There are many “inns and outs” when it comes to recording with a mixing board. I know, lame right?
Sometimes I look at my poor ole’ tiny M-box and feel sorry for it. Yes, it can do some very powerful stuff, but with only two simultaneous inputs it often gets used to only too a fraction of its potential. Yes, if you count there are three inns per channel, (one microphone or hi-z input, and two ¼ inch inputs), but only one input per channel can be used at the same time.
***As a note, it does not matter what sort of digital interface you are using, nor does it matter what recording software you might be running. This mixing blog post should apply to them all.
What about those of us that want to record more than one or two tracks worth of noise at the same time? Well, welcome to mixing “pre M-box or pre-digital interface style”.
Which mixing board are we talking about here? There seems to be a lot of different types of mixing boards out there to choose from. Now there are USB powered mixing boards, DSP included boards, automated boards with motorized faders, fire wire capable mixers, bus and group capable mixing boards, and heck; the list goes on and on.
Here is some information that I have learned about buying music gear. I am a big fan of buying music gear, but only buying it once. I have purchased a cheaper piece of gear than I needed and then later decided to sell it in the spirit of an upgrade. I would then repeat this process over and over as my need for bigger and better gear grew. This is where we loose money over and over again! Unless you have an antique Les Paul or a Strat in your attic, none of this stuff seems to hold a great re-sale value. Our new gear looses half of its worth as we carry it out of the store. I am writing from personal experience here, so please take the advice.
Buying what you need is paramount for your recording success. But buying a little more than you need might come in handy in the future. The idea here is to purchase a mixing board that meets your needs, but also may have a few extra bells and whistles that you might find useful when mixing your next project. Ask yourself “What do I really need?” before stepping into a high pressure sales floor can be important. Do you really need motorized faders, an alarm clock, coffee maker, and a garage door remote control all built in? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t, but knowing first is important. Retail clerks know exactly how to make us buy what we don’t need, time and time again.
This brings me to the first detail that I often consider when planning a recording project that might just have a need for a purchase of a mixing console. I will use an example project that demands more microphones than a simple M-box can simultaneously provide for. Then I will share with you the factors that might make up a list of needs to be met with a moderately priced mixing board.
Here is our pretend recording session.
Let’s just say that I have a drum kit set up in my home. I also have a bunch of microphones. I want to record a drum track into Pro Tools. I want to press record and then play along with a click track, recording the whole time through the collection of microphones.
Often times a drum kit requires many different mics placed all around (on top of, underneath, away from, and inside of it) to get a great sound. Getting each mic to represent exactly what we hear, both in terms of volume and in quality of EQ is critical, as you drummers already know.
Our new mixing board should allow us to monitor, or solo, each one of these microphones. Most supply a headphone jack or a monitor out jack for this purpose. This option is a must because we will want to apply some EQ and some effects to our drum kit. Then we will want to set each microphone’s overall volume to match the rest of the mics that will make up our mix.
It boils down to coming up with a way to “pre-mix” all of these microphones down to one stereo-pair of “outputs” (or maybe down to a pair of mono outputs) all before heading out to the digital interface.
Deciding on just how many mics you plan on using for this recording session is a major factor in determining which board might be the right fit. Finding a mixing board that allows for this very amount of inputs (or maybe supplies a tad bit more) will be important. We are not done yet, so don’t purchase it on just this factor!
The next determining factor on the list is onboard effects. Many boards now offer digital sound processors (DSP’s) built right in. DSP’s on mixing boards can offer you effects like compressors, reverbs, and delays; just to name just a few, so make sure that you find just what you need. Asking a sales person weather or not you can try or in-store demo a board out will get you closer to figuring out if you like the sounds of the effects themselves or not.
You might think about how you wish to apply these effects also, and if the board you are looking at (listening to) will work with your plan of attack. Are you wanting to apply a room reverb to the entire mix, or maybe to just the snare? Do you desire to compress the kick while putting a second effect (like a short delay) on top of it at the same time? Can the mixing board apply more than one effect at the same time? These are important questions for sure. Double checking never hurts.
Maybe you have a great sounding outboard effects unit already, and you want to add that certain effect to your drums. If this is the case then your mixing board will need to have an effects send and return loop built in. This feature may be advertised as a “bus send and return”, so make sure that you will be able to send and return your tracks to an effects unit in the way that you want to.
Bussing or grouping tracks is something different, but let’s get that figured out since I just brought it up. Mixing boards can come with a lot of different options. One option is bussing (or grouping) tracks into a sub-mix. Bussing tracks lets you send as many tracks as you wish to one track, or one stereo pair of tracks. Bussed or grouped tracks allow a person to closely adjust and set the levels of many different tracks, and then send the “pre-mixed” group to one or two tracks. Now their levels can be turned up or down with the ease of just one or two sliders, instead of moving an array of sliders either up or down each time you hear the need. The beauty is that these “sub mixed” tracks will remain perfectly in volume relationship with one another. They were fine tuned against each other first, and then they were set. From that point on only the “bussed or grouped volume” should be changed up or down.
Drums are the most often bussed or grouped instruments. Back up vocals are right behind drums on the list. A lot of touring bands use mixing consoles that have this feature. This allows the mixing engineers to “set it and forget it”.
If you think about this buss and/or group mixing concept, you will see that it is just like what we are doing with our drum kit and the microphones. We sub-mix or pre-mix the different levels first, and then send them to the digital interface. If our digital interface was a mixer instead then we would be buss mixing, or group mixing. Do you need this option in our case? No, we don’t, but now you understand what this option is for and what it does for us.
Powered mixers are mixers that supply high output to the outs, or “the mains”. These are used mostly by “gigging” bands, perhaps some spoken word shows, and most acoustic performances. These mixers are designed to go directly to speakers, and are not what we are looking for here. These do mix many tracks down to a stereo signal, and each track can certainly be heard, but rather loudly.
Well all that is left is to recommend some mixing boards….. Without knowing what you are mixing, and what options you might need, I can only get you close.
Here are some of the more popular mini mixers that wont set you back too far.…
Alesis Multi mix 8 , Mackie 1604 VLZ PRO , Peavey PV14
Behringer “Xenyx” , Tapco , Yamaha ,
Yamaha MG166CX USB
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