Review: Mackie DL32R - EMusician

Review: Mackie DL32R

Digital Rackmount Mixer with iPad Control
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Mackie’s DL32R digital mixer is at once exciting and scary. Exciting, because of the huge feature set, quality of sound, and routing and control capabilities it brings to a very reasonable price point. Scary, because the only way to control it is by using an iPad. There are no surface controls, no MIDI-speak, not even an application to run it via computer. It’s iPad or nuthin.’

The front panel of the DL32R looks more like a patch panel than a mixer, sporting 24 XLR and eight Combo inputs (all with Mackie Onyx+ mic preamps), 14 XLR outs, two TRS monitor outs, a headphone jack, and two status LEDs (See Figure 1). Rear-panel features include two USB ports, an Ethernet port/card slot, and vents for the cooling fans. The 3RU chassis has handles for easy transport (beware that these protrude enough to inhibit some rack cases from closing properly) and a contoured top that provides a place to secure a router—which you’ll supply along with the iPad. Factor those into the budget.

Thirty-two mono inputs are sourced from the analog inputs, either of the USB ports or an optional Dante network expansion card. Each mono input features an A/B Source switch, gain and digital trim controls, 48-volt phantom power, polarity reverse (Ø), highpass filter (HPF), 4-band parametric EQ, compressor, and gate. The default input routing scheme connects the analog inputs to channels 1 through 32, and USB 1 through 4 to stereo returns 1 and 2. Routings can be changed easily using the Input tab on the I/O patch, and are saved with snapshots.

Twenty-eight output buses include 14 sends, six subgroups, and six matrix feeds, all of which may be linked in stereo pairs. (The Main L/R bus rounds out the count). Each output bus provides HPF and LPF, 4-band parametric and 31- band graphic EQs, compressor/limiter, and alignment delay. By default, outputs 13 and 14 carry the L/R mix, but any bus can be assigned to any physical output. Three internal stereo effect processors have dedicated sends and returns, so you won’t sacrifice channels when using effects. Other major control features include six VCAs, six mute groups, and six subgroups.

SOFTWARE CONTROL

Fig.2. A close-up of the free Mackie Master Fader app Mackie’s Master Fader app (free from the App Store) controls the DL32R (see Figure 2). Once a router is connected, opening the Tools View and selecting the DL32R initiates communication. Master Fader features three main Views: Overview, Mixer View, and Channel View. Overview displays fader position, metering, solo, and mute status for every input and output. Tapping on a fader in Overview opens that fader’s Channel View, where you access EQ, dynamics, effects sends, and input/routing pages; swiping side-toside scrolls through the channels.

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Mixer View is where you’ll see faders, mute, solo, pan, metering, and thumbnail displays for channel EQ, dynamics, and input. Tapping any thumbnail opens that page in the Channel View. Regardless of where you scroll in Mixer View, the L/R Master is always shown at the left side of the iPad screen. I found that if I was not paying attention, it was possible to accidentally mute the L/R master while actually aiming for the last channel. Yikes.

IN ACTION

I used the DL32R on local gigs, mostly with a pair of Electro-Voice ETX-35P powered loudspeakers. The DL32R has all the processing you could want, so there’s no need for an outboard rack. Outputs 13 and 14 on the front of the DL32R are also labeled L and R (respectively) so I figured that connecting them to the inputs of the ETX-35Ps would produce sound, and it did. Getting microphones routed through the mixer was easy, but here’s the kicker: If there were no musicians around, I could easily do my own line check by taking the iPad with me to (for example) the drums and playing them while adjusting the gain, and roughing in gate and comp settings. Ditto for ringing wedges and getting a rough monitor mix right at the musician’s position. You could also pre-record a band, load them onto a hard drive, and play them back for a virtual sound check.

Channel EQ and dynamics are eminently useful, with Vintage and Modern models. I generally preferred the Vintage EQ for drums: A snare drum sorely in need of a new head was revived with a bit of boost at 2.5 kHz and 260 Hz, while adding 5 dB at 46 Hz and 7 dB at 3.81 kHz added heft and impact to a kick drum. A female vocalist using a wireless mic needed some “air,” so a 4 to 5dB boost at 3.14 kHz brightened up her voice, while the Modern setting on the compressor tamed a bit of an edge between 1 and 2 kHz.

Compression can be set anywhere from barely audible to super-squashed and everything in-between. A male crooner-type vocal benefitted from the Vintage emulation (a nod in the direction of an 1176) with 4:1 ratio, slow attack, and medium release. I never heard any zipper noise or pops when making adjustments, even when using the Draw function on the graphic EQ. The ’graph helped solve monitor feedback and was useful for tuning the P.A. for a particular room (though some audio pros will miss an onboard signal generator). And although I didn’t need it, it’s nice to know that the Main, Aux, and Matrix buses have a delay that can be used to time-align remote speakers to the mains.

Three effects processors produce a variety of reverbs and delays. (There are no flange, chorus, or pitch-shift effects.) These processors are configured as two reverbs and one delay. I’d like to have the option to switch one of them between reverb and delay, so I could have a vocal delay, a special effects delay, and one reverb. The Small Room reverb was my favorite, adding just the right amount of space for a snare drum without getting sloppy, while the Hall reverb modified with a two-second decay time complemented lead and backing vocals very well. The delay sounds great on vocal and guitar, and is easy to operate—I created a library of ten different presets in a matter of minutes. The delay effect features a tap function, with separate taps for the left and right delays. Very nice.

COMMUNITY MIXING

Fig.3. The DL32R rear panel has a second USB port for connecting to a hard drive. The true mettle of the DL32R and Master Fader is shown when they’re used for “community mixing.” I found it a challenge to manage a house mix plus several monitor mixes simultaneously from one iPad, but add another iPad or two for monitor mixing, and things get interesting. For example, I created custom Views that let musicians see a drum subgroup (instead of multiple drum channels) plus channels they needed most to mix their own monitor from their iPads.

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Furthermore, Mackie has implemented an important routing feature that I don’t see often enough: Each Aux Send has options for Pre DSP, Pre Fader, Post Fader, Use LR Mute, and (in the case of Auxes linked for stereo) Use LR Pan. The first three are fairly obvious, but the last two are a home run. Deselecting Use LR Mute means that when a channel is muted in the L/R mix, it is not muted to the Aux Sends, giving every channel independent muting for each send. This is critical for a couple of reasons: First, when mixing front of house, I mute and unmute background vocal mics all night because I don’t want stage wash spilling into open microphones; this would be a distraction in ear mixes. Second, channels can be turned on or off in any monitor mix without moving faders or interfering with other monitor mixes.

Like many of the current generation of digital mixers, the DL32R can function as a 32x32 USB audio interface. The rear panel has a second USB (type A) port for direct connection of a hard drive, and 24x24 recording. (According to Mackie, this will be expanded to 32x32 soon.) Recorded files can be pre- or post-DSP, but beware that multitrack recordings are stored as a single multichannel .WAV file that may need to be split before you bring it into your DAW. Pro Tools 10 and 11 imported the multichannel .WAV and split it into the component files, but Reason 8 and Digital Performer 7 and 8 did not. A utility called Wave Agent from Sound Devices (free at sounddevices.com) handled this task perfectly.

Mackie’s DL32R is a strong entry into the digital mixer market. It may not be right for mixing a major tour with 50 inputs, but for applications such as small tours and club mixing—particularly where musicians may use additional iPads to mix their own monitors—or in a house of worship, where situating a mixing desk in the middle of the congregation is out of the question—it’s heaven-sent. Operation is stable, sound quality is excellent, and the feature set is fantastic. An excellent product.

STRENGTHS
Excellent sound quality. Extensive routing capabilities. Direct 24-track recording to a USB drive. Thorough documentation.

LIMITATIONS
48kHz sample rate only. Multitrack files may need to be split for export to some DAW software. No signal generator.

$2,499 MSRP;
$1,999 Street

www.mackie.com

Steve La Cerra mixes front-of-house for Blue Öyster Cult and teaches audio at Mercy College, Dobbs Ferry Campus.