Mixers and Control Surfaces
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Mixers and Control Surfaces
Almost all audio passes through a mixer at some point. The mixer is the hub of any live sound rig, recording studio, post-production facility, or broadcast studio. Mixers come in many shapes and sizes, but ultimately they all serve the same purpose: passing audio from its source (microphones, instruments, etc) to it’s destination (PA speakers, Pro Tools, radio, etc.). There are analog mixers, digital mixers, and summing mixers. For those working “in the box”, control surfaces an option as well (though they don’t pass audio).
Analog mixers have been around since the advent of multitrack recording. While today’s digital landscape has lead many to work exclusively in-the-box, many purists still favor the sound of analog warmth that an analog mixer can provide. Typical features found on an analog mixers include preamplifiers, equalizers, aux sends/returns, faders, mix busses, and more. Analog mixers can be integrated into digital recording environments and utilized for tracking into your computer, or you can send your tracks back through it for mixing.
Digital mixers are extremely convenient, particularly in a live sound setting. Many digital mixers have the ability to recall settings (typically from a file saved on a USB thumb drive), and are often able to integrate with a computer in order to utilize software processing in your mix.
Summing mixers are a great way to add analog warmth to digital recordings. Interfaces with enough outputs allow you to send audio through the summing mixer, condensing a group of tracks down to stereo, and can be utilized to add character and polish to your mix. Summing mixers with advanced features are even able to add width to the stereo spectrum or add harmonic distortion.
Control surfaces provide the convenience and ergonomics of a mixer to those working in-the-box. While often made to look like mixers, control surfaces typically do not have preamps (though some do, like the Avid S3), or even pass audio, but are utilized to control the digital environment. Plugins can be manipulated with the turn of a knob instead of the click of a mouse, allowing for a more tactile, natural workflow that can be based on feeling and hearing as opposed to what you see on a screen.
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