Not so long ago, if you wanted an affordable low-noise, durable mixer for small band live performance and studio recording your only sensible option was the Mackie 1202VLZ (mk1).
But now there's a huge range and Allen & Heath's ZEDs are a big part of that.
ZEDs cater for a variety of purposes, from powered PA to 32 channel four buss options. Allen & Heath has just updated the diminutive but durable end of the range with the ZED 6 and ZEDi 8 mixers, plus a substantial update to their acclaimed ZED 10.
All come in regular and FX flavours and the 8 and 10 include a built-in 24-bit 96kHz USB audio interface (2 in, 2 out and 4 in, 4 out, respectively).
We're testing the ZEDi-10FX and ZED 6 options here but the major components are the same throughout.
ZEDi-10FX offers up four mono mic/line channels (with phantom power) plus three stereo inputs plus those built- in FX. The four mono channels feature separate balanced/unbalanced TRS and XLR inputs while stereo inputs come via TRS jacks.
The GSPre preamps have bags of headroom and could go toe to toe with a dropped pin in the silent stakes. A&H say they are "developed from the revered GS-R24" desk and they sound nice on everything we tried through them, even our own voice.
The first two channels feature a guitar mode, engaging high impedance DI inputs, which means less kit to worry about on the road and less chance of session guitarists/clients accidentally wandering off with your precious EMO 520.
The next two channels have a Line/Pad button which drops the mic input level 20dB. There's also a low-cut button (100Hz) for all four.
Most controls are knob-based and the mono channels feature 5-60dB of gain (more than enough for sensible purposes), balance, mix level, FX-send, auxiliary send and a three band EQ.
The swept-mid band of the original ZED 10 is now fixed and the centre frequencies (80Hz, 600Hz, 12kHz) are obviously tailored for live mixing. Allen & Heath's MusiQ system for automatically adjusting the Q in response to the amount of gain keeps things smooth.
The stereo channels aren't so well-equipped, the first offering only high and low EQ and 15dB of gain, while the second and third offer only mix level (Stereo 2 shares a level knob with the onboard FX). Also, considering the obvious appeal of this mixer to small bars and restaurants I find the absence of any RCA/phono inputs odd.
The USB interfaceon the ZEDi-8 and ZEDi-10/ZEDi-10FX modelsis class compliant for Mac users (PCs require a driver).Sound quality both in and out is excellent, with inputs wired into ST2 and ST3 and three output configurations (on the ZEDi-10/ZEDi-10FX): Mic1-Mic2-AUX-FX, Mic1-Mic2-MainL-MainR and, by default, Mic1-Mic2-Mic3-Mic4. It's also compatible with iOS devices (via the camera connection kit).
It's a nice and versatile system suitable for studio or live show capture and, sensibly, the USB Mix outputs bypass mixer and EQ controls (apart from low-cut). And for bands just starting out, there are download codes for Cubase LE for PC/Mac and Cubasis LE Mobile for iOS.
"The whole thing feels very solid and I know it's portable as the very first thing I did was take it on a plane."
The FX sound excellent with 61 presets split between delays, verb- delays, echo verbs, plate verbs, hall verbs, chorus/doublers, phaser flangers, symphony and gated verbs. There's one controllable parameter for each and a tap tempo button.
Unfortunately, when changing presets there's a second or two interval until the next effect is engaged. It would also be great to be able to route the FX internally to a free channel for basic EQing of effects and to send the FX out via USB.
The master section is straightforward. 1/4-inch headphone monitoring features plenty of level. By default you hear the main mix. Engaging PFL for any channel cuts the main mix monitoring and you can also choose to monitor the FX Send, Aux Send or Stereo 3 in.
Main outputs are XLR with a 60mm master fader, TRS Auxiliary out with a dedicated level knob, a TRS FX Out (from FX sends, not built-in FXwet signal) which cleverly doubles as a foot-switch input for muting built-in FX.
The eight LED stereo level meters are a step down from the original ZED 10's 12, but it's not traumatic.
For monitoring, the ZEDi-10/ZEDi-10FX also hasa stereo RCA/phono pair with a level knob, and the signal can either be the main mix or headphone feed. And there's a button to redirect the PFL monitoring signal to the main outputs, allowing control room monitoring in the studio.
Apart from the mains input and switch, all controls and connections are housed conveniently on the top panel. The knobs feel tough and are bolted securely to the front panel but are tightly packed and can be difficult to turn.
But if you're buying this mixer you're happy to trade size for a little ergonomics. The whole thing feels very solid and we know it's portable as the first thing we did with this review model was put it in a carry-on bag and take it on a plane.
Allen & Heath's ZED series of mixers are all well designed, well built, well equipped and suitable for a variety of studio, live and mobile recording duties so it's no surprise we like these mixers.The ZEDi-10FX is clearly the more versatile, but both accomplish the jobs they set out to do and at very reasonable prices for this level of quality.
Truth be told, we find the older models easier on the eye, but in terms of features things have improved in many important regards.If either mixer ticks your particular feature boxes then you can trust them not to disappoint... for many years to come.