With preset scenes, on-board digital
signal processing (DSP), computer interface and motorized faders. it
would seem that a digital mixer would be ideal for a church. Presently
there are only a few reasonably priced digital mixing consoles
available for small facility live sound. Those are our emphasis below.
The lowest priced professional Innovason console suitable for theater
or touring is about $46,000. A Yamaha PM1D, PM5D or DiGiCo D1 digital
is similarly high priced - many over $100,000. They are getting very
good performance reviews. Touring companies, big studios,
Broadway theater, Vegas showrooms and mega-churches can
afford them. You can get an incredible analog mixer for much less.
mixers promise many functions in a compact chassis. Just look
at the popular compact Yamaha 01V96v2 project-studio mixer. It starts
out a 16 channel mixer.
It can be expanded to 32 inputs using an outboard digital preamp.
Signals can be routed about a dozen dfferent ways. Each channel has
full signal processing available - compression, gating, equalization,
delays. The few multi-function surface controls are less intimidating
inexperienced operators. The biggest draw is digitally memorized preset
configurations. It's a bear to learn. It's not always intuitive.
Clients have been enthusiastic until they found they have to
the manual and practice. They have tended to back off in fear or lack
The first affordable digital mixers available
to typical Dorset Sound clients have been oriented to
small/home project studio work, such as the Yamaha 01V96v2. The
environment is a very laid back, forgiving environment. Deadlines are
rarely set in stone. A mistake leads to a retake. Fix it in the
mixdown. A concept that digital mixers introduce is paging.
You will notice that a digital mixer has far fewer surface controls.
Those that are present are used for multiple functions controlled by
the internal software operating system (thank God they don't run on
Windows). Functions are determined by selecting control menus on the
display screen. Often the menus have menus that you have to drill down
through to get to the function you want to adjust. It can
be sloooow and confusing.
about a live sound environment and a typical analog mixer. You are
operating in real time. You see or hear something that needs
adjustment, you have to be quick. Analog mixers do not have paged
the controls are on top with instant access. Hear a slight ring, grab a
channel equalization control and extingush it. Sure, not as many bells
and whistles, but while most may be desirable, they are not
really needed for live sound. There are a lot of really fine analog
live sound mixers available from Allen & Heath, Midas, APB,
Soundcraft, and Yamaha. There are presently few comparable small
digital live sound mixers. A digital live sound mixer has more surface
controls and the best will have no more than one page level to get to
any function. Most are quite expensive. A minimum of 3 times a
comparable analog up to 10-12 times cost for premium models. The
market will change over the next couple of years. Yamaha, Mackie,
Soundcraft, Allen & Heath and Roland all have more reasonable
digital mixers available or coming. The most recent models that are
particularly applicable to live sound are the Presonus StudioLive and
Yamaha LS9-16/32 models. The Presonus looks particularly easy to learn
in the live sound environment. We may eventually see replacement of the
throw-away mixers with limited function cheap digital mixers. Look at what happened with digital MP3 players. Dream on.
is another issue that has to be addressed. Latency is the
processing time it takes to convert an
anlog sound to a digital signal, process it in the mixer and convert it
back to analog to feed an amplifier. Two to ten milliseconds
is not much of a problem for an audience. It can be a really
big perception problem for a performer listening to himself in a floor
monitor or in-ear-monitor. Latency has to be kept very short and that
can mean some very sophisticated processing is needed. Latency can be
affected by cheap circuitry, cheap or dated processors, by bloated
operating software or by systems that just try to do too much. Every
filter, equalizer, gate, compressor and effect through which you
process your signal adds computer clock cycles. Adding 2+2 on
your laptop is instantaneous. Chugging through a huge spreadsheet with
10,000 cells and 50 formulas takes time to crunch.
A recent concern.
Training. I have a client who "got a really good deal from an
out-of-town friend on a digital mixer". It's a wonderful device. Wish I
could have sold it to him. Wish I could have sold him something we
could both understand. It will take me a week to dig into it...when I
have the time, before I can train him. That they change time-honored
terminology in the translated manual doesn't help. My client has never
gotten the hang of his digital mixer. He is a lawyer and doesn't have
time it invest learning. He cannot train his other operators. We are
discussing whether to sell it and return to their much simpler analog
If you buy a big
touring or studio digital mixer for between $100,000 and $300,000,
having factory training available, traveling across the country and
paying for it is implied. It's part of the investment. There is no such
training available for the typical church-sized digital mixer. You are
on your own. You may get a thick owner's manual. You may be able to go
to a website for some moronic flash instruction or slide show speil.
There can be a heavy learning curve. The Presonus StudioLive digital
mixer may be the best design yet to parallel analog operation and
Folks still use
amps for the warm harmonic sound they produce and still record albums on 2" multi-track tape for effect. I
think we will continue to see an
active market for good sounding analog mixers. Over the next couple of
years analog mixers will remain less expensive, more rugged and easier to understand. But,
digital is the trend. Try not to get ahead of the curve.