In 1965, the Beatles took the world by storm with a stadium tour using unbelievably minuscule PA systems, usually headed by five-input, rotary-pot tube mixers most likely bearing the Altec Lansing brand. (And the band’s 30-watt instrument amplifiers were often louder than the PA, which is why we hear more screaming girls than music on many of those early recordings.)
What followed rather rapidly, and in fact, was spurred at least in part by the Beatles and other stadium-type shows, were dramatically improved sound reinforcement tools capable of meeting demands for much more sophisticated production.
One of those tools, which itself might be considered “old,” is the medium-format analog console, offering anywhere between 24 and 42 channels and enough facilities to handle many live mix applications, church sound among them. These consoles perform invaluable service, and usually, an outstanding return on investment.
Sometimes they truly feel like an old friend. We get used to them, tolerate their faults, learn their good and not-so-good “moods” and ways of working around them. We count on them to deliver no matter what, and sometimes even give them a nickname certifying our affection.
My own experience with medium-format consoles has pretty much run in parallel with their history. My first mixing was done on a six-channel Shure Vocalmaster that offered one very broad filter for equalization. (That would be the bass/treble knob.)
Analog consoles have grown up, and so have I. Now we see channel faders, multiple EQ filters per channel, pre- and post-aux sends, sophisticated matrixing…
Well, look at a spec sheet of any console and you see pages and pages filled with feature sets. And the sonic quality continues to improve – just check out the mic preamps on many “average” medium-format desks.
While digital consoles have come on to be a force – and there’s certainly no wonder why – it’s still hard to top a rock-solid analog console offering enough to get the job done. As a result, I suspect our old analog friends will nicely co-exist with their newer digital siblings for some time to come.
Analog consoles continue to improve while costs have stayed quite reasonable. There’s also a lot of variety in terms of application, feature sets, sound quality and in turn, what you pay for it. In short, there’s something for almost anyone.
With a plethora of medium-format mixing consoles on the market, how do you go about selecting the “right” one for your needs? Well…back at you! We all go about making these determinations our own way, but perhaps the way I go about it can offer some useful instruction.