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This article was originally published in issue #23
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Allen & Heath’s Zed series comprises over a dozen different mixing consoles that cover everything from full-blown live sound mixing to desktop recording. We are taking a snapshot look at the compact ZED-10FX desktop mixer and its larger sibling, the ZED-16FX to see what they have to offer the hard working musician who needs maximum performance for minimum cost.
Both mixers are intended for live and home recording applications and both feature stereo USB connections that allow them function as an audio input to a PC, negating the need to connect the desk via the computer’s soundcard inputs. We could just as easily have looked at these in our home/project recording section, Making Tracks, so throughout, please bear in mind their dual functionality.
A&H ZED-10FX (see above image)
Let’s kick things off with the ZED-10FX. This diminutive mixer is conveniently small enough to carry to a live gig in a man-bag, or else it is equally happy parked on top a desktop as part of a compact project studio. In the latter context, the USB connectivity renders the ZED-10FX very easy to setup as a versatile audio interface. All you need is a single USB cable to connect the desk to a PC, locate the device on the computer’s preferences menu, select the desk’s USB routing bus and you’re in business. It really is that simple.
The Zed10-FX is a six-channel desk with four mono channels with separate XLR and high impedance mono jack inputs for guitar on channels 3 & 4 whilst channels 1 & 2 offer XLR and mono line level jack inputs.
Stereo channel 1 features a pair of line level stereo jack inputs and a pair RCA inputs jacks. Both stereo channels have dedicated channel strips with rotary input gain, EQ controls for High and Low frequency adjustment, FX level, Auxiliary, stereo pan and a level control.
Stereo channel 2 features line level stereo jack inputs alongside stereo Playback In jacks and a pair of RCA outputs that route individual or grouped signals to external sources, an external processor for example, via the Record bus outputs.
Stereo Main Mix insert jacks facilitate an external effects device, most likely an outboard compressor, to be connected to the inputs, whilst the FX and Aux bus outputs send the effects.
Two of the ZED-10’s four mono inputs feature dedicated high impedance guitar jack inputs alongside four XLR inputs and a pair of line level jack inputs for the remaining mono channels. There is also a pair of stereo RCA inputs for connecting a CD player, iPod or a stereo input from a sequencer, sampler or keyboard.
The outputs comprise a pair of XLRs that send the main mix to a PA, plus there are two sets of RCA outputs, one that sends the stereo signal to monitors whilst the second is somewhat confusingly labeled ‘record’, which seems somewhat superfluous given that everything else about the ZED-10FX feels so focused.
The ZED-10FX’s complement of built-in digital effects is divided into 16 separate patches offering a choice of delay/reverb combos, dedicated delays and a very usable selection of plate, hall and arena sized reverbs plus flanger and chorus patches. Besides sounding very good, the built-in effects might help to ease some of the strain on some less powerful computers by reducing the need to generate effects using the computer’s own sound card.
The desk’s parameter controls allow the effects presets to be adjusted and saved and a tap tempo function matches the delay to the tempo of a track. In practice, adjusting the effects sets the tone for the ZED10’s generally intuitive user-friendly feel. A master level control on the effects channel strip sets the overall output for the effects, which can be assigned to the main stereo mix or the USB output via the record bus which is selected using the ‘Record’ switch that assigns the signal from each individual channel to the dedicated record bus.
The FX Out/Footswitch jack allows a footswitch to be connected for hands-free control over switching the built-in effects on and off, which should come in very handy when sat at the console with a guitar in your hands.
You don't want FX? That's OK, there's a version that comes without them.
Overall, the ZED-10FX is a very easy desk to fall in love with. It is virtually fool-proof and very simple to use. The neat layout and crisp design also lend this unit a classy look that will lend a professional looking edge to a project studio setup. As a live mixer it is obviously a little limited, which is why we've concentrated more on its recording aspects, but it will certainly do the job as a live mixer, too, particularly for singer songwriters, duos, Jazz and Folk combos and for musicians or DJs who also use a laptop computer. We think it's great value for money and that it's not hard to see why after over 40 years in the business, Allen & Heath is still regarded as the standard to beat.
In contrast with the ZED-10FX, the ZED-16FX offers a greater facility for live mixing thanks to its multiple channels, whilst also remaining compatible for larger project studios by virtue of its USB port and a Cakewalk Sonar X1 LE DAW software bundle.
The ZED-16FX features a 10 mono mic/line inputs and 3 stereo channels. Each of the 10 mono channels features an identical channel strip with a conventional three-band EQ and a mid frequency sweep rotary control that Allen & Heath calls MusiQ. The mid sweep control is there to help compensate for the different timbres between, for example, a male and female vocal but it is also handy for isolating and eliminating troublesome low end rumble caused by a mic stand transmitting stage noise up to a microphone. It's assisted by a low frequency cut switch on each channel.
In common with its smaller sibling, the Zed 16FX also includes 16 programmable effects patches with a tap tempo function. As a live console the ZED-16FX offers plenty of scope and there aren’t really any areas where this desk would leave a typical gigging band wanting. Considering its features and versatile connectivity this desk also maintains a reasonably modest footprint and so it doesn’t feel particularly bulky or awkward to transport. Of course, you can rack mount it if you'd prefer.
Allen & Heath has reaped many accolades for its ZED series mixers and having had an opportunity to spend a little time with both of these consoles it is nevertheless easy to appreciate their unique benefits. Both feel practical to use and boast an elegant user friendly layout and features sets that even less technically minded users should have no trouble getting to grips with. Like the ZED-10, we also think it represents excellent value for money.