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Making Mixing Easier

Thirty years ago we dreamed of a “new digital universe of the Next Millenium” where robots and digital gadgets would cater to every whim. We could finally get on with “real life” and not be bothered by mundane tasks. That hasn’t happened of course, and it probably never will, but consider the last time you used a rotary phone, typewriter, or slide-rule. This illustrates an important point: even if digital products are at first unfamiliar, most people prefer them if they work well. The transformation may not happen overnight, but it does happen eventually. Humans always go for what makes life easier, and are usually able to grasp seemingly difficult concepts if quality of life is improved.

Products based on digital technology are becoming more prevalent in the pro audio industry, and many churches and worship centers are embracing this trend by purchasing digital mixers over traditional analog desks. Your next console has a very good chance of incorporating substantial digital technology. Why? A digital console can help the beleaguered engineer do a better job with less effort, as this article will point out.

Modern digital mixing consoles are wonderful when it comes to bang-for-the-buck, as they incorporate many features that would never be found in a similarly priced analog desk. Fully parametric EQ, 6 auxiliary sends, matrix outputs, brand name reverb, compression, 4 busses, 32 to 40 inputs in a suitcase sized box for under $4500? Size alone precludes this from happening with traditional technology. Add instant recall and scene storage for a truly impressive package. Let’s illustrate how these features can be helpful.

Setting up a console for one performance is simple enough, but most worship centers have several meetings a week with different sound requirements. Sunday mornings may require two services – one for traditional worship, the other for contemporary music. Weekdays can bring afternoon prayer gatherings, weekly studies, and Boy Scout meetings. By Sunday, the console settings are wrecked and the whole process starts over again. Snapshot recall solves this problem by storing individual configurations for each service. Sunday mornings can have a specific set of scenes that are designed for Sundays only. Weekly meetings can have devoted scenes entitled “Tuesday Night” or “Wednesday Bible Study.” Instant reconfiguration is very beneficial for a novice engineer or volunteer, as a snapshot can be recalled and run without much experience.

I was recently working with a church in Southern California where snapshots proved to be very beneficial.

They were in the middle of revival week, and had guest speakers and singers featured every night. Before the revival began, the sound team spent time finding EQ and configuration settings for each group so that during the week, they could easily reconfigure the entire console for the group at hand. This allowed church leaders to be completely spontaneous, as they knew that they could call upon any speaker or group at a moment’s notice without much concern for reconfiguration needs.

A digital console offers effects integration that is vastly superior to traditional effects routing. With a digital console, effects settings can be stored within each snapshot, adding to configuration versatility. Consider a Christmas production where each scene requires a different mood. Moods can be enhanced with dedicated effects settings recalled with related scenes. Furthermore, effects can be turned on and off on a per channel basis at the touch of a button. Finally, a typical digital console will allow a user to specify whether each aux send is pre or post-fader, something found only on more expensive analog desks.

Like effects, individual channel EQ can be stored as a part of each snapshot, so every singer or minister has their customized EQ available at the touch of a button. Additionally, most digital consoles offer fully parametric EQ on each band, allowing for extremely precise settings not obtainable on similarly priced analog consoles.

Computer integration is second nature with these consoles. Consider that an operator can configure an entire program with a laptop, then load settings into a mixer the day of rehearsal. Similarly, the mixer doesn’t have to be the center of attention in a room – an operator can use a mini surface to remotely control a desk from up to 1000 feet away, potentially eliminating the need for a large sound booth in the sanctuary.

Some digital consoles have dedicated control features for third-party products. At the touch of a button, the console reconfigures itself for remote lighting control, projector transport, or anything else. Again, this uses less space, as one surface can be used to do several jobs.

Digital consoles are truly made to expand. Soundcraft for example, offers an 8-channel expander for their 324 Live in a two rack-space enclosure. Up to two expanders can be placed up to 15 feet away, keeping the console area free from clutter. Furthermore, additional third-party devices can be connected for advanced options.

Digital consoles have variable lockout facilities for security during operation. Full lockout is obvious – it allows an engineer to take a break or check a mix with reasonable assurance of protection. Other modes may protect individual channels or master volume. Lockout control gives a sound team confidence when inexperienced volunteers are pressed into service.

Features offered with digital audio technology clearly make life easier for a sound operator. In addition, modern digital mixers utilize high bit resolution and audiophile-grade converters for sound that rivals expensive analog desks. Digital consoles have never been easier to use, and many are now being configured just like traditional analog desks. An experienced operator should be familiar enough to run a service within an hour of seeing any modern digital console for the first time.

The “digital revolution” is not so revolutionary anymore, as digital products have become a mainstay of modern society. If history holds true, digital consoles have a good chance of becoming standard issue within the next decade. So check them out – perhaps one will make your job easier.

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