Zoom L-12 Review and Setup

The Zoom L-12 is a multichannel mixer, audio interface and recorder. And it can do all of this at the same time!

The build quality is well made despite being all plastic. The knobs, buttons, and fader feel solid enough to last. See below for a list of all the gear I used to make this video.

The number one feature of the L-12 that impresses me most is its ability to both record to the SD card (multi-channel) while also being an audio interface, sending multi-channel audio to your computer at the very same time. Most mixers with built in recorders or even recorders that are also interfaces, make you choose which function you want to use, not allowing you to do both at the same time.

Currently, the only other device I have used that allows this ability is the MixPre series from Sound Devices. For the price point of this mixer, this is a huge advantage and for me it’s the biggest selling point.

On the back of the L-12 you have an on/off switch which is not a trivial addition. Other mixers I’ve reviewed do not include a switch and must be unplugged in order to power off. And when you turn off the Zoom L-12, your settings are written to the SD card so that next time you turn it back on, you begin where you left off.

Other options include a USB thumb drive for loading and off-loading settings. You also have a switch that makes the L-12 compatible with iOS devices. I didn’t get to test this out but that’s a nice feature to have. The Zoom connects to a computer via bidirectional USB2.0 which is fast enough to send 14 separate audio channels as well as bring back 4 channels of audio from the computer. The device records to SD cards both SDHC and SDXC with a built in tester to let you know if your SD card will work with the L-12. There’s also a control input that allows for the connection of devices such as a foot pedal but this is something more for musicians than podcasters. And finally you get a a Kensington Security Slot for connecting a lock so that you can walk away from your device if using it in public.

You get eight combo (XLR/Line-in) inputs which provide you with the ability to connect up to eight microphones, each with its own preamp with 60db of gain. Channels one and two have Hi-Z power while three through eight provide a pad (-20db) for line in inputs. All channels provide 48 volts of phantom power for condenser microphones. And the preamps themselves are nice. I can easily power a dynamic mic like the Sennhieser e835 (as heard in the video), using ~75% of the gain. After this point, it sounds like the preamps might introduce a little bit of noise but overall they are clean.

Below the gain/trim knob, each microphone channel includes one-knob compression. This does a really nice job of preventing clipping while also helping to maintain a consistent audio level. Important to note that as you raise the compression you’ll also raise the gain because the compressor includes make-up gain. So as you increase the amount of compression, I found that about more than half way was a nice balance for preventing peaking, you’ll want to decrease your gain in order to maintain the same level and gain staging as when you are not using any compression.

When gain staging my microphone, I was satisfied with my peaks bouncing up to -20 to -18db. This produced a clean signal with plenty of headroom and I was able to raise this to loudness standards in post without introducing any unwanted noise.

With this digital mixer, your channel stops actually represent six different custom setups. In addition to the master mix, you get five custom setups which allow you to create five different “scenes” that can all be routed to their own output. For podcasters this means that you can create up to five different mix-minus setups! The setup is a little different than using aux-sends on an analog mixer but the result is the same. See the video for how to achieve a mix-minus setup on the L-12 or refer to my complete guide for setting up a mix-minus on any mixer with an aux/fx send. Each of these channels also includes the ability to setup a custom EQ.

The five separate headphone outputs also replace another piece of gear that podcasters with multiple people in studio often use, a headphone amplifier. Each of the five headphone outputs on the L-12 has it’s own gain knob so each person connected to one of the five outputs can control the level of audio going to their own headphones. The headphone preamps are also clean (without added noise) unlike the Zoom F8 that I have which has one headphone output and creates noise when turned up higher than 75%. I was happy to hear that the L-12 headphone preamps were clean and allowed me hear exactly the audio that was going into the mixer.

Each channel also includes a mute button. However, this does not work the way I’d want it to. The mute only follows through to the master mix. So when you press mute on any channel, the individual tracks being recorded to the SD card as well as the audio going out of the USB is not affected by the mute. Because of this the mute has little value, at least to me.

Channels 9/10 can be used as a USB return. The L-12 will bring audio back from your computer with it’s own fader control or this channel along with 11/12 can be used as a line-in, stereo input. As of this review, channel 11/12 can also be set to return audio via USB but in my tests this did not work on a Mac. Hopefully this and the mute buttons will be updated in future firmware updates. It would also be nice if I could see the audio levels on the LCD display for each track that is being recorded to the SD card.

The control knob in the recorder section allows you to press it in and create a marker in your audio, unfortunately it doesn’t seem to translate to your recorded files or in your recording software. The markers are stored in a project file on the SD card and you can move between each marker inside the interface of the recorder only.

As with any multichannel interface, when using with Skype, only channel one will be able to interface with Skype. In order to get around this and have Skype receive all channels from the mixer, you must setup an additional piece of software such as Audio Hijack so that you can pass the audio through an intermediate stage that will gather all channels into a single output for Skype.

If you’re looking for a multichannel audio interface, the Zoom L-12 is a device I would seriously consider. The addition of a recorder built-in really makes this device worth the price. The recorder provides you with the ability to record a backup which for me is critical in any recording setup. Other mixers that provide you with this many aux sends (most only go up to 4) cost just as much as the L-12 and don’t provide as much functionality.

Gear used to make this video*:


EDITED AND GRADED: Adobe Premiere Pro CC using Lumetri Color Presets (tweaked to my liking).

*all links should be considered affiliate links. I encourage you to shop around for the best prices at the time you are viewing this. You can read my ethics statement via https://thepodcastersstudio.com/ethics. Thanks!

About Ray Ortega

Full-time podcast producer and host of The Podcasters' Studio and Podcasters' Roundtable, I enjoy sharing my ten years of experience making podcasts to help others improve or start their own show.

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