The Mackie 402VLZ ultra-compact mixer* is an excellent audio mixer for first time podcasters. “Built like a tank” the 402 is encased in steel with quality feeling knobs, sealed to prevent dust from invading the insides of the mixer. The first thing you’ll notice when you pull this mixer from the box is how well it’s built and its small size. This thing feels like a road warrior, built to be taken with you when necessary.
(Audio of the VLZ4 (me rambling on for 20 minutes testing setups). Meant to test the preamp quality.)
While build quality is important, it’s a mixer’s preamps that I’m most interested in. Can I turn the gain knob up all the way without the preamp and/or circuitry causing any self-noise (hiss, hum, etc)? This mixer does not disappoint. The gain is clean all the way up to +60db, allowing you to drive some of the more gain hungry microphones such as the Heil PR40 or the ATR2100.
Because podcasters often record in places that are not built for clean sound (most often a room in your house) I generally recommend dynamic microphones like the Heil and Audio-Technica above for better rejection of background noises. However, the 402VLZ4 does have phantom power on the two XLR microphone channels if you choose to use a condenser microphone.
The 402VLZ4 features Mackie’s top of the line Onyx preamps. Of the four sub $100 mixers that I tested, the 402VLZ4 had the cleanest sounding preamps in the group. I don’t imagine that preamps get much cleaner than what I experienced with the 402.
So, why might a podcaster choose the 402VLZ4 for their recording setup? Here’s a list of the things I like about the Mackie 402 for podcasters.
- Build quality is top notch. It should last as long as you need it.
- Compact size. Can fit on any desktop and would be easy to travel with.
- Preamp provides up to +60db of clean gain.
- Includes two XLR channels allowing for yourself and an in-studio guest or co-host.
- Includes one additional stereo channel for inputting additional audio devices.
- Provides phantom power for condenser microphones.
- Has a headphone jack with its own level control for monitoring the audio.
The Not as Good
Why would you not choose the 402VLZ4 for podcasting? The biggest reason would be that this mixer does not have an auxiliary send channel. Without an aux send you cannot setup a mix-minus for recording Skype. For podcasters that want to conduct interviews via Skype using a mixer, this would be the wrong choice. Unless you were planning to use Skype recording software such as Call Recorder (Mac) or Pamela (Windows). In those cases you could use this mixer to interface you microphone with Skype and the software would handle the recording.
Less important but notable, the 402VLZ4 is an all analog mixer, there are no digital outputs (USB, Firewire, etc.) for easily connecting the mixer to your computer. That said, it is very easy to connect any mixer to a computer using a simple analog to digital (A/D) converter such as the iMic from Griffin which I use and a stereo Y cable. Also, most computers have a built in sound card with a 1/8″ analog connection often labeled as a microphone input or “line in.”
Here are some additional features that I like about the 402VLZ4.
- Has a power on/off switch. Many sub $100 mixers require you to unplug them to turn them off.
- Power cable is balanced and has a locking connection.
- Each microphone channel has a low-cut switch.
- The knobs/controls feel high quality and are sealed to help prevent dust from invading the mixer’s internals.
- Tape input and output allow for additional devices to be connected to the mixer and sent out.
- Stereo Pan switch allows microphone channels one and two to be hard panned left and right for creating a pseudo multichannel mix.
- Nice audio metering. The 402VLZ4 has a “high-resolution, 8-segment stereo meter” which is more detailed than you get on many other mixers in its class (typically 4 segment meters).
- Microphone stand mount on back.
Over the four sub $100 mixers that I tested, the Mackie 402VLZ4 was my favorite. Due to its build quality and clean preamps, it’s the mixer I would choose if I didn’t need an aux send.
However, since I do like the ability to create a mix-minus setup, I would upgrade my purchase to the Mackie 802VLZ4 if I didn’t need multichannel output. While it’s a significant price difference, the 802VLZ4 being $100 more, you get all the features of the 402VLZ4 that I love with some significant upgrades. Most important to me as a podcaster are:
- Aux send for creating a mix-minus.
- Additional channels for more inputs including one more XLR input.
- XLR main outputs for outputting to good quality studio monitors.
- Higher resolution audio meter.
- PFL solo controls for easy gain staging.
- Individual mute controls on each channel.
- Deeper EQ controls on each channel (includes the mid-range missing on the 402VLZ4).
- Pan controls on each channel.
- Two Insert channels for connecting external processing hardware.
The Mackie 402VLZ4 lives up to its billing, “built like a tank,” high-quality preamps, compact size. If these are features you need in a mixer, all under $100, the 402VLZ4 is my recommendation. I was sad to send this mixer back.*
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