How Mixing Boards Work
Have you ever looked at mixing boards and wondered what they do and how they work? The amount of sliders, knobs, and buttons on the board can be daunting and understanding all of the available functions takes time and experience.
Any live event involving sound depends on the proper operation of mixing boards, but, to most people in attendance, that importance is overlooked or unknown. It has become part of the normal scenery like the stage or seats in the venue. The only time people may notice something is when the sound is bad i.e. unbalanced and disturbs the ear.
What is a Mixing Board?
Mixing boards, mixing desks, mixing consoles, sound boards, audio mixers – all these names refer to the same thing.
In a nutshell, a mixing board takes multiple input signals – microphones, instruments, DJ turntables amongst others – and merges them together so they can be sent to speakers as one signal.
The mixing board will be operated by an audio engineer. Their job is to ensure each input channel blends harmoniously to produce a well-balanced sound. They use a sound board to optimize the combined sounds by adjusting input levels, applying effects, equalization and dynamic processing.
Using the mixing board allows you to combine all of the separate pieces of your production into one whole, and also record that as a stereo file for future use.
What are the key components?
Inputs: These are jacks/plug-ins for all the sound sources. Audio signals typically enter the board through an XLR, 1/4″ TRS, or RCA jack – the most common/standard audio inputs.
Channel EQ’s: Every input sound source corresponds to a channel, and each channel typically has EQ potentiometers. These allow an audio engineer to control the sound source’s frequency balance individually.
Auxiliary Channels: These enable you to send a duplicate feed of a channel/input signal to additional devices. The aux channels output the duplicate feeds via a jack on the top or back of the sound board. The most common use of these is during performances; a band member may want to hear the audio back with certain elements adjusted to their preference through their own dedicated monitor wedge or IEM (in-ear monitors).
Faders: These are the sliders on a sound board that enable an engineer to adjust the volume/presence of each channel within the final output or mix. All channels should start at 0dB (known as unity) and be adjusted accordingly from there. This is why an experienced audio engineer running the board is key, as their ears are trained to recognize precisely what is needed to create a quality listening experience.
In conclusion, the function of mixing boards and their importance in live audio cannot be overstated. The next time you attend an event with a speaker setup, you’ll know the production is being run through a sound board. Find out where it is and give the audio engineer a high five. They deserve it.
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