This article previously appeared on Harmony Central—your information source for making better music.
By Craig Vecchione
The Running Man with an Apple
The DL series of compact mixers is Mackie's latest foray into digital mixing for live sound, following if not necessarily replacing the discontinued TT-24. This is a completely new and very compact design that uses an Apple iPad (not included) as the mixing interface.
Mixing audio is a personal experience, and the mixer is of course the one tool you'll be adjusting more than all other gear. The interface…the knobs, switches, meters and indicators…are how you tell the system what to do. It needs to suit you to the point that it's an "old friend"; reliable, and predictable. A mixer that you can't understand and work with quickly and deftly can make for a long miserable show, or one that in the worst case ends abruptly before its intended finish. With the advent of digital mixers, a whole new crop of interface designs have emerged. We're clearly in the revolutionary stage of digital mixer development. No one method of mixing has emerged victorious. Using a tablet is becoming common for remote secondary mixing, but it comparatively rare (maybe unique?) as a primary and required interface. I was very curious to see how this combination worked, so let's have a look.
What You Need To Know
- 8 channels with Onyx preamps, four with XLR, four with XLR/TRS combo jacks.
- 4 stereo-linkable auxiliary outputs are provided for monitor or outboard effects sends, and are configurable as pre- or post-fader, and stereo-linkable. Having four auxiliaries on an 8 channel mixer is downright luxurious.
- Left/right main outputs are XLR jacks. The outputs have 31-band graphic EQ, 4-band parametric EQ with high- and low-pass filters, compressor/limiters and alignment delay.
- A 3.5mm headphone jack with volume control is provided for mix monitoring. Solo buttons for each channel and output allow you to monitor selected portions of the mix.
- Global phantom power is available for condenser mics.
- External power supply. I prefer a built-in power supply for mixers, but given the extremely small footprint of the DL806, it is completely understandable. If your application is "mission critical", it would be easy to purchase a second power supply as a backup.
- Kensington lock compatible, and PadLock™ feature. A small mixer and the popular iPad connected to it are a tempting theft target. The PadLock™ mechanically traps the iPad in the mixer's tray, and the entire assembly can then be secured with a standard Kensington cable lock
- A dedicated iPad channel on the control surface gives access to the iTunes library or other music app on the attached iPad. That's a very nice feature that makes break/background music simple to enable.
- Each channel has EQ, comp, and gate that can individually be configured for "vintage" or "modern" interface views. The control functions are mostly the same, but the look is different, such as a graphic VU meter in the modern, and a picture of an old school VU meter in the vintage. EQ has HPF, and four bands; semi-parametric Low and High, and two parametric mid-range bands. The response curve (modern) or knob positions (vintage) are repeated on the channel display just above the Mute button. Touching the EQ display on the channel brings up the EQ/Comp/Gate display for that channel.
- All channels have complete metering that lives in the fader slide area. Gain reduction for the channel compression displays as a red bar across the top of the fader area. When adjusting channel effects send levels, the channel fader slot becomes colored red for reverb, purple for delay, which is also echoed in the reverb and delays faders, so it is easier to know what you're controlling, and where.
- Adjacent channels can be paired, and the channels merge with appropriate labeling to indicate the situation. Metering also then becomes paired to indicate the channel is paired.
- Channels and effects have an assortment of graphics available to label, and can also have specific names typed in, all displayed at the bottom scribble strip. The effects channels have pictorial indications of their setting displayed at the top of their respective fader strips…for example the gate reverb picture is a garden gate. Cute, but "Gate" would be just as effective and possibly easier to discern, as the pictures are rather small. You can even use pictures you've taken with your iPad, etc and have stored in it. That's a cool feature for mixing new bands you don't know. It doesn't help if channel 3 is labeled "Chad's mic" and you don't know which guy on stage is Chad. Take pictures of the band members and label channels with their mug shots. Nice. Maybe Mackie can add the obligatory brick wall or railroad track backgrounds…
- Presets and snapshots can be stored for different venues, bands, etc. and recalled immediately to make setup for repeat performances very fast.
- Four mute groups allow control of channel and output muting for breaks, preshow, and production control.
- In addition to the iPad Master Fader™ app, My Fader™ is available for remote mixing via iPhone or iPod Touch. Control is limited to channel, aux, LR main, reverb, and delay sends, muting, and show recall. But there's more power here, as this feature is supported for up to 10 total remote devices. This makes on-stage monitor mixing available to each performer, perfect for IEM's
- View groups let you choose which channels to see on the display. This is helpful when limiting access to remote users for personal monitor mixing. Musicians only see the channels they can control for their monitor mix
- The entire mix can be recorded to the iPad, which is easily enabled by pressing the 'record' button.
- The iPad docking interface fits full size iPads. The iPad Mini fits with an available adapter tray, and iPad Air models use a Lightning connector adapter, available either as a service kit for older DL units, or as a separate model. Plan your purchase to coincide with your present and any future iPads intended for this application. Is anyone else screaming at Apple to start using USB?
- Wireless remote mixing requires a third-party wireless router. This is not included, but most commonly available routers are supported. The router plugs into a port on the back panel next to the power inlet. It would be excellent if Mackie had built a router into this mixer. I think most of us would be fine with a slight increase in the size of the box to accommodate such convenience.
- I had some connectivity issues preventing the iPad and DL806 from synchronizing. My iPad is a 1st generation unit. The OS is up to date. The Master Fader™ app is up to date (2.1). Mackie indicates this iPad is supported along with every other model of iPad. But I wasn't able to get the mixer to connect and sync reliably. Almost every time the mixer and iPad were powered up, the two units would not sync. The mixer would recall the last state it was in, and the Master Fader™ app acted as if it was waiting to be docked, even though it already was. An undock and re-dock of the iPad, sometimes several times, was needed before the mixer was able to connect and sync. Because of this I couldn't use the mixer outside the rehearsal studio. While I can't confirm where the problem lies or whether the old iPad was to blame, my confidence was shaken. This problem also pretty much makes it impossible to use the PadLock™ feature to secure the iPad to the DL806, because unscrewing the lock and reattaching it each time this connection issue occurs would be maddening, and in a live venue would take way too long to get the show up and running.
While there aren't masses of layered screens to page through, there's a bit of swiping to bring some controls surface to the front, and the virtual buttons to select some functions are pretty small. The assignment buttons for LR, auxiliaries, reverb and delay are tiny and close together. The iPad isn't a huge surface, so it's necessarily crowded. I understand the 'why', but that didn't make it easier for my girthy bassist fingertips to discern. The "Grow and Glow" feature enlarges a control that's pressed, and gives it a simulated glowing presence. This helps a bit, but doesn't really replace feeling a control. The vintage channel EQ option was very difficult to control.
The virtual rotary knobs seemed to defy my attempts to virtually turn them. The modern EQ option was significantly easier to handle and offered more options. This added up to a less than satisfying experience. The lack of tactile feedback is what's missing for me. Nobody's ever accused me of being touchy-feely, but maybe I'm that guy after all.
I'm also concerned by the note in the Master Fader 2.1 update. It states to the effect that future major updates will require iPad OS 7. Apple doesn't provide OS 7 for the older iPad. So even though I've got a fully functioning tablet today, apparently it won't stay up to date for long. This is a general concern with third-party (tablet) interfaces, made more troubling when the tablet interface is the only way to use the mixer. Facing the prospect of either falling behind or laying out hundreds to buy a new or newer iPad is disconcerting.
On the good side, when the DL806 and iPad were coexisting happily, the controls worked flawlessly, the flexibility of routing is really good for a small-format mixer, and the sound…the reason we do all this…is excellent. The effects are well executed and very controllable. The EQs are a real treat, with a very nice graphic picture of the response curve on each channel and output. This is a heck of a lot of mixer, especially in the 8 channel range.
In summation, while the iPad interface doesn't do it for me, that doesn't mean it's not for you. I urge anyone looking for a compact mixer with a full feature set to try the DL806. If the interface suits your mixing style, and your iPad is newer than "ancient", I think you'll be quite happy. There's a lot of mixer in this tiny package, and Mackie continues to update the software to offer even more.
Musician's Friend Mackie DL806 online catalogue page ($999.99 MSRP, $799.99 "street")
Mackie DL Series product web page
Mackie's home page
Craig Vecchione is an IT professional by day, and dabbles in pro audio and bass guitar in his spare time. He's been the moderator of the Live Sound Forum since 2006.
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