With the world of live audio being so flooded with options these days, when it comes to choosing the right PA system, the perfect mixer and the ideal microphones for your performance purposes can easily throw musicians into a head spin on what to choose and why. In this article, we focus on a few compact digital mixer solutions that are ideally suited for a solo artist, duo or trio act.
As digital technology is constantly evolving, becoming more sophisticated and even more affordable, there are some fantastic small format digital options on the market. But why would you choose a digital mixer over an analogue desk? Let’s talk about processing power.
In a small format analogue mixer, you will usually have some EQ control, most commonly 2-3 bands in total. You’ll commonly have a fixed low and high frequency point with a fixed bandwidth or “Q”, and 1 band of sweep-able mid-band, meaning you can sweep between a selection of frequencies and either boost or cut at that chosen frequency, again, typically with a fixed Q.
Next, you might expect to see some dynamics control such as a simple compressor/limiter, which you would find on mixers such as the Soundcraft Signature or Yamaha MG series. This allows you to control/tame the dynamics of an instrument, giving smoother, more controlled sound.
Lastly, you can expect to find some sort of built in effects engine, providing you with some reverb, delay and (sometimes) modulation effects to get creative with, giving your mix some depth, atmosphere and vibe.
So sure, small format analogue mixers do give you some level on control over you mix to get your performance sounding good, but, what if you want to take it to the next level, to get your live performances sounding slick, professional and giving you some finer detail of control on both your input and output signals. Enter the digital domain.
What extra do you get?
As mentioned before, on a standard small format analog mixer you’d expect some control over EQ, some dynamics and effects. With a small format digital mixer, you can expect all that absolutely, but with a lot more control. Instead of having fixed EQ points for high and low frequencies, you can expect fully parametric EQ. That means you can choose the frequency point you wish to boost or cut and have a variable bandwidth or “Q”, allowing you to make broad or narrow boosts or cuts wherever you like. You can also expect to find high and low pass filters so you can filter out any unnecessary frequencies on an input source to make room for other instruments that need those frequencies. Having this fine level of control allows you to really dig deep and tailor the sounds of your ensemble with incredible precision.
As for dynamics you’re not limited to having just a couple of channels with a built-in compressor/limiter, you have one on each channel. And not just that, but you’ll have a noise gate control as well, to tidy things up where required. Something like the Soundcraft UI12 mixer being part of the Harman family of products includes genuine DBX dynamics and EQ processing, pretty awesome! On some other mixers such as the Behringer XR12 or Mackie DL806, some of the compressors and EQ options are modelled off some classic outboard units, giving you some vintage vibe and look.
What about effects? Absolutely, you’ll have an effects engine too, anywhere up to 4 stereo effects engines on some of these compact units like the Behringer XR12, giving you lush sounding reverbs, delays and modulation effects. The Soundcraft UI12 includes a genuine Lexicon effects engine which you can also apply EQ and dynamics to and save these settings as user presets in your system, pretty cool stuff. It’s processing goes even further to include guitar amp modelling from Digitech, for connecting guitars directly to the mixer.
We’ve covered some of the basics on input processing, how about output processing. Having the ability to EQ your system from your main left and right to your floor monitors or even in ear monitors (IEM’s) allows you to get more gain and clarity from your system and help eliminate that dreaded sound of feedback. Traditionally in an analogue setup you’d have racks of outboard processors to achieve this, which would include some graphic equalizers (GEQ’s). In the digital realm you can have either GEQ’s, parametric EQ’s (or sometimes both) on your outputs allowing you to tune your whole system with incredible precision.
All of the aforementioned digital mixers give you the flexibility to control your mix remotely via a compatible device of your choosing such as an iPad, tablet or phone. You can connect multiple devices to your mixer at once giving you and the other members of your ensemble the ability to control their own foldback mix for example. Instead of relying on an engineer or having to have your mixer within arm’s reach, you can place your mixer side of stage and control everything that you need from the palm of your hand.
As you can see there’s an enormous amount of processing power available in even the smallest digital mixer. Each have slightly different I/O configurations, device compatibility and varying levels of control, so it’ll be up to you to decide which mixer best suits your needs. But what becomes abundantly clear when looking into small format digital mixers is you get serious bang for your buck. If you were to look at the same levels of processing power in an analogue setup you would be carting around racks of outboard equipment as well as your mixer and PA speakers; not really ideal for a solo, duo or trio act. Having a digital mixer on stage with you gives you a compact, fully featured solution without the hefty price tag.