In part one of this post, we took a walk through the venue and completed the arduous task of placing and positioning the six powered loudspeakers (4 Mackie SRM650s & 2 Mackie Thumps) for even coverage. Now on to the actual event.
Quick review: The assignment was to provide a PA and background music for a “tasting event.” It was a soiree on a fairly grand scale, with dozens of local eateries, caterers, wineries and craft brewers offering samples of their finest fares. Tables lined the perimeter of the long hall which had formerly been a mall concourse. The organizer of the event (our client) had specifically requested that the DJ “blend in” so as to not take any attention away from the vendors. Although a six foot table had been provided, it wasn’t needed. In fact, for this job I brought my smallest DJ system ever—and still had all the capabilities of one of my larger systems.
The Digital Solution
Typically when working with live bands, my go-to mixer is a PreSonus StudioLive 16.4.2AI. I’ve used a few other similar boards and have come to appreciate the capabilities of digital mixers. While I know of some DJs who use a PreSonus StudioLive for their mobile DJ events, it is (IMHO) overkill. So I have been looking for a way to scale down the StudioLive’s capabilities to something smaller and more mobile. I found pretty much what I was looking for with Mackie’s Pro DX8.
The ProDX8 is quite an amazing little unit. It’s about the size of a standard paving brick (9” x 5” x 4”) and has that typical Mackie solid feel. There are six mic/line ins (channels 1-6) and one stereo line input (channels 7&8). A single knob (or “encoder” as they are called in the digital world)—is used to perform a myriad of tasks. Those tasks are selected using buttons provided for each input as well as the ones labelled FX, MAIN, MIX and Headphones.
On the back side, combo Mic/Line (XLR & 1/4”) jacks are provided for inputs 1-6. The stereo channels (7&8) feed off a mini-jack or built-in Bluetooth. There are left and right main outs along with two aux outputs for monitors or for additional zones. Main and Aux outputs are balanced 1/4” jacks.
There are no faders on the base unit—however you can control the gain and other functions using encoder and buttons. While that works fine in a pinch, it’s best when you using an iPad or iPhone as the interface. A handy slot runs right along the top of the ProDX8 to position said iDevice.
At this point, I suggest you go to the app store and download Mackie’s “Mixer Connect” (available for iOS and Android). Run it in “demo” mode as you follow along.
Touch Screen Mixer Interface
As you can see, the Mixer Connect interface looks much like a typical DJ mixer—accept smaller and a whole lot more useful. At the top of each of the 6 (mono) channels there’s mute switch—handy for quietly killing the signal from your mics. The L and R outs from your music sources (laptops or CD players) can either be combined to a single channel, or you can assign left and right to separate channels and then link them using the app. To do this just, just click on the icon with the 3 horizontal sliders at the bottom of the fader. This will bring up a screen with several other options. To link two channels—for example 3 & 4—go into channel 3 and touch “Link 4.” Now whatever changes you make to Channel 3 (left) also will affect Channel 4 (right). There is no balance control, so you can’t separate left and right signals into stereo, but linking the channels is an easy and effective way to combine the Left and Right outputs.
In addition to controlling gain, each channel has several EQ options along with compression and a slate of popular reverbs and effects. There’s also a seven-band graphic EQ accessible through the main channel. So you have all of the basic processing needs covered for most jobs.
In ringing out the sound for this particular event, I set everything flat on the mixer and then powered up each speaker, making sure their onboard settings were all the same. Once the doors opened and warm bodies began swarming through the place, I made some on-the-fly corrections with graphic EQ to boost the highs and lows on the overall mix to maintain intelligibility. A fair amount of compression was added to reduce the dynamic range which helped keep a consistent volume level and accentuate the beat.
Signal Path While the ProDX8 has all the inputs needed for a couple of microphones and up to five music sources, I wish they had included a USB connection. They didn’t, so I created my own using a PreSonus AudioBox iTwo. This work around not only provided a way to connect to the USB port on my laptop, but also added another gain control point. And, as the AudioBox iTwo takes its juice right from the computer, I needed only two AC outlets — One for the laptop and one for the Mackie ProDX8.
So here’s the signal path for the music: Laptop > AudioBox iTwo > ProDX8 > Mackie Powered speakers (daisy chained, 3 per channel). As a wireless mic was not needed, a single wired EV dynamic was connected to channel one on the mixer.
The ProDX8 base unit and Presonus AudioBox were then discretely hidden away on the shelf in the Arriba Afford-A-Stand. The only thing left on the top (exposed to the crowd) was an iPad and Mac Book Pro running Megaseg.
The iPad connects to the ProDX8 base via Bluetooth, so it was much like having just the face plate from a typical mixer in view.
Working with a Bluetooth connected interface was not without the occasional glitch. Twice during the 5 hour job, the iPad lost connection with the base. When this occurs, Mixer Connect reverts to the demo mode—the audio is unaffected and you can still adjust gain with the buttons and encounter knob, but you have no visual check on what you are doing. I found that switching Bluetooth off and on on the iPad reestablished the connection without any hiccups in the audio. Hey Mackie: The second item on my wish list would be a way to hard wire the iPad to the base so that a more stable option other than Bluetooth would be available.
If this happens frequently, they resetting the network settings (see below). Aside from the minor issues with Bluetooth connectivity (which were transparent to the crowd) all else went well. Mixing on the fly with a touch screen takes a bit of practice as it behaves quite differently—specifically, it lacks the positive feeling you get from wrapping your fingers around fader knob. I found that holding the iPad and using my thumbs to work the sliders, worked well.
Ironically, as the evening wore on, and the attendees discovered our location, the list of requests grew. With the client’s blessing we were able to break out of background mode and get into a more standard dance playlist. As most of the food and inhibitions were gone before the last hour, dancing broke in several areas of the long hallway.
Note: If you want to play music off the iPad / iPhone that you are using as your control surface, best to hard wire to channel 7/8. Streaming audio from the same iPad that was being used as the mixer interface seemed to work, but as long as you can hard wire it, why not.
To reset your iPad/iPhone network settings: From techradar.com – Go to Settings > General > Reset > Reset Network Settings. It’s the third option down. You’ll want to avoid Reset All Settings and Erase All Content and Settings.
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