZED-R16’s comparably high price point amongst its peers in this collection of mixers is justified, making it a real bargain for discriminating engineers at under $3k street. Still, if the price is a bit much for your budget yet you are still interested in buying a ZED, consider the other mixers in the series, starting as low as $499 list (ZED-14).
Allen & Heath | www.allen-heath.co.uk/zed
Mackie PPM1012 Mackie PPM1012
Mackie Designs has proven itself as a builder of ubiquitous multipurpose small mixers, most notably with its CR1604; its popularity essentially blossomed into an industry unto itself. Today, Mackie continues to offer good quality, user-friendliness, and a logical feature set in its multipurpose small mixers.
One notable new Mackie mixer is the PPM1012 Professional Powered Mixer ($1,349 list), a product that has clearly improved and expanded on the features of previously popular Mackie powered mixers, like the PPM808 (formerly FR808).
The PPM1012 is a 12-channel powered desktop mixer that ships with rack ears. Key features include eight mic/line mono inputs and two stereo line inputs; dual 800W Mackie-designed Class D “Fast Recovery” power amps with three-mode routing flexibility (switchable between “mains stereo L/R,” “mono mains/monitor 1,” or “monitor 1 and monitor 2”); a 32-bit dual RMFX digital effects processor with 24 reverb settings and choruses with tap delay; dedicated inline, per-channel compression; VLZ3 3-band EQ with mid sweep (mono channels) and 4-band EQ on stereo line channels; two built-in DI inputs; dual 9-band graphic EQ main and monitor outputs; and more. Considering Mackie’s proven reliability and the PPM1012’s lineage, we recommend it for those who need the convenience of built-in effects, channel compression, graphic EQ, and dual amplifiers. It’s quite a mixer for $1,049 street. Watch for an upcoming full review of the PPM1012.
Mackie | www.mackie.com/products/ppmseries
Peavey 16FX Peavey 16FX
The FX Series of mixers from Peavey boast some innovative features alongside standard ones that the industry has come to expect from this stalwart, Mississippi-based pro audio firm. The 16FX live sound/project studio recording mixer ($1,049 list) offers live-oriented details such as a dual DSP engine with digital effects and output processing, including Peavey’s Feedback Ferret technology, a 27-band graphic EQ, 5-band parametric EQ, delay, and limiter. These effects are assignable to any channel, and up to three effects can be chained together on each of the 16FX’s effects windows.
For recording purposes, the 16FX also offers two USB connections: “USB A” for direct recording to, or playback from, a USB flash memory device, laptop, or external hard drive, with selectable MP3 compression, no other hardware necessary; and “USB B” for a standard USB cable connection for computer I/O.
The 16FX offers 12 Peavey “Silencer” microphone preamps, two stereo channels with dual mic/line inputs, six aux sends, four subgroups, and phantom power. All in all, there’s a lot to be had in the 16FX, available for just a little over $800 street.
Peavey | www.peavey.com/products/mixers.cfm
Phonic Helix Board 18 Universal Phonic Helix Board 18 Universal
While not as familiar as the other names on this recommended list, Phonic has, for decades now, manufactured products for professional audio firms with household names. Today, Phonic’s own Helix Series of small analog mixers is a best buy considering that it’s affordable, flexible, and offers good quality features. Phonic’s standout product in this category is the Helix Board 18 Universal ($799 list). Key features include 18 inputs with eight XLR mic/line inputs; USB 2.0 and two FireWire interfaces for streaming up to 16 channels to and from a DAW (Steinberg Cubase LE is bundled); low-cut filter and EQ, selectable pre/post fader, per channel; 2-channel monitoring via FireWire/USB 2.0 interfaces; S/PDIF output; up to 24-bit/96 kHz audio conversion; 100-program multi-effects processor with tap delay and test tones; 3-band EQ with sweepable mids on first six channels, 4- band EQ for next four channels; phantom power; included rackmounting kit; and more.
At $599 street, the Helix Board 18 Universal is a bargain considering its feature set, build quality, routing flexibility, and surprisingly high-quality built-in effects. A full review of the mixer is planned for an upcoming issue of PAR.
Phonic | www.phonic.com/en/audio-interface/helix-board-18-universal
PreSonus StudioLive PreSonus StudioLive
PreSonus’ StudioLive ($2,499 list) was the sole small/mid-sized mixer to win a 2008 PAR Excellence Award following last year’s 125th AES Convention. “StudioLive is a fully featured, 16-channel/ 4-bus digital mixer married to a 22 x 18 (22 recording inputs, 18 returns) FireWire interface,” explains a 2008 PAR Excellence judge in his official nomination. “For tracking and mixing, the StudioLive offers all the features one would expect with a digital console: EQ and dynamics on every channel and output, two built-in effects processors, and snapshot scene control. Its well-thought-out routing allows tracking with, or without, channel DSP, mixing through the mixer, or mixing ITB (inthe- box) using the mixer as a control surface.”
The PreSonus StudioLive is clearly the deepest and most comprehensively equipped mixer in our collection of recommended small mixers, and is best suited for the modern, DAWsavvy recordist who’ll work everywhere and anywhere. For under $2k street, the StudioLive aspires to live up to its name, offering everything you’ll need for studio or live work other than monitors, sources, and computer. PAR plans to publish a full review of the StudioLive in the very near future. More to come on this “buzzed-about” multipurpose mixer.
PreSonus | www.presonus.com/products
Yamaha MG166CX-USB Yamaha MG166CX-USB
Since the introduction of the MG Series by Yamaha, PAR contributors have evaluated several mixers within this comprehensive small mixer series. Consistently, we have found the MG Series mixers to be top performers amongst the many small, affordable mixers on the market. “After several gigs, I came away with an appreciation for the remarkable job Yamaha has done putting so many features and core competence into such an affordable piece,” offered Andrew Roberts in his MG review from late 2007.
More recently, Yamaha further expanded the line to include a well-equipped USB I/O mixer, the MG166CX-USB ($659 list). Key features include 16 input channels; 10 mic preamps with Neutrik connectors and four stereo line inputs; eight insert I/Os; six busses (stereo and four mono); 3-band EQ with mid sweep; six one-knob channel compressors (very cool); SPX digital multieffects; rack-mount ears; USB connectivity for stereo bus recording; and bundled Steinberg Cubase AI4 DAW software.
At $499 street, the MG166CX-USB is our lowest priced recommended small mixer. Simply add powered monitors, and the MG166CX is built to handle most any live gig where 10 XLR inputs is sufficient, stereo mix recording is desired, and great audio quality is a must.
Yamaha Pro Audio | www.yamahaproaudio.com/products/mixers/mg_usb_models