The first thing to know about Mackie’s DL1608 live mixer is that though you need an iPad (not included) to run it, that’s for control only—the Mackie hardware itself does all the mixing and audio processing. Why use an iPad? Had Mackie built in a display with anything close the iPad’s resolution and multi-touch capability, this would likely add more to the cost than the price of an iPad—which many musicians already own. But does the DL1608 make a good case to mix your band’s gigs in this way beyond “because you can”? Let’s find out.
All 16 inputs have Mackie’s accurate, transparent Onyx mic preamps, with phantom power on or off globally. The trim knobs, headphone volume, and phantom and main power switches are the only hardware controls; all else is virtualized in Mackie’s Master Fader app. Keyboard-heavy bands may want more 1/4" inputs than the four combo jacks on channels 13–16 provide, but you can always use 1/4"-to-XLR cables. You can lock the iPad in place to deter theft, though it’s smarter to just take it with you.
The DL1608 succeeds or fails on ease of use—you don’t want to fumble for a control in the middle of a set. Since Master Fader is a free download from the iTunes App Store, you can check out the workflow and features—though it won’t control audio without the mixer present.
The top-level display has eight 60mm faders; you can swipe the screen to access any eight faders out of 19 in total (16 mono inputs, stereo returns for internal reverb and delay, and stereo playback of break music from your iPad). The master fader is always visible. For each channel, there’s pan, solo, mute, gain reduction meter, a highly readable level meter, and a thumbnail of the EQ that, when touched, opens up that channel’s DSP. Unless you need to adjust EQ, dynamics, or sends, you really don’t need to leave the main screen.
A virtual “scribble strip” lets you enter channel names or use pictures—either preset, uploaded, or snapped with the iPad camera. For recognizing a track quickly, I find an image beats text. You can also record your mix as a stereo 16- or 24-bit WAV file, then retrieve it via iTunes.
The main fader typically controls the main stereo output, but its output selector can choose from six aux outs, a reverb send master, or a delay send master. After selecting one of these, the faders control the associated sends. Each of these mixes has a color-coded strip so you know where you are. The auxes make it easy to do monitor mixes, use external effects, or even set up surround-type environments. Note that all aux masters have a mute button, but the master left/right out doesn’t—you probably don’t want to mute your mains accidentally.
Onscreen, the buttons and faders are large enough that at a live gig, you don’t have to poke overly precisely to mix. Between that and the most-needed parameters being readily accessible, the DL1608 is indeed stage-friendly.
EQ, Dynamics, and Effects
Fig. 1. Drag the EQ points or sliders to edit the per-channel EQ, or enter a value on the iPad keyboard for extra precision.
The DSP offers individual windows for EQ, dynamics, and internal effects, arranged as a strip through which you can swipe vertically. Always-visible strips show the channel fader for the selected DSP, as well as the master fader for whichever bus is currently selected (with the option to change the bus from the DSP screen). Swiping left or right scrolls through the channels while leaving the selected DSP visible—handy for rapidly tweaking DSP for multiple channels.
The DSP is full-featured. You get four true parametric EQ stages and phase-reverse on every channel (see Figure 1); likewise for gate and compression (see Figure 2). The bus-based reverb and delay are both are good enough that you won’t have to bring an outboard reverb to the gig. Plenty of built-in presets are included for individual effects as well as channel strips, but you can create your own—and of course, save snapshots of the entire mixer.
Fig. 2. Full-featured dynamics control is also independent per channel.
Docked or Wireless?
If your iPad has a 30-pin Dock connector, it sits neatly in the space the DL1608 provides. If it’s a Lightning-equipped model, everything works if you use an adaptor, but we don’t like the wobble factor of seating the iPad with the adaptor inline. Mackie is working on solutions, but it’s a non-issue if you go wireless. Connecting an optional WiFi router to the DL1608’s Ethernet port (shown) lets you roam while you mix. All iPads work, from the original to the latest Retina and Mini. Mackie’s website recommends an iPad 2 or later for smooth performance, and lists recommended routers. Up to ten iPads can talk to the mixer at once, so musicians can tweak their monitor mixes (within limits—sorry, you can’t turn down the guitar player) and channel processing.
There are lots of ways to do “iPad as user interface for hardware” wrong. Mackie did it right. Careful thought went into the app: The settings you use most are the easiest to access and the deeper parameters aren’t hard to reach. You really can mix a show while walking around the venue, which is a lifesaver at private gigs where you need to put the mixer stageside out of guests’ way. While the DL1608 isn’t the first digital mixer to support wireless control via tablet, it’s the first we’ve tested that doesn’t require an attached computer as an intermediary. [Neither does the Line 6 StageScape, which we’ll review soon. —Ed.]These factors combine to make the DL1608 not merely a clever proof of concept, but an imminently practical solution for hard-working bands.
Excellent iPad app. Workflow is truly conducive to live mixing. Comprehensive DSP, including reverb and delay. Stereo WAV recording to iPad. WiFi control. Rugged and compact.
Phantom power on/off is global for all mic inputs. Of the 16 XLR inputs, only four are combo jacks. No high-impedance instrument input.
Makes iPad-controlled live mixing a robust and user-friendly option for real bands in the real world.
$1,249.99 list | $1,000 street