Mackie Desk EQ

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The EQ circuits found in cheap Mackie mixing desks over the course of the last couple of decades aren’t anything special. They’re functional, low-budget designs based on cheap components, built down to a cost. They sound nowhere near as smooth, sweet or precise as most of the other models we’ve showcased here. The bottom-of-the-range models are about as basic as EQ gets: only two bands, each with fixed frequencies.

As for the sound? Rough. “It’s brittle and pretty harsh sounding, but it has its place,” says Neville Watson, who uses a CR-1604. Chopstick’s a little less restrained, simply describing the sound of Mackie EQ as “really shit”.

If it’s so rough and basic, why should Mackie Desk EQ justify inclusion on a list of the best EQs for dance music? Because it’s been used on more classic dance tracks than any other hardware EQ you could name. It may never have been many producers’ first choice, but Mackie Desk EQ is a prime example of making the most of what you’ve got and working within a set of limitations. In an era when most producers enjoy the unprecedented flexibility afforded by DAWs and plugins, it’s a more important reminder than ever.

Back in the 90s, when mixers were expensive, audio software was primitive and outboard EQ was beyond the reach of most producers, affordable Mackie desks were the go-to choice. Name a high-profile dance producer working in the 90s and chances are they had a Mackie at some point: Carl Craig, Aphex Twin, Daft Punk, The Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy… the list is endless.

Alan Braxe recalls how the Mackie EQ helped define the sound of Parisian house back in the 90s: “We worked with the small eight-channel Mackie mixer a lot and that was a big part of the sound. The EQ was only two bands – highs and lows – so the setup is so restrictive that it forces you to focus on what’s essential. Limitation forces you to adapt to the situation and it’s going to define your sound. If your EQ only has two bands, you have to find tricks to overcome the situation.”

The setup is so restrictive that it forces you to focus on what’s essential.

In the software world, no one’s been brave (or foolish?) enough to emulate any of the Mackie Desk EQs yet. That doesn’t matter. The point is that perfect sound quality and infinite options aren’t necessary to make great music. In the immortal words of Moodymann: it ain’t what you got, but what you do with what you have.

27th February, 2014

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