Choosing a Console

A lot has been happening in the world of professional audio consoles, or “mixers” lately!  A quick look at the newest gear available will show both large and small format consoles, great new analog consoles, and even software and iPad based products.  It can be difficult to make a decision when faced with all of these choices.  When we help clients choose new gear, we start with an assessment of needs, not a glossy catalog of gear.  Once we’ve identified the client’s needs, it’s usually narrows things down to one or two obvious choices.  So what questions do we need to be asking when looking at new consoles?

  • How many inputs?  Take a look at your band.  How many channels do you normally mix?  Don’t forget the little things, like inputs from video playback, iPods, and click tracks.  Think about your entire year…are there special Christmas programs or summer concert series that bring in additional horns or singers?  Once you’ve worked up your channel count, consider padding it by several inputs.  Buy for the future, not the now.  Console inputs typically run in groups of eight, so often times the padding is done for you!
  • How many outputs?  Often called “busses”, outputs allow users to feed audio from the mixer to various locations.  Obviously, we use an output (or two) to feed our main speaker system.  But, we often use additional outputs to supply subwoofers, under-balcony speakers, cry rooms/nurseries, and overflow rooms.  Mixing monitors from the main mixer?  Each performer will usually be given a pre-fader aux output. User with heavy output needs may consider a console with a matrix section, which allow the engineer to dial up additional output mixes.
  • Are special connections needed?  Many customers are using personal monitoring systems, such as those by Aviom.  Connections such as these can require direct channel outputs from the console, which may narrow down your choices.  Connection to computers for recording, playback, and processing may require a Firewire connection or a plugin card.
  • How do I use EQ?  EQ, or equalization allows us to change the level of certain frequencies on an input.  (Think bass and treble on your car stereo.)  Smaller and less expensive consoles will often allow you to adjust two or three fixed frequencies.  Higher end consoles allow users to dial in frequencies with greater resolution to root out stubborn feedback or clean up that boomy vocal mic.
  • What kind of processing do I use? There are many tools available to sound engineers, such as compression, gating, high-pass filtering, and effects.  These tools help enhance and emphasize the parts of your mix that need to get through.  If you’re running into specific problems (a habitually loud singer or a band that doesn’t sound quite natural), you might want to take advantage of these tools.  Most analog consoles require connections to separate pieces of gear for this, while most digital consoles include these tools within.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each that you should consider.
  • Who’s going to use it?  Many churches rely heavily on volunteers.  Many bands find themselves in a different room each night with a totally different set of problems.   Choosing a console that’s volunteer friendly may bring about a whole host of needs that you never realized.  On the other hand, a band the often has 10 minutes to soundcheck may be looking for a totally different feature set.
  • What’s already in place?  If a rack full of premium outboard gear or a newer analog snake are already in place, it might not make financial sense to make the switch to digital.  However, if a new Aviom system has just come in, the picture might change.  How will your new console integrate into you existing system?

The questions can seem overwhelming, but once you take a systematic, “pros vrs. cons” approach, the choices become a lot easier.  As always, the staff at Access Audio is ready to help you through the process.  Give us a call or reach out online and we’ll get started!