[Guest post by Nick Hampton] I became a member of the digital age a little over a year ago when my church decided on replacing our analog Mackie 24.4 mixer after it blew up in the middle of our Easter service. The Mackie wasn’t my favorite by any stretch of the imagination, but it was analog and as long as you know what all those faders and knobs are doing, then all you had to do was sit back and dial it in. I had used that same Mackie for 10 years and I kept the original manual with me at all times.
The features on the Mackie were few and far between, especially when you are comparing it to a digital mixer. When you make that comparison, the only real feature that our Mackie had was some Aux Sends, Overload Lights, Solo Buttons, Sub Groups, and a Mute Button. When that is all you have and you are getting the job done then those features are a breath of fresh air.
I must say I was dead set against getting a digital mixer. I had it in my mind that we were sacrificing quality sound for gadgets and trick effects that would be distracting more than anything else…I can tell you those thoughts left my mind very quickly when I opened the box to our brand new digital mixer. I didn’t know what it did, but it sure looked awesome!
Let me remind you, I was new to the digital scene and this was the “first” interaction I had ever had with this kind of mixer. There was no question if this would be the most difficult part of this transition. Not knowing what your sound board is capable of and what all the software that came with it does or doesn’t do was quite intimidating. I knew I had to get in that manual fast and it took me about 6 months before I had EVERYTHING figured out on the PreSonus 24.4.2. “Everything” included the 3 extra’s that came with it:
- Universal Control with Virtual Studio Live – Interface for our computer that allows drag & drop on any PreSonus mixer control.
- Studio One Artist – Recording software that allows you to create songs from each channel on the PreSonus mixer that it links up to.
- Capture – A digital audio and multi-tracking application that is designed for live recording or mixing your audio in real time to a stereo file. It’s designed to interface with StudioLive perfectly and allows you to do a virtual sound check without a single person on stage!
The Presonus has allowed our band to control their own aux mix by an app only available to iPhone/iPad users (QMix) from the stage and all I have to do is assign their device to the right aux send that their receiver is hooked to. That was the biggest and most noticeable difference that we felt right away. It almost made us feel like we made the right call just because of how much we saved in not having to purchase in-ear receivers when they could just download a free app!
Is a digital mixer really worth the investment?
Obviously, there are a ton more features that the PreSonus is equipped with but any digital mixer has them so be sure you shop all mixers. If you truly don’t need all the bells and whistles then an analog mixer is probably more up your alley than a digital one. I thought we didn’t need those extra bells and whistles but realized how much we were missing out on when I was able to compare and contrast the differences firsthand. It’s great having features like scene recall so that you can save your current setup on your mixer, and that includes aux, fader levels, gain, etc. where all you have to do is press save and when you come in next just recall your scene and your set!
Most digital mixers are loaded with presets and various eq’s that you can just drag and drop depending on what software comes with the board. As I mentioned earlier, PreSonus has the Universal Control that allows your board to be controlled in every stretch of the imagination from the computer if you wanted, but that is where you can do more precise adjustments, down to the decimal.
Our transition to digital from analog was something that I was NOT looking forward to but boy was I wrong. I would recommend going digital to just about anyone that asks me, after looking at the positive impact it’s had for our church’s sound and the effect it’s had on the band too. Anytime you can provide your band members with their own personal mix in high quality and you let them control it…they’re going to smile a lot in your direction!
Even if you’re one of those old timers that loves the feel of the analog and the control that it gives, I can only encourage you to step out of your comfort box and at the very least, give a digital board a look-see and you just might be as surprised as I was. At the very least, it’s been a lot of fun to learn, it’s really easy to teach in comparison, and our whole team loves it!
Nick Hampton is the Tech Production Ministry Leader at Friendship Church.
[A note from Chris: Nick is a fellow tech in my area who has gone from being the only tech on an analog board to a growing a team and working in the digital age. He was thrilled he could write this piece and give back to the tech community. The number of sub-$10k digital mixers is growing and as Nick mentioned, working with these mixers is easier than you think.]