Over the past few years, I’ve used and reviewed several digital mixers—often times learning them on-the-fly while working with live bands. While I don’t profess to have earned my digital black belt, I have enjoyed learning the kicks. At the moment, my go-to for most events is a PreSonus StudioLive 16.4.2AI. I have other favorites but I like the PreSonus because it was easy to get comfortable with and has (thus far) held together very well. But sometimes, I just don’t need 16 channels.
As with analog mixers, digitals come in all shapes and sizes with varying channel counts and configurations. The more you get—the more it costs, usually. So, what if you are a small band on a tight budget. Let’s say you need a maximum of 8 input channels and a couple of auxes for monitors—something basic to keep everyone in balance. Oh, and as you probably don’t have a sound guy, the lead singer, drummer, or bass player will need to mix right from where they are performing.
Well, Mackie’s ProDX8 may be just what you are looking for. The ProDX8 is about the size of a standard paving brick (9” x 5” x 4”) and feels solid enough to pass for one. There are six mic/line ins (channels 1-6) and one stereo line input (channels 7&8). A single “encoder” (formerly known as a “knob”) can be assigned to any channel or function. For example, to control the gain of a particular channel, just press the button assigned to that channel and set the gain by rotating the encoder. In a like manner it can used to tweak channel EQ, adjust compression, add one of the on-board effects and set the volume in the headphones.
On the back side, combo Mic/Line (XLR & 1/4”) jacks are provided for inputs 1-6. The stereo channels (7&8) feed off a mini-jack or built-in Bluetooth. There are left and right main outs along with two aux outputs for monitors or for additional zones. Main and Aux outputs use balanced 1/4” jacks. (BTW: If you don’t need 8 mic/line ins, you may be able to get by with the ProDX4).
There are no faders on the base unit—just that one knob. While that works fine in a pinch, it’s better when you using an iPad or iPhone as the interface. A handy slot runs right along the top of the ProDX8 to position said iDevice.
At this point, I suggest you go to the app store and download Mackie’s “Mixer Connect” (available for iOS and Android) Run it in “demo” mode as you follow along.
Touch Screen Mixer Interface
As you can see, the Mixer Connect interface looks quite familiar. At the top of each channel strip there’s a mute switch. Click on the icon with the 3 horizontal sliders at the bottom of the fader to bring up several other options. In addition to controlling gain, each channel has several EQ options along with compression and a slate of popular reverbs and effects. There’s also a seven-band graphic EQ accessible through the main channel. So you have all of the basic control and processing needs right on your iDevice.
I recently used the ProDX8 for several events—most recently to mix sound for a quartet with guitar, bass, keys and two vocal mics. The room was particularly lively so I was more than a bit concerned about feedback. To ring out the sound, I set everything flat mixer on the mixer and then powered up the left and right mains (Mackie SRM 650s), the subwoofer, and a small 10” monitor. While the EQ options available are pretty basic, you should be able to a good gain before feedback sweet spot. Then again, so much depends on the room, where your monitors and speakers are placed, how many mics you need open and how loud you need to be. Using just two mics (Audix OM2), I had no feedback issues at all.
Of course, what happens during soundcheck versus when the room is full of sound absorbing humans is two different things. Using the iPad interface, I made a few first corrections to the room EQ (main channel) to bring forward the high-mids and tighten the low end to improve vocal intelligibility. A fair amount (30% or so) of compression was added to reduce the dynamic range for a more consistent vocal level and accentuate the beat.
Wish List While the ProDX8 has all the inputs needed for up to six mics and instruments plus a stereo line in, I wish they had included a USB connection. They didn’t. As I needed to us my computer as a music source, I created my own USB port using a PreSonus AudioBox iTwo. This work around not only provided a way to connect to the USB port on my laptop, but also added another gain control point. As the AudioBox iTwo takes its juice right from the computer, I needed only two AC outlets—One for the laptop and one for the Mackie ProDX8.
When using the Mixer Connect interface, the iPad (or iPhone) connects to the ProDX8 base via Bluetooth. When it worked, it was great. But it’s not (yet) totally glitch free.
On average, the iPad has lost connection with the ProDX8 base at least twice every time I’ve had it out. When this occurs, Mixer Connect reverts to the demo mode—the audio is unaffected and you can still adjust gain with the buttons and encoder knob, but you have no visual way of knowing what you are doing. To re-establish the connection, I found that switching Bluetooth off and then back on in the iPad’s settings brought it back without any hiccups in the audio. Easy to fix, but still a pain—and it really didn’t seem to have much to do with the distance the iPad was from the base (as long it was within 15 feet – but hey, it’s Bluetooth, not Wi-Fi) The second item on my wish list would be a way to hard wire the iPad to the base so that a more stable option other than Bluetooth would be available.
If this happens too frequently, try resetting the network settings (see below). Aside from the minor issues with Bluetooth connectivity all else went well. Mixing on the fly with a touch screen takes a bit of practice as it behaves quite differently—specifically, it lacks the positive feel you get from wrapping your fingers around a fader knob. Holding the iPad and using your thumbs to work the sliders seems to work best. You may also want to check out one of the stand mountable iPod holders available from IK Multimedia, VocoPro and other manufacturers.
Mackie ProDX8 – Typical online price $299.
Note: If you want to play music off the iPad / iPhone that you are using as your control surface, best to hard wire to channel 7/8. Streaming audio from the same iPad that was being used as the mixer interface seemed to work, but as long as you can hard wire it, why not.
To reset your iPad/iPhone network settings: From techradar.com – Go to Settings > General > Reset > Reset Network Settings. It’s the third option down. You’ll want to avoid Reset All Settings and Erase All Content and Settings.