6 Things to Consider When Buying an Audio Console

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With digital mixing consoles becoming more the norm than the exception, many churches are trying to make the decision on which way to go when upgrading. With varying needs and levels of expertise in operation, there are some obvious concerns that come up, however the array of available tools can be very appealing. Let’s look at 6 points to consider when upgrading to a new console.

“Just because you have the ability to compress, gate, and insert FX on every channel, doesn’t mean you HAVE to” – @Cal_Tylr

1. Needs

I think the most important part to look at when deciding to upgrade are the needs at hand. While this can be a long list, we’ll highlight a few of the common ones that come up. The appeal of new toys is always exciting, however if the needs are not present, then a fancy new digital console may not be the answer. We should however, always be looking forward to consider how the tools may help you improve your mix and the quality of sound is important to consider as well.

2. User Base

While I wholeheartedly believe in training and a constant journey of learning more and expanding your capabilities, the learning curve on certain digital mixers can be steep, and while this should not totally deter you from moving to a digital console, it should be considered in which digital console you move to. Certain consoles have a much more user friendly layout than others and are much easier to grasp and use. That being said, I would not let the potential learning curve of new technology deter you from moving to a digital console; there are plenty of training resources available for just about every console on the market.

3. Tools

Yes, this is the primary reason people move to digital, the available dynamics available on every channel, multi band parametric EQ’s on every input and output, insert able graphic EQ’s, plug in packages and the list goes on! Assuming you have the folks that can use them, OR will be eager to learn how to use them, then this is a great idea and a highly recommended move, however, if you don’t see the need for these, and your set up doesn’t demand and budget doesn’t really allow for it, a good quality analog console with a few channels worth of outboard gear can be just as effective and save some money.

4. Expandability

As much as we can’t see the future, considering how much our needs may expand in the coming future should be considered, not only when choosing digital versus analog, but when choosing what digital console you would like to use. Certain platforms are expandable when it comes channel count and processing, others are a fixed architecture and not expandable. Be sure to educate yourself, or lean on your local AV provider to look at the channel count and available options for the platform you’re considering. Best to take a couple for test drives to see what suites you best and how you like the user interface before committing to a platform you may not entirely like.

5. Flexibility

With many churches operating more than their internal programming and offering the building as a rental venue or the building being shared by more than one congregation, the consideration of digital consoles can be high. The ability to simply transition back to regular programming with the recall of a saved scene, digital consoles certainly offer a great feature set for the multipurpose church building. From being able to save full scenes, to storing individual channel presets per musician, the flexibility in rearranging the console to suit each and every need is a great selling feature. Another consideration is being able to support touring acts and having “industry standard” consoles, so the church can be considered for tour stops of mid to larger touring acts.

6. Multi-tracking

Whether you’re a church that does multitrack recording or simply captures a single track of the sermon, this is an area that can weigh in on the decision of analog versus digital console. Most digital consoles offer some sort of digital recording interface, from USB, Firewire, Madi, Dante and the list goes on. You’d be hard-pressed to find a platform that didn’t allow multitrack digital output of some sort. While you may not being ramping up to record your next award winning record, the ability to record and playback multitrack recordings through your console can be used as a GREAT training ground. I’ve had many clients that have improved the quality of their audio mix by simply playing back the previous weeks service and working on the sounds and tones and “mastering” in a way, their channel presets. It can also be used in providing training recordings for the musicians in the church as well. I have a few clients who will provide a rough mix recording of the previous weeks music, with the guitar slightly boosted above the mix for the guitarist, and the bass for the bassist and so on and so forth. This can be very helpful for the musicians to improve upon their craft, often what we hear live and think sounds great, when you break it down under the microscope can use a bit of finessing.

As we see, there are plenty of factors that can play into the decision to move to a digital console. It’s important to not simply fall into trends and follow what others are doing, get a console that suits the needs of your venue, and again, that may simply be a good quality analog console. Digital consoles certainly offer a wide variety of expanded tools, and can be a great asset, and please remember, just because you have the ability to compress, gate, and insert FX on every channel, doesn’t mean you HAVE to when you get your new console. If you decide to go digital, as always, treat things with reserve and only do what will enhance your mix, not what may potentially muddy the waters and complicate things just cause you can. (End of Rant)

At the end of the day, your most important tools are your ears and a system that is properly set up, a digital console will not magically fix or band aid an ailing or failing PA system, so make sure you’re addressing updates in a logical and effective order and again, demo consoles before buying them so you can make sure it’s one you’ll be happy with, don’t be afraid of the learning curve, you can’t move forward with expanding your knowledge base and spreading your wings a little (or a lot! ).

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