Mackie: A Stranger Rides into Town

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Mackie VLZ PRO Series Mixers versus, well, every other Mic Preamp on the Planet.

This information is provided by Mackie and does not represent an endorsement or opinion of any company or product.

Our renegade roots here at Mackie mean we like a good “A Stranger Rides into Town” story — where the little guy vanquishes the big guys.

And our advertising/marketing department loves a good “comparison test”- especially when we had nothing to do with it, didn’t even know about it.

Then someone tips us off.

We have to thank Glen Pace of Starplex Music Systems in Nashville for this one – and it’s a doozy:

In the summer of ’99, he corrals a group of audio professionals to evaluate the best mic preamps in the known world. These top-gun players are:

Well respected engineer Jamie Tate, is known for his work on the Grammy® Award Winning Marty Stuart Project, “The Same Old Train,” the highly successful vocal event of the year featuring Clint Black, Joe Diffie, Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Patty Loveless, Ricky Skaggs, Pam Tillis, Randy Travis, Travis Tritt, and Dwight Yoakam.

Ric Web, Engineer/Producer, who formerly worked with Charlie Pride at Charlie’s studio complex in Dallas. Ric has been freelancing in Nashville for eight years.

Lance Wing, Writer/Engineer/Producer.

Gregory Neil, Singer.

The Evaluation Crew: Glen Pace & Associates – from left to right:
Lance Wing, Gregory Neil, Glen Pace
(Center and seated), Jamie Tate, and Ric Web.
The star of the show, the Mackie 1402 VLZ PRO Mixing console, center, on the counter.

The weaponry: A Rupert Neve-created 9098, Focusrite Blue ISA-215, Tube Tec MEC-1A, Focusrite Platinum, G. Daking, Hardy M-1, D.W. Fern, Avalon 737, ART Tube Channel, Drawmer M-60, and a TLA.

The shootouts are conducted at two well-known Nashville studios, Abtrax Recording and Appaloosa Sound. The gentlemen hoped to determine what mic pre would offer the best overall transparency in a vocal recording application. The monitors at Abtrax are Genelecs, model 1031A. “We took everything out of the circuit and just had the mic into the mic-pre, out of the mic-pre to the Tube Tech Limiter – and we ran straight into the Radar,” Glen informs us. “Essentially, we went directly to the machine, bypassing the console entirely.”

Using a Neumann M149 microphone, Gregory sings along with a pre-recorded track for the tests. “He has a Neil Diamond type of voice and a great range,” says Glen. “Gregory’s voice covers the full frequency spectrum for good test results.”

The evaluation is done double-blind. All the mic pres are hidden from view, and evaluated in pairs. The individual doing the switching holds up his fingers, one or two, as he toggles between the different mic preamps in the signal chain. Even the person doing the switching is not aware of what mic preamps are being tested.

After eight hours, the AMEK Neve 9098 module triumphs. “Hands down, too. The Tube Tech MEC-1A was the closest, with the Daking coming in third, the Focusright Blue fourth. The Tube Tech, Daking, and Focusrite Blue, essentially, were all about equal, but the $1,900.00 Neve 9098 was the best stand-alone mic preamp.”

A tall, dark stranger slowly rides into town, the brim of his black hat pulled down over his brow…

“Previous to the first night of tests,” Glen says, “Lance Wing had told us about the new XDR® mic preamps on the Mackie VLZ PRO series compact mixers. He wanted to hear the 1402-VLZ PRO because he was deciding between either a small, good-quality mixing console or a new mic preamp for his studio. I was interested in hearing the XDR’ as well, because I had a 1202-VLZ and I was always impressed by its sound quality. It was never our intention to consider it as a mic preamp candidate for the shoot-out.

“Well, it just so happened that a friend of ours had a new 1402-VLZ PRO and I said to him, ‘Hey, for the heck of it, bring your Mackie along.’ We didn’t think that the Mackie would stack up against any top-of-the-line mic pres.”

The Mackie 1402-VLZ PRO is thrown into the first evening of tests as a lark. As an afterthought.

“We had the other mic pres set up, so we started to compare the Mackie to all of them – and we just kept coming up with the same result, again and again. The 1402-VLZ PRO continually won regardless of everything we threw up against it. At the end of our first day tests, you could barely tell the difference between the Mackie 1402-VLZ PRO and one of the best mic pres on the planet, The AMEK Neve 9098. Although,” Glen whispers, “I probably would’ve chosen the Mackie over the Neve.”

Two days later the test is moved to Appaloosa Sound. Ric Web enters into competition one of the best mic preamps ever made: A Telefunken V76M. It went out of production in the 1960s, and if you can find one you’re going to pay between $1,500.00 and $3,000.00 for it. In Glen’s last mic pre test, two years ago, “The V76M had beat the 9098, but just slightly.”

The monitors are the Dynaudio, Model M1.5.

The battle quickly turns into not so much a mic preamp shoot-out as a test to hear how much better the Mackie 1402-VLZ PRO sounds compared to the remaining preamps. “We decided to bring in some other people – to make sure we weren’t cracking up,” Glen chuckles. Donnie Elam from Airflight Recording and Mario Delazar, another well-known engineer, join the evaluation team.

“We ran through the Calrac PQ1061, the Fred Camron Custom Tube Mic Pre, the Millenia Media HV-3, and the G. Daking. The Mackie 1402-VLZ PRO just took them all to task. None of them stood up. Then came the moment of truth. We tested the Mackie against the V76M. We all chose the Mackie over the V76M. That just blew Ric Web away, because he has two V76Ms, and paid $1,500 apiece for them.”

After we concluded the test,” Glen reports, “We took one vocal section from a verse and recycled it on the Radar system. We used no EQ on any of the tests, and utilized a Tube Tech limiter, with all of the levels exactly the same. Then we tested the quality of the mic pres on each section of the song, quickly switching between different sections–a powerful chorus, mellow, ballady verse, and so on. We did this for at least a half hour, comparing the different sections of the song–and no matter what we played, the Mackie had just a slightly cleaner, more natural, up-front sound than the Telefunken V76M.”

Donnie Elam, the owner of the 1402-VLZ PRO used in the test, primarily employs it on drum mixes. “So many other mic pres just ‘fold-up’ on my kick drum. It’s really hard to find one that has the punch or the bite. Usually, mic pres will soften or distort the sound of the drum.” After the test, Donnie comments, “Mackie ought to get the engineering award of the century for this mic pre.

“It’s a hell of a mic preamp,” Glen concludes. “I’m still totally blown away. And I did the math. Mackie comes up with six on-board mic pres in a 14-channel compact mixer. The Neve SYSTEM 9098 is a stereo mic pre, doesn’t have any EQ, and it sells for $1,710.00. That’s $855 per mic pre. If you compare the SYSTEM 9098 against the six mic pres on a 1402-VLZ PRO, you get six better sounding mic pres on the Mackie for a little over $100 per mic pre.”

“Sound is subjective. You can play the same thing for 10 different people and get 10 different opinions. But I don’t believe you could do this test for 10 producers or engineers and not get the same result from all 10 people.”

“If you want to color your sound, make it warmer, perhaps not as much air on the top end or not as natural-sounding, then somebody might want to use any of the other mic pres we tested. But if you want a mic pre that gives you the best overall vocal sound, as far as a natural, up front, right-in-your-face type of sound, then the Mackie XDR® mic pre is the hands down winner.”

Glen Pace: Producer, Engineer and studio designer

Like many top-notch producer/engineers, Glen began as a musician and singer, heading up a nine-piece band and backing up package tours in the late 1950s. Among the fast friends he made: Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, Norman Petty.

A move to Las Vegas kept him humming, both in recording studios and in casino venues. “I did nationwide jingles and record production for many of the acts.”

In 1965, Glen relocated to Southern California and built United Audio & Recording Studios in Santa Ana. United was where the Carpenters first recorded. A year later he began working for Jim Valentine at Valentine Studios, and was associated with projects by “The Four Freshmen, Stan Kenton, SteveAllen, The Carpenters, Burl Ives, Frank Zappa, The Mike Curb Congregation, The Beach Boys, Trini Lopez, Merle Haggard, Mac Davis, The First Edition, Mike Post, Oscar winner Al Kasha, Del Shannon, and Brian Highland.”
(We love anybody who sez “The Mike Curb Congregation” and “Frank Zappa” in the same breath without blinking.)

In 1968, Glen founded Devonshire Sound in Los Angeles. He and partner Dave Mancini also formed a successful recording studio design-and-build firm called Studio Builders. “From 1968 to 1972, we built several of the top studios in the Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area,” Glen states. “We built Filmway Studios, the Sausalito Record Plant, Village Recorders and Hollywood Sound, as well as Wally Heider’s Studio 3.”

Glen continued designing and building studios around the country, including Denver’s Applewood Sound in 1972, where he worked with Eagles producer Bill Szymczyk and Mason Williams of “Classical Gas” fame.

In 1974, Glen ended up in Garland, Texas – entering into a partnership with United Artist Music to build Autumn Sound, the first 24 track studio in the Lone Star State. “We opened the studio in January of 1975 and in the same month Willie Nelson recorded Red Headed Stranger, an album with Willie’s first #1 Single, Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain. Willie went on to record three platinum albums at Autumn Sound.” Glen also worked with well-known Showco recording engineer, Jack Maxson, and did some of the mixing on Paul McCartney’s legendary live album, Wings over America.

After 15 successful years with Autumn Sound, Glen relocated to Nashville in 1989 and started his latest venture, Starplex Music Systems. Starplex specializes in CD duplication, as well as the design and development of radical new technologies for professional audio and recording systems. Aside from Starplex, Glen also spends his time producing and engineering acts in Nashville. The rest of the time he’s consulting, designing, and specifying equipment for a wide array of clients who are looking to build new studios or upgrade existing ones.

As a good consultant will normally do, Glen and a group of his peers regularly get together and evaluate various equipment. “As a consultant,” Glen states, “people are always asking me to recommend the best gear for their studios. It’s not unusual for me to be responsible for the sale of 60 to 70 pieces of new equipment, just based upon my recommendations.”

Mackie Designs is known worldwide as a leading manufacturer and marketer of high-quality, affordable professional audio systems. Mackie products can be found in professional and project recording studios, video and broadcast suites, post production facilities, sound reinforcement applications including churches and nightclubs, and on major musical tours. Mackie Designs is marketed by 54 distributors to over 100 countries.

NOTE: Mackie is a registered trademark of Mackie Designs Inc. in the United States and/or other countries.

Mackie Designs Inc. is exhibiting at Winter 2000 NAMM

West Hall, Booth #1015, February 3 – 6, 2000

For more Mackie product information please contact:

Mackie Designs Inc. 16220 Wood-Red Road N. E., Woodinville, WA 98072

Phone: (425) 487-4333 • Fax: (425) 487-4337 • Internet: