Field Report: Allen & Heath Zed-14

August 12, 2013

Allen and Heath Zed-14

Since the inception of radio, engineers have found creative ways to record audio and move it from place to place. In addition to the need for live remote location feeds for air, an occasional PA feed is also needed, or better yet, somebody inevitably wants a recording of the event as well! Before you lose your head thinking of all the possible tasks you could get thrown into at your next remote event, consider the small-format Zed-14 mixer from Allen & Heath. The Zed-14 has an intuitive layout for experienced sound techs, but is easy for audio newbies as well. It has a plug-and-play USB interface that makes connecting to a PC or Mac for recording and playback quick and easy. Most radio remote events are fast setups requiring only one or two microphones for DJ announcing. But when a hefty remote event happens where careful mixing of critical audio sources is a must, the Zed-14 will do the trick and then some.

Getting it on tape

The Zed-14 is packaged with Sonar LE from Cakewalk for PC users who need non-linear starter software to get them going. A PC or Mac instantly recognizes the Zed-14 as a USB audio source right out of the box. The console's 16-bit bi-directional audio codec is USB 1.1 and 2.0 compliant, and supports 32, 44.1 and 48kHz sampling rates. It uses standard Windows and Mac core audio drivers, which ensure the mixer will interface with any computer right away. However, a bit of configuration may be necessary in order to assign the Zed-14 as the sound interface. In some cases the computer will switch the in and out sound assignments to the USB device when plugged in, which I found to be the case with the mixer on three PCs during experimentation. If audio latency becomes an issue, different drivers are available on the Allen & Heath website. The mixer is packaged with a thin, 29-page booklet that serves as the user's guide. It's easy to read and puts the user in the driver's seat right away. As with any audio product, hands-on experimentation is vital in learning the detailed features of the device.

Performance at a glance
USB 1.1 or 2.0 compatible bi-directional audio connectivity
48V phantom power
High-quality mic preamps
100mm channel and master faders
3.5mm and 1/4" headphone jacks
Stereo aux groups for extra stereo mixes
Alternate monitoring outputs

The channel lineup

The Zed-14 has six mono channels and four stereo channels, each equipped with 100mm faders. The mono channels have standard three-pin XLR jacks, ¼" TRS line input jacks and insert points. Gain controls on the mono channels will attenuate the mic input -6dB and the line input -10dB, and will boost the mic input +63dB and the line input +26dB. A 100Hz high pass filter is located below the gain control. The mic channels have high and low EQ controls with sweepable mid EQ control and four “aux” sends. The first two aux sends are pre-fader, and each is routed through an auxiliary bus. Auxes three and four are post fader. Each aux control provides up to +6dB of gain for the aux sends. In live situations where stage monitors are required or outboard effects units are used, the aux sends are handy for providing additional mixes. Each mono channel has a pan adjustment and a pre-fade listen switch that allows for cueing of the channel source. The pre-fade listen is routed to the headphones, and the incoming audio level is shown on the LR meters.

The four stereo channels on the mixer provide numerous extra features besides those common to typical mixer input channels. All four have high and low frequency EQ, balance, mute and pre-fade listen capabilities. Each channel has ¼" TRS line input jacks paired above the channel strip. When the left jack is used alone, the channel automatically becomes a mono channel. Above channels 7-8 and 9-10 are pairs of RCA jacks labeled ST RTN and 2TRK RTN respectively. The inputs both accommodate stereo return feeds from audio sources for monitoring recordings or for playback of incidental music at a live event.

The Zed-14 features unique USB send/return controls and two sizes of headphone jacks

The Zed-14 features unique USB send/return controls and two sizes of headphone jacks

The return functions can be routed to their respective channels or directly to the LR main bus via an under-panel switch. Similar RCA jacks labeled REC OUT are mounted above channel 11-12. These however are a stereo LR main output. Essentially, whatever is mixed on the master output is sent to the REC OUT jacks. Channel 11-12 also accommodates the USB RTN feature. The USB return from a PC or Mac can be assigned to either channel 11-12 or the LR main bus. Channel 13-14 has RCA jacks above its channel strip as well that carry the ALT OUT output allowing the LR main mix or the monitor assignments to be sent to monitoring speakers without affecting the main output. For example, near-field reference monitors could be used on-site, and sources or recording playback could be referenced without routing the material through the main mix.

Channel 13-14 also contains the USB connector and USB output selector. Using the selector, AUX 1-2, AUX 3-4 or the LR mains can be routed to a PC or Mac for recording. Each AUX 1 and AUX 2 send on the stereo channels can be configured either as two mono sends or as a stereo pair, depending on the position of the under-panel STEREO switch on each stereo channel. This feature is useful for creating a second stereo mix for recording.

The output

Allen & Heath

The output section contains four ¼" TRS AUX send outputs, XLR main outputs with insert points, a ¼"" TRS mono output (a sum of the left and right main output), and headphone jacks. If you forgot your headphone adapter, the Zed-14 has a 3.5mm headphone jack next to the ¼" headphone jack. Both work in parallel. The output section of the Zed-14 houses the 48V phantom power switch, 12 segment LED meter where 0 reflects 0dBu at the outputs, headphone volume control, and the monitor select switches. By switching the monitor select, the user can route the AUX1 and AUX2 stereo mixes, 2TRK RTN, and USB RTN to the headphones or ALT OUT output. Just above the 100mm master LR faders (+10dB gain above 0 unity) are the AUX 1 and AUX 2 master controls.

While widely known for its large-format mixing consoles, Allen & Heath puts most of the same components in the Zed-14 as in its larger products. The Zed-14 is robust in its construction, and its amplifier circuitry is ultra-quiet. Each channel is modular, so replacing a fader or entire channel is easy and cost-effective. The Zed-14 weighs 14.3 pounds and is optionally rack-mountable. When critical and pristine sound is paramount, the Zed-14 mic preamps are second to none. I experimented with the Sennheiser e835, Rode NT1, and Shure SM7B, and found the Zed-14 to be essentially transparent. When a critical mix is necessary, especially if auxiliary sends and recordings are needed, the Zed-14 is an invaluable tool at a simple or extensive remote event.

Wygal is the programmer, engineer and Web designer for WRVL in Lynchburg, VA.

Editor's note: Field Reports are an exclusive Radio magazine feature for radio broadcasters. Each report is prepared by well-qualified staff at a radio station, production facility or consulting company.

These reports are performed by the industry, for the industry. Manufacturer support is limited to providing loan equipment and to aiding the author if requested.

It is the responsibility of Radio magazine to publish the results of any device tested, positive or negative. No report should be considered an endorsement or disapproval by Radio magazine.

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