So why would we be reviewing a mixer that’s clearly not a traditional “DJ” mixer? The main reason is that if you’re planning on DJing out of your bedroom, if you own a small to medium-sized DJ controller, and you’re not playing exclusively in well kitted-out clubs, then something like the little Mackie 402VLZ4 is almost a must. By the end of this review, you’ll know why…
First impressions and setting up
I’m going to consider this tiny mixer from the point of view of a DJ, not singer/songwriters, producers or anyone else who may legitimately use such a device. From our point of view, we are going to plug this in-between our DJ controller and the venue’s PA system, assuming the venue doesn’t have its own mixer (pubs, lounges etc, the kind of place that hand you a couple of TRS or RCA leads or a socket to “plug in”. Sure you know the type…)
You plug it in and power it up, then plug your DJ controller’s output into one of the available inputs (there’s a bit of choice) and plug from one of the available outputs (Main Out or Tape Out) into the venue’s PA. On the basic level, that’s it. So why would you? Well, that’s what we’ll look at in the “In use” section.
This is kind of a “use case scenarios” section; as far as the mixer’s sound quality and look, feel and “usability” go it’s great; solid, high quality components, well lit LEDs etc. Take that as read. So I’d like to show you how you might use it:
- To add a backup source to your DJ set-up – If your DJ controller doesn’t have a “line in”, or if it goes down when the laptop goes down, you’re going to want a backup source (iPhone, MP3 player, whatever) to take over the music when you reboot. By plugging such a source into channels 3/4 of this with your DJ controller going through 1/2 (for instance), you’ve done that
- To add another DJ to your set-up – More than one of you? No worries, there are more inputs here so you can plug in at the same time and mix smoothly between each other. As well as the four “advertised” channels (ie two stereo channels, 1/2 and 3/4), there’s a “Tape In” that can be used for that, too, with the added benefit that you can “pre cue” the Tape In in the headphones
- To add two pro mics or musical instruments – There are two pro mic channels (ie XLR, powered if needed) with bass roll-off, the two “main” line ins can also be used for adding instruments a such as guitars, too, or mic-ing up saxophonists, adding a sampler etc.
- To record your whole set – and that means with the microphones, any live instruments, more than one DJ, sampler etc, you can use the Headphones Out to record from as it has a separate volume control to the main/tape out. Or…
- Add a booth monitor output to your system …again, using the Headphones Out (your headphones are probably plugged into your DJ controller, right?), you can add a volume-independent monitor speaker
- EQ the main PA – Crude but effective: If you’re playing in a venue with poor bass, instead of DJing with your bass controls on full on your DJ controller, you can set that setting on this little mixer (boosting the venue bass a bit) so you DJ “flat” on your DJ controller, which is preferable as DJ controller EQs are best used for effect, not correcting PA deficiencies (at least, as best as they can be corrected by EQ)
- Adding a pro FX unit – Want to use an effects unit that relies on an FX send/return look, like an RMX500? Can’t do it with most DJ controllers, but if you plug it in to the Tape In/Tape Out on this, you can, using the tape In volume control as the wet/dry.
This model really caught our eye because it’s tiny, well built, and cheap, and it sounds great. Digital DJs need no more, but most such mixers are really overkill.
You can’t do all the things I describe above at once, but that’s not the point; point is you can usually find a way to get everything up and running whatever a venue, DJ set-up, microphone requirement or other exotic addition to your expected set set throws at you (hello, electric violinist!). I would like to have seen gain and EQ on channels 3/4 ideally too, and am not sure why the Tape Out isn’t a fixed volume like the Record Out would be on say a Pioneer mixer, but they’re not faults.
Really your decision is not whether to own a little external mixer, but what type – at least, if you want to play out and are never quite sure what you’ll find when you get to a venue! You could consider a small DJ-style mixer, although you’ll pay more for this type and variety of inputs, and it’ll be bigger. Nonetheless, that’d still be a good choice if you might also want to use it for actual DJing one day, too. And as I say, you may want to consider one with more inputs (though you won’t need many more) if you need a bit more flexibility, especially with EQ:
But really, if you’ve ever faced any of the situations above, a small mixer like this is a great thing to buy and throw in your bag as an insurance policy. Get loads of leads of different types, read the instruction manual carefully (it’ll fill you with ideas, too!), and don’t be trapped by the limited ins/outs of your DJ controller ever again!
Do you use a little mixer like this in your DJing, perhaps this very one? Would you consider adding such a thing to your set-up? Or would a little two-channel DJ mixer be better? Share your thoughts below!