Audio Week: Which Live Sound Front of House Mixer is for You?

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Front of House or “FOH” is where the magic of the mix happens for live stage applications. In venues around the world, from the most intimate club to the largest arena, mixing engineers at FOH are relied upon to deliver a powerful, impactful, and exciting audio experience for the audience. Of course, a mixing engineer needs a suitable mixing console to do that. Whether it’s for a lighting tech who gets nominated for sound duty or a veteran A1 embarking on a world tour, B&H has bountiful options from companies such as Allen & Heath, Behringer, Mackie, Midas, PreSonus, QSC, and more.

Analog Mixers Under 24 Channels

Many houses of worship and small concert venues need an uncomplicated and budget-conscious sound board that can be operated easily by volunteers or full-time staff; that often means trying to avoid consoles with menus, layers, and overabundant configurability. As a result, small-format analog mixers are ideal when simplicity and low cost are the top priorities. In this section, I’ll focus on options under 24 channels.

With 8- to 22-channel models, the Mackie ProFXv2 Series mixers let you choose the size that’s just right for your environment. All ProFXv2 mixers have mic, line, and Hi-Z instrument inputs, inserts, and a tape return for a house music source such as a CD player. Each channel has 3-band EQ and aux sends for feeding an external effects processor or any one of the 16 built-in Mackie FX presets—multiple reverb types, chorus, and delay are right there. On the 16- and 22-channels mixers, you’ll find single-knob compression and sweepable midrange on some channels, and four subgroups in addition to the main stereo bus. Use the 7-band graphic EQ to sculpt the overall tone of the mix, and conveniently record the stereo output to a computer via USB. The Mackie ProFXv2 consoles provide the easy, traditional style of operability with faders and a control-per-function design, so the mixing engineer can quickly get sound pumping through the PA.

Mackie ProFX8v2 8-Channel Sound Reinforcement Mixer with Built-In FX

Analog Mixers 24 Channels and Up

If you want the simplicity of a small-format analog mixer, but simply need more channels, there are mixers made for you. Extending the Mackie ProFXv2 line is the ProFX30v2, a 30-channel analog console with all the features of the 22-channel ProFXv2 board, an extra aux send, and eight more channels, of course. Mackie also offers higher-end consoles such as the 24-channel 2404VLZ4 and the 32-channel 3204VLZ4. Both employ Mackie’s flagship Onyx preamps, improved RF rejection, and M80 opamps for high headroom, low noise, and more precise channel separation. Other upgrades include -20 dB pads, more aux sends, and dual 32-bit internal effects processors with 24 presets and a tap tempo function. With selectable PFL/AFL soloing, four subgroups with built-in compression, and a configurable talkback section, these VLZ4 boards pack in features that help you work faster in high-pressure situations.

Mackie ProFX30v2 30-Channel Sound Reinforcement Mixer with Built-In FX

Small-Frame Digital Mixers

Compact digital mixers are a perfect solution when available space is limited, but maximum flexibility is needed. Compared to analog mixing consoles, digital mixers typically provide expanded I/O, audio networking, more built-in processing, wireless remote mixing, and highly efficient saving and recalling of all mixer settings. The ability to load up an entire scene instantly—the configuration of all channel names, EQs, compression, effects, routing, levels, panning, aux sends, and more—is a major advantage that many engineers consider a dealmaker.

The Midas M32R-LIVE and PreSonus StudioLive 16 Series III serve as excellent entries into the ever-expanding universe of digital mixers. Outfitted with 16 preamps, 16 motorized channel faders, a full-color screen, and a comprehensive channel strip section for any selected channel, each mixer offers a fast workflow that is easily learned. Their extensive onboard processing and effects ensure that you can always get a solid sound. Both consoles can record individual channels and the mix straight to an SD card and do virtual soundchecks without a computer, or they can function as multichannel USB audio interfaces. However, these mixers are far from identical. Among the major differences are their sampling rates (48 kHz for the PreSonus, 192 kHz for the Midas) and their audio networking standards (AVB for the PreSonus, AES50 and Ultranet for the Midas).

Midas M32R-LIVE Digital Console for Live Performance and Studio Recording

Like the M32R-LIVE and StudioLive 16 Series III, the QSC TouchMix-16 is loaded with potent processing. Though the PreSonus and Midas mixers are small, the TouchMix-16 uses a color touchscreen for its primary mixing functions (in place of faders, encoders, and buttons) to make it considerably more compact. Obviously, that translates to an intentionally dissimilar style of mixing—movements across a touchscreen and moving physical faders are very different experiences. As you might expect, you can hook up a USB hard drive, then record and play multi-track audio files for show captures, virtual soundchecks, and remixes. Between the Midas (or PreSonus) and the TouchMix-16, one is not better than the other; they’re built to suit different preferences and working styles.

QSC TouchMix-16 Compact Digital Mixer with Touchscreen

Standard-Frame Digital Mixers

For larger productions, a larger digital console with more everything (preamps, faders, DSP, and I/O) may be the logical choice. The Behringer X32 features 32 Midas-designed mic preamps, 25 motorized faders, AES50 and Ultranet networking, and plentiful quality effects. Its expansion port is pre-loaded with a 32x32 FireWire/USB card, which can be swapped for optional ADAT, MADI, or Dante cards. With the X32 connected via Cat5 to Turbosound iQ speakers, you can select sound presets and different speaker models from the X32.

Behringer X32 40-Channel, 25-Bus Digital Mixing Console

The Allen & Heath SQ-7 marries 32 preamps and 33 motorized faders with low-latency 96 kHz FPGA processing and a 7" color touchscreen, letting you mix with speed and pristine sonic resolution. The SQ-7 boasts automatic mic mixers for effortless management of speech levels in conferences, multi-person panels, and TV shows, and eight stereo effects engines for expressive and exciting enhancement of your sources. The SQ-7’s SLink etherCON port provides tight integration with 48 kHz dSnake expanders, 96 kHz DX expanders, or ME-Series personal monitoring systems, and an expansion slot is ready and waiting for an optional Dante or Waves card. Capture a multi-track performance or stereo mix at 96 kHz to a USB flash drive or hard drive, or utilize the integrated 32x32 96 kHz audio interface for recording, playback, and soundcheck applications with your computer. The SQ-7 and X32 mixers are extremely capable, configurable, and expandable, so they can be adapted to meet the changing needs of your gigs.

Allen & Heath SQ-7 48-Channel / 36-Bus Digital Mixer with 32+1 Motorized Faders

Conclusion

In choosing a mixing console for FOH, consider not just how many inputs you need, but also the desired workflow and who will be operating it. Having trouble deciding what’s best for you? Stop by the B&H SuperStore, call us, or hop on our website to talk shop with a specialist. If you’re interested in expanding your knowledge, fine-tuning your workflow, or figuring out what gear to get, visit B&H’s Audio Week page to read tutorials, comparisons, and buying guides about audio for video, podcasting, live sound, music recording, and more.

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