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Mackie Onyx 1220

Mixed feelings about mixer By Stephen Schleicher

Ive been a Mackie Mixer fan for nearly 20 years, so when my ten year old Mackie mixer decided to call it quits, I knew what company to turn to for a replacement.  Working with digital audio workstations, having a FireWire output from the board to streamline signal flow was a must.  The Mackie Onyx 1220 has such an option, so I thought it would be the bees knees for my work.

There are several boards in the Onyx line, the smallest being the 12 channel Onyx 1220.  This small format system was designed from the ground up by audio veterans who know what was needed for an analog to digital workflow board.  The first thing they redesigned from previous boards was the mic preamp.  Since this board is designed to be used in studio as well as the field, any number of problems could arise from long cable runs, RF noise, and more.  Basing the Onyx preamp on the VLZ Pro mixer line, the preamps sound really good when connecting a variety of source.

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But after using the board, I got the feeling the preamps could go for a bit more of a boost, as some mics needed to have the gain turned all the way up to get a fraction of the signal Ive seen on other boards.  Still, even with the gain all the way up, input noise is extremely low.

The Onyx 1220 features Perkins EQ that gives an extra 6dB of control without narrowing the bandwidth of the filters.  Designed by Cal Perkins, the four bands of EQ give the mixer very fine control over the sound they are trying to achieve.

Beyond the solid design of the board, the portability, the numerous inputs and outputs on the board, the thing that attracted me the most to the Onyx 1220 board was the availability of an optional FireWire board.  This $400 addition to the system allows you to stream every channel to your Mac or PC audio system as a separate input.  So if your application can record multiple channels at once, this addition is a huge plus.  On the Mac, GarageBand allows multi channel recording, but oddly Soundtrack Pro does not.

The FireWire channel not only allows you to send the signal to the DAW, but you can also monitor the output audio from the board as well.  The FireWire card features two six pin connectors, allowing for daisy-chaining with other FireWire devices.  You can even chain two 1220s together that allow you to send 32 channels of audio to a PC system (Mac users currently cant chain two boards together).

It is the FireWire option that causes mixed feelings for this reviewer.  On the one hand, the Onyx 1220 board by itself is simply outstanding and puts my old Mackie 1202 board to shame on every level.  On the other hand, the FireWire option isnt all that it is cracked up to be.  Or I should probably say the FireWire option works the way it was designed, but not the way I had hoped it would work.

The biggest thing users who are considering buying the board with FireWire option should know is the FireWire audio output is post gain only.  This means you are only able to send the raw signal from the mic/input to the DAW.  This means you cant use a compressor, any part of the EQ, mute buttons, panning, and so on.  And this sucks, at least for me.  I really wanted to use my Alesis 3630 compressor to tweak my vocals prior to being recorded by Soundtrack Pro.  While DAWs do have compressor plug-ins, I find these rather clumsy and dont yield the same results I can get by manual tweaking a piece of hardware.

Instead, the FireWire option for the Onyx 1220 mixer only allows the capturing of the raw feed, which, if you think about it, gives the audio engineer the ability ultimate control of the mix in post.  And this makes sense from a live recording standpoint, but is still a disappointment for me.

As far as daisy chaining with other FireWire devices go, I would highly recommend the board be the last one in the chain.  If you have an external hard drive chained after the board, each time the board is turned off, the signal to the drive is lost.  It would have been better if the card could loop through without the need of system power.

If there was one other feature I would like to have seen in the Onyx 1220 system is MIDI connectivity that could turn the 1220 into a surface control to be used with a DAW.

The Bottom Line
There are actually two different scores for the Onyx 1220 system.  The first is for the Onyx 1220 board itself.  The design of this board is solid, with all the inputs needed for a small to medium sized recording session.  There are more than enough controls to tweak the sound to your liking, and the addition of a talkback button make communicating with talent a breeze.  I would still have liked to have seen a MIDI interface for controlling a DAW, but am really pleased with my purchase.  I give the Onyx 1220 mixer a rating of 4 out of 5.

The optional FireWire interface doesnt score as well.  If there were an option to switch between post gain, or entire channel for recording, this accessory would have scored higher, but it doesnt.  If you need to capture only the raw audio file to your digital audio workstation, and if your application will support multi-track recording, then this is a very useful addition.  But for podcasters, who simply want to set EQ, add a compressor, record their show on separate tracks in the DAW and post the file without adding software effects, then the FireWire option is not worth it at all.  My disappointment of the FireWire features only give it 2 of 5.

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Stephen Schleicher has crossed the country several times over the last couple of years going from Kansas to Atlanta , Georgia, and Southern California. In his time traveling, he has worked as an editor, graphic designer, videographer, director, and producer on a variety of video productions ranging from small internal pieces, to large multimedia
corporate events.

Currently, Stephen shares his knowledge with students at Fort Hays State University who are studying media and web development in the Information Networking and Telecommunications department. When he is not shaping the minds of university students, Stephen continues to work on video and independent projects for State and local agencies and organizations as well as his own ongoing works.

He is also a regular contributor to Digital Producer, Creative Mac, Digital Webcast, Digital Animators, and the DV Format websites, part of the Digital Media Online network of communities (, where he writes about the latest technologies, and gives tips and tricks on everything from Adobe After Effects, to Appleā??s Final Cut Pro, LightWave 3D, to shooting and lighting video.

He has a Masters Degree in Communication from Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas. As a forward thinker, he wrote his Thesis on how Information Islands and e-commerce would play a major role in keeping smaller communities alive. This of course was when 28.8 dialup was king and people hadnā??t even invented the word e-commerce.

And, he spends what little free time he has biking, reading, traveling around the country, and contemplating the future of digital video and its impact on our culture. You can reach him at

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