Another review of my gear for you. This time I’m looking at the Mackie Onyx 820i mixer. I picked mine up about a year ago for AU$850 (I think) and it has been a very worthwhile investment.
By way of a synopsis, the 820i is essentially a 8 channel mixer/firewire soundcard. It has 2 mono mic/line channels with phantom power and three band parametric equaliser with sweepable mids. It has one phantom powered mono mic/stereo line in channel with four band parametric eq (fixed mids at 400Hz and 2.5kHz). And it also has two stereo line channels with three band parametric (fixed mid at 2.5khz). There are two auxiliary sends per channel as well as your usual features like gain, mute, solo, pan and pre/post fader options for the EQ stage. The first two mic channels also Hi-Z/Lo-Z buttons to switch between mic or instrument level inputs whilst the third channel has a LINE level button to switch between +4dB and -10dB signals. On top of this the master and monitor sections of the mixer have a talkback module (allowing instructions or wry mockery to be sent from the control room to the headphones of whoever’s recording via the headphone out or auxiliary 1/2), 12 segment LED metering and a number of different routing options for the 2 mix output. Whilst quite feature laden for a small mixer, none of this is particularly innovative or mind-blowing stuff.
The real beauty of the 820i lies in the integration of firewire technology (that’s IEEE1394 for folks who use PC’s) which makes the unit not just a mixer but also a full featured soundcard as well. Each of the 8 channels can be used as independent inputs for the DAW of your choice (in my case, Logic 9) and can be recorded as stereo pairs or mono inputs (even channels 5-6 and 7-8 which are stereo pairs on the mixer).
Unfortunately, only the top of the line Onyx 1640i allows for your DAW to return signals to individual channels (excuse me while I drool). The 820i returns a stereo signal from your DAW which, of course, means that even though you have a great deal of flexibility on the input/tracking stage, you will still be doing your mixing “in the box”. But the stereo desk return is not without its own flexibleness (Yeah. I made up a word. Run tell Shakespeare, pedant). One feature that I have used extensively is the ability to route the 2 mix out (which includes the stereo return from your DAW) into channels 7-8, which is done by pressing a button, and then re-recording the output of the DAW or other software onto a new DAW channel. Why, you may ask, would I bother doing that? Well, this gives you the ability to reamp signals or apply outboard effects to a channel of recorded audio or apply outboard EQ or whatever else you wish to do outboard. Using the Mute/Alt.3-4 button on channel 7-8 will also allow you to route the stereo signal to a second set of speakers if you want – thus creating a simple A/B mix scenario. I’m sure there are many other options that may arise from this internal firewire routing – most of which I will never use but many of which may be absolute god-sends for other producers and engineers.
Other than that it only remains to say that the unit weights probably around 2kg (less is more likely than more) which is about 4 and a half pounds in American-speak. At about 25cm (10 inches) wide, 35cm (14 inches) ling and 10 cm (4 inches) deep at its deepest point, it is small enough to make a snug fit in your average sized backpack so taking it out for recording of live sets is a real possibility.
Whilst the quality of the audio recording is certainly professional (high grade project studio quality, not Abbey Road quality) the limited number of channels makes this mixer really only high end prosumer gear. It will work magic if you’re an independent music maker but it’s hardly going to suffice as more than a headphone amp in a professional recording studio.
For me, it’s perfect.