We test this entry-level mixer for simple recording and monitoring tasks.
Along with many other audio equipment manufacturers, Yamaha have developed a budget range of mixing desks to compete in the lively 'cost-effective' end of the market. The 'origin' label affixed to the mixer indicates that Yamaha have taken advantage of low-cost Chinese manufacturing to achieve this feature set at such an attractive UK price. The MG series includes 16-channel and 12-channel versions featuring four-buss architecture, making them suitable for basic recording applications or for use as the control centre of a soundcard studio.
The 16-channel MG16/4 under review here follows the traditional wedge-shaped format, with all the connectors other than the headphone outlet on the rear panel — the phones output is at the top of the front panel. A neat blue and black paint job plus extruded alloy end cheeks give the mixer a very tidy and well-finished appearance, and the end cheeks can be removed to fit rackmounting strips if needed. Power comes from an external adaptor, with a sensibly heavy locking connector, and all the jack sockets are metal types bolted directly to the chassis. In common with many other current mixer designs, the channels are divided between mono mic/line channels and stereo line-only channels — in this case 12 mic/line channels and two stereo line channels. All the mic/line channels have balanced XLR mic inputs with globally switchable phantom power, balanced line inputs on quarter-inch jacks and insert points on TRS jacks. The line channels have two inputs (left and right) on both jacks and phonos, while the main output is available on both balanced XLRs and jacks. Two further impedance-balanced jacks carry the two group outputs, and there are phonos for tape in and out. Separate jacks are provided for the control room output, the two aux sends and the two aux returns. The latter are normally stereo, but can be used in mono by connecting to the left socket only.
The mono mixer channels themselves are reassuringly conventional, headed up by a gain trim control and an 80Hz switchable low-cut filter. The line channels have no input trim or filter, so the nominal level needs to be adjusted at source. The EQ has three bands, with shelving sections at 10kHz and 100Hz plus a fixed mid-band peaking at 2.5kHz. All have a ±15dB range. There are two aux send controls per channel, the first switchable pre/post-fader and the other fixed post-fader for use as an effects send. There's no EQ bypass, but all the EQ controls are centre-detented. Mono channels have conventional pan controls, while the line channels have stereo balance controls.
An illuminated On button allows individual channels to be muted or made active, and there's also an illuminated PFL (pre-fade listen) button for each channel, but not for any of the sends. PFL allows the pre-fader channel signal to be monitored in isolation when setting up the mixer. As usual, operating the PFL affects only the control room and phones outputs, not the main outputs, and the PFL level is shown on the main level meters. Each channel also has a single routing button which, when pressed, sends the channel signal to the two group outputs, rather than the master outputs. This is very useful in a recording situation, as you can use one buss for feeding signals to a recorder and the other for monitoring the outputs. Channel and master level control is via 60mm faders, all of which have a smooth, positive action.
That leaves the master section, which has been kept as simple as possible. A recessed, illuminated button switches on 48V phantom power for all the mic inputs, and there's a dedicated level control for the two-track inputs. A pair of 12-section meters monitor the main output, and there's another rotary control for the Control Room output level, which also controls the level sent to the headphone jack. The control room out can carry the main stereo output, the group output or the two-track return depending on how the two switches below the level control are set. If any PFL button is used, this overrides any other control room setting in the time-honoured fashion. Stereo faders are fitted for both the main mix buss and the group outputs, and the group fader is accompanied by a rather lonely looking 'To ST' button that can be used to route the group mix into the main stereo mix, something you might want to do when creating a drum or backing-vocal subgroup.
That leaves the auxiliary section, where the two master send level controls are self-explanatory. The aux return is a little more involved, as it not only includes a stereo level control, but also send controls for the two auxes. If the aux two control is used when the return is carrying the output from an effects unit fed from aux two, this is a recipe for feedback, but it's also possible to use the returns as just another stereo input, and in that case having both aux sends available allows effects to be added just as with any other channel.
When tested in real-world conditions using capacitor microphones, the mixer was quiet and transparent sounding, imposing no obvious character on the sound unless the EQ was brought into play. The high-end EQ was particularly nice, providing an airy quality to the sound, while the low EQ did what it purported to do with no surprises. Having a fixed-frequency mid-range control can be a little limiting and on some vocal tracks the 2.5kHz region sounded rather nasal or hard if boosted, but by the same token it was also possible to cut these frequencies where the sound being treated was too dominant in that area. Like most well-designed budget desk equalisers, this one sounded fine if used sparingly.
The general design of the mixer is practical without being too complicated, and the four-buss architecture lends itself well to small-studio applications, where you might need to record just one or two discrete tracks at a time, but monitor and mix, say, eight soundcard outputs. Having aux one switchable pre/post-fader is also useful, as you can use it in pre-mode for setting up a monitor mix, then flip it to post when mixing to use as a second effects send. A few tricks have been missed, such as not including a 'two-track to mix' button, but when designing a small mixer you have to decide what you can put in and what you have to leave out to meet the price point. On balance, the features that are provided meet the needs of most small-studio operators or those wanting a small live sound mixer, and I have no real criticisms other than perhaps the lack of sweep mid-band EQ controls and EQ bypass switches.
Every mixer built to a price is a compromise, but Yamaha have made some good decisions here by creating a design that has practical applications both for live sound and for recording. It doesn't have direct outputs on the various tracks, but its buss structure makes it possible to either record up to four discrete parts at once or to record two parts while monitoring multiple outputs from a soundcard or recorder. Indeed, you could record four parts (five if you used the pre-fade send as another way into your recorder) while simultaneously monitoring the stereo output from a soundcard via the two-track input and control room outputs. Those outputs that aren't fully balanced are impedance-balanced, which works well enough in small studio setups.
As to the sound and general performance, I'm quite happy with the quiet, neutral sound of the mixer, though the fixed mid-band EQ control is quite limiting and I'd probably try to use it as little as possible. Artefacts such as distortion and crosstalk are low enough to ignore for all practical applications and there seems to be plenty of headroom in the output stage, which is useful when driving soundcards that are calibrated to peak at around +18dB. Ultimately then, the MG16/4 is built to a price and isn't without stiff competition, not least from other Chinese-built mixers, but it offers a good range of features, it is solidly built, it sounds good, and it looks the part. You can't really ask for much more than that.