Mackie''s 802-VLZ3 provides eight channels of clean sound and versatile routing options at a bargain price.
Mackie's new 402-VLZ3 and 802-VLZ3 compact mic-line mixers — “subcompact” or “notebook” mixers might be more accurate terms — advance the company's time-honored reputation for packing quality analog circuitry into ever-smaller spaces. The 802-VLZ3 mixer ($199.99), in particular, offers a nice set of input and output options in a package that takes up barely a square foot of desktop space.
The 802-VLZ3 provides eight channels, configured as two mono channel strips and three stereo channel strips. Each channel strip has fixed 3-band EQ (80 Hz, 2.5 kHz, and 12 kHz), pan pots, an aux-send pot, prefader solo, mute buttons that route signals to an Alt 3-4 bus, and rotary level pots at the bottom of the mixer's face.
Channel strips 1, 2, and 3-4 have gain pots and low-cut filters for the XLR inputs. The gain pot and filter do not affect the stereo line inputs on channel strip 3-4, and there are no gain pots or filters on stereo line channels 5-6 and 7-8.
Channels 1 and 2 each have XLR mic and ¼-inch line inputs that share circuitry. These channels feature a low-cut switch (18 dB per octave at 100 Hz), a high-impedance switch for plugging a guitar into the line-in jack, and a TRS insert jack.
Stereo channel strip 3-4 includes mic input 3 (XLR) and line inputs 3 and 4; these line inputs share circuitry with the mic input. This channel strip retains the low-cut filter switch but omits the high-impedance switch and insert jack.
A big advantage of the 802-VLZ3 is its incorporation of Mackie's popular XDR2 preamps (with XLR connectors) on mic inputs 1, 2, and 3. I tested the XDR2 preamps with dynamic and condenser mics, and the preamps were quiet and were consistently true to the input signal, adding no unwanted color to the sound.
ON THE OUTS
The 802-VLZ3 has balanced XLR outputs with a switch that selects between +4 dBu for main-mixer operation and mic-level output for routing signals to a larger mixer. You also get balanced/unbalanced output on ¼-inch connectors, an aux-send output, stereo return jacks for the aux sends, the Alt 3-4 output jacks, and control-room output jacks.
A switch engages phantom power on all three mic inputs. You can also switch the channel aux sends between pre- and postfader/mute/Alt 3-4. Stereo tape ins and outs are provided on RCA phono jacks.
There's also a dedicated pot for the stereo return signal and one for headphone level. The headphone jack is on the extreme right of the mixer's face, and Mackie's Control Room Source matrix lets you monitor your choice of the main mix, Alt 3-4 bus, or tape returns on the control-room headphones and meter display.
The rear panel of the 802-VLZ3's steel housing hosts a power switch and a 3-hole connector for the locking power cable, which uses an in-line DC converter.
The 802-VLZ3 has no digital interfacing capability, so I fed its stereo returns from the outputs of my FireWire interface after connecting the mixer to my powered monitors. I fired up a mix in my DAW and, as expected, heard clean sound and ample gain, the hallmarks of Mackie's mixers. The outputs were clean, exhibiting only a small amount of noise with the control-room and main mix knobs turned almost all the way up.
In addition to the aforementioned mic tests, I listened to a Fender Telecaster in channel 1, using the high-impedance switch, and to keyboards in the stereo line channels. I was able to record back through my interface with no apparent signal degradation. Best of all, I was able to clear up lots of desk space by using the 802-VLZ3 for simple recordings like voice-overs and audio examples for education projects.
The 802-VLZ3 is a clean, compact mixer that is sturdy enough for road work and versatile enough for many basic studio projects. It is bundled with a copy of Mackie's Tracktion 3 Project Bundle. Tracktion is a well-regarded digital audio sequencer, and the Project Bundle also includes software from IK Multimedia, Garritan, Submersible Music, LinPlug, and Sonic Reality.
Using the mixer's main and alt buses, you could record as many as four tracks at a time with effects and EQ through a small digital interface with multiple inputs. The 802-VLZ3 has its limitations, such as having only three mic inputs, but one can ask only so much of a compact mixer, especially at this price. Studio owners who need to add some extra inputs to their rig and small bands who play the club circuit and don't want to haul a large mixer should take a closer look.
Value (1 through 5): 4