Strother Bullins puts the next big thing in audio capture and control through its paces, and finds it more than lives up to the hype.
From an application standpoint, the DL32R covers the broadest range of audio tasks in the simplest way of any single product I’ve reviewed, ever. Yes, the DL32R inherently requires a comprehension of its architecture, but that’s not much more complicated than buying an iPad, interfacing with the 3U rack-mount chassis for its physical I/O and learning a well-designed app and wireless network system.
Considering its feature set and Mackie’s presence in the industry, the DL32R is poised to be the next big thing in all-inclusive audio capture, control, mixing and production at $1,999 street (add iPad, mics, cables, powered loudspeakers, and that’s about all for a complete, super-capable mixing/recording system).
While totally pro environments offer a proper front-of-house position, a lot of venues hosting live music do not. Most don’t provide a full-time audio engineer, either. ‘Mixers’ in these places are often found simultaneously mixing drinks for customers, attempting to enjoy the music while managing the mix, or playing in the band itself. The DL32R unchains these folks from traditional mix locations, allowing them to adjust levels from wherever they need or desire to be. Better yet, the DL32R offers more I/O than the first two DL Series mixers, making it a viable option for larger touring acts and more sophisticated venues, too.
This is all accomplished quite powerfully, too – for example, with up to 32 channels, complete with multitrack recording and playback (currently 24 x 24 direct-to-disk with 32 x 32 coming soon); 14 XLR analogue outputs; up to 10 iOS-controlled personal monitor mixes; six matrix busses (providing auxiliary mixes for extra listening spaces such as outside club decks, etc); a super-flexible patching matrix; and pretty much every feature you’d expect from a fully-professional live mixing digital platform. The DL32R is also Dante-ready, so (at present) it’s rather ‘future-proof’, if you will.
While Mackie doesn’t really tout the DL32R’s recording and music production features, creative end users will soon be using its 32 Onyx+ preamplifiers and well-chosen DSP offerings to record complete performances for subsequent production and mixdown, largely thanks to the Master Fader app, a free download from the iTunes App Store. These same features of Master Fader allow for virtual soundchecks. Short of providing the necessary transducers on either end – for capture and monitoring – plus drive or CPU, the DL32R can be a recording/mixing silver bullet for many.
I brought the DL32R out for several live sound events including standard club gigs and a hands-on presentation to a contemporary house-of-worship. In use, demonstrations and discussions, the benefits of moving around the venue while tweaking, tuning and mixing were more than impressive: they turned the concept of live mixing into something completely new and exciting.
Though the immediate benefits of mixing untethered are thrilling, Mackie has previously provided this ability in its DL1608 16-channel and DL806 8-channel mixers. By doubling the DL1608’s inputs to 32, upgrading its mic preamps (via Mackie’s new flagship Onyx+, only currently found in the DL32R), and offering flexible patching options – for example, one input to multiple channels or switchable A/B inputs per channel for detailed comparisons – the DL Series has gained its truly pro model.
For almost every question – whether I had the DL32R at a gig or at the church – my answers began with a ‘yes’. ‘Can I can mix my own monitors with my phone?’ Yes, with the MyFader app, also free. ‘I can sit with my kids during the service?’ Sure, if you want.
Some were ‘no’, too, such as ‘Can we use it without a router?’ However, the core benefits of the DL32R’s WiFi-centric design weren’t lost on anybody.
Most importantly, I think the DL32R sounds great and is straightforward in use. It’s I/O is near-infinitely configurable and routable, and its EQs and effects are good and will continue to improve – after all, Master Fader is a free app via download, currently in Version 3.0.2.
Are there any negatives to the DL32R’s iPad-centric design? No, not unless you’re opposed to working within an iOS architecture – complete with its limited-sized GUI and mandatory ‘additional purchase’ of at least one iPad.
However, I believe the DL32R’s iOS nature offers more benefits than drawbacks: almost every modern music-centric/tech-savvy pro inherently knows iOS flow already; the Master Fader app is refreshingly simple compared to many digital mixers with incorporated touchscreen and proprietary OS; and any user with an iPad can provide and work with their own work surface.
Ultimately I’d wish for Android OS support, too, at least for control of personal monitor mix features – currently the DL32R is iOS compatible-only. Most notably in houses-of-worship, this means a number of volunteers and musicians who won’t be able to use their own smartphones with the DL32R.
In the late 1990s, I was thrilled to discover the Mackie d8b digital console and HDR24/96 multitrack system. Today, the DL32R represents the same kind of leap forward for the budget-restricted aspiring audio professional, yet this time it’s in the live sound realm. While I generally shy away from labelling any product a ‘game changer’, the DL32R certainly hints at becoming one.
Strother Bullins is reviews editor for NewBay Media’s AV/Pro Audio Group.