The mixing desk can be considered the heart of a PA system, its basic function to combine various sound sources into one or more channels for amplification by a speaker system. Often daunting to the beginner with their rows of cryptically named knobs, buttons and sliders they are actually easy to get to grips with when you know a few key concepts.
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Mixers have two basic sections, the channel section and the master section. The channel section is split into a number of individual channels, each taking an audio source such as a microphone, instrument or a stereo signal from a CD player, iPod or other line level device. Most channels will have a preamp for boosting the level of audio sources, essential for low level signals from microphones and guitars. The audio on each channel can then individually have EQ applied to it, be routed to auxiliary sends via send knobs and finally mixed to the master channel. EQ, or equalisation, affects the level of bass, mid and treble frequencies allowing the user to reduce fatiguing frequencies and improve the timbre of the sound. Auxiliary sends split the signals off to auxiliary channels which can then be routed to effects units or sent to monitoring speaker systems, allowing performers to hear themselves in a customised mix. The fader sets the level of the audio in the overall mix, the pan knob allowing it to be placed from left to right in the stereo field. The mute button turns off the channel completely whilst the solo button turns off every other channel, allowing the user to listen to a single channel alone.
The master section takes this master channel and routes it out of the mixer through one or more outputs, a main output for being sent to the main speaker system and often headphone and monitor speaker outputs for monitoring by the user. The master fader sets the level of the entire mix and often EQ can be applied to the overall mix.
Mixing desks have a number of features for keeping up with new technology and specialist uses. Digital effect units are often built into the mixer itself so external equipment and cabling isn’t required. USB/Firewire mixers can be interfaced with computer systems allowing for digital recording and playback.
Powered mixers have an amplifier built into the unit meaning they can drive passive speakers without the need for external amplification.
DJ mixers are built around stereo mixing and monitoring, making them ideal for mixing sources such as CD players and vinyl decks.
Rack mixers can be conveniently mounted in standard 19” racks, hiding away cabling and making them easily transportable.
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