We all know that pro audio gear is continuously getting smaller and lower in cost. Zoom’s new LiveTrak L-12 mixer/recorder takes that paradigm a step further with a complete professional recording system priced at under $600.
Zoom has done this before, with its range of excellent portable audio recorders and it’s revolutionary F8, an eight-channel portable that broke the pro audio price barrier for a documentary-style portable at under $1,000. Now with the L-12, Zoom has done it again.
The Zoom L-12 allows users to mix, record and monitor audio with a single, compact piece of high-quality gear. There have been low-cost, poorer quality devices before that can do this, but not at Zoom’s level of quality and craftsmanship. The L-12 allows users to mix live and record audio up to 12 discrete channels to an internal SD card recorder.
But that’s just the beginning for the L-12, which weighs only 5.58 pounds and is not much larger than a hefty laptop computer. It’s 12 channels (eight mono plus two stereo) have a three-band mid-parametric EQ and 16 built-in send effects. Its eight mono channels each has a dedicated compressor.
Each of five headphone monitor outputs provides a unique mix, so any participant in the recording can create and save a mix that’s tailored to their preferences. The headphone amplifier delivers plenty of volume that stands up to the noise in any live environment without the need for a separate headphone monitoring setup.
The L-12 allows the recording of 12 tracks up to 24-bit/96 kHz WAV audio to the SD card while allowing the simultaneous mixing of a live performance or broadcast. All the tracks are recorded pre-EQ and effects, so they can be transferred to a DAW on a computer for further mixing and editing.
What impressed me about the L-12, outside of its extreme portability and thoughtful feature set, is the quality of its preamps. At -128 dBu EIN with +60 dB maximum input gain, Zoom claims this board is equipped with the quietest and most advanced preamps it has ever made.
At the price, I wanted to check out this claim for myself in a non-scientific way. Using a combination of active ribbon mics and condensers, I found a surprising amount of very quiet gain for each mic. My ribbon mics demand seven mA of 48 volt phantom power each, but Zoom’s specs didn’t mention the amperage per mic in the spec.
A call to Zoom’s U.S. office determined that there is 67.5 mA spread across the eight XLR mic inputs. This means if a microphone pulls the maximum ten mA of power, there is 57.5 mA left for the others. That worked for me, but it’s a number worth being aware of if the mics you are using demand full phantom power.
If you’ve operated other Zoom recorders, the L-12’s backlit LCD screen offers a familiar interface. The encoder knob lets users access an intuitive menu system to create new projects, recall previous projects and customize your recorder settings.
The L-12 offers 16 built-in effects with fully adjustable parameters. Choose from delay and reverb effects, then apply them to any channel. Users can save up to nine different scenes and recall custom settings automatically. Each scene saves fader position, EQ settings, pan and mute. The “Fader Mode” buttons allows users to design custom mixes for both the master and monitor outs.
This is an amazingly versatile device. A 14-in/4-out USB audio interface offers flexible routing options. It can plug into any computer and be used with a DAW. The L-12 also has a class compliant mode, which enables connection with iOS devices. Just add a cable with a Lightning connector. In USB Host mode, transfer projects and audio files to a connected USB flash drive. In Card Reader mode, the L-12 acts as an SD card reader, allowing users to transfer audio files to and from a computer.
The L-12 has an optional rack mount accessory for rack mounting or can be used standalone on a desktop. The wall wart is tiny, a pleasant alternative to those huge bricks shipped with some smaller audio mixers.
As one who does remote recording of all kinds, I purchased an L-12 for my personal work. I kept looking for something wrong with it and kept coming up short. My experience with Zoom’s customer service has always been excellent and they are very attentive to problems (and they don’t know I’m a writer).
If we are living in a golden age of sound recording, the Zoom L-12 is an excellent example of it. For only $599.95, this all-in-one mixing and recording machine breaks new barriers in professional sound and opens the doors to virtually anyone who wants to capture multiple soundtracks of the highest quality. It’s like a breathe of fresh air.
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