Allen & Heath ZED-14
May 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By John McJunkin
Exceptional small-format analog mixer includes USB interface.
The intersection between pro audio equipment and computer technology is rapidly growing. There was a time when using pro audio gear and computers together was a dodgy affair, rife with struggles such as getting things integrated together in a way that was actually useful and worth pursuing. Now it's getting easier every day. A great example of that is the recent development of mixers with integrated computer interfaces. Now this technology is moving beyond its humble beginnings, with greater degrees of sophistication. Allen & Heath has introduced its ZED series of mixers, which are small but professional and include a USB interface — facilitating connection with a computer. This interface does a lot more than just routing the mixer's main outputs to the computer for recording. I spent time with an Allen & Heath ZED-14, which has six mono and four stereo inputs, and learned about some of these more sophisticated capacities.
The ZED-14 is compact, with a footprint of just more than 18"×15". The reason why it's not closer to a perfect square is that it has long-throw (100mm) faders, which I prefer hands down over the short-throw 60mm faders that commonly appear in smaller mixers such as this. The first six channels are monophonic, and starting from the bottom of the panel, you'll find those faders — followed by a PFL button, a peak indicator LED, a mute button with an LED indicator, a pan knob, and then four auxiliary knobs. Auxiliaries 1 and 2 are permanently fixed as pre-fader, and auxiliaries 3 and 4 are permanently fixed as post-fader. A three-band +/-15dB EQ section appears above the auxiliaries, with a low shelf fixed at 80Hz, a high shelf at 12kHz, and a sweepable peak/notch mid band that varies between 120Hz and 4kHz. At the top of each channel strip is an input section with a 12dB/octave 100Hz HPF rumble filter, as well as a gain knob. The mixer's mic pres are Allen & Heath's two-stage DuoPre design, based on the manufacturer's successful PA series. This design cleverly connects the line inputs directly to the second stage, reducing noise. Allen & Heath claims that this design distributes gain more evenly through the gain control knob, and I found this to be true — the gain curve doesn't ramp up at the end of the knob throw as much as many other mic pres. Each mono input has an XLR mic input, 1/4in. balanced-line input,and a 1/4in. TRS send-receive insert jack.
The mixer's four stereo inputs are nearly identical, with a couple of notable differences. For one, the mid-frequency EQ is missing, and there are switches to toggle auxiliaries 1 and 2 between dual-mono and linked-stereo operation. Above channel pairs 7/8, 9/10, and 11/12 are knobs that determine input levels from external stereo sources — namely two stereo RCA returns and the mixer's USB stereo return. Above channel pair 13/14 are three buttons that determine how the USB signals are routed to and from the mixer (not to mention the actual USB connector). In the mixer's main I/O section above the stereo channels are 1/4in. balanced input jacks in pairs. Above channel pairs 7/8 and 9/10 are two stereo RCA inputs, designated “ST RTN” and “2TRK RTN.” Above channel pairs 11/12 and 13/14 are stereo RCA outputs, designated “REC OUT” and “ALT OUT.” The mixer's IEC power input and pushbutton power switch are the only features of the back panel.
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