In studio recording sessions and live music productions, one of the most pervasive personal problems experienced by performers and sound engineers alike is the need for “more this” and “less that” in the monitor/headphone/cue mixes. Seemingly unending requests such as, “Turn me up in my headphones!” or “LESS cowbell, not more!” can yield a crop full of frustration, wasted time, and bad vibes. What’s the solution? One particularly helpful and clever approach is to empower the performer with the ability to make their own mixes, allowing each musician or singer to immediately adjust levels and panning for individual sources. With that, artists don’t have to wait for engineers to make monitor mix changes, and engineers can focus on the main mix! If you want to put the power to mix in the hands of the performers, take a good look at these five personal monitor mixing systems from Allen & Heath, Aviom, Behringer, Hear Technologies, and PreSonus.
Allen & Heath ME-500
Ideal for use with digital mixing consoles or audio networks, the Allen & Heath ME-500 is a 16-channel personal mixer with broad device compatibility. Simply connect it via a Cat5 cable to your Allen & Heath dLive, GLD, or Qu mixing console, or to an Aviom A-Net 16 system, then power it on with the included DC power supply. Alternatively, the ME-500 can be hooked up to a variety of DiGiCo consoles via an optional DMI-ME card, or it can accept Dante, MADI, EtherSound, or Waves SoundGrid through the ME-U hub outfitted with an appropriate option card. Wow! By the way, you can daisy-chain multiple ME-500 mixers as the number of musicians increases.
Once connected to a compatible mixer or audio network, the ME-500 can receive up to 16 mono or stereo sources. So, the engineer can easily send kick, snare, overheads, percussion, bass, guitar, keys, vocals, click, and a whole lot more from the main mixing system to the ME-500. Rear-panel headphone jacks (3.5mm and 1/4") and a 1/4" mono out accommodate headphones, IEMs, or a powered floor monitor. For the performer, mixing is as easy as pressing a channel number, then turning a level knob, which offers push-to-pan functionality as well as access to overall 2-band EQ. Other luxuries include solo, mute, trim all, an adjustable limiter, eight user presets, and backlit keys; plenty of things to keep the artist pleased!
If you’re looking for a pre-packaged solution aimed at working with groups of up to six performers, the Aviom Mix320-A-MEE makes things easy. It includes a 16-channel input module, six pairs of MEE audio M6 Pro in-ear monitors, seven Cat5e cables, six mic stand mounts, and an 8-port distributor that delivers power and audio to the six A320 personal mixers that are also featured in this bundle. Route up to 16 analog channels from your mixer or DAW system to the input module’s 1/4" inputs and patch an Aviom Pro16 input device such as a compatible console card to the input module’s A-Net input for 16 more channels. Connect the input module to the distributor with a single Cat5e cable, then run separate Cat5e cables from the distributor to each A320 mixer. Plug in the M6 Pro IEMs, and you’re good to go!
As far as the artists are concerned, none of that matters; they just enjoy easy hands-on mix control of 16 mono or stereo signals via the A320 personal mixers. Like the ME-500, the A320 sports per-channel solo, mute, level, and pan, plus global trim and user presets. The A320’s master output has 3-band tone controls to allow each subject to achieve their ideal frequency balance. Easy, effective, and flexible!
Behringer Powerplay 16
Similar to the Aviom setup, the Behringer Powerplay 16 is a monitoring system that can be configured to suit small- or large-scale situations. Regardless of how many performers you’ll be dealing with, an input source will be necessary. The P16-I input module, with its 16 analog 1/4" inputs and two 8-channel ADAT optical inputs, is capable of accepting multiple channels of audio from your mixer or audio interface (be it analog or digital). Front-panel RJ45 ports are provided for direct connection of up to six P16-M personal mixers. If your scenario requires more than six personal mixers, either daisy-chain P16-Ms (separate power supplies required) or connect the P16-I to a P16-D Ultranet distributor, which provides power and audio signal distribution for up to eight more P16-M personal mixers. If you happen to use a Behringer X32 Series mixer, the setup is even easier—plug a P16-M straight into the Ultranet port on your X32 or plug multiple P16-Ms into a P16-D distributor, then plug that into the X32’s Ultranet port.
For the talent, operations are straightforward. Channel-select buttons enable quick control of any channel’s solo, mute, pan, and level, while a row of knobs across the top panel ensures immediate access to the master output’s limiter, level, and 3-band EQ (with sweepable midrange). Plus, ports are provided for connection of headphones, active monitors, and even a MIDI control surface (all available separately)!
PreSonus EarMix 16M
The PreSonus EarMix 16M 16-channel personal monitor mixer is optimized for use with PreSonus StudioLive Series III mixers or other AVB-enabled devices such as MOTU’s line of AVB audio interfaces. To keep things simple, run a Cat5e or Cat6 cable from the AVB-compliant Ethernet port on your mixer or audio interface to the AVB input on the EarMix 16M. From there, you can daisy-chain multiple EarMix 16Ms via AVB as long as each EarMix has its own power supply. Another option is to route AVB from your mixer or audio interface into the PreSonus SW5E, a 5-port AVB switch that manages power and audio distribution for up to four EarMix 16M mixers.
Following the design of StudioLive Series III mixers, the EarMix 16M offers user-friendly controls for the level, pan, solo, mute, limiting, and 3-band EQ of any selected channel. Need a 3.5mm aux input? It has one. Headphone and line outputs? Check. What about presets? They’re there!
Hear Technologies Hear Back PRO 4-Pack
Whereas the aforementioned systems handle audio at the standard resolution of 48 kHz (maximum), the Hear Technologies Hear Back PRO 4-Pack boasts 192 kHz capabilities. Presented in 16-channel configurations with analog inputs (192 kHz maximum), ADAT optical inputs (48 kHz maximum), AES/EBU inputs (192 kHz maximum), Dante inputs (192 kHz maximum), or Waves SoundGrid inputs (96 kHz maximum), the Hear Back PRO 4-Pack includes one hub (the main I/O device), four personal mixers, and four Cat6 cables. Since the hub has eight RJ45 ports, and more Hear Back PRO mixers can be purchased separately, you can expand the system at any time.
Level and pan controls are readily available on the mixers, as you would expect. Unexpected features include a volume-adjustable local 3.5mm aux input, and an XLR mic input, which can be used by the mixer’s intercom function to allow communication to other connected Hear Back PRO mixers. How very convenient!
With systems like these, performers and engineers can work more efficiently while maximizing the mix quality for everyone involved. Stop by the B&H SuperStore or visit our website to learn more about the many options!