By Phil O'Keefe |
32-channel rackmount digital mixer with wireless iPad control
Modern musicians and bands need a lot from a mixer. They want something that will work for live performances, but that will also serve them well in the studio too. Mixers that can serve multiple roles are not exactly new, but Mackie's new DL32R digital mixer can do more than most, and has several innovative features that make it far from typical. In some ways it's similar to their earlier Mackie DL806 and DL1608 mixers, but as you'll see, it's even more powerful.
What You Need To Know
- The Mackie DL32R is a 32-channel wireless digital mixer. In partnership with your iPad (2nd generation or later, including iPad Mini models, running iOS 7.1 or later), Mackie's free Master Fader control app and your WiFi router, it offers totally wireless mixing from anywhere in the venue, complete with powerful onboard DSP.
- It also has direct multitrack recording and playback capabilities of up to 24 24-bit 48kHz tracks - just plug in a USB 2.0 external hard drive. An upgrade to 32 track recording and playback will be released soon. It can even serve as a 32x32 USB 2.0 audio interface for your Mac or PC.
- Housed in a three rack space enclosure 17.5" deep that weighs a mere 18 pounds, the DL32R's hardware looks deceptively simple. On the front you'll find 24 XLR mic/line inputs, as well as 8 additional combo XLR/TRS mic/line inputs. All 32 inputs feature Mackie's high-quality Onyx+ mic preamps. These are clean and neutral sounding, and all their settings can be stored and recalled - including gain, input trim, polarity and phantom power. You also get user-configurable A and B input options for switching between any two inputs per channel you want, such as the mic/line inputs and USB inputs.
- There are 14 assignable XLR outputs. A 1/4" stereo headphone output (with level control) as well as a stereo AES digital output and two balanced / unbalanced 1/4" TRS Monitor L/R analog outputs are also included, giving you plenty of outputs for use with outboard effects, powered speakers, stage wedges and in-ear monitors, and so forth.
- The rear panel is quite sparse. You'll find the IEC power connector and a power on/off switch, along with a pair of quiet ventilation fans. This is also where you'll find the DL32R's two USB 2.0 ports - an A and a B port, with the A port intended for use with an external hard drive, while the B port allows you to connect the DL32R to a Mac (OS 10.8.4 or later) or PC (Windows 7/8) computer, where it can serve as a 32x32 audio interface. 24 channel direct to/from hard disk recording and playback is supported (again, with a 32 track upgrade coming soon), making the DL32R great for recording live gigs, as well as for playback of pre-show and intermission audio tracks. This feature is also very useful for "virtual soundcheck" purposes. All the recording and playback features are controlled via the Master Fader control app.
- The rear of the unit is not as high as the front, and has a shelf and mounting points (with velcro straps included) for attaching your router to the DL32R if desired. An expansion card slot is also located on the rear of the DL32R. The review unit came with a WiFi control card installed. A Dante networking card is in the works too. I tried a couple of different Wireless-N routers with the DL32R and it worked great with both of them. Range is quite good as long as you use a decent Wireless-N router.
- Up to ten iOS devices can be used simultaneously with the Mackie DL32R, and iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad devices can be used with Mackie's free My Fader app so everyone in the band can adjust their own monitor levels.
- Mixing with the DL32R is quite easy thanks to Mackie's well-designed and intuitive Master Fader control app, which offers a virtual mixer in software that controls the various parameters of the hardware mixer wirelessly. Software overview of all channels, as well as mixer view and independent channel views are provided. You can even re-assign channel routings.
- Four band parametric EQ is provided on the 32 stereo-linkable input channels, along with a compressor and a gate. Modern and vintage versions of these processors are provided and presets are included to get you started, and you can easily save your own too. There are 14 aux sends, 6 VCAs, 6 mute groups and 6 fader sub groups.
- There is also a delay and two reverb processors with dedicated sends and stereo returns, and 31-band graphic equalizers for each of the outputs. The reverbs are serviceable but not stellar, although the delay is quite good, and features tap tempo. Each return channel also features parametric EQ and compression.
- You'll need to provide your own Wifi router and CAT5 Ethernet cable, and the wireless range will depend on the router you use. No docking or hardwire connection between the iPad and DL32R is available. While I initially thought it might be nice to have a router built into the DL32R, I quickly realized that the approach Mackie took allows you to update to a better router as technology improves.
- Of course, you'll also need to provide an iPad, which will also add to the overall system cost. Because the design of the DL32R doesn't require a direct physical docking connection between the mixer and iPad, compatibility should be able to be maintained via software updates to the Master Fader app, even when new versions of the iPad and iOS software are released.
- You're limited to a 48kHz sample rate when recording to an external hard drive. The DL32R will not record at 44.1kHz or any other sample rate. Fortunately the DL32R records at your choice of either 16 or 24 bit resolution.
- The USB A and B ports can not be used simultaneously. Port A (the external hard drive port) takes priority if devices are accidentally connected to both at the same time.
- Unfortunately the latest version of the My Fader app needs to be updated to work with the latest version of the DL32R firmware; the current version of the app disconnects and gives you an error message as soon as you attempt to connect. Fortunately the current version of the more powerful Master Fader app works fine and provides full control of everything on the DL32R, and Mackie assures me that My Fader 3.0 will be shown at NAMM 2015 and will be available soon after as a free download on the iTunes App Store.
It's quite impressive how many features Mackie has crammed into this deceptively small box. Being free to mix wirelessly from any place in the venue is really liberating, and allows you to check on how things sound - and if necessary make corrections - from literally anywhere within WiFi range. Multiple users can adjust their own monitor mixes, which will make everyone happy. Mackie includes tons of powerful DSP as well as plenty of I/O, making the DL32R suitable for a wide range of users. The DL32R can even be left on stage with mics connected to it directly, which will eliminate the need for a snake for many users.
It's really cool being able to record shows directly to a connected hard drive, and the ability to recall all the board settings and then play back last night's performance while setting up and fine-tuning the sound for a new room is a real time saver, and allows the soundperson to do a soundcheck even if the band can't be there. Add in the 32x32 audio interface capabilities and you have a fully-loaded mixing powerhouse that's equally at home on stage or in your studio.
Mackie DL32R 32-Channel Wireless Digital Mixer with iPad Control ($2,499.99 MSRP, $1,999.99 "street")
Mackie's product web page
Mackie DL32R Product Presentation video (full):
Mackie DL32R wireless mixing video:
Mackie Master Fader 3.0 Demo:
Mackie DL32R DSP video:
Mackie DL32R recording and playback video:
Mackie DL32R Monitor Mixing demo video: