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PRODUCT REVIEW: Yamaha MG166cx-USB Mixer

Sure, Yamaha makes some of the largest, best known digital boards in the audio industry. But I serve a small portable church, and I do not think the pastor wants to carry a PM5D in the back of his van. I know I do not want to unload a PM5D from the back of a van every Sunday morning. On the other end of the scale are the micro mixers. Four mic preamps will not accommodate a church of any size. Enter the Yamaha MG family of mixers. These lightweight, rack mount mixers are the right size for many applications and packed with extra features that are sure to bring a smile to the face of many a worship tech. When I start to pick out a mixing console, my first consideration involves how many microphone inputs it has. I am a live sound reinforcement guy. My priorities are having enough mic preamps to accommodate my band, vocalists, dramatists and pastors, and after that, I want a great sounding EQ. Yamaha must have read my mind. Even the stereo channels also have a microphone input for those of us who always need one more input. We will look at the mic inputs soon, but I wanted to point out that the stereo channels have both 1/4” and RCA inputs. A two track input is also provided, a useful feature, and it has its own volume knob. Many manufacturers leave that off, which, just my opinion, is stupid. The MG206c-USB has sixteen mic inputs and the MG166cx-USB has ten. The MG family of consoles have global phantom power.

While on the subject of microphone preamps, let me say, these sound good. I have used Yamaha mixers for years, and just sort of expected that the mic preamps would sound good, but I was a little surprised, and quite pleased, at just how clean these turned out to be.

As I said, my second requirement is a good EQ. Yamaha’s MG series does have a high pass filter (a low cut switch) set at 80Hz. I always use the low cut on any channel that is not a kick, bass, key or track. I have found on some consoles that the low cut will affect the tone on the input, but not on this mixer. Both the MG206 and MG166 have one semi-parametric EQ, commonly called a mid sweep. For those who may be a bit foggy on channel EQ: The manufacturer, here Yamaha, decided that the “low” EQ knob would adjust all frequencies from 20Hz to 100Hz. That is called a shelving type EQ. The user can boost or cut all frequencies in that range.

On the top end, the “high” EQ knob is also a shelving type EQ, set by Yamaha at 10kHz. Turning up the highs will boost all frequencies from 10kHz to 20kHz. Common industry practice is to set the EQ points at 80Hz or 100Hz and 10Khz or 12kHz. My opinion is that Yamaha chose the better points by using 100Hz and 10kHz.

The “mid” EQ does not adjust all frequencies from 100Hz to 10kHz at the same time. To do so would be a disaster. Instead, the user gets to choose which two octaves to boost or cut. A second knob is needed to determine what frequency will be the center of the boost or cut. That knob is labeled 250 to 5k (Hz). For example, if one boosted the mid all the way, 15dB, and turned the frequency knob to 1kHz then every frequency one octave below 1kHz (which is 500Hz) to one octave above 1kHz (which is 2kHz) will be three times louder than the rest of the audio spectrum. Note: that was an example only-anyone caught actually boosting 1kHz by 15dB shall be hunted down and severely beaten. So goes the EQ.

Let’s look at some of the other features on these consoles. The MG206 has four aux outs. One is always prefade, two and three are switchable, while aux four is always post fade. If you are not that familiar with the terms, pre fade auxes are independent of the fader while post fade auxes work in conjunction with the fader. Monitors are almost always prefade while reverb is always post fader.

Speaking of reverb, the console I got to play with was the MG166cx-USB. It has only three auxes, number two being switchable, with number three routed to the built in reverb. The reverb has its own knob, so it did not take up valuable aux space. My experience over the years has been that reverb built into a console is usually quite cheesy. In fact, this is the first one I have ever liked. No, it is not a SPX990, but it is more than adequate for the intended application of the console. What really excited me is that there is an adjustment knob to tailor the sound of the reverb. And I was pleased to note that there were no space invaders or devil voices, just really useful reverbs.

The MG166c-USB does not have reverb, but both the MG166 series consoles do have compressors on six of the ten mic inputs. Just pick your worst offenders and put them on the compressed channels. Compressors are a wonderful feature on a board of this size.

I’m sure you have noticed the “USB” notation on the model numbers. Each of the MG series consoles includes a USB feature that allows recording of the stereo mix to a PC or Mac. A copy of CUBASE AI4 recording software comes with the owner’s manual. One can record eight tracks and playback two. The volume knob for the background music channel controls volume of the computer playback.
The last thing I want to talk about is the owner’s manual itself. I’ve debated all afternoon if the manual is a “feature” or not, but if a bad manual is a liability, then a good one is a feature. This bedenungsanleitung (owner’s manual) is well laid out, easy to understand, has lots of illustrations, and is actually worth reading. The console is laid out well enough that one can use the console without reading the manual, but it never hurts to spend part of the sermon reading the manual.

I really like this little console and have enjoyed using it.

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