Mackie Onyx 2480–First Thoughts

So we have this new Mackie we’re reviewing. This past Tuesday we introduced ourselves to it, set it up, and mixed our first live set on it (The Touch Me Theres played). And so, because you never get a second chance to make a first impression:

–The thing is massive, compared to our old digital Spirit 328. But, it still fits on the desk OK… although there’s a hole in the back-center of the tabletop for cables to feed through, and this hole prevents the board from sitting entirely on the desk. The front hangs off an inch or two, no big deal tho.

–Having +48v on each individual channel is nice, on one hand. On the other, we never had a problem w/ a master +48v switch, and now we have a lot more buttons to turn off… not complainin’, just sayin’.

—-In general, regarding the sound:
Let me take a step back first. I’ve never been totally happy with the sound of our Pipeline mixes (this is with the old board). They’ve tended to sound muddy, with little high-end extension (especially w/ vocals and, they always come out heavy-sounding, and snare a bit too). And, the lows never seem too tight or strong; basically things have sounded a little “pinched”. WRT the highs, I think the overly-bright Samsons may be a disservice. I wish those things had a -4 dB setting for the tweeters (it only goes to -2 dB).

Actually, what I REALLY wish for is that Bag End system that we reviewed. Those monitors made me so happy that I will not rest until we buy them. But I digress.

Back to the Mackie: We get the band set up, Donnie starts playing the drums. I bring up the kick channel first, for the hell of it, it’s a D-112 on a drum w/ no hole, just an inch from the head, and… HOLY FRIGGIN’ LOW END. It wasn’t a particularly tight kick, sure, but I’ve NEVER hear that much low end come out of those speakers from a D-112 on a kick in our setup.

Specfic points about the sound:
* There’s more bottom-end extension, and the low end seems tighter than before.
* Using just a pair of our standard SM81 drum overheads, I almost didn’t need other drum mics; the snare mics were doing little, and it sounded fine without them at all. Just the overheads were enough to cut through sludgy guitar and bass–that’s something I rarely found with the old board. The sound from the mics sounded a bit tighter, more focused that usual. And, there’s definitely more cymbals than usual, more high end–which is a really good thing.
* On the snare, with a RE-10 on top and a 57 on bottom, it really cut through, with little of the dullness of before–with not EQ . Especially that RE-10 came through with a character that I haven’t experienced from it–usually it has a bit of low-end. But here, it didn’t sound heavy at all, and the 57 on bottom didn’t sound quite as raspy/nasally as it usually does.
* The SE mic coupled w/ a 421 went on the guitar, and the difference was dramatic, night and day. (speaking of which, let’s check out that SE mic next time, it was acting funny throughout the set). Need more experience to determine if it’s the board bringing out the differences in the mics, or something unrelated.
* The polarity switch on the Spirit’s channels had a specific and predictable effect. Flipping polarity on the Mackie, however, created a much more subtle difference with out standard drum setup. Again, something to explore further.
* Didn’t get to do much w/ the Mackie’s EQ.

–The kick was interesting, actually. It sounded terrible as-is, so I reached for my new favorite drum/bass/guitar “processor”: the ART TubeMP we’re reviewing. Plugged it in, cranked the input gain past “destroy” and all the way to “annihilate” (basically all the way up). It sounded massively distorted, of course, so I eased off until it sounded merely disgusting by itself. Throw it in the mix, and voila–a even, tame kick sound that sounded pretty darn good.

–I wasn’t going easy on the board, that’s for sure. Output levels were consistently around +7 — +10 dBu (I think those units are correct), many of the individual channels had the +10 dB LED lit during louder parts, and the board didn’t complain. The easily-overloaded mix bus was a curse of old Mackie mixers, but it doesn’t seem to be here.

I didn’t have time to crank the gain on a channel and see how it behaves as it overloads–we should try this (carefully).

–Something was weird with the effects send to one of the Alesis units. It was working fine during soundcheck, but as they started playing it just crapped out and returned this signal full of digial hash. It would alternate between working properly, and then crapping out. I bet I was overloading the effect input, or something like that (even though I fiddled w/ it). Probably need to figure out proper gain staging on those aux sends.

–Yesterday we sent effects out of Aux 3, and returned them to one of the 8 stereo aux inputs. I think we should just returning all effects to channels 17-24 instead. We’ll get more flexible EQ that way, as well as longer faders/more precise control over the volume of the return. We just need to remember to avoid feedback loops.

–Having separate Left and Right faders for the main mix is annoying. Bryan asked if there’s some way to fix them so they’re always together–something to put overtop of them? I dunno.

–The matrix feature is cool, but we’ll never use it. A patchbay becomes more important w/ this board, as the insert points are on the back, not the top.

–Mute groups! Great for muting effects and junk between songs! nice!

–I’m sure I forgot stuff. I’ll add it in the comments when I remember.

Bottom line: I spent some time listening to the mix I did, and comparing it with other mixes I’ve done recently. Right now, I feel like this board produces tighter, cleaner mixes that translate better than our Spirit, and that the preamps (and lack of a A/D?) “get” a better sound from our mics.

Am I full of BS? Time will tell, but for now I’m totally stoked learn this board better and see what it can REALLY do.

Pipeline! Playlist March 28, 2006

Major Stars “Syntoptikon”
(Ben Lucal) “Superman”
Dresden Dolls “Modern Moonlight”
Mates of State “Punchlines”
Paula Kelley “High Boots”
Muck and the Mires “You Better Write Your Number Down”
the Figgs “Static”
Ms. Margarette “Sweet Today”
Larkin Grimm “Patch it Up”
Callers “O Yer Cordial”
Casey Dienel “The La La Song”
Constants “Robotica and Lobotomy”

the Touch Me Theres LIVE

the Destroyed “A Window”
Frank Smith “Time to Cut the Fence”
Deer Tick “Blood Moon”

the Touch Me Theres INTERVIEW

the Capstan Shafts “American Volume”
Ten Years Old “Sloop John B”
Pants Yell! “It’s Been Done”

Pipeline! Playlist 3-21-2006

Mates of State “Beautiful Dreamer”
Moon Bats “Pop Swell”
Muck and the Mires “Caught in a Lie”
Dresden Dolls “Necessary Evil”
Eef Barzelay “Ballad of Bitter Honey”
Constants “When Stars Dilate”
Frank Smith “It Ain’t Right”
the Cush “You’re Free”
Witch “Hand of Glory”
Pants Yell! “Kids are the Same”
the Capstan Shafts “61 Sideburns”
Chop Chop “Bloodbath”
Rockets Burst From Streetlamps “Black”

the Larkin Brigade LIVE

Whistle Jacket “Housepainter”
New Radiant Storm King “Scuttled”

the Larkin Brigade INTERVIEW

Ponies in the Surf “Too Many Birds”
Rachael Cantu “Sweat and Bones”

Pipeline! Playlist 3-7-2006

(Thank You) “The Familiar Stream”
Eef Barzelay “Well”
Nat Baldwin “Apollo”
Muck and the Mires “I Never Got Over You”
the Curtain Society “Every Corner of the Room”
Rachael Cantu “Blood Laughs”
Mates of State “So Many Ways”
the Motion Sick “Satellite”
Frank Smith “I’m on Fire”
Witch “Black Saint”
the Capstan Shafts “The Failure of History”
Mission of Burma “Max Ernst”
the Cush “Dandelion Wine”
Moon Bats “Just Tell Me So”
Chop Chop “Lines”

Polaris Mine LIVE

Casey Dienel “Embroidery”

Polaris Mine INTERVIEW

Landing “Solstice”