Learning About Digital Mixers & Sound Mixer Boards
Digital mixers are popular in the professional audio industry for both live and studio recording applications. Although analog recording mixers are still in demand for their simple interface and ease of use, digital audio mixers offer great functionality, expandability, and convenience.
Analog vs. Digital Mixers
Audio mixers are devices that accept audio signals as inputs, mix and process them, and send them to one or more destinations via outputs. Both analog and digital mixers serve the same purpose, but there are major differences in how they work.
Analog mixers process sound waves in their original form. When you plug a microphone into a channel of an analog utility mixer, the signal travels through the circuitry of that channel. All the controls for the channel are visible and accessible through faders and knobs. If you push the channel fader up, the volume of the channel will increase. This simple signal path and hands-on control has made analog mixers the product of choice for audio technicians and studio engineers for decades.
Unlike analog mixers, digital mixing consoles accept analog sound waves and convert them into digital signals. This lets the mixer assign multiple functions to one control. You can assign any fader to any input, output, or group of channels. Since a digital mixer allows for advanced routing and multiple control layers, you can do more with 16-channel digital mixers than with much larger analog mixers. There are also some functions that a digital mixer has that don’t exist in analog models, including automatic feedback suppression and mix scene saving.
Advantages of Using Digital Mixers
The biggest advantage of using a digital mixer is the ability to save and recall preprogrammed settings. Most digital consoles have motorized faders that move into position once you load your saved settings. This is a perfect function for live touring techs because they can call up a mix instantly. Onboard, preloaded digital effects and equalization make your digital console an all-in-one solution, not requiring another full rack of external hardware. Expansion cards are also available to increase the number of inputs and outputs. You can expand 32-channel digital mixers to as many as 96 inputs and outputs using audio over Ethernet networking. Digital stage boxes and monitor rigs are both digital mixer accessories that will increase the capability of your digital mixer setup. Being software-based, a digital mixer will often include an onboard recording interface and the ability to control it wirelessly via a tablet or smartphone.