MACKIE D.2 MIXER - EMusician

MACKIE D.2 MIXER

Until now, Mackie the 15-year-old developer/marketer of studio caliber mixing consoles, loudspeakers, studio monitors and amplifiers had no presence in
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Until now, Mackie — the 15-year-old developer/marketer of studio caliber mixing consoles, loudspeakers, studio monitors and amplifiers — had no presence in the growing DJ mixer market. As its marketing material states, Mackie “didn't think the world really needed another DJ mixer, unless it would bring something truly new and different to the game.” With the release of the Mackie d.2, the company has finally set its sights on this lucrative market with a 2-channel mixer that includes some interesting new features.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Out of the box, the Mackie d.2 feels solidly constructed. The layout is similar to that of most turntablist-oriented mixers: The gray upper half of the top panel features the EQ, mic, effects loop and output controls; the black lower half features the crossfader, a pair of main faders and the transform switches; and the front panel features main fader and crossfader reverse buttons and contour-adjust dials. The layout is clean and clearly labeled, with the upper controls lined up in four distinct columns. It will instantly feel familiar to any scratch DJ.

The d.2 weighs in at 11 pounds and measures 10 inches wide, 15.4 inches long and 4 inches high. The mixer's chassis is made of 14-gauge steel and is robust. The d.2 gives the impression that it is capable of withstanding the typical DJ-on-the-road abuse. The finish — a black and gray textured paint — looks and feels great. It is an understated finish (when compared with the flashy, mirror finish found on Vestax mixers, for example) but looks to be high in quality and further instills confidence in the mixer's construction. In my opinion, the Mackie d.2 surpasses the build quality of the already remarkable Rane TTM 56, which is frequently hailed as the best-made scratch DJ mixer.

The d.2 claims two unique features. It is the first DJ mixer on the market with a FireWire audio interface for connecting to Mac or PC. It is also the first retail mixer to come equipped with the Infinium contact-free optical digital fader with tension adjustment (www.infiniumtechnologies.com). This crossfader has created a buzz in turntablist circles and is available as an aftermarket retrofit for many DJ mixers. Both of those features piqued my interest, and I was eager to put the d.2 through its paces.

HOOKING UP

The back panel of the d.2 is clearly labeled but compactly laid out. Power is provided via a standard power cord, with no external power brick required. That plugs into the Planet Earth switching power supply (capable of accepting any voltage from ~100-240 VAC/50-60 Hz), which is sure to be a hit with international road DJs.

The mixer features a blue lighting scheme that complements the two-tone gray chassis color nicely. The channel-level monitors have blue 12-segment LEDs, and the effects buttons and channel EQ dials feature blue backlighting. Personally, I found the blue lights bright to the point of distraction. However, that would be less of a concern in a dingy nightclub.

Flexible output options abound on the d.2. The primary master outputs are a pair of balanced XLR connectors. A small switch allows the user to toggle the output between a mic-level or line-level setting, a curious option for a turntablist-oriented mixer. The manual notes that the switch allows the d.2 to be used as a submixer — with the main output set to mic level, it can be hooked up to a secondary mixer through its mic input. That is an interesting option, showing Mackie's professional audio chops. While the use of an XLR-based output is uncommon on scratch DJ mixers, the flexibility that the mic-level option affords is worth the possible investment in a couple of new cables.

If XLR cables aren't your thing, a pair of unbalanced RCA outputs is also available. While balanced connections are preferable due to their immunity to external noise, the unbalanced RCAs will serve the needs of bedroom disc jockeys. Furthermore, the RCA outs can be configured (via another toggle switch) to either Live or Record. When set to Live, the RCA output level is controlled by the top panel's Main output. When set to record, the RCA outs provide signal prior to the Main output, allowing you to record at a fixed level without being affected by Main output-level changes during a live performance.

Finally, a third pair of outputs — balanced ¼-inch TRS jacks — are also available. Those are labeled Booth and output their level prior to the Main output-level adjustment, allowing the DJ to separately control booth speaker level via the booth amp. Additionally, the back panel also features a pair of ¼ -inch jacks for the send and return of the included effects loop.

Both of the d.2's channels have two pairs of RCA inputs. Those labeled CD accept a stereo line-level signal, while those labeled Phono can be toggled from a phono-level to a line-level input by way of a pair of toggle switches. When set to Phono, the RCAs accept phono-level input from a standard turntable and include a preamp for the proper reequalization of the phono signal. A ground terminal is provided for each phono input.

While not a common scratch-DJ requirement, the d.2 also includes a mic input. The input connector is a flexible Neutrik combo connector that accepts a balanced XLR or a balanced/unbalanced ¼-inch connector. The mic circuitry features one of Mackie's renowned high-quality preamps and includes a user-selectable 48V phantom power option. The lower portion of the back panel features an area for the pair of FireWire input/output connectors (if equipped).

I loved the variety and flexibility of the various inputs and outputs on the d.2. Mackie's experience serving professional audio engineers shines through clearly. The back panel, however, could be laid out with a little more room for accessing the various toggle buttons and ground terminals. In particular, the On/Off switch is difficult to reach if you use the XLR connectors.

SCRATCH TIME

The d.2 delivers on its initial promise of quality. All of the dials and faders feel superb. In particular, the Infinium crossfader is nice, especially with its user-configurable tension adjust. Tension is adjustable through a small hole in the top surface of the mixer. To set it, simply move the crossfader all the way to the left, and pull off the fader cap. Using a slot-head screwdriver, you can tighten or loosen the tension on the fader based on personal preference. The setting worked well; at its loosest, the crossfader could be moved by simply tipping the mixer. I rate the d.2's crossfader as equal to that of the Rane TTM 56 and superior to the crossfader on any of the Vestax and Stanton mixers I have used.

The design of the fader knobs differs from that of most other scratch mixers. The knobs are thick and slightly convex with a metallic finish. They are the same thickness from top to bottom, unlike the more common plastic tapered knobs found on other mixers. Initially, the knobs felt large, and I wasn't sure if I liked them. However, after only a few minutes of scratching, they became quite comfortable and were not too slippery. Thankfully, the faders were not loud or “clicky,” an annoyance that plagues many of the Vestax mixers.

Crossfader and main-fader tweaks are possible through the front panel, which features a reverse switch and a contour-adjust knob for each channel fader and the crossfader. The reverse (hamster) switch features a red LED on the front panel and top panel, indicating that it has been activated.

The contour adjust for the Infinium crossfader is great. When set to abrupt, less than 1 mm of travel is required to switch from completely off to fully on. That is great for the crab-tastic DJ. With the contour adjust set at slow, the crossfader provides the traditional linear-crossfade effect.

Unfortunately, the contour adjustment for the main channel faders was disappointing. The manual states, “In the Slow position, the faders respond in a linear fashion, increasing from minimum to maximum at the same rate. In the Fast position, the faders respond logarithmically, increasing from minimum to maximum very quickly, and then changing very little for the remainder of the fader travel.” In actuality, moving the contour adjust on the main faders served to only manipulate what felt like the same curve higher or lower on the fader. It was difficult to dial in the ideal slow curve to allow for main-fader echo scratches, and I simply could not get a curve that was abrupt enough at the fast setting to allow for any advanced main-fader crabbing.

Mackie included a lower set of dedicated transform switches, leaving the Phono/Line/FireWire switch in the upper area of the top panel. While I generally do not use transform switches, I did find that these switches worked well without the annoying click that is often heard when using Phono/Line switches for transforming. Furthermore, the transformer switches feature a third Momentary setting, which means the signal is on only for as long as you hold the switch in that direction.

A LITTLE EXTRA

The d.2 features three levels of EQ: High gives a maximum 10 dB of boost or full kill of everything from 4 KHz and up, Mid boosts/kills at around 1 kHz and Low boosts/kills at around 300 Hz. With all three EQs set to kill, the signal is effectively muted. I liked the warmth of the EQs. The EQ dials, however, are slightly too close together. Fast-fingered adjustment during a performance can easily lead to the inadvertent adjustment of the wrong dial.

The d.2's effects loop can be separately enabled for each channel through dedicated effects buttons. Unfortunately, engaging an effects button without having anything hooked up results in the button acting like a mute. Given the buttons' proximity to the Low EQ adjustment, mistakenly pressing an effects button during a performance can lead to disaster. Additionally, the mixer does not include an onboard wet/dry adjustment control, limiting the usefulness of that feature when compared with the excellent effects loop on the Rane TTM 56. At least the effects are added postfader, which means the effect's sound continues even if the fader is off.

The headphone amp in the Mackie d.2 is powerful and should meet the needs of most DJ environments. It certainly plays loud enough, although not to the potentially eardrum-damaging extremes as the headphone amp in the Rane TTM 56.

SPIT HOT FIREWIRE

The d.2's FireWire computer connection card is a $319.99 option that adds the ability to connect the mixer directly to a FireWire-equipped Mac or PC. Once the drivers are installed, connect the d.2 to the FireWire port on your computer and select one of its two output devices (Output 1/2 means channel 1 on the mixer; Output 3/4 means channel 2) from almost any music application, including consumer packages such as iTunes, Windows Media Player and WinAmp, as well as professional audio applications such as Serato Scratch Live, Native Instruments Traktor and Mackie Tracktion 2, which comes bundled with the FireWire card.

To hear the audio on the d.2, you have to set the corresponding channel input control to the FireWire setting. Unfortunately, the FireWire connection offers no way to control the computer software from the mixer (unlike the MIDI features of the Ecler Nuo4 or the built-in Serato Scratch Live features of the new Rane TTM 57SL). This is a minor gripe, but it certainly limited the wow factor.

While computer-audio playback from the d.2 was nice, I was more interested in the d.2's recording capabilities. Once connected, you can record directly from the mixer via a high-quality, low-latency interface. With the drivers installed, the d.2 shows up as an input device separate from the computer's soundcard inputs. The quality of recording through FireWire is far superior to that of any standard soundcard's input jacks, something that should be of particular interest to studio DJs. When I first heard that the d.2 came with FireWire-based recording, I hoped that it would feature the ability to separately record channel 1 and channel 2 audio from the mixer. However, it offers only the ability to record the combined output (as would be available from standard RCA output connectors). At press time, Mackie claimed to be looking into including the ability to record channel 1 and channel 2 separately in a future update to the FireWire capabilities.

FINAL THOUGHTS

If build quality and professional audio features are important to you, then you'd be hard-pressed to do better than the Mackie d.2. While I was disappointed by the limited functionality afforded by the pricey FireWire option, I was impressed by the attention to detail that went into the mixer's design. It is a worthy competitor for the likes of the Rane, Ecler and Vestax mixers. At a list price of $779.99 (without the FireWire option), the d.2 costs almost $150 less than the Rane TTM 56.

For its first foray into the competitive DJ mixer market, Mackie did a superb job, while staying true to its professional-audio roots. Along with its humorously written manual, the d.2 is more than capable of handling professional DJ's needs. While Mackie may not have completely succeeded in producing a mixer that was truly new and different to the turntablist crowd, the company ensured that all other manufacturers will have to raise their game to step ahead of the d.2.

MACKIE

D.2 MIXER > $779.99

Pros: Excellent crossfader. Professional-grade audio features. High-quality build. Reasonable price.

Cons: Main fader curve adjustment is off. Disappointing FireWire features and effects loop. Bright blue lights can be distracting.

Contact:www.mackie.com