There is an element of magic in any audio design, but the Allen & Heath MixWizard series may have more than most.
Perhaps burning the midnight oil is part of the design procedure for the MixWizard range. Just a couple of months after the introduction of the first model in the series (a 16:2 with plenty of frills) around June of 1997, the WZ20:8:2 version was launched, and was reviewed in SOS September 1997 issue. Just four moons later, yet another model has appeared. This Wizard has a 14:4:2 configuration, with a total of 28 inputs on mixdown, and A&suggest that it's suitable for FOand stage monitoring applications. To this end, they've built in a Dual Mode which provides some radical routing changes to optimise for these applications. However, I'm quite sure that many people would find this model eminently suitable for recording too, since it has six aux sends, four stereo effects returns, and four group outs. Just like the other two models, the WZ14:4:2 features 4‑band EQ, with two swept mids, and slinky 100mm faders. Let's see if it has any more tricks up its sleeve.
On The Rack
From a distance you might mistake the 14:4:2 for one of its predecessors. It comes in the same rugged blue steel rackmounting case, 10U high, and features individual circuit boards for each channel, secured to the front panel via rotary controls. If you ever get a noisy channel in the future, this will make servicing very easy — not that A&don't already have an enviable reputation where reliability is concerned.
The socket‑panel assembly has a quick‑change connector which allows the panel to sit in two basic positions. You can either swivel the sockets right round to the back, so that they will be 'inside' and out of harm's way when rackmounting, or rotate them so that they end up at right angles to the front panel, and can be used as a 'leg' when mounting the mixer on a desktop. I still think that someone should make a conversion kit for rack mixers used in the latter way, to add a couple of screw‑on wooden side‑cheeks and a padded armrest for the front — if for no other reason than to remove the pointy corners from so near the engineer's hands. However, this is an inherent drawback of all such convertible units, and not a specific criticism of the MixWizard range.
Channelling The Spirits
The 14:4:2 has 10 mic/line channels, very similar to those on both the stereo and 8‑buss models. However, A&have managed to squeeze in even more than they did on the previous models. Starting at the top, there's a 30dB pad switch (for line‑level use), and a Gain control, variable between 20 and 60dB (or ‑10 to +30dB when the pad is switched in). As usual, 48V phantom power is available for the mic inputs, but rather than having a global switch for this, along with the option of disabling individual internal links for each channel (as on both previous models), the WZ14:4:2 features individual switches for phantom power on each of inputs 1‑4, plus an additional switch to simultaneously disable the same for inputs 5‑10. A small but useful improvement there.
There's also a subtle difference in the EQ section. It still features the same four bands, each with a +/‑15dB range, LF control at 60Hz and HF control at 12kHz, and the same two swept mids, with sweep frequency ranges of 35Hz‑1kHz (centred at 180Hz), and 500Hz‑15kHz (centred at 3kHz). However, where the 16:2 (tailored more for multiple mic inputs) had a steep 100Hz low‑cut filter switch, and the 20:8:2 (intended for 8‑buss recording) replaced this with an EQ In/Out switch, the WZ14:4:2 manages to cram them both in.
The generous complement of six aux sends is still present, but auxes 1‑4 can be switched globally between pre‑fade and post‑fade, and auxes 5 and 6 have a Pre/Post switch. This allows all six to be pre‑fade or all six to be post‑fade if required, and allows the user to have six pre‑fade sends for live use where multiple foldback is required. (As we shall see later, there's more clever switching in the master section that allows the aux sends to do even more.) Below the aux sends is the smooth main 100mm fader, plus a Pan control, channel On switch, and a latching red PFL switch with associated red LED which doubles as a Peak indicator (post‑EQ, pre‑fader and 5dB below clipping) when not in PFL mode. Finally, three routing buttons are provided for the main L‑R mix, as well as the 1‑2 and 3‑4 output busses.
It looks cool, sounds clean, and is surprisingly sophisticated — which is more than you can say for a lot of musicians!
There are only two stereo channels, but these feature some neat touches. First, each has two sets of inputs — A and B — with the A set having phono connectors (for connecting CD or DAT players), and the B set having the more standard quarter‑inch jacks for effects returns, keyboards and synth modules. Both A and B stereo inputs can be used simultaneously, and they feature an On switch, so that you can leave both connected but select either or both at will. They also each have their own gain control — at last you can properly line up your stereo signals, rather than having to rely on the ubiquitous ‑10/+4 switch that most other mixers give you. This is a handy feature: how often have you had to re‑patch a couple of stereo inputs to temporarily connect a cassette deck, or attach another effects unit with flat EQ? In my book, having two extra stereo inputs is extremely useful, despite the fact that they do not have separate EQ. Well done to the A&design department.
Next on the stereo input channels is a slightly cut‑down EQ, still with four bands, but with fixed mid frequencies instead of the swept ones of the mono channels. However, there is also an EQ In/Out switch, and a Mono switch. This is a curious feature, whose purpose, according to A&H, is to "mono the keyboard for stage monitors, or if your FOspeakers are too widely spaced for its stereo image, or to feed one‑legged signals both left and right." I particularly like this last suggestion (it might prove useful for hip‑hop music) and it's true that it might be useful to be able to add four mono signals to your mix. The aux send arrangements are identical to the mono channels and, with the exception of a differently coloured fader cap, the remaining routing and level controls are also identical.
For exactly the same price as the WZ20:8:2 model, Allen & Heath have produced a very different balance of features with the WZ14:4:2
The Master section contains quite an array of controls, and since some of them can function in two ways I'll describe the controls first, and then explain their different functions once I've covered the basics.
First up is the Talkback area, at the top of the section, with a front‑panel mic XLR socket, Trim control for gain (+15 to +40dB), and three momentary buttons to route the mic to Aux 1‑2, Aux 3‑4, or Aux 5‑6. Alongside this is a power‑on LED, a quarter‑inch jack headphone socket, and a global 48V phantom power on/off switch, for those mic channels that have this enabled on their back‑panel switches. Headphones have their own rotary level control, and monitor the same signals that are sent to the twin 12‑segment peak‑reading LED meters. This is normally the main L‑R mix, but it can be switched to a 2‑track return signal, or the PFL/AFL line (if any PFL or AFL buttons have been depressed elsewhere on the mixer). For 2‑track use, both Send (the L‑R mix) and Return level‑controls are provided — the 2‑Track Return can also be routed to the L‑R mix, as well as the headphone monitor. There are rear‑panel connections with two pairs of phono sockets, which should suit most DAT or CD machines.
Four stereo returns are provided (ST1 to ST4), each with rotary level controls to the L‑R buss and a PFL button. ST1 also has an Aux 1 send, while ST2 has one to Aux 2, ST3 to Aux 3, and ST4 to Aux 4. This makes it easy to route each return to a different monitoring buss for FOuse. With the 2‑track return input, this gives the WZ14:4:2 a total of 28 possible inputs.
Below this point there are two sets of six outputs. Uppermost are the Master Sends, labelled Aux1 to Aux 6, each with level controls, AFL button and yellow LED. Below these are six mini‑meters, which are always associated with the main output faders. These have four LEDs (Signal present, 0dB, +6dB, and Peak) and are normally associated with the four Group outputs (1, 2, 3, 4) and Main outputs (L5 and R6). The reason for this unusual nomenclature will shortly become clear.
Below the mini‑meters lie the six 100mm output faders, also labelled 1, 2, 3, 4, L5, and R6. All have On/Off switches, plus green LEDs and latching AFL buttons. In addition, the first four (normally group outputs) have L‑R buttons to route them to the main Mix, along with associated Pan controls. The L‑R outputs are also summed (L+R) to provide an additional mono output (emerging at the rear via a balanced XLR socket), which A&intend for a centre fill, sub‑bass speaker, mono recording or broadcast feed. A recessed switch, with associated level control, allows you to select between L+R or AFL/PFL (to send to a wedge monitor).
Having listed every control, I'll move on to the clever bit. Between the six upper Aux Send masters and the six main output faders are six additional buttons labelled REV. These are recessed to prevent inadvertent operation and provide Group/Aux Reverse functions. The Master Section actually functions in two completely different ways, depending on whether you wish to use it for Front Of House or Stage Monitor work. When the REV switches are in the FO'out' position, the four groups are routed to faders 1‑4, and the L and R outputs to faders L5 and R6 as normal.
If you want a compact rackmounting mixer with very flexible routing, excellent sounding EQ, and all the little extras like Talkback and 2‑Track support, put this on your shortlist.
When the REV switches are in the Stage Monitor 'In' position, the group and L‑R busses are routed instead to the Aux Send Master controls (balanced TRS outputs), and the aux busses are routed to the main group faders (Aux 1 goes to Group 1, and so on, whilst Aux 5 and 6 go to the L and R faders respectively). This can be done individually for each of the six outputs, and this configuration allows you to have up to six monitor mixes controlled by the 100mm faders. These fader outputs have balanced XLR outputs (for long cable runs) and a TRS insert point, so you can also add signal processors such as compressors, enhancers, and external EQ for really comprehensive stage monitoring. Now A&H's reason for allowing all six aux sends to be configured as pre‑ or post‑fade (rather than sticking with the more usual arrangement of two pre‑fade, two switchable, and two post‑fade) becomes clearer.
A&provide a block diagram of the whole mixer which helps to explain its routing. An example of a combined configuration is given in the User Guide, and this has input channels 1‑6 routed to Group 1‑2 for drums (panned L and R and routed accordingly). Meanwhile, Aux 3 and 4 are set to pre‑fade and the 3 and 4 Reverse switches depressed, so that you can control two stage Monitor sends from Faders 3 and 4. Aux 5 and 6 are left post‑fade and used for effect sends, leaving the L and R faders being used as normal.
As with the other mixers in this range, the sound quality of the WZ14:4:2 proved clean and transparent, with the Minimum Signal Path (MSP) design proving its worth by ensuring that the audio signal does not pass though more components than it needs to. The 4‑band EQ provides a huge amount of sonic variation, along with a wider mid‑frequency sweep range than many other mixers of this size and general performance. It's surprising that so many other manufacturers still don't provide the ability to cut mid‑range below about 250‑300Hz — the A&design goes all the way down to 35Hz!
I like the fact that the stereo channels still have 4‑band EQ (although the two mid‑range controls are reduced to fixed frequency), as this means that you have much more control than the typical 2‑band EQ found on other mixers. Although stereo inputs often end up being fed from multitimbral synths, these can often benefit from having a little mid‑range removed, to leave more space for lead instruments — it's useful to have the choice. Having EQ In switches for all the main input channels makes in/out comparisons so much easier, and helps to prevent excessive use of EQ. With a high‑quality set of monitor speakers it's often possible to hear a tiny difference between the in and out positions in any mixer, even when the EQ is ostensibly flat. This is partly because of the tolerances of all rotary controls, but also because even when set to flat, the signal is passing through the EQ circuitry, which can still have a subtle effect. It's best to play safe and switch it out altogether when not required.
During general use, the only untoward thing I noticed is what I also reported for the 20:8:2 model — that the close proximity of the mono channel‑routing switches means that the fader caps totally obscure their calibrations between the 0 and +10dB positions, but this is a minor cosmetic point. If this is all I can find to grumble about, A&have done an excellent job.
For exactly the same price as the WZ20:8:2 model, and with the same total of 28 possible inputs during mixdown, Allen & Heath have produced a very different balance of features with the WZ14:4:2, and for a rather different type of application. The emphasis here is much more on live use, with the possibility of controlling six monitor mixes from the main faders. The reverse switches are a clever idea first implemented on the GL2 model (reviewed way back in the May 1994 issue), and they will no doubt appeal to all those whose monitoring requirements remain the top priority.
If you want a compact rackmounting mixer with very flexible routing, excellent sounding EQ, and all the little extras like Talkback and 2‑Track support, put this on your shortlist. It looks cool, sounds clean, and is surprisingly sophisticated — which is more than you can say for a lot of musicians!
Loom With A View
The rear panel of the WZ14:4:2 has significantly more on offer than the previous two models in the range. On the mono mic/line channels, both the XLR and jack sockets are balanced, and since the pad comes after them both, you can use either socket at either mic or line level, although you shouldn't use them both together. With the pad out, input impedance is 2kΩ, and 10kΩ with it in. A quarter‑inch jack insert is provided after the gain control (pre‑EQ), and there's an impedance‑balanced direct out which comes post‑fader (although an internal link can be removed on a channel‑by‑channel basis to make this pre‑fader, if required). As previously mentioned, phantom power is individually switchable for channels 1, 2, 3, and 4, with a further global switch for channels 5‑10. The stereo channels have a pair of phono sockets for the 'A' inputs, and an additional pair of quarter‑inch jack sockets (unbalanced) for the 'B' inputs. These are wired in the standard L/mono and R arrangement, so that both stereo and mono signals can be accepted.
On the Master section, all six main fader outputs have identical balanced XLR sockets at +4dBu level, as well as jack insert sockets. The other six outputs, wired to the Aux Send masters, are also balanced, but emerge on jacks at a level of +4dBu. The four stereo returns each have a pair of unbalanced jack inputs, with the same mono/stereo socket arrangement of the stereo input channels. The remaining sockets are for the 2‑track send and return (two pairs of phonos) and the mono out (a balanced XLR). There's also a standard IEC mains socket and power switch.
Finally, two blanked‑off 25‑way D connector cut‑outs show where an optional SYS‑LINK option can be installed. This consists of an internally fitted circuit board and two sockets, and allows up to five A&consoles to be electronically connected, for more inputs. Another option is to have another internal circuit board fitted to the 'A' phono input pair of the stereo input channels, which provides RIAA equalisation for a record deck.
- Up to 28 inputs during mixdown.
- Group/Aux reverse switching.
- Poor visibility of fader markings on mono channels.
Another useful addition to the MixWizard range that should suit those interested in more comprehensive FOH and stage monitoring solutions, as well as those doing 4‑track recording.
£960 including VAT.