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Mackie d.4 Pro DJ Production Console
Reviewer: Deft • Date: March 2008 • Price: £785/€930/$899 • Link: Mackie

Introduction

Mackie d.4 Pro review

It doesn't seem so long ago that whisperings of the original Mackie d2 surfaced (just before Plasa 2005 if my memory serves me correctly), which was probably one of the forerunners of being able to have an integrated audio interface in a dj mixer. With the advent of vinyl emulation software and the particular soundcard routings this requires (which the original d2 + Firewire option couldn't quite handle) - Mackie have revamped their dj mixer line to become the d2.Pro and d.4 Pro, both coming with the new d.Pro Firewire audio interface built-in as standard. We first caught a glimpse of the d4 way back in September 2006, so there has been a hefty wait for the real production models to start shipping. It looks like Mackie have made a couple of cosmetic changes and bunched the filter section further away from the crossfader (at our request - Giz) since we first saw it.

Mackie d.4 Pro review

The d.4 Pro is a fairly standard 4-channel DJ mixer layout, with the MIC strips on the left hand side and the MAIN outs and monitoring controls on the right. First impressions are good with a reassuringly solid feel to the casing, though part of me wanted to peel off the raised rubbery Mackie sticker at the top! The only curious thing with regards the casing is the height - it's a couple of centimetres higher than the relatively standard 'Technics 1200 height'. No big deal, just a bit out of the ordinary. My initial annoyance at seeing a US power cord with my review model was misplaced, as the power supply is a 100-240VAC with IEC fitting - meaning no hassle wherever you are in the world. A definite plus in my book. Also, the printed manual is excellently written - clear, concise and even humourous in places (well, kind of....).

Inputs and PGM strips

mackie d.4 pro review

Each of the 4 PGM channels have the same choices for input source selection; 1x Phono/Line (switchable), 1x CD (Line), 1x Firewire. There are input gain controls which go fully to off if required, and a 3-band EQ with blue backlighting. My only slight niggles with the physical control of the EQ section are that the centre detents aren't quite detented enough for my liking (I kept slipping past them when trying to quickly reset the EQ), and that some of the rotary caps are very slightly touching the surface of the mixer faceplate - giving them a scratchier feel in use. That kind of thing isn't unique to the d.4 Pro, but it can be a bit of a turn-off in terms of that enigmatic correct 'user feeling' metric.

Macke d.4 pro review EQ blue lights

In audio terms, the EQ sounds great - almost perfectly suited to traditional dj use and has full kills. The MID & HIGH bands are quite close together though, meaning vocals tended to fall into both camps more than some other dj mixer EQs I have used. Below the EQ section are controls for routing the audio to either of the onboard filters and to the external FX loop. There are also crossfader routing toggles plus push-button CUE switches for monitoring.

Each channel has its own 12-point blue LED level meters (pre-fader), so no excuses for bad dj level syndrome. I can't quite decide whether blue LEDs are cool or tacky, so I'll let those more qualified than me be the judge of that. There are a pair of MIC inputs (phantom power available), with 3-band EQ, spring-loaded talkover switches and AUX send controls for each.

Faders

mackie d4pro review

Gone are the days when only 2-channel battle mixers were blessed with decent faders and contouring. The d4.Pro sports an Infinium non-contact optical fader with magnetic tension / physical resistance adjustment. We never got our hands on the original d2, but given that Rodec had to optimise the response time of the Infinium for the Scratchbox - there was always a worry that a poorly implemented Infinium could be troublesome for fast scratching. I'm happy to confirm that no such potential problems exist on the d4.Pro - the fader cuts perfectly under strenuous conditions (well, as fast as I can scratch). Cuts are sharp and clear, with no laggy feeling whatsoever. The audio contouring doesn't sound stepped and the sharpest cut reaches full volume in under 2mm. Job well done.

mackie d4 pro review

In terms of physical feel, the tension adjustment works well and can satisfactorily increase the resistance to movement for those who require it. The Infinium is extremely light feeling, with no real weight to it at all. The only issue I could see with it is that once you apply a little pressure perpendicular to its direction of travel, the movement becomes impeded noticeably (particularly if pushing upwards). I think a spot of fader lube would help somewhat for users who find this a problem when scratching. The presence of a crossfader plate and screws is annoying to anyone wanting to scratch for more than 5 minutes - you forget how often you catch your fingers on things like that. I have also managed to wear some of the markings slightly in a couple of hours of use (sorry Mackie). The filter controls are just about far enough away to not bother too much, though totally out of the fader line would have been nice.....

mackie d4pro review

The crossfader contour is adjustable from a sharp cut through to a 3dB dipped profile, though interestingly the rotary control for the contour seems to have separate zones for the adjustment. I hadn't really noticed this before, but happened upon it whilst checking the level of the crossfader dip with a test tone. The whole range of profiles are there, but I felt that I couldn't quite get the gradual dipless fade I wanted (the audio comes in pretty quickly once you are in the dipless area of the contour adjustment). There is no dedicated crossfader reverse switch, but all PGM channels are freely assignable to either side - so there is a roundabout way to achieve 'hamster' mode. The linefaders seem to be fairly standard short body faders and given the layout of the mixer and how they were mounted I didn't delve inside the mixer to check them out fully. There is no contouring or reverses available for the linefaders - they all have a normal linear sounding profile across their travel length.

Filters

mackie d4 pro review

All of the PGM channels can be routed to either Filter X or Filter Y. High-pass, low-pass and band-pass are all provided as options - as well as a resonance control and a momentary 'bump' toggle switch. The bump switch works pretty well and is fun, though not 100% clickless. The filters sound really good - I'm now convinced that all mixers should have a filter sections. The only peculiar behaviour was that on a couple of occasions the resonance control caused a huge audio spike whilst using the high-pass filter. I couldn't reproduce this behaviour consistently, but it was a tad worrying. Hopefully it was an isolated incident.

Effects Loop

mackie d4pro review

Each channel has an AUX wet / dry control rotary and essentially it works by balancing what is sent to the AUX buss vs. the MAIN buss. The sends are post-fader (my preferred choice for a dj mixer) and there are overall SEND / RETURN level controls. It seems like a good approach to a multi-channel dj effects loop, with the only thing missing which may have been useful being a pre-return level CUE function.

Firewire (+ MIDI)

mackie d.4 pro review

Now to one of the key attractions of the d.4 Pro, the 14-in / 8-out Firewire interface. After the Firewire issues I had with the Korg Zero 8, I was a bit anxious that my relatively new laptop would never handle Firewire audio in a sensible way. However, there have been no signs of any problems with the d.4 Pro. Drivers were smoothly installed and not one audio drop-out or weird behaviour since. I can't get below 3ms latency without the odd crackle but that is much more likely to be computer specific.

The 8-outputs are assigned to the 4 stereo PGM channels, so that you can stream audio from your computer straight into the channel strips. The 14-inputs consist of a send from each PGM channel strip, a feed for each MIC channel as well as feeds from the AUX send buss and of course the MAIN buss (pre- main level control).

Each of the PGM strips has a push button switch at its input connectors that allows you to select where the audio is tapped off from. You can either take the audio out from the phono / line input straight after the phono pre-amp (if in use), or you can take the audio from whatever is routed through the channel post-eq. The main reason for this is that the first option allows you a slick way to route vinyl emulation timecode to your favourite vinyl emulation program and still return audio to the main mixer channel.

mackie d.4 pro firewire review

The d.4 Pro is 'Traktor Scratch Certified', meaning you can buy an upgrade pack and run Traktor Scratch without any additional interface required. The second position switch means you can take advantage of the gain and eq before recording the channel. Due to the mainly analog nature of the d.4 Pro, I can see that firm design choices had to be made with regards the Firewire audio feed points - but I can't help feeling Mackie have missed a golden opportunity by not having a third position on the switch which allows a post-fader recording feed for each PGM channel. This would have been even sweeter on the d2.Pro if you could get the full virtual mixtape mode that all Rane TTM-57SL users have been waiting for (and is yet to arrive). This is where you have vinyl emulation timecode routing and then post-fader recording feeds as well. This would allow discreet multi-track recording whilst making a mix with audio sourced from timecode software. Great for studio produced mixtapes. It's a shame, as I think for things more dj orientated a post-fader feed would have been more useful. You can workaround this if you are happy to record one track at a time - by using the AUX buss for your recording feed as it is post-fader. Not perfect, but half-way there.

The d.4 Pro comes with a copy of Tracktion 3 (hardware project bundle edition), which although I didn't try seems to be a very comprehensive package - with an upgrade path to the Ultimate edition if wanted.

It also has a small MIDI trick up its sleeve - the crossfader sends controller information including note on/off messages for assigned PGM channels.

Outputs

macke d.4 pro mixer rewiew

I was really impressed with the overall sound of the d.4 Pro, it is extremely clear with a great bass end. Not muddy and flabby, but a nice powerful presence - very enjoyable to listen to. There are a couple of final smart features on the outputs worth mentioning. The main balanced outputs have a pad function so you can run the outputs into another mixer pre-amp if required, and the unbalanced main outputs have a switch to bypass the main level control so you can have an untouched feed for recording purposes.

Final Thoughts

mackie d4 pro review

Aside from a couple of scratching related faceplate annoyances and the lack of post-fader Firewire feeds, the d.4 Pro is an extremely capable and comprehensive DJ mixer. There are some neat touches and combined with the excellent manual you get a great package.

Ratings

Build Quality - 9/10
Super solid casing and good controls. Markings will wear quickly if you scratch a lot though.

Sound Quality - 9/10
EQ, filters, headphones and main outputs all sound lovely.

Features & Implementation - 8/10
Post-fader recording Firewire feeds would have been good.

Value For Money - 9/10
A high quality analog mixer with sound card thrown in too.

The Bottom Line

Mackie have done a very slick job with the d.4 Pro, it combines a traditional format with a superb crossfader and smooth filters - then to top it off they go and sneak an audio interface into the base too.



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