A Blend of Classic Analog and Modern Digital Features
By Kristin Pinell & Kurt Reil
June 14, 2011
The classic “hands-on” control of an analog mixer blended with a firewire interface for your computer makes the Mackie Onyx 1620i a powerful tool for stage or studio.
High-end components like Onyx pre amps, Perkins EQs and AKM converters give this unit added sonic quality not matched at this price. If you’re a band looking for a mid-priced mixer either for your live shows or recording studio the Mackie Onyx 1620i (approx. $900) makes a great front end for your DAW (Digital Audio Workspace).
Why we like the Mackie Onyx 1620i
Mackie has packed this unit so full of well thought-out features that, once you pair it with a decent computer, you essentially have everything you need to record and mix your music.
Analog Meets Digital
With this unit you get complete DAW (Digital Audio Workspace) Integration. Mackie boasts that its Onyx-i series is Mac- or Windows-compatible and has complete platform support with all major DAWs including Pro Tools M-Powered 8, Logic, SONAR, Digital Performer, Cubase, Ableton Live, Final Cut Pro, and others.
The firewire interface allows you to record at a sampling rate up to 24bit/96khz and can handle 16 inputs and 2 outputs simultaneously.
A drawback for some may be that the 1620i is limited in its ability to input only 2 sources from you DAW back into the mixer. So if you want to do an actual analog mix you’ll have to have an external D/A multichannel interface. Most people these days are mixing “in the box” within their DAW software so this won’t even be an issue.
The 1620i is a compact, rugged unit that feels roadworthy. The jacks are all metal, and the sealed pots and switches keep the unit dust free. They feel sturdy. not cheap or
plastic-y. Right out the box we could see there is a robustness to the mixing surface.
Onyx Mic Pre Amps
One of our favorite features on the 1620i is the eight boutique quality preamps. They noticeably enhance the fidelity of the tracks, but are nicely transparent and offer good headroom. Having this many preamps of this quality at this price range is a tremendous value.
The inclusion of Perkins EQ is another strong feature. Mackie claims that they based the EQ on the circuitry of classic British mixing consoles from the 60’s and 70’s, which supposedly had a sweeter tone. We found the EQ very responsive and for a board of this level you get very good control. Small incremental moves translate to subtle EQ changes that give a nice “sparkle” to the tracks. The 8 mono mic/line channels have 4-band EQ with dual sweepable mids and the stereo line channels have 3-band EQ. You also have the option to bypass the EQs pre or post fader.
There are powerful routing capabilities on the 1620i usually reserved for higher-end units. You get 4 separate Aux busses (mono) that allow you to route your input to headphones or effects. The sends can be either pre or post fader depending on the position of the aux pre/post switches.
Individual 48v phantom power switches on all the mic inputs make it easy to run your favorite condenser mics.
Two Channels of High Impedance Instrument/Line level Inputs
Having built-in DI on the first two channels of the board allows you to connect an electric guitar or bass directly into the mixer and eliminates the need for an external direct box.
A built-in talkback mic is necessary for live or studio communication. This works well through either the Aux 1-4 send outputs or the phone outputs. In addition you can control the volume and destination.
Mute/Alt 3-4 Button
This is a Mackie signature feature that adds a cool function to the board. The “Mute” switches on each channel serve a dual purpose. You can use the button as a “Mute” or you can send the channel to another set of “ALT 3-4” outputs and give yourself another bus.
In Use Live and In The Studio
We like the tactile feel and flexibility of an analog board. The 1620i’s uncluttered layout makes for quick adjustments and handling “spur of the moment” surprises, which is specially important in a live situation where anything can happen (feedback, guests jumping on stage to sing!).
We’ve used the Mackie as a live mixer at our rehearsal studio and packed it off to club gigs when we needed to bring our own sound system. It’s portable enough and quick to set up. The 16 line inputs are more than sufficient to handle a four-piece live band.
In addition to using the 1620i live it makes a great front end for a project studio we set up. It works seamlessly with our Mac G5 and Digital Performer software. By taking advantage of all the built-in features we’ve been able to get our musical ideas recorded without spending a lot on additional gear.
Conclusion and Recommendation
Right now there are several other manufacturers out there like PreSonus, Allen & Heath and Behringer that offer firewire/analog mixing combos. In this price range, however, the Mackie Onyx 1620i offers the most features for the best value.
This board had been around a long time and with good reason. The quality of the components, especially the preamps and EQs, the routing flexibility and the seamless DAW integration all blend into a highly affordable package that consistently outperforms other boards. For today’s working musician the 1620i is an all-in-one solution for digital recording and live sound reinforcement.