Fast FactsApplications: Studio, live sound, sound reinforcement
Key Features: 16-channel; 4-buss mixer; 4-band EQ; two DI inputs; optional FireWire interface card; balanced direct outputs for each channel
Contact: Mackie at 425-487-4333, www.mackie.com.
+ Mic preamps on every input channel
+ Versatile EQ
+ Optional FireWire option
+ Logical layout
– Build quality
A good sounding console with user-friendly features, but build-quality leaves us a bit disappointed.
UREI 809 and Fostex NF-1 monitors; Yamaha and Bryston amplification; Neotek IIIc console; Dell Pentium 4 3MHz workstation; Steinberg Nuendo 3; Audio-Technica 4060, Audix D6, Shure SM57 microphones. Fast FactsMackie’s 1604 mixer is something of an industry yardstick when it comes to compact analog mixers. I can only imagine how many tens, or perhaps hundreds of thousands of them are in use every day in applications ranging from live sound reinforcement to studio recording. That said, the industry has changed since its introduction (and later revisions) and Mackie has seen the need to update this venerable design. Enter the new Mackie Onyx series, with a new microphone preamplifier and equalizer design and a FireWire recording interface option. Does Mackie’s new mixer live up to its esteemed predecessor?
The Mackie Onyx 1640 mixer ($1,649) has 16 mono channels with new Onyx microphone preamps, four busses, six aux sends, four-band equalization, as well as stereo and mono master outputs. An optional FireWire card can be installed into the mixer, which allows the direct streaming of 16 inputs and two outputs of 24-bit/96 kHz audio. Like many competitive products (but departing from Mackie’s traditional USA-made products) the Onyx mixer is made in China.
Each of the input channels features switchable 48V phantom power, a low-cut filter (75Hz/18 dB per octave), input sensitivity (0 – 60 dB range), EQ in/out selector, with shelving low-frequency EQ (80 Hz), sweepable low-mid EQ (100 Hz – 2 kHz), sweepable high-mid EQ (400 Hz ��� 8 kHz), and shelving high-frequency EQ (12 kHz). The auxiliary section features six aux sends which are all switchable between pre and post in the master section. Muting, panning controls, channel assignment, solo button, 60mm fader, and a three-led meter round out the channel strips. Additionally the first two input channels include a switchable DI input for instrument level instruments.
The master section features six aux masters, four buss master faders, main stereo fader, control room source monitoring, headphone jack, metering, talkback functionality and microphone, and metering. An associated switch and LED are included for the optional FireWire card.
The back panel includes microphone inputs and main outputs on XLRs, line, insert, and aux inputs, sub outputs, on 1/4-inch TRS connectors. Additionally, two DB-25 connectors offer balanced direct output of each input channel. The optional FireWire card ($519) slides into a back panel slot, and provides 1394 connectors. Incidentally, the FireWire card outputs the 16 output channels both prefader and pre-EQ, which is good for direct recording, but could be a serious limitation for other users. The FireWire card ships with a CD that includes Macintosh and Windows drivers, as well as Mackie’s Tracktion recording software.
I gave the 1640 a workout in my studio in both analog and digital modalities, using it to track projects as a front end in Nuendo 3.0 and the included Tracktion software, as well as mixing 16 tracks of previously recorded 2-inch analog material.
Mackie traditionally has introduced each of their new preamplifier designs with great fanfare, heralding them as the sonic equivalents of multi-thousand dollar standalone preamps. While the new Onyx preamps sound good for a mid-priced analog console, they are quite honestly not the sonic equals of boutique standalone preamps as they still retain an electronic edge like many other “built to a price” devices. On the other hand, they do sound a bit better than the previous generation Mackie XDR preamps.
The equalization section does offer a significant upgrade compared to previous Mackie designs, as it is much cleaner and less “hard” sounding (perhaps less phase shift) than the previous 1604 equalizers: in addition, they are more flexible with the addition of another sweepable band of EQ compared to the 1604. The overall sound of the console seems closer to sonic neutrality than its predecessor.
The construction and parts quality of the Onyx 1640 were a different issue, however. Upon removing the mixer from the box a rattling sound (which ended up being a pair of small nuts floating around inside the mixer) was immediately apparent. The overall quality of finish of the metalwork also seemed sub-par for a Mackie product, instead much more reminiscent of other (budget) made-in-China designs. The input sensitivity rotary pots were also wildly nonlinear, (most of the gain occurred between the 12 o’clock and 3 o’clock markings) and the nonlinearity of the pots varied from channel to channel. Lastly, many of the pushbuttons inserted audible clicks and thumps into the audio when used.
The optional FireWire card is able to provide simultaneous output of all 16 channels (as well as the stereo mix) at a maximum of 96 kHz sampling rate at 24 bits. The sound of the converters was quite true to the overall sound of the mixer itself. I didn’t notice any sonic artifacts that were attributable to the conversion process. I experienced a very smooth driver installation process and had absolutely no problems with crashes, glitches, or other audio gremlins. The included Tracktion software is a great choice for users that don’t need the functionality of more fully-featured (and fully-submenued!) products. It’s quite possible to use Tracktion without ever needing to refer to the documentation and I can’t think of any higher praise for software than that!
The Onyx 1640 features an attractive design, logical layout, versatile I/O configuration, and the optional FireWire card is a convenient and good sounding option for computer recording. But, the indifferent fit and finish, nonlinearities and variability of the input gain controls, clicks and thumps, and high price (compared to other Chinese-made mixers) left me a little disappointed. On the positive side, both the microphone preamps and equalizers do represent an improvement over previous Mackie designs, and the inclusion of two DI inputs, and direct outputs for all 16 input channels are useful additions. For those that need an analog mixer with an integrated digital I/O solution, the Onyx 1640 represents an interesting choice.