Components 1: the Mackie 402-VLZ3

In the last post I described the sweet odyssey that was researching, testing and eventually setting up a rudimentary home music recording studio based on traditional instruments, an iPad and GarageBand.  This post is about the control center of my set-up -the mixer, in my case a Mackie 402-VLZ3.

The thing.  Mixers were developed to take a variety of input signals and allow the user to adjust the level of each, resulting in a mixed or balanced output signal.  Good mixers have built in pre-amps and EQing capabilities while limiting added signal noise.  This mixer has/does/doesn’t do these things well -all in a package a little bigger than a 1 pound London Broil steak.

I use this mixer thus during recording: the column on the left is channel 1 and at the top is the input signal from the instrument.  Options are XLR or 1/4″ in and since I don’t have any XLR cables, I use the 1/4″.  When I use the iPad as an instrument I have to use a 1/8″ stereo female to 1/4″ male adapter, an example of which is available cheap from RadioShack.  Mono cables are available but you get a mono mixed signal -not ideal.  An instrument requires the button with the Gibson Explorer shaped icon be pushed in -a pre-amp I think.  Below the input jack is the Gain.  Gain is the rough pre-amplification, a little goes a long way in the quest to have the input signal as high as possible without overloading the recorder.  I tend to have it set pointing to about 3 o’clock.  At the bottom is the ‘Level’, essentially the fine tuning knob for the input level to the recorder, the position varies quit a bit based on the source.  Above ‘Level’ is the EQ section where the bass and treble bias of the input signal can be enhanced.  Channel 2 is the same as channel 1 if used as the only input.  If both are used you use the two input level sections to balance the signals.

RCA’s for tape input are connected to the iMic output and, as you can imagine, RCA’s for tape output are connected to iMic input.  The balance between the input signal and the playback signal -for example when you’re doing an overdub, are controlled by the varying the levels of the ‘Tape in’ and ‘Phones out’ levels.  Changing either the input ‘Level’, ‘Gain’ or ‘Main mix’ level will change the level seen by the recorder.  Balancing ‘tape in’ to ‘phones out’ will not.  ‘Phones out’ goes to either headphones or the monitors, or both if you use a stereo splitter.  If the ‘Assign to main’ button in the ‘Tape in’ section is pressed, the guide track is added to the track you’re recording -not ideal for multi-tracking.  I don’t use the main out’s and seldom use the channels 3 or 4 inputs. Simply put, I use the mixer to tune the level of the signal of the input and listen to the previously recorded tracks while doing overdubs.

That’s it for the mixer.

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