I’m in the process of helping one of my churches transition from an analog mixer to a digital mixer.
They were in need of more channels than their Allen & Heath 16-channel MixWiz with some outboard gear (front of house EQ, couple of compressors, effects unit) could provide.
Based on the maximum number of channels that they anticipated needing over the next five years, I recommended the PreSonus StudioLive 24.4, one of the least expensive 24-channel digital mixers on the market.
The church has two audio volunteers that are pretty much average in their knowledge of sound and sound systems so this would be a typical transition for a lot of churches in the 100-400 person attendance range. Volunteers selected more for their willingness to serve than their knowledge of audio. I know that nothing has been touched with the front of house EQ, compressors and FX since I helped them set it up about a year ago.
Some things that you need to consider in this transition is how uncomfortable the volunteers are going to be until they make the paradigm switch from the analog WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) to the digital layers.
Depending on the digital board, layers control everything from different grouping of faders (1-8, 9-16, etc) to control over the aux sends, FX, etc. Outboard gear usually goes away and everything is now handled with the digital mixer. It’s a big transition and you shouldn’t minimize it, but treat it with care and planning and the transition will go smoothly.
What I recommend is that the digital mixer not be put into service immediately but be brought into a two-to-four-week training duty cycle. It requires some mics and cables as well as a couple of speakers for monitors and front of house stand-ins. If you have instruments that you can plug in that helps as well. Keep the existing analog system going as the production system until everyone has been trained and is comfortable with the digital board.
Before you start with the digital mixer, make sure everyone has reviewed the user manual. A digital board is a computer with knobs and faders and is significantly more complex than an analog mixer. While they are pretty robust, you can still mess them up and repairs can be costly.
An Investment of Protection
One thing to invest in if you haven’t is a top-line power conditioner like those from Furman. I also recommend a computer UPS (battery backup) from a company like APC or Tripp Lite. Get a decent capacity one. The reason is that because a digital mixer is a computer, when power is interrupted you can’t just switch it back on like an analog mixer. You need to boot it up and, depending on the mixer, that could take anywhere from a minute to several minutes.
Having a UPS unit, the mixer will stay powered on, so even if the rest of the system is knocked offline by the power interruption, when the power comes back on, the mixer will still be up.
Unboxing The Mixer
Once you get the mixer unboxed, check for any damage. If everything looks good bring all faders down to minimum and turn on the mixer. I like to let the mixer “burn in” for about four hours with nothing going on or plugged in just to let all the electronics warm up to full operating temperature. This will check to ensure that nothing is shorting out. Be aware of any burning electrical smell or smoke. If you detect either one shut the mixer down immediately and unplug it. Contact the vendor.