Within any media-rich environment, it’s not just visuals that attract traffic and an interested audience. Videos might appear to dominate electronic screens but they carry as much sound as audio-only tracks, much of it mixed to great effect for advertising, self-promotion, professional entertainment and pure fun. The sound output of most multi-media presentations is dictated by the audio mixing console.
Bargains can be found in second hand sales of items, stock clearance sales and store liquidations. Check the auctions online for affordable audio mixers and do some research to become familiar with specifications. If the manufacturer or brand name is known, product details will be available somewhere on the web, often with photographs of the equipment. Try Google images for finding products and seeing what they are supposed to look like for comparison purposes with pictures posted beside a sale item. Read reviews by professional musicians who have used the product. Leads, jacks, knobs, buttons and sliders should all be in good condition otherwise spares and repairs will be required and then the purchase might not be so affordable if extra expense is incurred.
Making Sounds Special
In its most basic form an audio mixer is a simple electronic conduit for incoming audio signals capable of controlling the level of effects used in producing music re: volume, sound quality, and tone placement, among other dynamics. Professional sound mixers use a soundboard, a more sophisticated version of the device.
As pro audio equipment, an audio mixer presents opportunity to make soundtracks that stand out from the crowd. Rather than generic or stock catalogues of pre-recorded effects, any individual with patience and know-how can create audio enhancements for music scores and compositions used as augmentation for dramatic scenes. The simplest audio mixer has four tracks and integral mixer which deals with vocals, lead guitar, rhythm guitar and drums; the mainstay of most musical compositions. It can be as small as a palm-sized device and is ideal for portable use if a professional studio is unavailable.
Sounds can be edited after going through the individual instrument-dedicated channels. If the arrangement deals with more than four instruments further channels are required to process the input. Kept on their own tracks, the instrument sounds are easily identified and followed. Even when played together as one piece their distinct sound prints are readily tweaked and adjusted by sound engineers to contribute to the overall desired final product.
Manipulation Blends and Brightens
Adding the special extras such as reverb, echo or delay to a sound set requires a sensitive touch. A little too much distortion or not enough volume can make or break a piece. Subtle touches on the channels refine overwhelming effects and adjust the intensity of the instrument’s noise. Dominant drums are easily levelled down and blended with the overall sound and vocals or guitar sounds are sharpened and brightened at the touch of a control knob.
An important aspect of the mixing task is placement to optimise the listening experience. Pan pots, or panoramic potentiometers, position tracks directionally to give the best appreciation of surround sound. By sliding a sound from one stereo channel to another it is possible to recreate a sense of movement. A conventional acoustic environment set-up places vocals at the centre, drums in the background and guitars at opposing ends, though a mixer may change that to mess with the audience and invite a new experience, especially when including non-traditional sounds that don’t layer naturally with a specific instrument.
4, 8, 16 and 24 Track Options
4-track audio mixers are not limited to just the 4 channels. Many can record 8 tracks through judicious bouncing of completed tracks onto a channel. When the complete sound no longer requires attention, for example drums, its sound can be laid down and ignored while something else, such as vocals takes precedence during production, thus freeing up space as the process continues.
Affordability is a relative term. For recording artists in a small band performing their music at home, a less expensive 4-track audio mixer will often suffice for creating a master in order to produce a compact disc. The next step up from 4-track will move to 8-16 track mixer offerings in digital format with improved editing options. They also incorporate recording and disc burning into the functions on a machine that is both lightweight and portable. Some models may not include the burn facility but this is easily overcome by transferring the recorded music to a computer for the process to be completed.
As mentioned above, the channels can be freed up once tracks have been satisfactorily created, so an 8-track mixer offers more lanes than the number itself suggests. This size of audio mixer is a good mid-range, mid-price option for those funding their own production.
Larger bands with more instruments require more channels. Big productions with big budgets can maximise the potential of more sophisticated soundboards. Studio production standard audio mixers with 24 channels keep lanes free for isolation and manipulation. Understandably, the more channels available, the more expensive the device will be. Imagine the fun that could be had exploring the possibilities of soundscapes using special effects and increasing levels of a chosen effect by sliding knobs and buttons.
Differences in Models
Although audio mixers and soundboards offer similar functions each model has its own configuration. Layouts differ and operating a device requires familiarity with the positions of the knobs and sliders so that reaction to sound and its subsequent manipulation is executed without dithering. Some technicians take notes in order to recall what was positioned where when a certain effect returns a pleasing result. This hard copy safety measure is almost as important as the original score so that when mixing takes place there is a point of reference for the recipe and ingredients which created the sound in a specific situation. Many people who mix talk about it as a soup and refer to the sounds as flavours and textures. Descriptions such as fat, crunchy, sweet and creamy all have made the scribbled annotations beside numbers to identify certain sounds so future mixes may benefit from an adaptation of the effect created during a session.
The operator of the audio mixer or soundboard provides the final artistic stamp on a musician’s work. Sound production is as much an art as playing a musical instrument so that consistency is achieved in the precise type of darkness, echo, grunginess or sharp tang a group or organisation become known for. It provides the distinctive seasoning that makes a signature dish. Things that need to be mastered are faders, mic controls, muting controls and monitoring controls. These master output functions are often on the right of a board though it depends on the size. Determining the channels’ levels is done by metering the peaks and clipping appropriately.
Further work can be done on digitised sound if the operator has software that includes an advanced sound card to support use of a computer to act as an audio mixer. An ideal computer features easy access front ports to facilitate second line-in, headphone jacks, FireWire High Speed Serial Bus or instrument ports.
How to Find an Affordable Audio Mixer on eBay
On the eBay homepage look through the categories and select Sound & Vision. Refine this further by choosing Performance & DJ Equipment from the options available. Choose Mixers and either browse through the page as presented or check boxes in the menu offered in the grey box on the left to return specific Type, Brand, Number of Channels or Condition as suits the requirement. Alternatively, type in ‘pro audio equipment’ into the search box at the top of the page and view the suggested results. Select recording studio equipment for current matches and consider the other categories with possible returns for the search in Sound & Vision or Musical Instruments. There are new listings every day on eBay so if an item isn’t returned as a match to a search, don’t despair, try again another day and there might be several from which to choose either as an auction bid or a Buy Now option.
Accentuating distinctive sounds and embellishing good music is not as easy as it might appear. Mastery of an audio mixer takes time and it helps to have an idea of the desired end sound to work toward. Planning and communication with the instrumentalists and vocalists as well as cooperation with technicians are important aspects of operating an audio mixer successfully. If an artist can afford a larger audio mixer than their current needs require, it will be a worthwhile investment. As the operator’s confidence and competence grows so will the familiarity with the instrument. This lends itself to improvements and greater demands and expectations of the mixing function. If the audio mixer has greater capabilities, the operator can tap into them with ease and the gains in performance output are realised almost effortlessly.