One of the more interesting developments to emerge from the digital revolution has been the rise (and continued rise) of the podcasting medium. For a generation weened on smartphones and the unprecedented viewer sovereignty afforded by streaming services like YouTube and Netflix, podcasts provided a breath of fresh air, a departure from the played-out tropes of drive-time radio and ENG broadcast that had previously dominated the airwaves in the decades prior. But there is more to the podcasting movement than just a gradual shift in how we consume content, the emergence of podcast as a legitimate force has also brought with it a demand for specialist tools in what is, a relatively new trade.
Zoom have been on the cutting edge of this kind of stuff for years. The companies continued dedication to location recording and portability have seen them emerge as something of an industry standard for anyone working in the video/sound design/content space. If it involves audio and a location, chances are you will find a Zoom product somewhere in the vicinity, such is the companies omnipresence in the field.
Zoom’s new LiveTrak L-8 takes this same ‘go-anywhere’ ethos and applies it to the relatively terrestrial world of studio/podcast peripherals, and the results are liberating to say the least.
In order to review the LiveTrak L-8 properly, its important to note that it is really two mixers in one.
For the musically inclined, the L-8 has all the makings of an extremely portable and flexible recording set-up, with six hybrid line/XLR inputs (each with 48v phantom power), an intuitive layout and a selectable three-band EQ; more than enough to get things down with a minimal amount of fuss. I would of loved to have seen a simple compressor/limiter included on the unit, but in terms of standard DAW workflow, this is something that can easily be amended in the box.
Perhaps one of the more impressive aspects of the LiveTrak L-8 (and one that definitely impressed this reviewer) is when you realise that all of the aforementioned features are powered by the USB Bus alone, something that would have previously been inconceivable a few years ago. I’m still scratching my head as to how they managed to pull this off, as the amount of processing on offer (not to mention the ability to run 6 phantom powered mics simultaneously), would normally render the need for a wall mounted power supply, completely inescapable. The fact that the L-8 manages to do all this with bus power and batteries alone is really quite a remarkable achievement and one that only adds to the units elite level of portability.
For a mixer that looks to be more geared towards the content creation crowd, the L-8 really has no business being as musical as it is.
The plug-and- play convenience, along with the L-8’s unique SD storage capabilities and diminutive size that combine to make it an obvious choice for rehearsals, location recording and demoing on the fly, and all with enough i/o flexibility to make traditionally cumbersome tasks like laying down drums and recording live shows a relative breeze. The fact that it fits so easily into a backpack, makes the L-8 an absolute must-have for anyone lacking a dedicated recording space or for the itinerant producer looking to take their recordings outside the bedroom.
The other side of the coin (and perhaps where the L-8 really reaches its stride) is as a workstation for podcast. With various nods to the world of professional broadcast peripherals/AMU’s (assignable pads, phone-in capabilities and onboard transport controls just to name a few), the LiveTrak L-8 sits firmly at the top for the heap for those looking for an all-in-one solution for podcast.
The fact that it can record to both DAW and SD card simultaneously also gives the LiveTrak L-8 a level of redundancy seldom afforded in the prosumer space. The assignable pads allow for ongoing SFX gags (if that is your vibe) and the onboard faders and multiple headphone outs do a lot to keep everyone in check from a volume/monitoring perspective. Perhaps one of the remarkable aspects of the Livetrak L-8 is how seamlessly it integrates these broadcast standard features into a mixer for the home studio.
Designing a mixer/interface that caters to both music and podcast types in equal measure is by no means an easy feat. Both disciplines bring with them their own unique set of conventions and production requirements and it’s hard to please everybody. Thankfully, Zoom have done a more than commendable job of integrating enough of both worlds to make the L-8 a more than capable mixer on all but the most high end of applications. Musicians will be drawn to it by its simplicity and minimal power requirements, podcasters will be impressed by its technical thoroughness and ease of use.
While this kind of versatility is alone worth the price of admission, it’s the ability to have a dual-purpose, eight channel interface/pod studio that you can put in a backpack and power from your laptop, that really sets the LiveTrak L-8 apart from its contemporaries (and in many ways echos the same sentiments that have made Zoom’s handheld and field offerings such a massive hit). The positive effect this kind of portability can have on your workflow cannot be overstated. After all, when it comes to the creativity, be it musical, content or other. Convenience is always king.
Hits and Misses
Super versatile ‘2-in-1’ mixer
No Dynamic Processing