Allen & Heath is a manufacturer that, to my knowledge, has never made a complete dog of a mixer. Sure, there’s some things I don’t like here and there, but walking into a job where there’s an A&H waiting is a good omen. I recently reviewed its ZED60 14FX (Read it here), one of A&H’s value line of mixers and despite short, touchy faders and a pretty lame FX module, it is a good sounding, versatile mixer, just right for the $500 range.
The MixWizard name goes back into the annals of A&H lore. The modern resurrection is in its fourth revision and the Allen & Heath MixWizard WZ4 16:2 Professional Studio Mixing Console is the 16 channel version. This one doubles the price of its budget baby brother. Is it twice as good? Not sure how to quantify it, but yes, yes it is. While the ZED60 and other mixers in that price range sound good and have plenty of flexibility, the WZ4 16:2 takes everything up a notch. Improvements may be incremental compared to expense, but this mixer Is really worthy of the name “professional” even with the compromises of a compact, rack mount compatible 16 channel board.
SHOULD I FORK OUT THE EXTRA GREEN? Department: Value is a personal decision. Some people go to the top of the line, just because it’s the top of the line. Others weight cost versus performance. So all I can tell you is that in terms of quality, features and flexibility, the WZ4 16:2 is not overcharging at $999. Whether you’ve got it spend is something you’ll have to factor in.
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Setup and Usability
I’ve mentioned before that the hallmark of a good mixer is its ability to handle typical routing tasks with flexibility and redundancy. The WZ4 16:2 takes this test of mixer mettle very seriously. As well as the usual channel inserts, group outs and auxiliaries, it contains controls and switches that allow you to customize many of these further. There are internal jumpers that can change the way some of the auxiliary sends work. You can adapt the group bus faders to set up the WZ4 16:2 as a monitor mixer, as well as its normal setup, ideal for front of house use.
What I really like about the potential for the WZ4 16:2 is that it is built to take an expansion USB card that sends 16 channels of audio to a computer via USB connection. Recording multitrack live gigs becomes not only possible, but downright simple with this capability. The USB card adds about $300 to the price of the board, and the card is not user installable, so the best bet is to order one with the board, if that’s what you’re looking for. With USB multitrack capability, there is no need for signal splitting, extra snakes and interfaces, etc. etc. This is 16 tracks from the mics and feeds you’re already using. Very slick.
Allen & Heath is never a slouch in terms of sound quality. The preamps on this mixer are top notch. The EQs are the same. There’s a crispy, extended bottom sound available on the WZ4 16:2 that other very good boards struggle with. Taking a kick drum into that transcendent deep space is possible even without subwoofers, if you have a full range array and adequate amp headroom.
Get this mixer into a studio setting and it is whisper quiet, even at high gain levels. If you hear humming or hissing when a mic is cranked wide open, start looking around the room for the source, because it’s not likely coming from the mixer itself.
Two effects units provide onboard digital signal processing. Unlike the ZED60, these effects are configurable and customizable. No “FX-lite” here. These are usable live or in the studio. Probably these will not be your go-to effects in a studio situation since the parameter editing is designed to save surface space rather than user friendly interaction, but when you need that one more reverb, you have two waiting for you.
Tank-like. This is 35 lbs. Good 16-channel compacts feel solid in the 20 lb. range. The WZ4 16:2 goes beyond solid. There is steel where it’s needed and even where it’s just preferable. No plastic mounting nuts around connectors here. The controls all feel smooth and expensive. My big complaint with the ZED60 was its short faders that moved far too easily. This is not the case with the WZ4 16:2. The faders are fully 100mm, rare for a compact mixer. There’s a lot of knobs, but A&H’s color coding makes navigation easy.
The connector pod, as well as feeling solid and positive when plugs are inserted, rotates 90 degrees. It supports the WZ4 16:2 at a nice operating angle when configured as a tabletop mixer. That pod folds down for rack mounting, with connections behind the surface of the mixer, rather than perpendicular to it. Mackie has used moveable pods in the past for its mixers. It’s really a nice touch in a mixer designed for portability and flexibility. The side caps remove also to expose the WZ4 16:2’s rack ears.
There aren’t a lot of reviews on the WZ4 16:2, so I looked beyond into other version 4 MixWizards. No one has a bad thing to say. Several mention the clean sound with punchy and crisp qualities and lots of headroom. Clean and punchy is often a sign of good gain staging though a mixer, so that all the amps along the way are working in their straight-line comfort zone. Lots of headroom makes for a big sweet spot, which gives a better chance at clean and punchy. The A&H users hear it. You probably will too.
While this mixer is pricey, it’s a fully justified price, not a “paying for the name” proposition. There are lots of 16-channel portable mixers out there. A lot of people are tired of mixing boards that dwarf compact cars. Perhaps some of us have just got too old and tired to do all that heavy lifting. But the thing about the Allen & Heath MixWizard WZ4 16:2 Professional Studio Mixing Console is that, when you start looking at all the little tricks it has up its sleeve, there are not a lot of 16-channel portable mixers that can match its feature set while maintaining a noticeably clean and punchy sound. If somebody must have the most expensive mixer in its class, then it should be for the right reasons. The Allen & Heath WZ4 16:2 earns its place at the top.
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