AVANT’s Guide to Digital Mixing
Digital mixing consoles allow us to digitize analog audio signals to combine, process, and transport audio like never before, and at a price point that has made them attainable on any budget. They have quickly replaced the old analog consoles of many sound systems. You have likely heard audio from digital mixing consoles in performance spaces, houses of worship, and other audio-dependent venues.
To those who have not yet jumped on the digital mixing bandwagon, however, all of those console screens, lights, and moving faders can seem intimidating. Hopefully after reading this guide you will have a greater understanding of digital mixing, including:
- The benefits it can provide over analog mixing consoles
- How to plan the transition to digital
- How to get the most out of a digital mixing console
Elements of digital processing have been present in analog mixing consoles (and the companion side racks of signal processing) for many years. However, more recently, fully digital consoles have all but revolutionized systems operation and design in a very compact package. In the same way that your smart phone has taken on the duties of camera, GPS, music player, and Scrabble board; digital mixers have incorporated the tasks of effects processing, multi-channel recording, automatic mixing, audio playback, compression, graphic equalization, and all too often, drink-holding (not recommended).
Advantages of Digital Mixing
One of the main challenges of any system with a remote mixing/operating position is getting multiple audio signals between the microphones at the stage, orchestra pit, altar, etc. and the mixer. In analog systems, every audio source requires its own dedicated cable. This can result in inflexible and expensive systems. With digital mixing systems, however, a single Ethernet cable can carry dozens of audio signals. For this reason, many pair digital mixers with digital stage boxes for greater ease of use, flexibility, and fast setup.
In addition, digital mixers allow the operator more mobility. Nearly all new digital mixers offer app-based control. This makes onstage monitor mixing easier and can enable more versatile mixing in smaller venues without a traditional, dedicated mixing position.
As a computerized system, the digital mixing console can “remember” every adjustment, alteration, and configuration of its settings. Many new digital mixing consoles have touch screen interfaces and automated motorized faders. With these tools, the user may create “scenes,” or virtual snapshots of a console’s state that may be easily recalled later. This allows for easy operation and consistency from use to use.
With a digital system, the owner/operator can pre-program the correct settings for a given event. Recallable settings are just one of the many reasons that digital mixers make excellent teaching tools in educational environments.
In the interest of conserving physical space and providing greater ease of operation, digital mixing consoles frequently organize audio channels into “layers” or “banks.” The user may then quickly switch between these digital layers, using the same faders, knobs, and controls to adjust different audio signals. As a result, fewer controls are necessary to manage an even greater number of channels.
Furthermore, the user may customize the board, assigning different digital audio signals to different faders on the console. Before digital, mixing engineers commonly used masking tape and Sharpies on their consoles. Now, colored LEDs and editable digital text displays make organization and naming of channels extremely user-friendly. Plus, mixers don’t need to be as gigantic (or as sticky) as they used to be!
What Does This Mean for My Space/System?
As illustrated above, a digital mixing console provides your sound reinforcement system with many benefits. Newly designed spaces have much greater flexibility when designing with digital in mind.
Existing spaces may be expanded or upgraded to add greater capabilities while saving on installation and infrastructure costs. Challenging mixing applications like remote orchestras or large ensembles can be accommodated with relative ease. Audio from rehearsals, productions, and other events can be captured straight onto a flash drive, then shared quickly and easily. The operator can program the same system for the most basic uses, as well as for extremely complex events. Still intimidated? No worries! AVANT can help with all of the above.
When planning your sound reinforcement system, you will encounter a variety of digital mixing devices. Our experienced audio-visual consultants stand ready to help guide you through the design process. We can help you discover which digital mixing solutions best meet your needs.
This post was authored by AVANT ACOUSTICS Associate, David Wetzel.