The Brain AKA The Mixing Board
The mixing console is the band’s gateway to the audience. I think of it as the central nervous system. It sends and receives signals, enhances or cuts frequencies, and sets the balance of each sound within the mix. The basic concept of a mixer has remained the same for decades but thanks to advances in technology, both quality and features have drastically improved. One of the major contributions to live sound is the creation and adoption of digital mixers. Digital consoles accomplish the same thing as their analog counterparts but allow for greater flexibility and extensive features. Perhaps you’re in the market for your first mixer, or just looking to upgrade your existing live sound rig. Whatever the case, this article will give you many reasons why you should upgrade to a digital mixer and will help decide on the best digital mixer for your needs.
The Top 10 Reasons to Upgrade
Digital Signal Processing (DSP)
Digital mixers are a bit more expensive than their analog counterparts. However, due to the DSP, they are a better value. The onboard signal processing available in digital mixers means you don’t need extra outboard gear such as compressors and reverb. Route effects in series or parallel. You can also change the routing of effects. This allows you to experiment with your sound. Try the EQ before or after the compressor. Digital effects offer flexibility to sculpt your sound.
Flexible Routing –
Digital mixers offer the ability to route audio from any input to any channel. Let’s say you’ve already plugged everybody in but then you decide you want all of the vocal microphones grouped next to each other. It’s easy to route a mic that’s plugged into input 16 to use with the 4th channel fader.
Better Sound Quality –
Analog audio always introduces noise into the signal path. Digital audio excels in the ability to resist noise and signal degradation. It doesn’t have to be the best digital mixer to have a pristine sound.
Recallable Settings –
Unlike analog consoles, digital mixer settings can be saved and recalled at a later session. Effect routings, channel levels, EQ settings, etc. can all be set in a moment’s notice. You can save several different setups depending on what band you’re working with or which venue you’re performing in. This saves time and best of all if you (or worse, somebody else) messes with the board settings in a bad way, you can revert back to a working mix.
Processing Power –
Digital mixers process audio in real time. Every input channel and often output channels as well can have their own unique signal processing. The internal software allows for flexibility in effect chains as well. This negates the need for extra processing equipment.
Room to Grow –
Most digital mixers can be expanded with additional I/O. Protocols such as Audionante’s Dante add multi-channel, low-latency digital audio through an ethernet cable. They also allow for digital snakes which can be placed on a stage, far away from the mixing engineer. Having all the audio flow both ways through one cable saves spaces and negates the need for heavy and expensive analog snakes. Expansion via multiple different protocols can be found on the best digital mixer.
Since digital mixers run on software, they can easily be enhanced via firmware updates. Manufacturers such as Allen & Heath, add presets and new effects over time. This is a great way to add value to your purchase and future-proof the product.
More Channels –
Analog mixers are limited to the number of channels you see. If it has 16 physical faders, you can input 16 different sources. The best digital mixers have the ability to bank over to more channels. For example; a digital mixer may only have only 16 channel strips but 64 channels of audio. This is great if you need your mixer to have a smaller footprint than a large format console.
iOS Control –
The best digital mixers have accompanying apps that streamline the main features that you can access on your phone or tablet. Walk around the venue and adjust levels, tweak EQ, or add an effect without being near the physical board.
Being that all audio is in the digital domain, having the ability to record your session is a common feature of digital consoles. Digital mixers can record to removable media such as SD cards. In addition, being that digital mixers convert analog to digital and digital to analog, they are essentially audio interfaces. You can plug the mixer into your computer and record individual tracks in your favorite DAW (digital audio workstation) software.
All digital mixers allow for 2-track recording. Most allow for recording each input as a separate track. Export each track and then import them into your DAW. Now you can edit and mix your recording. You’ll be able to offer these recordings to your audience. Let them know at the gig that the show they just saw will be available for download. The PreSonus StudioLive series works great with their accompanying Studio One software. It is designed to work in tandem. You can even use the hardware to control the software.
Best Digital Mixer?
Most of the major mixer manufacturers now have digital offerings. AMS carries all the top brands and only deals with reliable manufacturers. Look at the feature sets of each to decide which is the best digital mixer for you. Ask yourself how many channels you need and then add a few more. You will want the ability to grow. When you’re at the gig, a guest vocalist may want to step in for a song. You will have the ability to plug him or her into an unused channel. Think about controlling your gig from a smartphone or tablet. If this is something you’re into, choose a mixer that has an app. If you want to record the session, look at the onboard storage capacity. Do you want motorized faders? Many engineers like this when recalling a session.
In conclusion, there are many awesome features to contemplate. Call an AMS rep today. Since they have the answers to your questions, it will help you decide which product is best for you.
Our live sound buyer’s guide will help you build a checklist for any other items you may need in your rig. Be sure to check it out. You’ll be glad you did.
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