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Mackie DLM8 & DLM12

Active PA Speakers With DSP
Published April 2013
By Paul White

Despite their small size, these dinky speakers each pack a mighty 2kW of power — as well as a useful array of DSP features...

Mackie's new DLM12 and the even smaller DLM8 are almost alarmingly powerful — at 2kW each — yet surprisingly compact active PA speakers. They combine novel driver design with DSP for speaker management, including the facility to set delay of up to 300ms for multiple-speaker system configuration, and a choice of seven voicings. There's also a built-in, two-channel, digital mixer for stand-alone use, 16 on-board digital effects, and multi-band feedback suppression. The HF and LF power amplifiers for both models are identical Class-D designs, and are rated at 500W RMS (1000W peak) each. Apart from the driver sizes, both models are essentially identical.

Mackie's new TruSource driver technology combines a 1.75-inch, high-frequency compression driver with a 12-inch low-frequency woofer (or an eight-inch one for the DLM8). The HF driver is mounted in the centre of the woofer chassis, and shares the same magnet. As well as providing a well-defined point source, this concentric arrangement means that the boxes can be made lower in height than a conventional 'woofer plus horn' system.

Although such speakers would normally be used as part of a larger PA, either in pairs or multiples, the on-board, two-channel mic/line/instrument mixer (with three-band EQ and 16 reverb, delay and modulation effects) means that smaller events can be handled without a separate mixer. Three banks of user settings can be stored, to suit three regular venues or events (for example).

The DLM12's moulded cabinet, which has an integral soft-grip carrying handle on top, is made from tough ABS plastic and has a powder-coated steel grille to protect the speaker. Four small ports are located in the baffle corners. You have to remind yourself of its generous power rating when picking up the cab, as the DLM12 weighs just 13.6kg and measures 389 x 363 x 403mm. If you go for the DLM8, that weighs only 10kg and measures 313 x 302 x 307mm, which is almost exactly a one-foot cube.

A 38mm pole-mount 'top hat' is built into the bottom of the case, and there are also hardware mounting points for permanent installation, as well as indents in the top of the moulding to locate the feet of a cabinet stacked on top. There's even a pull-out stand on the back, to angle the speaker at around 45 degrees for floor monitor use. A small multi-speed cooling fan is fitted into the rear panel and runs very quietly.

The frequency response of the speakers is given between the -10dB points, rather than the standard -3dB points. The DLM8 is listed as having a response of 65Hz-20kHz, while the DLM12's is quoted as 38Hz-20kHz. Both models have 1.6kHz crossover frequencies. As to the all-important maximum SPL capability, the DLM8's is specified as 125dB at 1m and the DLM12's as 128dB.

Both inputs are on 'combi' XLRs, with the first switchable so that the XLR input has either mic or line sensitivity (the jack part of the connector is always line level). The second input is non-switchable, with the XLR input used for mic levels and the jack for instruments. A pair of phono inputs (summed to mono) is also present and feeds input 2 prior to any level adjustment, allowing easy connection of a music player. Finally, there's a 'thru' XLR, that can carry either a mix of both inputs or just the first input, as determined by a push-switch. A small, brightly lit screen with six buttons (marked 1, 2, Sys, Memory, '+' and '-') accesses all the DSP functionality.

What's On The Menu?

Both the DLM8 and DLM12 feature a crafty kick-stand on the rear panel, allowing them to be angled back 45 degrees for stage-monitoring purposes.

Apparently, Mackie feel that operation of these speakers is so simple it doesn't even need a manual (though there is a full manual online). Other than basic safety instructions, all that came with the review samples was a hang-tag tied to the handle, offering three steps for setting up the channels and another three for setting up the system. To adjust a channel's parameters, you simply press 1 or 2 (depending on which channel you want to control), then 1 or 2 again to select the parameter, and the plus or minus button to change it. To change the system-wide settings, you press Sys, then Sys again to cycle through the functions, and then the plus and minus buttons. That's all there is to it! I must admit, though, that the lack of physical gain controls always makes me nervous: if you plug a mic directly into the speaker's mixer, to be greeted by a howl of feedback (as I did), you then have to find the appropriate menu and turn down the gain via the control panel before it will stop!

Pressing key 1 lets you step through level, three-band EQ (80Hz, 2.5kHz and 12kHz) and effect amount settings. The plus and minus buttons adjust the values and a little on-screen bar-graph gives a handy visual 'amount' display. The input setting is also shown numerically in decibels below or above the nominal input level. Its range is +10dB to -20dB, and pressing the minus button takes you down in 1dB steps to -10dB, then there's a jump to -20dB. Press the button one more time and the input mutes.

Those 'Sys' settings include the seven speaker-voicing modes, where a small frequency-spectrum graphic gives a general idea of what EQ is being applied. DJ mode is very scooped in the middle, while PA mode is flat and Monitor mode has a low-frequency roll-off and a slight dip at 2kHz, to counter feedback on stage. Soloist mode has an LF roll-off, but with a bit of HF air added. Finally, EQ K, EQ Y and EQ J are designed to integrate the DLM speakers with PA speakers from other manufacturers ('Y' stands for Yamaha, 'J' for JBL, and 'K' for QSC's K-series speakers).

The Delay screen has a read-out showing time, feet and metres, and allows for a delay time of up to 300mS to be set. The effects menu lets you step through the 16 effect options, but there's no adjustment other than level once an effect has bee selected.

The anti-feedback facility has simple settings for Off, On, Hold and Clear. In a typical scenario, you'd set it to On, where the narrow notch filters (up to six being deployed at any one time) roam to identify feedback frequencies, let it do its thing while you're ringing out the speakers during the soundcheck, and then hit Hold to keep the filters static. However, if the singer tends to wander about with the mic, you might just want to leave Anti-Feedback set to On and allow it to adapt to the situation. 'Mem' accesses the four user memories, with a simple press-to-save function for the current setup.

Testing Times

Despite their extensive DSP functionality, the DLM speakers have remarkably few controls.

Despite their size, these speakers kick out a lot of level, and while their fidelity wouldn't persuade me to use them as studio monitors, general music playback comes over cleanly and, in the case of the larger DLM12, with a remarkable degree of low-end weight and plenty of overall level. At the bass end, the diminutive DLM8 tends to sound a hint 'tubby' if pushed but, given its dimensions, it still performs significantly better than its size might suggest. When handling vocals and non-bass instruments, or for use as a stage monitor, it really rises to the occasion.

Both models put out a little background hiss, although in a typical gig environment it is negligible, and not that different from what you'd expect from a typical analogue PA speaker. Plug in a standard dynamic mic in a small room and you get plenty of gain in the -10dB position, but if you need to back it off a bit, the next position down is -20dB, then the next stop is full mute, as mentioned earlier, which is slightly limiting. In reality, this might only become a problem if you have an extra-sensitive mic or battery-powered electret capacitor, or the mic is set up in front of the speaker for some reason.

Although the three-band EQ is welcome and works very well, I experienced a degree of popping when using some dynamic mics, especially with the extended low end of the DLM12, so a low-cut filter would have been useful in the DSP options. Otherwise, the vocal tonality is open and clear, with plenty of mid-range detail. Inevitably, the high end falls away to some extent as you move further to the sides; the horizontal coverage angle is about what you'd expect for a two-way speaker, but the concentric design produces a symmetrical, cone-shaped dispersion pattern, where the vertical coverage is the same as the horizontal.

I'd describe the reverbs as perfunctory rather than great, but adding a little can take the dryness off a vocal or DI'd guitar, so it is better to have these effects than not. 'Plate' seems the most useful, but it has a rather congested character that doesn't really add much in the way of air or sparkle to vocals.

Activating the anti-feedback function helps squeeze a bit more level out of vocals, and the little frequency graph on the display that shows you where frequencies are being notched out is very neat. The effect on the overall vocal tonality is pretty benign, due to the very narrow filters used, and certainly a lot more acceptable than having the vocal mics on the verge of ringing.

Further tests were carried out with an acoustic guitar fitted with a pickup system, and both DLM models functioned as really clean-sounding acoustic guitar amplifiers, so either would make a practical alternative to a dedicated acoustic-guitar combo.

Verdict

The level of sound available from such small speaker cabinets is impressive, and the clarity is also as good as or better than that of the other plastic-box speakers I've used. Where you need to handle low frequencies, the DLM12 copes better than the DLM8, as you'd expect, but for vocals and acoustic guitar, the DLM8 ticks all the right boxes, and even with the feedback suppressor turned on, you're still likely to be limited in level by feedback rather than power, unless you're in a very large venue.

While some aspects of the DSP section could be better, such as the unremarkable reverbs and the lack of a low-cut filter, none of this matters if you're running the speakers from a mixer in the usual way. However, if you do plan to use the speakers in stand-alone mode, the lack of a physical level control is irritating, as unplugging and plugging instruments or mics results in a lot of popping and banging unless you first dive into the menus and turn down the gain for the relevant input — and the same applies if you need to drop the gain to stop feedback. To Mackie's credit, though, the operation really is as simple as I described.

A pair of DLM12s could happily handle main-PA duties for a band playing in a bar or small club, as long as any bass-guitar or kick-drum contribution is kept to a reasonable minimum. They also work well for sound sources like backing tracks or keyboards where some bass end is necessary. The smaller DLM8s are great for vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar played via a modelling preamp and suchlike, while the integral tilt stand means that either model can easily double as a floor monitor. For bands that only need a PA to carry vocals, a pair of the DLM8s would be loud enough and clean enough in smaller venues, even when competing with a drum kit — and adding subs to either model gives you a powerful full-range system for when the situation demands it.

Finally, all things have to be considered in the context of price, and although you can find cheaper speakers, the Mackie DLMs deliver on both sound quality and quantity, yet are still sensibly priced, as well as being incredibly practical when it comes to transport and setting up.  

Alternatives

The only other speakers I've seen with such comprehensive DSP functions built in are the Line 6 StageScape models, which actually take the concept even further. However, if you just need a good-sounding, reasonably compact speaker for around the same money there's a wealth of choice out there, from the likes of JBL, Electrovoice, Alto, dB Technologies and more.

Published April 2013