Byline: Emile Menasche
MACKIE HAS BEEN PRODUCING low-cost compact mixers for more than a decade. From the first 1604 to its current mixer line, Mackie mixers have always pushed the price-performance envelope.
The Mackie DFX-12 (along with its smaller sibling, the DFX-6) continues that tradition. It offers all the features you need for small ensemble gigs or rehearsals, in a package that’s easy to operate, and with construction that should endure the rigors of the bar scene.
The DFX-12 offers 12 inputs, grouped into 8 channels. All connections are made at the top panel, which makes them easy to access in any live situation.
Channels 1 through 4 are typical mono strips. Each is equipped with two inputs: an XLR mic input (with global phantom power), and a 1/4-inch TRS balanced/unbalanced line input. These channels also offer 1/4-inch TRS inserts for patching in outboard processors.
Channels 5 and 6 feature an interesting design twist: you get a choice between a mono XLR mic input or stereo TRS line inputs. However, these channels don’t offer inserts or a low-cut filter (unlike channels 1 through 4), but in all other ways they’re identical.
Channels 7 and 8 feature a more conventional stereo configuration: each has two TRS balanced line inputs, bringing the total of available inputs to 12.
That arrangement offers plenty of flexibility. Having the choice between mono XLR and stereo line inputs on channels 5 and 6 proves especially useful when you consider that the most common line-level signals to go through a P.A. would come from stereo sources such as synthesizers and samplers. It’s worth noting, however, that the inserts (found only on channels 1 through 4), double as direct outputs. You simply plug in a mono cable to the first click. The direct outs are handy, but because they’re found only on the first four channels, you’re limited if you want to send more than four individual channels to a multitrack for a live recording.
ON THE STRIP
The DFX-12 is basic as far as control goes, yet it offers enough tools to get you through a typical gig (see Fig. 1).
Each channel strip has a trim pot that lets you set input gain, ranging 0 dB to +50 dB for mic and -20 dB to +30 dB for line with unity indication (-20 dB to +20 dB for stereo). You also get a low-cut filter for taming frequencies below 75Hz (essential for reducing stage rumble). The two-band shelving EQ (12kHz and 80Hz respectively) is useful for basic tonal tweaks, but its range is too broad to focus with pinpoint accuracy on the troublesome frequencies that can cause feedback. For that, you’ll need to strap an outboard EQ to the inserts.
There are two sends on each channel: The prefader Aux 1 allows you to set up a monitor mix that’s independent of the channel’s fader and pan controls. The postfader Aux 2 is designed for effects routing. Aux 2 sends signal in parallel to the internal digital effects unit and to the external aux outputs. That lets you use the internal processor for a basic effect such as reverb, and a more powerful external module for additional effects such as delay, chorus, and so forth. You can combine the signal of the internal processor and the external effects device at the master section, which I will discuss momentarily.
Rounding out each channel strip are pan, mute, and a 60mm fader. (The stereo and combined channels have a similar configuration but without the low-cut switch. Instead of a pan knob they have a left/right balance control.)
The controls all work well and have a nice, solid feel. The EQ sounds pretty good, although the fact that it provides only two bands (both fixed) can be a limitation in real-world situations. I discovered that when trying to tweak my midrange-heavy voice, and that of the other singer in my band who has a higher voice. His voice sparkled with a little boost at 12 kHz, but mine never quite got the presence I wanted.
One feature conspicuous in its absence was a solo button. While solo is often associated with recording, it also has its uses in live performance – for tracking down feedback and for tweaking individual tracks. For a mixer in this price range, the lack of solo capability is not a fatal flaw, but its absence is worth noting.
THE MASTER PLAN
The master section is where the DFX-12 interfaces with the rest of the world, and it offers several features that add to its efficiency.
For starters, there’s a five-band graphic EQ (60Hz, 250Hz, 1kHz, 3.5kHz, 12kHz), which can be bypassed with one push of a button. The EQ can be assigned to either the master or Aux 1 (monitor) output. That is a handy feature, because it lets you use the graphic EQ to tame monitor mix feedback or reduce bass onstage without messing up the house mix.
Master-section inputs include the aforementioned stereo effects returns (1/4-inch TRS balanced/unbalanced), which run in parallel with the internal digital effects processor, as well as a pair of RCA CD/Tape returns.
As previously mentioned, there are two Aux sends, one pre- and one postfader. All Aux connections are 1/4-inch TRS. There’s also a 1/4-inch stereo headphone output with a level control.
The mixer has both XLR and TRS master outputs, both of which are balanced. That is a nice feature because it makes it easy to patch the DFX-12 to a larger board, as well as to a variety of power amps. You also get an unbalanced RCA Tape out, which takes the mix pre master, allowing you to set levels going to tape independent of the master level going to the house. Very nice.
Other features include a CD/Tape input (for break music) and Vocal Eliminator (good for Karaoke applications).
The master section also houses the onboard effects. The EMAC digital stereo effects processor is a 32-bit device that receives signal from the Aux 2 send. It sports 16 preset algorithms, one of which can be active at a time. These include numerous reverbs (plates, rooms, halls, spring, gate, and reverse); four delays; and modulation effects such as chorus, flange, and phaser.
Unfortunately, although the effects sound good, there’s not a lot of flexibility in their use. You can’t edit the presets, nor can you combine algorithms such as delay and reverb into a multi-effects chain. But for basic reverb, you should be okay.
IN THE MIX
In use, the DFX-12 proved itself capable of handling a small ensemble, as well as a typical acoustic open-mic installation. Thanks to the combination of mic and stereo line inputs, it’s especially handy for performers who combine vocals with keyboards or other stereo sources. The built-in effects are modest but sound good, and you get enough I/O options to add outboard processors where you need them most. The board is clean, and the preamps offer plenty of headroom. I would have liked to see more control in the EQ section, as well as solo capabilities and editable effects. But considering its MSRP of $479, the Mackie DFX-12 is a solid performer.
Emile Menasche is a New York-based music journalist.
Inputs (6) balanced XLR mic, (4) balanced 1/4″ TRS line, (8) 1/4″ stereo line (4 stereo pairs), (4) 1/4″ Aux Return (2 stereo pairs), (2) RCA tape in
Outputs (2) balanced XLR main, (2) 1/4″ balanced TRS main, 1/4″ TRS headphone, (2) 1/4″ TRS Aux Send
Inserts (4) 1/4″ TRS
Low Cut Filter 75 Hz, -18 dB/octave
Channel EQ High [+ or -] 15 dB @ 12 kHz, Low [+ or -] 15 dB @ 80 Hz
Stereo Graphic EQ [+ or -] 12 dB @ 60 Hz, 250 Hz, 1 kHz, 3.5 kHz, 12 kHz
Phantom Power +48V DC on mono channels
VU Meter 12-segment LED
Digital Effects reverb (8 presets), delay (4 presets), chorus, flange, phaser
Dimensions 16.1″ (W) 5 4.1″ (H) 5 14.4″ (D)
Weight 10 lb.
Mackie DFX-12 compact mixer with effects $479
PROS: Flexible I/O. Two sets of balanced master outputs. Assignable master EQ. Clean sounding preamps with lots of headroom. Low price.
CONS: No solo button. Two-band EQ somewhat limited. Effects not editable. Inserts on channels 1-4 only.
Contact: Mackie Designs tel. (800) 898-3211 or (425) 487-4333 e-mail email@example.com Web www.mackie.com
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