In the live audio industry, your whole setup is built around your mixer, and digital mixers are becoming more and more common. Though analog and digital mixers both have their advantages, there are things that digital mixers can do that might sway audio engineers to make the switch from analog over to digital.

Known for being incredibly flexible and user friendly, a digital mixer is a smart move if you can afford to make the upgrade. When making the move from analog to digital, it’s important to note the jump in price. An analog board will typically be more affordable than a digital board, but won’t offer nearly as many features.

Now let’s be honest, a digital mixer does not make sense if you just need something for the PA system in your rehearsal space that you might lend out to friends for shows every now and then. The people who would benefit the most from making the switch to a digital mixer would be those who regularly deal with a wide variety of live audio situations. We’re talking about independent audio engineers, music venues, companies providing sound for a wide variety of events such as weddings, lectures, and corporate functions. Basically, people who need a mixer that covers a lot of bases.

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why people are making the switch from analog to digital mixers.

Those that use analog mixers know that you are pretty much limited to what is physically available on the board. Well, with a digital mixer, there can be a lot more going on than just what’s on the surface. You have access to a greater number of aux sends, returns, and busses, you can group channels easily thanks to motorized faders, and so much more.

One of the best things digital mixers offer is the ability to create scenes. A scene is a group of saved settings an engineer would use for a particular venue or live situation whether it be basic settings for a bar, or very specific settings for an 8-piece ska band. Being able to save and recall scenes makes digital mixers the ultimate tool for an audio engineer that deals with a revolving door of different types of clients.

Most digital mixers offer the option of running a digital snake. Say goodbye to the pesky monstrosity that is the traditional audio snake. A digital snake, also referred to as a stage box, connects to your board via a single cable, keeping things neat and tidy, and giving you the option of using it only when it is absolutely necessary. You can use a digital snake in the traditional sense to extend the reach of the readily available channels on your board, or to access the additional channels of your digital console.

Some digital mixers even offer quick and easy live recording solutions. Simply plug in a compatible flash drive, hit record, and you’ve got yourself a quick stereo mixdown of your live show. If the digital mixer you’ve chosen features a USB output, you can also plug directly into a computer and record directly to your favorite digital audio workstation. Engineers can take advantage of this feature by offering recordings of shows or events to their clients.

Compact and Portable
Portability is a great benefit of digital mixers. The beauty of a digital mixer is that you’re able to assign multiple functions to the buttons and knobs available. This allows you to do more in depth work than you could with an analog mixer, all while taking up less real estate on your board. You’re also able to limit the number of faders while maintaining the number of channels you have access to, something an analog board can’t do. This allows manufacturers to produce professional grade mixers at impressively small sizes. Some brands, such as Behringer, Mackie, and QSC, have introduced some of the smallest digital mixer options around, utilizing either a touch screen or tablet in place of knobs and faders.

This isn’t the case for ALL digital mixers, as there are some much larger desks available. A pro level audio engineer might need a lot of channels at their disposal, but most entry and mid-level engineers would be fine with one of the smaller options on the market. That being said, even if you do happen to go for a larger digital mixer, there are ways that the digital aspect could still benefit you as far as portability.

If two venues or job sites happen to be using the same model mixer, you can save your scenes onto a flash drive and simply upload all your settings at the new location. Let’s say, for example, one location is featuring a 3-piece rock band, and you already have a scene set up for a 3-piece rock band at another location that has the same model mixer, you can transfer that scene from one mixer to another using a flash drive. But no two rooms are exactly the same, so be sure to adjust accordingly.

Improved Sound Quality
A digital mixer means you are dealing with digital audio. Similar to digital recording, a digital mixer takes the live audio received from microphones and converts it to a digital signal, resulting in a cleaner sound. Analog audio is more prone to interference, noise, and hissing, whereas digital audio is less susceptible to these issues. Also, while analog and digital mixers both feature EQ options, most digital mixers allow users to achieve a more precise mix thanks to a visual EQ. Using your screen and the available controls, you can focus in on pesky frequencies more precisely than you could with an analog console. You can also achieve a cleaner live mix with some digital boards thanks to on board compressor and limiter functions. Even with clean audio and all these useful mixing features, you still need to rely on a knowledgeable audio engineer for a good mix.

Now, most audio engineers will want to walk the room to make sure the mix is nice and balanced, hitting every part of the space the right way. What digital mixers bring to the table is the option to connect to the mixer via a smartphone or tablet, allowing the engineer to mix remotely. A board with that feature gives the engineer more control over the live mix, and can result in a more positive experience for both the engineer and the audience.

When moving from the analog to the digital world, there can definitely be a bit of a learning curve. All it takes is a little bit of time and patience and you too can experience the benefits of going digital. If you’re not ready to take the plunge, there are some hybrid mixers that offer digital capabilities with a familiar analog layout from brands such as Presonus and Tascam. When selecting a digital mixer, be sure to do the necessary research. Not all digital mixers will offer the same features, so it’s important to find one that can do exactly what you need it to do.

Sam Ash carries digital mixers from top brands such as Behringer, Soundcraft, Yamaha, and Allen & Heath. If you’re new to digital mixers, or have any questions, feel free to call us at 1-800-4SAMASH or chat with us online, and one of our experts would be happy to help you find the digital mixer that’s right for you.

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Matthew Marcus
Matthew has been a performer for over half his life. He began singing in his elementary school chorus at 8 years old, eventually being invited to perform with the All County Chorus four times and participating in NYSSMA twice where he received high scores. Around the same time, he began playing trumpet. After two years in the school band, Matthew abandoned the trumpet and picked up a guitar. He has been playing guitar and writing songs since the age of 11 and performing live since the age of 13.