Mackie Onyx 820i

January 1, 2011
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Onyx-820i_MAIN.jpgFor many musicians and engineers, the words “Mackie” and “mixer” are synonymous, and with good reason. For decades, the company has produced robust, no-nonsense mixing consoles of all shapes and sizes, serving countless garage bands, recording sessions, and stadium shows in the process. With the Onyx-i series, Mackie offers a compelling alchemy of digital and analog functionality, promising that the smallest box in their flagship series not only brings beef and flavor as a live mixer, but also as a FireWire audio interface for computer recording.

Construction and Connections

Right out of the box, I appreciated the Onyx 820i’s compact form factor, which proved useful in the two separate and small project studio spaces. In the first, I easily set the mixer on top of my Mac Pro tower and tweaked knobs and buttons from there; in the second, it fit nicely on my desk.

Also impressive is the layout and accessibility of controls—the “Where’s the button to do this?” factor is essentially nonexistent. My guest expert, producer and engineer Michael Winger (Tom Petty, Regina Spektor, Super Adventure Club), agreed that “the FireWire buttons, the software and interface elements, are all clearly labeled and easy to find.”

The Onyx-820i boasts a respectable array of “gozintas” and “gozouttas.” The eight channels consist of two mono channels that accommodate line or mic inputs (with or without phantom power), two stereo line inputs, and a hybrid channel that can handle another mono mic input (again, with or without phantom power) and stereo line inputs. If you’re in iso-booth territory, the mixer has talkback—something I’m not used to seeing on a piece of hardware this compact.

Computer Integration

There comes a day when every recording keyboardist must face the question: “What do I use to unlock and record into Pro Tools?” Mackie fans can celebrate, as the Onyx 820i comes with a driver for Pro Tools M-Powered 8—at press time, this driver was free due to a special Mackie has run for several months. [This is less of a big deal now that Pro Tools 9 works with virtually any CoreAudio or ASIO interface of your choice —Ed.] Installation was a breeze and within five minutes, I was opening sessions and comping vocals. I also used the mixer with Logic, Finale, GarageBand, and other programs with no difficulties.

On the FireWire integration side, the Onyx 820i gives you a lot of flexibility as to how to communicate with your DAW. Channels 1, 2, 3-4, and 5-6 let you choose whether pre- or post-fader-and-EQ signal goes out the FireWire port, for example. “It’s also nice that you can assign the main mix to FireWire 7-8 and have things show up on your computer with the touch of a button, rather than having to route them around with cables,” added Winger. “These are all good workflow enhancements.”

Onyx-820i_Back.jpgTwin FireWire 400 ports, main outs, control room outs, and alternate outs are on the rear panel. Producing part of your album in Los Angeles and part in Australia? The internal power supply auto-switches throughout a range from 100 to 240 VAC.

  

 

 

In Use

For an album in progress, I used the Onyx to record organ and electric piano from a Roland V-Combo keyboard, heavy lead synth sounds from a Roland V-Synth, and backing vocals sung into a large-diaphragm, phantom- powered condenser mic. In all of these uses, the sound captured in my Logic and Pro Tools sessions came through crisp and true to the source, without significant coloring or affectation. Winger, who mixed the album, agreed, noting that “the preamps were clean and quiet without significant hiss, muck, or thinness.”

The Onyx 820i also did a fine job at a house concert. My sound requirements were straightforward: stereo output to two speakers, with inputs coming from a dynamic vocal mic, mono electric bass (easy, thanks to the mixer’s built-in DI on channels 1 and 2), and a digital stage piano running in stereo. I liked the feel, sound, and musicality of the Perkins EQ as I swept out some shrillness from the piano’s upper range and boosted the low end of the bass to fit the sonics of the room.

My only noteworthy gripe about the Onyx 820i is that it lacks traditional MIDI ports. Since I do a lot of composition and recording work with virtual instruments, their absence was a drag. True, pretty much any keyboard you buy these days will have direct USB MIDI connection to your computer, so this is far from a dealbreaker—but for those of us who still prefer to use our beloved Kurzweil PC88s and other pre-USB axes as MIDI controllers, and conserve valuable USB and FireWire ports on our computers, a good ol’ pair of five-pin MIDI jacks would’ve been a nice addition.

Conclusions

The Onyx 820i is a rugged and versatile mixer that will do many gigging and recording musicians proud, both in the club and in the studio. Keyboardists are used to routing our setups through a compact mixer for live gigs—we have to do it all the time. Therefore, it’s very intuitive that the front end for the DAW in our keyboard-centric home studios should handle like an analog mixer—and since the Mackie is one, it does this brilliantly. If you need more inputs, larger siblings in the Onyx-i family offer the same crisp, clean sound and multitrack FireWire output. If you’re looking for a transparent sounding, no-nonsense mixing and recording solution to take from studio to stage and back again, the Onyx 820i should be at the top of your list.

Web Extras

Specifications

PROS Works as an interface for Pro Tools M-Powered, or virtually any other DAW. Clean, crisp preamps. Lots of functionality in a small footprint. Versatile analog and FireWire routing. Robust construction.

CONS Doesn’t function as a MIDI interface.

CONCEPT Analog mixer that thrives in a live setting—and as a FireWire audio interface for your favorite Mac or PC recording software.
INPUT CHANNELS 8 total: 2 mono and 3 stereo.
MIC PREAMPS 3 total: 1 Onyx pre on each of channels 1–3.
EQ Perkins EQ on all channels; 3-band with sweepable midrange on channels 1 and 2; 4-band on channel 3-4; 3-band on 5-6 and 78.
MAXIMUM RECORDING RESOLUTION 24-bit/96kHz.
INCLUDED SOFTWARE Tracktion 3 Basic Bundle, driver for integration with Pro Tools M-Powered 8.
W x D x H 9" x 14.2" x 3.8".
WEIGHT 10 lbs.

PRICE List: $499.99
Approx. street: $400
mackie.com

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