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Review: Mackie DL32R 32-Ch. Wireless Digital Mixer

The DL32R unchains users from traditional mix locations, allowing them to work from wherever they need or desire to be.

From an applications standpoint, the DL32R covers the broadest range of audio tasks in the simplest way of any single product I’ve reviewed, ever. Yes, the DL32R inherently requires a comprehension of its architecture, but that’s not much more complicated than buying an iPad, interfacing with the 3U rack-mount chassis for its physical I/O and learning a well-designed app and wireless network system.

Considering its feature set and Mackie’s presence in the industry, the DL32R is poised to be the next big thing in all-inclusive audio capture, control, mixing and production at $1,999 street (add iPad, mics, cables, powered loudspeakers, and that’s about all for a complete, super-capable mixing/recording system).

While totally pro environments offer a proper front-of-house position, most venues hosting live music do not. Most don’t provide a full-time audio engineer, either. This is simply the reality of club, small venue, DIY touring and worship-based audio jobs; “mixers” are often found simultaneously mixing drinks for customers, attempting to enjoy the music while managing the mix, or playing in the band itself. The DL32R unchains these folks from traditional mix locations, allowing them to adjust levels from wherever they need or desire to be. Better yet, the DL32R offers more I/O than the first two DL Series mixers, making it a viable option for larger touring acts and more sophisticated venues, too.

Key Features

This is all accomplished quite powerfully, too—for example, with up to 32 channels, complete with multitrack recording and playback (currently 24×24 direct-to-disk with 32×32 coming soon); 14 XLR analog outputs; up to 10 iOS-controlled personal monitor mixes; 6 matrix busses (providing auxiliary mixes for extra listening spaces such as outside club decks, church nursery cry rooms, etc.); a super-flexible patching matrix; and most every feature you’d expect from a fully-professional live mixing digital platform. The DL32R is also Dante-ready, so (at present) it’s rather “future-proof,” if you will.

While Mackie doesn’t really tout the DL32R’s recording and music production features, creative end users will soon be using its 32 super-clean Onyx+ preamplifiers and essential, well-chosen DSP offerings to record complete performances for subsequent production and mixdown, largely thanks to the Master Fader app, a free download from the iTunes App Store. These same features of Master Fader allow for virtual soundchecks, such as those our industry’s biggest touring pros rely on, and lots more. Short of providing the necessary transducers on either end—for capture and monitoring—plus drive or CPU, the DL32R can be a recording/mixing silver bullet for many.

See all the features of the DL32R here: http://dl32r.mackie.com

Benefits In Use

I brought the DL32R out for several live sound events including standard club gigs and a hands-on presentation to a contemporary house-of-worship (HOW) in the market for a new digital mixer. In use, demonstrations and discussions, the benefits of moving around the venue while tweaking, tuning and mixing were more than impressive: they turned the concept of live mixing into something completely new and exciting.

Though the immediate benefits of mixing untethered are thrilling, Mackie has previously provided this ability in its DL1608 16-channel and DL806 8-channel mixers. By doubling the DL1608’s inputs to 32, upgrading its mic preamps (via Mackie’s new flagship Onyx+, only currently found in the DL32R), and offering very flexible patching options—for example, one input to multiple channels or switchable A/B inputs per channel for detailed comparisons—the DL Series gained its truly pro model in the DL32R.

For most every question—whether I had the DL32R at a gig or at the church—my answers began with a “yes.” “Can I can mix my own monitors with my phone?” Yes, with the MyFader app, also free. “I can sit with my kids during the service?” Sure, if you want.

Some were “no,” too, like “Can we use it without a router?” However, the core benefits of the DL32R’s Wi-Fi-centric design weren’t lost on anybody.

Most importantly, I think the DL32R sounds great and is straightforward in use. It’s clean as a whistle, I/O is near-infinitely configurable and routable, and its EQs and effects are good and will continue to improve—after all, Master Fader is a free app via download, currently in Version 3.0.2.

Few Limitations

Are there any negatives to the DL32R’s iPad-centric design? No, not unless you’re opposed to working within an iOS architecture—complete with its limited-sized GUI and mandatory “additional purchase” of at least one iPad.

However, I believe the DL32R’s iOS nature offers more benefits than drawbacks: most every modern music-centric/tech-savvy pro inherently knows iOS “flow” already; the Master Fader app is refreshingly simple compared to many digital mixers with incorporated touchscreen and proprietary OS; and any user with an iPad can provide and work with their own work surface. Further, the recording industry has been largely conjoined with Apple and Mac OS for decades now; only live sound is relatively new to arriving at this end—a consumer product-dependent reality for live sound production.

Ultimately I’d wish for Android OS support, too, at least for control of personal monitor mix features; currently the DL32R is iOS compatible-only. Most notably in houses-of-worship, this means an inevitable number of volunteers and musicians that won’t be able to use their own smartphones with the DL32R; in the HOW-based demonstration, I was told just that.

Summary

Back in the late 1990s, I was thrilled to discover the groundbreaking features of a Mackie d8b digital console and HDR24/96 multitrack system. Today, the DL32R represents the same kind of leap forward for the budget-restricted aspiring audio professional, yet this time it’s in the live sound realm. While I generally shy away from labeling any product a “game changer,” the DL32R certainly hints at becoming one.

Strother Bullins is Technology Editor for NewBay Media’s AV/Pro Audio Group. sbullins@nbmedia.com

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