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Review: Mackie DL32R Digital Mixer

I will be honest—when I first heard about Mackie playing in the Dante pool, I was a little skeptical. I own several older Mackie products that I love, but I have not been as pleased with their later equipment.

I will be honest—when I first heard about Mackie playing in the Dante pool, I was a little skeptical. I own several older Mackie products that I love, but I have not been as pleased with their later equipment. I didn’t think they had kept up with the big dogs who have been dabbling in Dante for years now. I will say that I am pleasantly surprised and impressed with the DL32R and I feel there is a great market for it.

The first time I chose to use the Mackie DL32R was in High Point, NC for the High Point Arts Council at Centennial Station. I had a couple of hours to prep the system before heading to set up for the show. The evening was scheduled to consist of about 12 different solo, duo and small ensemble groups, which I thought would be perfect for taking a more compact system that would fit nicely into my Nissan Maxima. After popping the Dante Expansion card into the DL32R, I grabbed my TP-Link dual band router and my iPad, and downloaded the Master Fader application. Through Wi-Fi, the Master Fader app was able to update the firmware on the DL32.

This was the first awesome reaction I had to the setup. In many other systems (especially ones that are comprised of multiple manufacturers), the constant updating of firmware has been a time-killer and, at minimum, a nuisance. The fact that Mackie can combine the efforts of firmware updates that have to happen across the different devices is rather huge. There was no searching online for the latest update or downloading to a computer to then have to put it on a flash drive. The average individual is used to keeping applications on their iPad or iPhone updated, so this seemed pretty smart to me.

Next up was to see how the layout of Master Fader actually measured to other similar remote control apps. I have used some that I really love (sometimes more than using the related console itself) and others have caused me to refuse to use them. The Master Fader remote app really surprised me in how easy it was to navigate. From the Matrix Routing to the Sends On Faders, it was pretty easy to figure everything out without needing any sort of tutorial. My main frustration with running sound from solely an iPad is the lack of faders and knobs. I do like to run my EQs and dynamic effects from a console. Replacing that desire for physical knobs over virtual knobs, the Master Fader app provides faders, which are much easier to grab and move than a virtual knob would be. Mackie also did this for EQ, which makes a huge difference from other manufacturer apps that expect it to be done all with the pinch of your big fingers.

Comprising the AXIS Digital Mixing System, Mackie offers the DC16 to work with the DL32R and the iPad (up to three iPads, actually). It gives someone the faders and knobs they miss on the iPad. Unfortunately, I was unable to get the DC16 up and running in the system with the short amount of time I had. After having some trouble getting the firmware to update as easily on the console as it was on the stage box—and after struggling to carry the console by myself—I decided that it defeated my immediate need for a compact 32-channel system that I could pack up as easily and quickly. [As an upcoming “part two” for Pro Sound News, Liz will review the DC16 as its part the complete AXIS system in an installed audio setting—Ed.] The DL32 “stage box,” however, weighing less than my Yamaha RIO or Allen & Heath GLD-AR2412 at only 18 pounds, was incredibly easy to tote around, yet seemingly robust enough to take the wear and tear of being on the road. Compared to other 32-channel stage boxes and rackmount consoles, the DL32R takes up less room and is comparable in size to its 16- and 18-channel competitors.

At the show, the DL32R took very little time to set up. I patched in all my mic lines and even connected an iPod cable for track playback, which was conveniently located on stage for the performer, but not so conveniently for me to play walk-in music from. I plugged the router in and sat it on top of the stage box. I would imagine it really matters the type of router you can produce and what your range is as to whether you run into transmission issues or not. Once patched, I opened the matrix and routed everything, just like one would Pro Tools or while using Dante Controller. I understood the concept and simply routed inputs and outputs appropriately. In most cases, I shoot for a one-to-one patch with inputs, especially when dealing with only one stage box. All of this was done, including setting up mics and outputs, in less than an hour. One feature I did not try (but am very intrigued about) is its ability to connect up to 20 wireless iPhones and iPads for personal monitoring mixes.

I sent the system over to another engineer, Frank Martin of Media Production Associates, to gather his thoughts. Frank does primarily onlocation recording via a sound truck, but also does some live sound gigs. Here is what he had to say about it:

“I was really excited to get the opportunity to give the device a whirl, but as always seems to happen, work got in the way of doing a thorough test. I was able to get things setup between the wireless router, DL32R and my iPad on the first try, with no problems, without reading any instructions. For me, this was pretty impressive. The Master Fader app did everything it was supposed to do—it was very well laid out and was a breeze to navigate. Routing signals was straightforward and easy to set up. While I didn’t get the chance to use the device on an actual job, I feel confident that I would be able to take it into the field without a problem.”

Musicians who have gotten accustomed to using remote apps on a phone or tablet would have no problem figuring out how to set this up—talk about not needing a front-of-house engineer when the artists can tweak their own mix from the stage! I run around so much with an iPad when I am sound checking (especially when setting monitor mixes) that I am hardly at the console anyway except when it comes time for the show, or unless I need to do playback at the console; it’s the one drawback to not having a mixer in which to plug-in a source.

So set up is easy, and the Remote App works great. How does it sound?

That should be the big question, at least. I thought it sounded great. It is comparable to most other compatible manufacturers’ gear and at a great price point. But it is the workflow that grabbed me; I own an Allen & Heath GLD80 system and I would easily purchase a DL32R to be able to have a quick on-the-go set up for small to moderate shows—anything between a open mic to a single band event. I used the Mackie DL32R for three more gigs following and it never let me down.