Having a mixer in your studio setup is a definite must, but having a really good mixer is essential. There are plenty of mixers on the market and most of them do a good job at passing audio signals through, but there are only a few that have those little extra features that end up making a big difference in a person's buying decision. The Mackie VLZ4 series of mixers hit the market in 2013, and I immediately knew I had to get it. I previously owned the VLZ3 model, which served me very well and even though I could have continued to use it in my studio, having the latest model is just one of those things. A New Look Along With New Features What made the VLZ4 stand out from the previous VLZ3, was the look. Instead of a silver body, it now came in black/charcoal and just looked better. I know looks shouldn't really matter, as the quality is what we're looking for, but let's face it - you're not going to buy a mixer that is hot pink. But the looks are obviously not what's most important here, and with this new mixer from Mackie, it's all about the features. Onyx Preamps Are A Great Step Up With the VLZ3, Mackie used the XDR2 (extended dynamic range) preamps, but now with the VLZ4, it's all about the Onyx preamps. The difference is that the Onyx is built upon the XDR mic preamp design, but custom IC chips have been added, which provide low-noise, and high-headroom audio. Onyx Preamp Specifications: 123dB total dynamic range -129.5 dBm Equivalent Input Noise 0.0007% Total Harmonic Distortion Up to 60dB of gain They're specifically designed to handle any type of use, as you would be able to tell if you were to use it and then use another preamp without it. I use the microphone input regularly with my Audio Technica and the quality is very clean. There is no noise that I can tell of, and lots of crisp headroom to play with. With some mixers, it can be hard to get a true, clean signal because of noise. I have a DJ mixer that is good but has lots of noise when I turn the output volume way up. With the VLZ4, it's not the case at all. The Specifications Are What Make This Mixer I have the Mackie 802VLZ4 mixer, which means I have 8 inputs. All of the VLZ4 line of mixers are of the same quality, but the higher amount of channels you have, the more has been added, from extra channels (of course), to the "Alt 3-4" subgroup, to aux sends, effects, etc. There are actually eight different sizes of this mixer to choose from: 402VLZ4 802VLZ4 1202VLZ4 1402VLZ4 1604VLZ4 2404VLZ4 3204VLZ4 VLZ actually stands for "very low noise" (not sure why the 'Z'), and that's why this mixer is so good. The line inputs can handle +22 dBu signal levels, which means that you can feed very high-output sounds to the mixer and not have to worry about overloading the inputs. In total, there is a 128.5dB dynamic range, which gives you plenty of room to get a nice, full mix. The Design Was Well Thought-Out Mackie is claiming that the VLZ4 is built like a tank, and although I'm not in a rush to steal a tank and try to run over my mixer to prove them wrong, I'll take their word for it. But the mixer sure does feel very solid, and it looks like it could take a beating from Jack Bauer and survive. The rotary knobs are actually sealed, so that will resist dust, dirt, and liquids you might spill on it. I don't recommend you keep your beer next to it, but if an accident were to happen, things would probably turn out okay. The way everything is positioned on the mixer is what I like most. It's simple, straightforward, and easy to understand. For example, the "Alt 3-4" subgroup is something that stumped me from the beginning, but I quickly realized how it's meant to be used, and ever since then it has come in very handy in different recording and playback situations. I also like the attention to detail, such as the coloring of the knobs and the level marking, so you can see where your level is as you turn the knob. Using The VLZ4 Is Simple In the manual that comes with the mixer, they make it really easy for you to learn how to use it, by showing you different setup examples, from computer recording, to live performance, and even audio/video situations. With my setup, I'm able to run my DJ mixer into the VLZ4, which gets routed out to my computer's sound card. There is also the "Tape In" and "Tape Out" in/outs that are very useful if you want to use this mixer with your computer. It's self-explanatory, because you run the output of your sound card to the "Tape In" of the mixer, and then "Tape Out" back into the input of your sound card. The "Alt 3-4" subgroup selection is a great addition to this mixer though, as it's not something I had with the 402VLZ3 mixer. What it does is that it allows you to send one or more channels to that subgroup, which can be sent somewhere else. For example, I could have my sound card running into the "Tape In" input, playing back a beat from my computer, while I have a microphone on Track 1 going to "Alt 3-4". Both would be heard at the same time, so it basically just adds a few more options to choose from when recording or playing back. Video Overview Of The VLZ4 Line Of Mixers Conclusion One thing is for sure - this mixer is dope. It has 8 inputs, balanced and unbalanced outputs, subgroups, Onyx preamps, and much more. If you are looking for an analog mixer for your setup, no matter what size you need, give the Mackie VLZ4 a try, you won't regret it. More Information For more information, visit the Mackie website.