When the Beatles took over the world in the early 1960s, there was no concert industry as we know it now. Public address systems suitable for rock bands – and their fans, who could out-scream the groups – simply didn’t exist. That started to change in the latter half of the 60s. Allen & Heath were innovators at an innovative time, bringing a number of new features to mixing boards, but probably their highest profile early success was the quadrophonic console custom build for Pink Floyd’s live shows.
This is audio pedigree, and the company has maintained its reputation as a quality manufacturer, though more so in Europe than North America. While available in the U.S. market, A&H is not as well known as other mixer manufacturers, such as Mackie and Yamaha. It’s a shame, since the A&H ZED line of mixers has a lot going for it. The ZED60-14FX has a lot going for it, much like the other models in the lineup.
IS THE ZED60-14FX FOR ME? Department: If you’re stepping up from a smaller analog mixer and built-in USB connectivity is on your shopping list, this could well be a candidate for you. It’s not the perfect mixer, but it’s most obvious drawbacks are merely annoying, not all-out disasters. For the quality of the electronics, this is well worth the $450 street price tag the ZED60-14FX Studio Mixer carries.
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Setup and Usability
If you’re new to the world of analog mixers, there is learning involved. However, if you have the patience to follow signal paths – a much easier task in analog than in digital – most analog mixing boards are easy to follow. Personally, I find A&H ZED boards very intuitive. Knobs are color coded for easy adjusting even in low light and there are a number of routing lines screened right on the surface of the mixer, so if you forget what signal goes where, there are visual hints to direct you.
Another nice touch of the ZED series, in my opinion, is that all the connections are on the top of the mixer. Many people prefer the back panel location which does tend to look tidier. However, in a panic situation during a live show, the ability to check or re-route from the mixing position is invaluable. It’s also a bonus in home recording environments. If you’re a multi-instrumentalist and singer, and you’re constantly re-routing mics, it’s nice to do it without getting up and behind a mixer. Breaks like that really interrupt momentum. If you’re anything like me, that momentum is easily hijacked by a sofa when interrupted.
The USB features of this board are super easy. An A&H ZED board was the first I encountered with USB connectivity. I had no idea how it worked, but no worries. Hook it up, choose the A&H device as your sound source in the connected computer or laptop, and lookie there – signal!
Sound quality? It’s fantastic. The ZED60-14FX doesn’t have any sound at all. That’s a good thing in a mixer. If you think about the yards and yards of electrical connections and numerous knobs, buttons and faders an audio signal passes through, it’s a wonder mixers let you hear your music at all. Some mixers have a base hum that you have to work around. Not so much with the ZED60-14FX. If my kitchen is ever as clean as the sound of an A&H mixer it’s guaranteed I’ve hired a maid.
The preamps don’t load up or color microphones. There’s no surprise there are all. If you’re an electric guitarist or bassist, you’ll love channel strips M7 and M8. Both have HI-Z (high impedance) inputs which means no bland, underpowered signal with direct connections and no need for a DI (direct inject) box. Not only that, the HI-Z inputs are modeled after a tube preamp, so there’s a little bit of guitar amp warmth happening without you raising a finger. Not bad at all.
The effects section leaves me a little flat. There are 16 effects but these are pretty much arbitrary presets. You can turn the level up and down. You can add a tap tempo to some of them. But shorten delay time? Nope, sorry. The DSP engineers decided what was best for you. You have to use what they gave you. Don’t like it? Turn it down and try not to grind your teeth. I realize that built-in effects represent a compromise. This add-on is a little too compromised for my liking.
Having used ZED boards with 100mm faders, I find the 60mm faders a little short. But that’s not my main issue with the A&H faders. They move so easily. Too easily for my taste. The slightest touch can bump them out of place, and when you’re using the short 60mm faders of the ZED60-14FX, that could mean a big change in sound. Seriously, if you’re using ear buds and the tiny cable catches a fader, you can move the fader substantially without being aware the cable is pulling on it. That’s a light touch. Now, this could be a subjective thing. You might like the light touch. You’d be crazy, but hey, I’ve been accused of that from time to time.
Otherwise, the ZED series feels serious. Knobs are silky smooth, the EQ section is musical and effective. Routing options are plentiful and professional. The LED meters are segmented enough to be useful. The ineffectual effects take away a second auxiliary path, so you lose a monitor mix, but usually a mixer this size isn’t going to have need for a lot of monitor feeds.
User reviews are scarce in North America, but pretty much all 5 star. I turned to the reviews of a major European music retailer, and the story was similar. It’s a good sounding board and people notice. One user does point out that the stereo USB feed is USB 1.1, which is a bit primitive in this day and age and digital is limited to 48kHz, 16-bit sampling. It will do the job but it’s not winning prizes for pushing the envelope. On the other hand, this mixer will work fine with older computers without taxing them too much.
This board would be tempting to rate much higher were it not for the light touch faders and the relatively useless effects. However, I’m the only one who seems to have issue with these things, when you take user reviews into account. True, I’m smarter than they are (and if you believe that, I’m taller and better looking than they are also), but that just illustrates the way you work and the preferences you have.
Allen & Heath make quality equipment. The ZED60-14FX is no exception. If it works for you, it’s a good buy at $450 if you’re looking for that next-level mixer for either live or home recording work.
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