Again, this might seem obvious, but outputs get used up in a hurry.
Obviously you have the mains, which usually means 1-2.
Then you have monitors, 4-6 is common on smaller boards, but think about how many you’d like.
If you’re still using wedges (I’ll pray for you), remember that for each monitor mix you need another channel of amplification.
If you’re using ears, it’s beneficial to get everyone on their own mix, and even small bands will max out the Aux sends of smaller boards.
Don’t forget the “forgotten” outputs—cry rooms, record sends, lobby, DVD record, green room, overflow rooms—this list can get long as well. Think about how you are going to use those sends, and what makes the most sense to get them there.
Sometimes, you need an Aux send, other times a matrix works better, still other times a group out makes sense. How many do you need now, what might you need, then add a few extra.
For example, if you determine that you’d like to do 7 monitor mixes, a main left and right, a record send, a cry room, lobby and DVD record feed, don’t bother looking at a Mackie Onyx 32.4, even if you don’t need 32 inputs—you’re out of outputs on day 1.
What types of new features are you looking for? More groups, VCAs, a bigger Matrix, better EQ, better metering, direct outputs, mute groups, and/or automation are all found on boards at various price points.
These are all great features…if you need them. If you don’t, it’s extra confusion for the people who run the board.
On the other hand, don’t skip over this step. Really think through if you would be better served with groups for VCAs, and buy accordingly.
It’s a fact that some boards sound and work better than others. If you can, get a loaner or rental board to try out in your room to see how it sounds, and how it works. Sometimes seemingly insignificant details can make the job a lot easier or a lot harder. It’s good to know that up front. Sometimes the new “upgraded” board doesn’t sound as good as the old one. If that’s the case, keep looking.
Also consider the warranty, local and manufacturer support. One thing I really appreciate about Yamaha’s higher-end consoles is their 24/7 support. If something goes haywire with the M7 at 9 pm on Saturday, someone will answer the phone and try to talk me through a fix. If necessary, they’ll put someone on a plane to deal with the problem ASAP. Depending on your application, that might be necessary.
I once had a console power supply go bad at 7 pm on a Friday night. Thankfully the local shop was open on Saturday and we got the board in for repair. It took a week and I had to borrow the board out of the youth room to make church happen, but we were back up and running the next weekend, and the services went on. That’s important. Find out if your local dealer is also an authorized repair center, or if they have to send it out.