Choose Audio Mixers
In most basic terms audio mixer also called mixing console combines audio signals, processes them, after that it routes them to wherever they need to go. However, today many different devices and consoles offer some mixing capabilities. Even tablets & smart phones teamed with the right apps & interfaces are also able to perform some mixing functions and most importantly almost all DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software includes mixing capabilities.
But for many home studio owners and performing musicians, nothing takes the place of real knobs, faders and buttons found on a dedicated, hardware mixer. To find out if audio mixer is the right solution for your situation continue reading this article.
Because many mixers support both recording functions and live sound, the distinction between these two types is not always clear. Today there are many audio mixers that will meet both your onstage and recording needs.
As you shop for a mixer, there will be many terms that may be unfamiliar to you and you will come across. To help you decide related to features and specs this article will be helpful and informative.
A channel is a signal path. A mixer with large channel count always allow more things to be connected & routed through it. Channels are mostly designed to accept microphones and/or line-level devices example preamps, amplifiers, or signal processors. (Microphones and instruments such as guitars and basses output electronic signals that have a lower level than line-level devices.)
A channel strip is a group of controls and circuits that function together on a given mixer channel to affect audio signals that pass through it. These usually include:
- Input jack where an external instrument, microphone etc. connects to mixer. XLR inputs are balanced to minimize noise & interference. Other inputs accept RCA or quarter-inch TRS connectors.
- a microphone preamp which prepares relatively weak mic signal for processing by raising it to line-level strength
- equalization, abbreviated as EQ, adjusts the signal’s frequency response
- dynamics processing that might include compression or gating (discussed below)
- routing that directs signal to other mixer circuitry & external devices
- a fader, which slides along track to control input or output of a channel
- a meter that visually displays the output of each channel.
This abbreviation refers to inputs and outputs on a mixer. The number & types of inputs and outputs you’ll need is decided by how you plan to use the mixer.
In a live sound mixing situation for example, you’ll need mixer with enough inputs to handle combination of microphones & other devices connected to it plus outputs to connect your main & monitor speakers. Depending on types of speakers being used, the mixer might needs to provide power to drive the main and monitor speakers. For mixing recordings on the other hand, you’ll need to consider how many performers & instruments you’ll need to capture simultaneously. The I/O calculation for studio mixers should also include other devices that will be part of the signal chain and recording process. These would include signal and effects processors, microphone preamps, headphones, monitor speakers, and instruments that connect directly to the mixer using DI (direct injection) boxes.
Buses can be visualized as circuit intersections i.e where the output from several channels meet. Each mixer channel routes its signals to specific bus or group of buses. The master mix bus, which is fed by the channel faders, sends main output of mixer to speakers or a recorder. Auxiliary buses (also called aux sends or aux buses) may be fed by the volume controls of the channels to which they’re connected, and send those signals via their own output jacks. These are referred to as post-fader sends. Aux buses might also operate independently of the channel’s volume, and are therefore called pre-fader sends. These outputs are useful for sending a specific mix of signals to headphones, effects processors, or monitor speakers.
Mixers with a lot of channels mostly have a group function that allows to control and process several channels collectively. A group works like a sub-mixer, sharing same signal processing & routing, and since all channels are controlled with a single fader, the output to the master bus is more easily controlled. For example, all mics used on a drum kit can be assigned to a single group, allowing easy control of overall drum sound & volume. Some mixers that allows channel grouping also have a mute function. This is handy when you want to silence a group of inputs or open mics, such as when making onstage announcements. Some more advanced mixers also offer a “scene” function that allows you store various group configurations of muted and non-muted channels. This info might be helpful to you when you Choose Audio Mixers.
A channel insert allows to connect external sound processors e.g compressors and equalizers to specific channels, mostly after the preamp stage of the channel. On larger mixers there may be a patch bay that allows connection of numerous external devices.
These allow feeding the mixer’s preamplifier output to external audio interfaces and recording systems.
With their multiple turntables and CD players, DJs have a unique set of mixing needs to keep their music flowing seamlessly. DJ mixers are configured to meet those special needs with right inputs to handle DJ gear and integrate with PAs and club sound systems.
You’ll find DJ mixers vary considerably in their capabilities. Simple, low-cost units may have just two or three inputs and outputs and offer basic EQ/volume controls and crossfader operations that allow mixing the output of a couple turntables or CD players. More sophisticated DJ mixers add features such as kill switches for instant control over certain frequencies, hamster switches that reverse crossfader channel operation, and metering that displays clipping (distortion) and output levels. Mic inputs and talkover switches allow the DJ to easily communicate with the audience.
By now you should have a pretty good idea of the important things to look for when you Choose Audio Mixers.