I have the Mackie 12 version of that. I don’t think the preamps are really anything I’d want to drive. They are nice and clean and then just distorted. There isn’t a ton of middle ground saturation compared to some dedicated pres I have.
That said, I use that Mackie because it has inserts, to run through some analog compressors, and also just for a monitor mixer and so I’m very happy with it for those uses.
Frankly with all the analog pre and comp stuff, most of mine are old, like 10 - 15 years old and if they crapped out, I would not replace them. Software sounds great now for that type of thing. Eh, it was probably adequate even back then, but I haven’t always been the earliest adopter in the music tech sphere.
I too needed front plugs because I have the recording rack, but I just got a patch bay.
Seems like the other option you might look into are the Behringer XR18. Similar price range. You just need any old tablet/ipad or a droid phone to use it as a mixer. It has basic effects, comp and eq could be handy going in.