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Mackie's latest range of analog mixers come with integrated FireWire audio but caused quite a stir when first announced - primarily because of the news that their drivers had bypassed the ProTools hardware copy proctection which up to then had only allowed signed, authorized M-Audio hardware to run the M-Powered version of Pro Tools.
But thats not the whole story by any means. The mixer itself is somewhere between the larger format Onyx series analog desks (which could be retrofitted with a FireWire card for audio) and the more familiar VLZ-3 smaller format desks. The iSeries comprises of the 820i, 1220i, 1620i and 1640i - we're looking at the 820i which the baby of the range with a channel count of eight: 2 mono, 3 stereo with 3 Onyx pres, and knobs instead of faders. The Onyx preamps are present in the first three channels - I can vouch for these, being both quiet and of good quality, plus a 3 band Perkins EQ - which on the face of it sounds like some classic UK designed vintage EQ - its close, but not quite, the guy who designed this type of EQ is a well respected engineer Cal Perkins who's design was modeled on the classic British EQ sound. Promising eh?Well yes, this EQ is a significant and welcome improvement over previous Mackie EQs, which frankly, I've never been that keen on.
Fire In the Belly
The desk has an 8 in, 2 out integrated FireWire audio interface ruuning at 24-bit (44.1, 48, 88.2 and 96kHz) with each of the input channels sending to their corresponding outputs. In addition, you can route AUX 1+2 to Firewire 5+6 and MIX output to FW 7+8.
A single stereo firewire return can be routed either to the monitor section or into channels 7+8 - note - the gain also works on the FW return for this channel, which is a nice touch.
You will need to budget for this additional expense if you plan to use Pro Tools, but I can confirm that it does work - I installed it on my Mac Book Pro with no problems. However, wasn't able to really stress test it and compare the performance with a bona-fide M-Powered system.
While the Pro Tools integration is certainly a maginificent marketing tool and certainly if the thought of uniting the Mackie mixer and the Pro Tools hardware is your dream come true, then go crazy. But I think this is a bit of a red herring, that fact remans that what we have here is a good quality, integrated mixer and audio interface, following on Mackie's trusted and reliable reputation, with a set of premium extras - the preamps and EQ frinstance, add to that the audio interface and you have a winner.
The only downside I can see only having one stereo Firewire return, but if you want the full monty then you need the all singing and dancing 1640i ($2,199.99/£1,899). One problem I did encounter was that the FireWire connection was quite fernickity when it comes to getting the right lead, I found there were clocking issues until I found one that worked.
Pricing and Availability
Available now at $649/ £599
Suit was on had to get digital sounds out of analogue oscillators...