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Digital Mixers - Why do I need one?

APi's useful guide to what digital mixing consoles are and why your church needs one.

Digital mixing desks have been in widespread existence since 1987 when Yamaha introduced their first digital desks. From then until about 10 years ago they were seen as the province of the recording studio or touring company.

Since this time with processing power ever increasing and manufacturing costs decreasing they have filtered down further into the whole of the marketplace. In the last few years pricing has fallen further so now we would say they are the only option except for very small or ultra-low-budget installations.

Digital mixing desks have all of the same functions of an analogue desk but all incorporate additional features such as graphic equalisers, compressors, and other effects that would normally require a stack of additional black boxes and cables to achieve.

First, let's look at why you might not have considered a digital desk:

  • Not aware of this as an option
  • More expensive option (not any more except for very small mixers)
  • Perceived as more complicated
  • Adds features not seen as important in church operations
  • "We don’t need studio-quality digital sound in our church"

Now let’s look at some of the disadvantages of analogue mixers:

  • Too many knobs and faders to be easily understood and operated
  • Inexperienced users fiddle with controls and make things worse, with no way to quickly and easily return to the original settings
  • Bulky units that have to live out in the church to be operated
  • Often covered in sticky labels to show what controls what
  • Controls get ‘noisy’ living in an often damp environment
Now we have described what they are and some of their attributes, let’s look at why now is a great time to upgrade to digital for your system.

Your prime concern is ease of use, but you need more inputs than a traditional ‘one knob per input’ mixer amplifier can offer. We can supply units with a simple user interface from 8 to 32 inputs and beyond without getting buried in hundreds of knobs you don’t use. 

Every time you use your current system the previous user has changed settings and you want a simple way to go back to the default ones. All digital desks have multiple memories that can simply be recalled with a single button push or sometimes by turning the power off and on.

You would like to be able to have wireless control over the system so that you can sit anywhere or the minister can operate it from their seat, this is also good for security as the mixer is safely locked away. All mainstream digital mixers have wireless control apps that work with a variety of tablets.

You would like a simple way of recording services without having a rack full of equipment; most digital mixers have a record-to-USB stick function. 

Your music group would like to have individual control of their foldback (monitor) levels - with some mixers up to 10 tablets or smartphones can be connected simultaneously to allow for individual control.

You would like to have a variety of options for where your stage box for music group input connections could be located to give flexibility for different services and events. Some mixers are completely wireless and take the place of the traditional stage box, others have a single low-cost connection using a network cable from the mixer to the digital stage box allowing several connection positions to be installed.

APi Sound & Visual has wide experience in the church market and our staff use a variety of digital mixers in their own worship settings. Our systems are always focused on delivering the best match to our customers' requirements and operational skills.

So returning to our list of objections to digital we can now say:

  • You have more of an awareness of the options available
  • The user interface is more straightforward with generally fewer controls presented (others not required or set up on installation are out of sight)
  • You will never use all of the functions but being able to group channels and save all of your settings is a lifesaver if someone has been fiddling.
  • Studio sound quality processing comes as standard no one ever complained that the sound was too good.

And looking back to the disadvantages of analogue, digital offers:

  • Less non-essential controls on the surface, and return to default setting with stored memory.
  • Unique simple user interfaces can be created with only the useful controls displayed.
  • With wireless control, the mixer can be in the vestry or the choir area.
  • With control via tablet, the input channels are clearly labelled on the screen and can change when different memorised service setups are recalled. Eg. you can save the best settings for each musician and these can be applied to any channel.
  • With all controls being digital encoders these products are more resilient in damp environments.
Summary

Digital mixers now offer far more value for money and a more flexible and simpler user experience with a complete backup of important settings.

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