January 08, 2013, by Craig Leerman
I’ve had a chance to check out and use the new Mackie DL1608 digital mixer for a while, and if I had to use a single word for the review it would be “cool.”
Mackie has managed to put together a small package with a lot of great features, and paired it with an Apple iPad for the control surface.
Let’s take a look at the specs. The DL1608 is a very compact mixer at only 11.5 (w) by 15.4 (d) by 3.7 (h) inches and weighing less than 8 pounds (without an iPad). The majority of the front surface of the mixer is the tray area for a user supplied iPad. The tray can fit all iPad models except iPad mini and fourth generation. (All iPad models are supported wirelessly.)
Above the tray area are 16 gain controls for the channels, and each one has its own dual color LED for signal and clipping indication. A 1/4-inch headphone jack and rotary headphone level knob complete the front surface controls.
The rear of the mixer sports 16 XLR connectors for the channel inputs, with the last four being combo connectors, accepting both 1/4-inch and XLR plugs.
Two XLRs for the stereo left and right main outputs are located alongside the inputs and the unit’s power switch and global phantom power switch are located directly about the main outputs.
Six 1/4-inch TRS jacks are located underneath the inputs and are used for the aux outputs. An RJ45 network connector, Kensington lock slot and power connector complete the connections located at the rear.
The Mackie DL1608 iPad digital mixer. (click to enlarge)
Speaking of power, Mackie has supplied a very nice universal 12-volt power supply with the unit. It’s of the “line lump” variety and will accept any voltage from 100 to 240 volts AC. A removable IEC plug connects to the “power block” (line lump), allowing an easy swap of the cable for one that will connect to local outlets anywhere in the world.
The other end of the power block connects to the mixer via a locking screw on connector so it won’t disconnect during use.
Like A Champ
Mackie has chosen to place all the mixer controls (with the exception of power, gain, headphone level, and phantom power) in the iPad.
The DL1608’s Master Fader app is available free from the iPad App Store and, at least to me, is the nicest looking and easiest to get around software for mixer control that I have seen, providing quite a bit of information to the operator at a glance.
In mix mode, eight channels can be shown on the screen at any one time, along with the master fader. Swiping a finger left or right scrolls through the available input channels.
After channel 16, there are three extra channels – one for reverb return, one for delay return and the last for iPad audio. With an iPad docked in the unit, you can play back audio from iTunes or any app that allows audio to run in the background, and the stereo output is routed to the iPad Audio channel. Note that if you undock the iPad for wireless use, the audio will be disconnected. (This feature only works when docked.)
Each channel sports a thumbnail view of the EQ curve, mute button, pan slider, gain reduction meter, fader level, input meter, and solo button. Below each channel fader is the channel ID area where you can use the default numbers for the channels, type in your own names, choose factory names like “kick” or “guitar” or even take a picture of a band member or instrument with the iPad and display that image.
Tapping on the EQ thumbnail of a channel will open up the “Channel View” and allow access to EQ, dynamics and effects. There is a button located at the top of every channel view screen that will take you back to the main mixer.
The first screen that opens up in channel view controls the EQ. The DL1608 offers 4-band parametric EQ, or the 1st and 4th bands can be set to shelving mode with adjustable gain and frequency. There is also an adjustable high-pass filter available, EQ in/out, as well as a polarity button for the channel.
Note that while in channel view, the channel fader is still located to the left of the screen, and the master fader is located to the right. A nice touch – no matter what screen you’re in, the master fader is always available.
A look at the back panel I/O facilities. (click to enlarge)
Plenty Of Capabilities
Swiping up on the EQ screen presents the gate and compressor controls. The DL1608 features two dedicated effects processors, one for reverb, and the other for delay. The FX screen allows choosing between a variety of reverb or delay, as well as adjust parameters and the send and return levels.
The master screen is accessed by tapping on the EQ thumbnail over the master faders. You can engage a 31-band graphic EQ, as well as an output compressor limiter for the main outputs and each aux output. There are small icons to the right of the main faders that offer a selection of output screens, with each screen placing the sends for each channel on faders.
The DL1608 can be used as a stand-alone console by docking an iPad in the tray. There is a locking clamp supplied with security hex head bolts that can be installed to help keep the iPad from “walking away” when left unattended.
To use the iPad as a wireless remote controller, all that’s need is a wi-fi router. Setup is easy, and the iPad can be slid in and out as often as the user likes with no glitch in the audio.
Note that there will be a second or two of lag time before audio can be controlled as the software reads whether it’s wireless or docked, but the audio will continue to pass at the last settings.
Another nifty feature is that the mixer can be accessed by up to 10 iPads at the same time, and v1.3 allows you to lock out controls so band members only have access to the controls you allow.
I also liked that I could download the software for free and learn it before even getting my hands on the mixer.
As with all gear in my Road Tests, I hooked up the DL1608 in my shop to play around with it before taking it out on a gig.
I did note one small drawback – the lack of a stereo input. To hook up a CD player or iPod, I needed to use two of the combo inputs, and this also requires using the two channels for control as there is no way in the software to link channels together.
The counter to this, however, is the built-in iPad audio channel that fosters the use of iTunes or another audio program for walk in/out music or cues. The drawback is that to control the music, you have to exit the Master Fader app and open up another program.
While it doesn’t take long for the Master Fader to open, those few seconds leave the operator without any control over the audio.
And when in the Master Fader app, there is no access to the playback controls on the audio app. This is certainly not a deal breaker for me because I normally have a dedicated external audio playback unit on gigs when I need to play cues during a performance, but it would be nice to have a dedicated stereo channel.
In The Field
Following my shop evaluation, I took the DL1608 out to help me handle audio for a ribbon cutting ceremony for the opening of a new business.
Apple AirPort Express provided the option of moving around or staying at the console – I did the latter, but unlocked the iPad during setup to make adjustments while walking the coverage area. I also had a playback unit with me but felt comfortable enough to play back songs directly from iTunes on the iPad for the walk in/out music.
The next gig was a typical corporate meeting breakout room where I normally would deploy one of my Mackie DFX12 mixers. The inputs were a pair of podium microphones and a wireless mic system, as well as an audience Q&A wireless mic and computer audio.
The DL1608 review unit with the author’s Mackie DFX12 analog mixer. (click to enlarge)
Normally I would run a small snake from the podium area back to a console at front of house, but instead, I placed the DL1608 at the stage and sat at FOH with just an iPad and laptop, running a mic to the mixer for audio from my laptop. The wi-fi worked great and saved me from running an 8-channel snake.
With tons of great features in a compact, well-built package, as well as great sound and great software, Mackie has a real winner with the DL1608.
U.S. MSRP for the DL1608: $1,249
Note: To check out comments from the community as well as to ask questions about the DL1608, go to the Road Test Forum here on PSW.
Craig Leerman is senior contributing editor for Live Sound International and ProSoundWeb, and is the owner of Tech Works, a production company based in Las Vegas.