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.

One thought on “Mackie Onyx 2480–First Thoughts

  1. Most digital consoles (like the Spirit 328) are gain-staged so that the ADC’s will distort (signal will hit 0 dBfs) before the analog circuitry in front of it will. So I’m not surprised that you weren’t surprised to feel no pain when hitting the inputs hard. That’s the beauty of an analog console. Hitting it too hard often makes it sound better!

    Also, I would venture to guess that a lot of what you’re hearing in terms of extra clarity is due to the Onyx preamps vs. the preamps in the Spirit.

    It might be interesting to look up (or measure) the input impedance of the Spirit preamp. The Onyx preamp’s is stated as 2.4 kOhms.

    Matrix… although a matrix is something more for FOH work (like for center or side fills, for example), a matrix can also be very useful in the studio for setting up compression. For example, you could set up a matrix mix of some of the groups for parallel compression. Or you could use a matrix mix to feed the sidechain input of a compressor. The goal would be to compress a submix without certain instruments (or groups of instruments) punching holes in the mix.

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