PAR Live Reviews: Mackie 2404VLZ4 and Gator Cases GMIX Case Series with JoeCo BlackBox Recorder by Strother Bullins

Club gigging. It’s a lot to bring all PA, likely some back line and possibly some instruments and lights.
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With a 4x2 USB interface, this Gator-cased 2404VLZ4 is a great-sounding four track recording/stereo playback rig, too—just add computer.

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Mackie 2404VLZ4 24-Channel 4-Bus Analog Mixer with USB

I was up and running with the four-buss, 24-channel 2404VLZ4 in minutes—no manual required, really. When I did look at the manual, I was pleased to see some extra treats, such as the 4x2 USB interface, thus making the 2404VLZ4 a great-sounding four track recording/stereo playback rig, too—just add computer.

The VLZ4 Series—Mackie’s latest incarnation of the successful VLZ mixer range— finally features the company’s superb Onyx preamps. For the 2404VLZ4 (at $1,150 street), that means 20 Onyx preamps offering 60 dB of gain coupled with plenty-good three-band EQ with sweepable mids and six aux sends per channel. Two solid 32-bit RMFX+ effects processors are available per channel (via aux 5/6).

The aforementioned USB port allows 24-bit, 44.1 kHz audio via its 4x2 interface. This allows recording subgroups 1-4 or alternately Groups 1-2 or the Main mix to output channels 1-2 and Groups 3-4 or Aux 5-6 to output channels 3-4.

Analog I/O is comprehensive. I especially appreciate the channel inserts (more on that later) and the mono main mix output (XLR or TRS with rotary level control), perfect for detailing one-subwoofer mixes or adding extra, single speaker “dart and pool room” mixes. Further, the main outputs offer TRS inserts, too.

Once again, Mackie has included four “one knob” channel compressors (on 17-20) in this VLZ4, and then doubled the pleasure by adding four more identical comps on each subgroup—very useful, indeed.

Cosmetically, Mackie has given the VLZ Series an attractive makeover, overwhelmingly black with bright primary color accents utilized for various parameters—great for making adjustments in the semi-dark—and a notable change in its fader knobs, moving from the blocky white Mackie fader of the past to a thin black one. Upon first use, I still preferred the old white faders, but I quickly got over it.

In all, the 2404VLZ4 represents a notable leap forward for the VLZ Series if, for nothing else, getting the better Onyx preamps. However, improvements abound elsewhere, making the VLZ4 Series worth top consideration for those in need of a simple multipurpose analog mixer.

Gator Cases GMIX Mixer Case Series

I had previously experienced the overbuilt nature of Gator Cases via their GKPE Keyboard Cases line—very similar in both materials and construction to the GMIX Mixer Case Series. A pianist/band member of mine used one for years; she raved about it and I carried it, thus I was intrigued.

The GMIX Series features TSA-compliant latches, meaning that airport security can use TSA keys to quickly check contents while no one else can: a perfect solution for traveling audio pros. It offers a thick polypropylene exterior build, one-inch EPS foam interior protection throughout and an inner mixer secure fit system. The latter is essentially a thick center rectangle with Velcro on one side and “egg crate” foam on the other and two carpet-wrapped, plywood L-shaped spacers; the rectangle attaches to the case’s inside top, pressing against the center of the console, while the L spacers attach to either side of the case’s interior top, near the latches, pressing against the console’s scribble strip. Together, the secure fit components effectively keep the console movement-free when in transport.

BlackBox records audio as Broadcast Wave files to USB2 disk drives, USB thumb drives, or SDHC card via USB2. My only complaint is that the GMIX opens like a clam; you can’t leave the mixer in the bottom half and simply pop the top without staring at the underside of the lid while in use. For a removable lid, the answer is Gator’s GTOUR Series built of 9 mm plywood and featuring recessed steel twist latches as well as a justifiably larger price tag (approximately 25 percent more than a comparable GMIX).

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At around $300 street, this GMIX case is worthwhile protection for any significant investment in a mixer (padded bags need not apply). Not only does it keep its contents in good working order, it will hopefully increase a console’s resale value upon upgrade time.

JoeCo BlackBox BBR1-US Recorder with unbalanced analog I/O

The third component of this month’s live mixing/recording trifecta is the JoeCo BlackBox BBR1-US Recorder ($1,999 street), a lightweight 1U multitrack capable of recording up to 24 analog channels at 24-bit, 96 kHz. It’s not a new product, but I’ve been tempted for years to try it. JoeCo recently unveiled a new model, the BBR1MP, boasting comprehensive digital and analog I/O, 24 mic preamps and the JoeCoRemote for iPad control feature; it joins an already-deep BlackBox lineup. Visit this link for detailed model specifics: joeco.co.uk/main/BBR _models.html.

BlackBox's front panel touch interface is so incredibly intuitive. Setup for the small 1U BlackBox was especially easy in this review scenario; I simply connected the Mackie 2404VLZ4‘s inserts via TRS to the BlackBox’s DB25 analog inputs. BlackBox records the looped-through insert signals and even allows TRS inserts on its last eight channels, 17-24. Inserts for your inserts: quite clever.

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I’ve multitracked a fair share of live shows via laptop DAW, but I can’t say I enjoy it. To me, doing “QWERTY work” in a dark club amongst reveling and possibly impatient musicians and fans is a stressor. I’d much rather capture what I must while primarily focusing on the event, then dig into the tracks later. A BlackBox enables this very approach, as its no-moving-parts configuration and front panel touch interface is so incredibly intuitive. However, if you want to go QWERTY, BlackBox also offers a handy keyboard interface.

BlackBox records audio as Broadcast Wave files to USB2 disk drives, USB thumb drives (my preferred method), or SDHC card via USB2. Recording to thumb drive is a glorious thing since, for nearly a decade prior, I’d used the Alesis ADAT HD24XR 24-track hard-disk recorder for all non-DAW tracking needs: a big, heavy yet serviceable and “very ‘90s” machine, dependent on removable 80GB IDE drives. In comparison, tracking via BlackBox then sliding the drive into my jeans pocket feels like freedom.