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Gone were the days when audio mixing necessitated the use of huge mixer consoles. The mixing technology has improved at a rapid clip, and now you can find digital mixing software that allow you to combine audio inputs, process them, and route them to PA systems or wherever you want to channel them. Yet, despite the availability of digital audio workstations (DAWs), home studio owners and performing musicians still prefer using hardware mixers with real knobs, buttons, and faders.
Live sound mixers are called sound system mixers or PA mixers. If you are a performing musician and are looking for a digital audio mixer for live sound, you can check out the following most recommended digital mixers for live sound:
Buyer Guide: How To Use Digital Mixers
The digital mixer is an electronic device used in sound processing, specifically for combining sounds from different audio sources using digital circuitry. The digital mixer—otherwise known as mixing desk, mixing console or mixing board—is widely used to engineer sound quality in both recordings as well as in live broadcast like in public address (PA) system. It is also used to change the sound dynamics and many other properties of the audio signals using one or more of its multiple input channels. Moreover, with the use of the digital mixer, you can easily tweak or add effects to audio signals; afterward, you can combine these signals to mono or stereo output for amplification on a PA system. This process is called a “house mix.”
When engineering a “house mix” for a particular indoor venue like an auditorium, you should take into consideration the acoustic parameters of the location in order to incorporate the various adjustments needed in volume, equalization, treble, bass, and other effects. House mix can significantly improve the sound quality produced inside an auditorium, especially, during concerts or musical plays. However, you can never use a house mix when recording the audio of such event as its use could significantly diminish the audio quality.
Digital mixers usually have a number of the descriptor that describes their input-output functions. A three-number descriptor like that of the 24:8:2 indicates the number of inputs, output buses, and master output channels, respectively. A two-number descriptor, on the other hand, indicates the absence of output bus. Presonus studiolive, Allen & Heath and Behringer x32 are the some of the most popular and high-end mixers you can easily spotted on the live concert.
Understanding the Intricacies of Mixer Controls
The basic unit of a digital mixer consists of the channel and digital mixers. The appearance of a digital mixer alone can be very intimidating for a novice due to the number of knobs and sliders on its channel console. If you would learn to understand how one channel works, you would surely be able to understand entirely how the digital mixer works because every channel basically has the same functions as the other channels. Once an audio signal enters the input, it travels through the various parts of the mixer down to the slider or fader before being passed through the output. These myriads of parts of the digital mixer include the following:
This is the terminal where an audio source (e.g., microphone, guitar and keyboard) can be connected to the digital mixer. The input terminal usually has an XLR connection port for microphone and a ¼-inch jack for line signal source like a keyboard.
The insert connection allows you to apply additional effects by diverting the audio signal out of the channel into the “effects unit” like those of the limiter, reverb, or compressor, while at the same time, returning the audio submix to the channel instantaneously for scheduled programming. The insert also allows you to divert the audio signal for recording or to another mixer without having the audio signal returning to the mixer. The insert terminal is a ¼-inch three-conductor TRS jack. While the TRS phone jack is typically used for the insert; however, the two-conductor T/S phone jack could also be used. The audio signal may be inadvertently removed from the mix when the jack is pushed all the way.
The gain is the first set of knobs under the insert that is used to control the input level in a channel. The gain allows you to prevent distortion and overloading of the channel.
This control knob allows you to change the sound’s frequency curve just like when the sound source is “bright.” In such a case, you can quickly reduce high frequencies via the EQ. Many mixers feature a 3-band EQ that allows you to raise or diminish the low, mid, and high frequencies separately.
The “auxiliary send” or “aux send” allows you to create “auxiliary” mix and you can also use this for different tasks. You can make use of it to create a monitor or headphone mix to allow performers to hear themselves amid performances or to send an audio signal to the effects unit via aux send output. When using a common effects unit like reverb, it is possible to control all channels using a single effects (FX) unit by connecting the effects unit back to the mixer using the aux return input. If the mixer doesn’t possess this feature, the FX unit should be connected back to one of the mixer’s channel inputs.
The aux send is also used for sending audio signal from a certain channel for recording. This feature is especially helpful when doing overdubs. The aux send can also be used to create a submix. There are two ways to use the aux send; either you can use by Pre-fader or by Post-fader. In Pre-fader mode, the aux level can only be controlled from the “aux send” knob, and can’t be affected by the channel fader. In post-fader mode, the opposite happens, and the aux level can only be controlled from the channel fader.
Pan or Panorama
The Pan is used to control the stereo field where the sound will be heard. When you turn the pan control knob to the left, the audio signal is boosted to left output and vice versa. In a multi-bus mixer, you can rout an audio signal to a particular output bus by merely pressing a button on individual channels. Each button corresponds to two outputs (e.g., 1 and 2, 3 and 4, etc.) When you want to direct to bus #1, you can turn the pan control all the way to the left. To direct it to bus #2, you can turn the pan control all the way to the right. In panning, it is essential to keep the vocals, bass guitar, kick and snare drums in the middle.
Mute control allows you to stop the channel from sending a signal to any output. In case that the mixer mute has “solo” button, this button allows you to mute everything except the “soloed” channel or channels.
The channel fader controls the level of audio signal that is being passed to the bus or master output. The channel fader is also used to control the sound “mix” that goes to PA system or to a recording device.
This is the overall audio level control before the audio is being sent to the bus or master output.
This is where the “mixed” audio signal departs the digital mixer for amplification. The master output usually has a pair of XLR terminals as well as ¼-inch jacks for left and right outputs and headphone jack.
Recommended Best Live Sound Digital Mixers:
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1) Presonus StudioLive 32SC
The Presonus StudioLive 32SC is a perfect choice if you are looking for a digital mixer that offers many channels. It features a 32-channel digital mixer that is very compact with lots of punching power. The good thing about this compact mixer is its portability. You can quickly pack it away and bring it where your live gig is.
This digital mixer offers 40 mix channels, 286 simultaneous processors, and 26 mix buses. All these features give you enough control over your output, allowing you supreme studio quality.
The sound of the Presonus StudioLIve 32SC is anchored around analog circuits. Its analog XMAX mic preamps offer convenience and exceptional digital recall sans sacrificing fidelity. You can likewise control it remotely using the UC Surface software or its Studio One Software.
The Presonus StudioLive 32SC is also portable and comes with an integrated virtual check. You can record all 32 channels to your SD card or USB for easy and super simple outputs anywhere and anytime.
2) Yamaha TF1 Digital Mixer
With the Yamaha TF1 Digital Mixer, you can quickly expand your creativity. It is a 16-input digital console that has the TouchFlow operation interface. Its layout gives you immediate access to what you need. You can focus on its multi-touch screen allowing for less thinking when figuring out which knob to turn or which button to press.
If you use the Yamaha TF1 Digital Mixer, you might not need to utilize the precise parameter control. Its new 1-knob EQ and 1-knob Comp functions controlled by its Touch & Turn knob allow you to tweak them all with a single knob.
Its onboard effects are based on the range of Yamaha’s SPX. Moreover, it is an excellent monitor board. This TF mixer also offers a rewarding and engaging experience as the Front-of-House Console. Thus, it is a perfect choice as a digital mixer for live sound.
3) Allen & Heath QU-16C Digital Mixer
If you are looking for a budget-friendly and compact digital mixer, you should consider the Allen & Heath QU-16C Digital Mixer. The QCHECKEDU-16C Digital Mixer is a rack-mountable mixer that is characterized by power and compactness. It makes use of technologies that are found in iLive mixing systems and GLD.
The Allen & Heath QU-16C Digital Mixer features 16 AnalogiQ preamps that come with zero-crossing detection as well as with an advanced paddle (1 dB) step gain stage. This Chrome Edition adds 16 more channels (automated mic mixing), additional monitor mixes, and a spectrogram display. The QU-16C Digital Mixer offers 14 mixes, multitrack recording, a 5-inch touchscreen, dedicated data encoder, motorized faders, and many other features.
You can complement QU-16C with your iPad and use your iPad to gain control of this mixer’s key functions. Thus, using your iPad, you can monitor mixes, control key settings, and manage other functions. All in all, this digital mixer provides you with 16 buses, 16 TRS/XLR inputs, 4 stereo-effects returns, and 3 TRS stereo inputs. Moreover, you’ll be so much grateful for the connectivity it offers.
Other features include Qu-16’s 4 onboard effects engines, moving faders, AES digital output options, and its capability for direct-to-multitrack recording.
Another thing about the QU-16C is that it features an integrated USB recording functionality. It comes with the Built-in Qu-drive. This integrated USB recorder lets you record audio and play it back to 18 channels. Plus, you got perfect control of your mixing using its Qu-Pad App.
Using your iPad, you get control of all the mixing parameters. You can also personalize and customize the GUI to enable you to create your control panel that makes it easy for you to mix a show
4) QSC TouchMix-16
Famous for its loudspeakers, the brand QSC also excels in its PA-related products that include mixers. Its TouchMix-16 epitomizes QSC’s excellence when it comes to mixers. This mixer is designed more for ease-of-use and portability without necessarily sacrificing audio quality, control depth, and connectivity.
When it comes to portability, it weighs around 5.9 pounds, which makes it one of the lightest mixers at hand. Yet, despite its great portability, it still carries the same numbers of channels as the other standard mixers, and it comes with great features that include a nicely designed touchscreen interface for easy controlling of its faders. It is surely perfect for bands, musicians, small performance venues, and AV production professionals.
The TouchMix-16 transcends mixing by offering beneficial tools like Wizards and Presets that readily enable novices as well as expert audio professionals to get the desirable great mixing results. It comes with 22 mixing channels and 12 outputs that provide expansive signal management flexibility.
The TouchMix-16 also offers advanced features like the Class-A microphone preamps, a real-time analyzer (RTA), Anti-feedback Wizard and Room Tuning Wizard, and 20-channel (direct-to-external-drive) recording that align it with other popular mixers in the market today.
With its Touch-and-Turn interface, you gain tactile control over the different mixer parameters and fader. This interface also makes this mixer easily connectable to hardware. Since you can duplicate this mixer’s displays and functions on your Android or iOS devices over Wi-Fi, you gain wireless connectivity, portability, and additional control over your mixer’s functionality. So, if you are looking for a compact and very portable mixer, you should consider the TouchMix-16.
5) Mackie DL1608 16-Channel Live Sound Digital Mixer
This model features a powerful 16-channel digital live mixer that provides seamless wired to wireless mixing. It also provides the sound engineer complete control from his iPad via the use of its highly intuitive Mackie Master Fader app. Many sound engineers worldwide have attested to the proven reliability of this digital mixer. It has been used in millions of gigs worldwide and has proven to be impeccable in providing awesome live sound mixes. It is convenient and portable and provides impressive ease-of-use using an iPad.
It is ideal for use in band production and other types of audio productions. It provides awesome mobile freedom to its users and allows for wireless control of the mix and powerful plug-in processing of audio anywhere within the venue. Lastly, its hardware with its 16 high-quality Onyx preamps and its Cirrus Logic converters would surely deliver sterling and unparalleled sound quality to the listeners.
6) BEHRINGER X AIR X18
With the growing popularity of stagebox/mixer format, Behringer’s did not dilly-dally in grabbing the concept and in delivering an affordable mixer model for live sound. Well, aside from being affordable, it has many great features. Of course, you will never see its usual mix controls on the mixer itself because it is remotely controlled.
The Air X18 features 16 mic inputs that you can access via the use of combi-type connectors that can take any standard 6.3mm or XLR jack plugs. You can connect everything from guitars, mics, playback, and keyboards. Moreover, its 17 and 18 inputs are only line-level inputs. Thus, they do not come with much processing capability compared to the other 16 channels.
If you are already familiar with the digital mixer setup, you can easily get the hang of the main screen layout of this mixer. The XR18 will not work if you don’t connect it to a device that would run the X-Air control app. This app is available online for download to OS X, Windows, iPad, and any Android device.
So far, there is not yet an X-Air Control App available for iPhone, but this prospect is worth looking forward to. Thus, having connected to your iPad or Android tablet, you can control this 18-input digital mixer remotely for live sound applications.
The Air X18 features a 16 MIDAS-designed and completely programmable mic preamps for great audiophile sound quality. It also comes with a Tri-Mode built-in Wi-Fi router for a fully direct operation that doesn’t need external routers. It also features a bidirectional 18 x 18 channel USB interface that enables you to engage in direct recording on your iPad.
The X Air X18 also comes with an innovative Dugan-style auto-mixing functionality that helps you automatically manage and control the microphone gain sharing. Plus, it comes with bus EQ’s Ultranet for personal monitoring and 100-band RTA or Real-Time Analyzer for all channels.
Other salient features of the X Air X18 include its LR buses with inserts and six aux, dynamics processing along with 31-band graphic EQ or 6-band parametric. It also comes with 6-TRS aux outputs along with 2 XLR min outputs with phone connectors and RCA output. So, with the Air X18, you get a compact, easy-to-use, and affordable digital mixer for live and studio mixing.
7) Mackie DL DL806 8-Channel Digital Live Sound Mixer with Apple Lightning Connector
Mackie DL DL806 8-Channel Digital Sound Mixer with Apple Lightning Connector is an awesome 8-Onyx mic preamp that combines an awesome power of reliable digital mixer that you can easily use using your iPhone connector. It provides its users unmatched freedom to wirelessly operate and control the mix anywhere within the given venue. It features 8-channel DL806 hardware with its eight boutique-quality preamps together with Cirrus Logic converters that are capable of producing unparalleled audio quality. It also features an intuitive Master Fader app for iPad Model and includes an Apple Lightning connector.
The Audio mixing world is an exciting and broad subject, and you will find several types of digital audio mixers in the market today, each type having some advantages and disadvantages. If you are a performing artist, you would surely want to have an advanced digital mixer for your live sound. The mixing console you would use, however, will either make or break your performance. Hence, you should carefully choose what you purchase to ensure that you get the best result for your live sound mixing.