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The Analog Way: Mixing Away From The Land Of “Ones And Zeros”

Looking at the features and benefits of analog consoles in the live sound realm for supporting concerts and corporate events.

By Craig Leerman July 12, 2018

Unlike many in professional audio, I still use and embrace analog consoles. For many applications they’re a perfect fit, and all that is required.

As a company owner I also like the return on investment delivered by some analog boards, along with the fact that newer models often cost significantly less than their digital counterparts. Even when factoring in the need for additional outboard gear to handle things like EQ and effects, I can still put together an analog FOH package for way less that the cost of a small digital mixer.

The used equipment market offers a bounty of quality mid-size and large-frame analog desks for a fraction of what they sold for new. And in installations where the console will not be moved around, a used larger frame analog unit and some outboard gear can be a cost-effective solution that balances function with budget.

A Midas DM12 analog mixer with 12 inputs and 3-band EQ on mono channels with swept mid band.

One important application for analog mixers is when mixing for in-ear monitors (IEMs). The few milliseconds of latency incurred into the signal path by digital consoles are usually not enough to cause problems, with one significant exception: vocal inputs routed back to the singer’s own ears. IEMs seal the ear canal, causing a boost in the perceived level of one’s own singing voice, called the occlusion effect.

In this specific instance, any latency at all is easily perceptible by the vocalist because the slightly delayed signal creates a comb filter with the vocalist’s own singing, which is quite apparent as a tonal change and a sensation of distance. For this reason, analog mixers are still a popular choice for IEM mixing applications, because they have no latency and avoid the problem altogether.

Baby Steps

Another application for choosing analog over digital is with new and inexperienced users. It’s way easier for “newbies” to figure their way around analog board than on most digital consoles where there’s usually the need to navigate through menus and/or layers to get what they want. I say “most” because there are a few digital models that do make it easier for inexperienced users to operate effectively.

When I teach audio classes, we always start with analog mixers. Recently while instructing a group of new volunteers at a church, one of the students asked why I was teaching the basics via analog when the main church consoles were digital. I replied that, simply, that they needed to learn and understand signal flow first, and this (and many other audio essentials) are far easier to grasp many concepts within the analog realm.

A Yamaha MG16XU 16-channel analog mixer that includes onboard digital effects.

We usually start with a 6-channel mixer, where it’s straightforward to see how the input flows through the channel to the EQ and aux sends, as well as how any inserts can route the signal to outboard gear and then back into the board. With minimal routing options along with dedicated knobs and connections for each function, students can usually grasp signal flow concepts and understand the basics without getting overwhelmed by a lot of features.

We then move on to a 16-channel unit. In addition to the extra channels, it also has a 3-band EQ rather than the 2-band capability of the smaller mixer. Once they understand this model, we move on to a 24-channel console with a 4-band semi-parametric (a.k.a., mid-sweep) EQ as well as aux sends that can be configured pre- or post-EQ and pre- or post-fader.

Finally, we conclude with a 32-input unit with 4-band parametric EQ, subgroups, and VCAs. While switching between the various consoles I also introduce outboard gear that can be inserted as well as routed between the console and the power amplifiers/powered loudspeakers.

Over the years I’ve found that most students quickly come to understand the basics of how a console can be utilized to route and manipulate signals. Only then do I introduce them digital mixers, and by this time, their routing and features can be easily understood.

Accessible To Many

My company serves a lot of corporate meetings and speeches where only a few channels and limited processing are required, with analog consoles being a perfect fit in terms of functionality. A typical meeting room may only have a podium microphone, a lavalier mic and a DI for audio playback via computer. Sometimes there may be the need for a second lav mic for a second presenter on stage.

While numerous smaller digital models with 8 or less channels can most certainly do the trick, these applications usually don’t require additional processing like gates or delays on every input. We want a basic console with few knobs and buttons because in many cases there’s not a full-time tech in the room, so unskilled presenters, event planners and room monitors need to operate the mixer for the presentation.


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About Craig

Craig Leerman
Craig Leerman

Senior Contributing Editor, ProSoundWeb & Live Sound International
 
Craig has worked in a wide range of roles in professional audio for more than 30 years in a dynamic career that encompasses touring, theater, live televised broadcast events and even concerts at the White House. Currently he owns and operates Tech Works, a regional production company that focuses on corporate events based in Reno.
http://techworksreno.com/

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Chris Wiedenbeck says

Craig is totally right. Today many of the the young sound engineers think they could mix any band via a tablet or even smartphone, the electronics "in the back" will do it. But these kids don't have the faintest idea about positioning of mics, signal flow, EQ, or even signal levels in the mixing path and levels to the amps and speakers. I have seen engineers in front of their mixing consoles, all faders permanently set to "0" position and doing the level mix via the input gain! It is more than common that several engineers have no idea about dramatic level changes when they crank up the EQ in all bands by 12 or 15 dB. Or some who even don't know what the input gain is for, which results in a weird setting of the channel faders, instead of controlling the signals over a wide range of the faders. So why were the long faders invented? Yes, analog brains needed analog visualizing of analog signals (and 98% of the mikes we are using are analog, as well as about 75% of our line signals). So all we are doing on a digital console is transporting an original analog signal into the digital world, tease and squeeze it and finally convert the digital result into the analog world to hear what we were doing.....
But the master of bits and bytes, zeros and ones infected our signal with a nasty desease, which we call delay. This is caused by A/D and D/A converters and the amount of signal treatment in the digital world, so in the worst case we will hear the signal twice within a few milliseconds.

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