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How a Mixing Board Works

Have you ever looked at a mixing board and wondered where on earth to start? It can strike fear into many new producers because of the amount of sliders, knobs, and buttons staring back at you. It certainly did with me the first time I saw one.

Learning how to use a mixing board can be quite simple once you know how it s laid out

!ut when you look at them in detail, the consoles are actually very easy to follow. Learning about the layout and functions of a hardware mixer can also prepare you for using a software"based mixer, as they use the same principles of signal flow and design which helps to keep things consistent across both domains.

#o even if you choose not to have a hardware console in your studio, the knowledge of how one works will still be vital when it comes to using a mixer inside your $%&. I first learned how to use a console on an old #oundcraft desk many years ago, and those lessons made it easy to start using a mixer in my production software.

&hat is an %udio 'ixer?

'ixing board, mixing desk, mixing console, sound board, audio mixer " all these names refer to the same thing. I m sure you ll see other names used as well.

!asically, a mixing desk brings together all of the different instruments and parts you ve written and recorded into one place. (ou can then change the parameters of each part as you wish, such as)

volume frequency content stereo position dynamics and effects

*sing the mixing desk you can combine all of the separate pieces of your production into one whole, and then record that as a stereo file ready to put onto a +$, or to upload somewhere as an ',-.

.ypes of 'ixing !oard %rrangement

&e find that mixing boards can be split into two main sections " the input section and the monitoring section)

the input section is where you send the signal that s going to be recorded into the mixer. the monitoring section is where you listen back to what you ve already recorded " the outputs.

/eeping this in mind, you ll find two different arrangements on hardware mixing consoles. .hey are)

In"line #plit

#plit mixing consoles have both of these sections situated in different halves of the desk. In"line consoles contain both the input section and the monitoring section inside the same channel strip.

How an in"line desk is designed

How a split desk is designed

'ixing !oard +hannel Input #trip

Let s look at the typical features of an input strip to see what all the controls are. 0nce you know these you probably know around 123 of the desk s controls, as these channel strips are 4ust repeated across the rest of the board.

Input #ection

.his is where you optimi5e the signal gain levels at the input stage before it travels any further.

(ou won t find all of the following controls on every mixer, but it s useful to know them all for future reference)

6ain level " sets the level of the signal entering the channel s inbuilt preamp. ,ad " this can reduce the input level by a set amount, usually "72 d!, to help prevent distortion of the input signal. ,hase 8eversal " changes the phase of the input signal by 912 degrees :flips it upside down;. ,hantom ,ower " supplies <=1 > of power to condenser microphones and $I boxes. 'ic?Line " selects the type of input) mic"level @L8 connection, or line"level quarter"inch 4ack connection. Alip " found on in"line mixers. +hanges the channel from input function to monitoring function.

% typical input section layout found on a mixing desk 7

%uxiliary #ends

%uxiliary sends

(ou ll use this section a lot. It s where a copy of the inputted signal can be sent to various effect units outside the mixing board.

Aor example, a guitar input might be sent through an aux send to a reverb unit, and the stereo output of the reverb unit returned back to the mixing desk into two other input channels, so you can combine the two signals together :known as the dry?wet mix;.

How the aux send?return is commonly used 7

.he aux sends can also create a submix of the console s inputs, which is then usually sent to a monitor or a headphone mix inside the studio. (ou usually find four to eight aux sends on a desk s input channel " it depends on the si5e of the desk, of course.

%n important thing to know about an auxiliary send is the pre"fader?post"fader selection)

,re"fader) when selected, the channel output fader :the slider at the bottom of the channel strip; doesn t affect the amount of signal that is sent through the aux send. .his is normally selected for monitor mixes, where a mix of the already recorded tracks are sent to a musician through a pair of headphones as they record a new part. ,ost"fader) when selected, the channel output fader $0B# affect the signal level going through the aux send. .his is normally selected when sending the signal to an effects unit, as it s then easy to control the amount of signal sent to the unit with the channel fader.


.he pan pot

.his places the sound in the stereo field, from left to right. .he knob is called the pan pot, short for panoramic potentiometer.


.his is where you can alter the frequency content of your recording. I ve written more about this important feature over on the equali5er page.


.he mute and solo buttons 4ust above the channel s volume fader

'ute " the channel can t be heard. #olo " only this channel can be heard, all others are muted. (ou can solo multiple tracks together.

8outing the +hannels

.he channel assignment section is mainly used if you are recording to an external source, such as a tape machine or a multitrack recorder. (ou can select where you want to send your input signal.

Aor example, you may have connected your guitar to input channel 7 on the mixing desk but you want to record it onto tape channel D. (ou would send the inputted signal :on channel 7; to output D to make sure it was recorded onto the correct track, and to avoid recording over a track you ve already committed to tape.

Insert point

.his is a connection usually found on the back of a channel strip. It allows an external device to be inserted into the signal path of an input channel. .hese are usually used for a signal processing device such as a compressor, gate, limiter, or an external BC unit.

&ho makes 'ixing $esks?

.here are lots of famous names when it comes to mixing desk manufacturers. #ome of the most famous that you ll find in commercial studios are)

%llen E Heath #olid #tate Logic :##L;

,opular consoles usually found in home or pro4ect studios are)

!ehringer 'ackie

Ainal .houghts

I ve shown you the basic principles behind the mixing desk and how they re more or less the same when it comes to comparing physical desks with $%& software mixers.

Aeatures such as controlling an input ready for recording, to sending a signal to an effects unit or a software effects plug"in, to applying some BC to the sound " there are lots of things you ll be controlling from the mixing board as you create and produce your own tracks. It s definitely an important part of the studio to learn well.