Allen & Heath ZED-14
May 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By John McJunkin
Exceptional small-format analog mixer includes USB interface.
The mixer's master section starts with a stereo pair of faders, above which are found master knobs for auxiliaries 1 and 2, and an ALT OUT knob, intended to control output to monitor speakers. This output can be fed by the stereo bus or auxiliaries 1 and 2, and can be toggled between pre- and post-fader operation, in order to facilitate a control-room level independent of the main mix. Next up are the monitor selector switches, which determine where the headphone output and meters get their feed. The choices include auxiliaries 1 and 2 (or both as a stereo pair), the 2-track return, the USB return, or the main stereo bus. A headphone level knob and PFL active indicator LED appear next, followed by the mixer's 12-segment two-channel LED VU meter and phantom-power switch and indicator LED. At the top of the master section are the mixer's four auxiliary output jacks, main XLR outputs, TRS send-return main output insert jacks, a mono output jack, and headphones jacks — both 1/4in. and 1/8in. Frankly, this is a feature that simply floored me. I can't tell you how many times I've run around searching for an adapter so I could plug in headphones. Having both sizes represented is simply brilliant. Finally, amidst all the aforementioned connectors is a bright-blue LED to indicate that the mixer is on.
When I hear the term “USB mixer,” my mental image is a mixer that can send its main outputs to a computer via USB. Maybe if it is a bit more sophisticated, it can send audio back from the computer to the mixer. The ZED series takes it all a step further. Audio can be sent from the mixer to the computer from any of four possible sources — auxiliary pairs 1 and 2 or 3 and 4 — or from the main L/R bus, in either a pre- or post-fader configuration. Audio can be routed from the computer to the mixer via USB and then fed either directly to the L/R bus or to stereo input 11/12, which facilitates EQ and auxiliary sends for that return audio. If a recording is being made with this console in a corporate setting, it is brilliant to be able to include audio from a computer so easily. In music-oriented applications, obviously audio can be recorded to a DAW on the computer (and the ZED series ships with Cakewalk Sonar 6 LE software, a remarkably powerful DAW/MIDI sequencer package). One application that I hadn't considered before the ZED-14 manual pointed it out to me is the use of a computer as an effects device via USB. I have certainly used computers as outboard signal processors before, but the simple facilitation of this via the USB connection is brilliant.
The ZED-14 simply could not be any more straightforward in its operation. I unpacked it, plugged it in, and fed it some signals, and everything went very smoothly. The only unorthodox I/O issues surround the USB port, but after literally a minute or two of reading and trial and error, I had it completely figured out. The DuoPre mic pres are exceptionally quiet, and sound very good. The EQ is also quite good — with fixed frequencies, slopes, and the fixed Q of the sweepable mid band all very musical. I tested the 100Hz HPF with air conditioning, and found it very effective at rumble elimination. As is usually the case with Allen & Heath products, the mixer has a good, solid feel, and its controls move smoothly. In particular, the faders feel quite nice.
The Allen & Heath ZED-14 would be a great small-format analog mixer even if no USB interfacing were included, and with the flexible and practical integration of that function, this console is highly worthy of consideration. There are certainly other mixers out there with USB interfaces, but for a small mixer, the USB implementation is pretty sophisticated here. There are numerous great reasons to consider using a mixer with a USB interface, and if you plan on doing so, take a look at the Allen & Heath ZED-14.
John McJunkin is the principal of Avalon Podcasting in Chandler, Ariz. He has consulted in the development of studios and installations, and he provides high-quality podcast-production services.
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