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Digital Mixer w/o Digital Sources. Advantages?

Discussion in 'Sound, Music, and Intercom' started by Stevens R. Miller, Jul 3, 2017.

  1. Stevens R. Miller

    Stevens R. Miller Well-Known Member

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    I recently did a show where our stack of eight wireless mike receivers sat in the wings and fed their analog outputs to some kind of analog-to-digital converter. The converted output came up a data line from the stage to the control booth where it was decomposed back into eight separate signals by a PreSonus SLM244AI mixer. This worked great and eliminated the need for a traditional snake.

    Now, a friend I've made in the local community theater sphere is eager to see his company buy a new mixer. As far as I know, they have no digital sound sources. They have a number of wireless mikes, as well as some wired mikes on stage and in the pit. They also use recorded sound effects and music, mostly played out of the analog jack on a computer. This fellow is very eager to buy a digital mixer, but I don't see a reason to do that. As far as I can tell, they tend to cost more than otherwise comparable analog boards. While I can imagine a bit less noise reaching the final amplifiers when mixing is done digitally, I'm not yet convinced that's worth a premium when he has no digital sources.

    So my question for today is, if all of your sound sources are analog and will reach your mixer in analog form, what advantages does a digital mixer offer over a purely analog mixer?

    Thanks!
     
  2. jkowtko

    jkowtko Active Member

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    There are volumes on the merits of digital vs analog sound consoles.

    IMHO the biggest benefit that the digital mixer provides is all of the signal processing internally that in the analog world is done with outboard equipment ... so a digital sound setup tends to eliminate racks of equipment, or gives all of that signal processing capability to those who would not otherwise have it because they could not afford all of that extra equipment. Compressors and parametric EQ on each input channel, and built in reverb are some of the most popular signal processing features provided automatically by digital boards ... but there is a lot more available.

    Secondary benefits for me include smart phone and tablet apps that let you control the board remotely ... the ability to record digitally directly to a thumb drive, and on many products this is a multi-track recording ... and the ability to playback directly from digital audio files. The noise floor on digital boards is pretty low.

    Another benefit, as you have mentioned but I don't use yet, is the ability to have a snake box on stage that converts the signallocally to digital, then you only have to run a single CAT5 cable to your sound table instead of one or more thick snake cables.

    So your equipment also starts to get lighter

    Cost wise I think you can find either digital or analog boards at either end of the price range. Ignoring the high end professional models, digital starts around $200 for a small 8-channel mixer and goes up to $3-4k for popular 32+ channel consoles ... that's about the same price range that I see for analog.
     
  3. TimMc

    TimMc Well-Known Member

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    There is almost no justification for purchasing an analog mixer these days unless you need a no-features mixer. JK offers up the reasons why - smaller, lighter, feature set, etc and frankly there is no advantage to purchase of a cheap analog desk when a few dollars more gets you a vastly more useful device.

    The use of CAT5e to carry signals from the stage to the console is, IMHO, less of an advantage than so many folks make it out to be. We substitute a smaller, lighter, cheaper cable that is more easily damaged or compromised than a traditional multicore. The big, fat multi has some physical robustness advantages that all but the most armored CAT5e does not. As for the weight, etc. I can only say that I've been slinging multicore for 35 years and it's the least of places I look to save weight or time. YMMV, of course.

    Most of the resistance to using digital mixers is from Luddite folks who've never made the transition or the small handful of users who have very particular workflow or artistic requirements for which the digital mixer surfaces do not possess the requisite physical controls needed.

    The Analog is Dead. Long live the Analog!
     
  4. jkowtko

    jkowtko Active Member

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    I will further qualify my answer to this section. I still use a 12 channel snake running from the sound table to the back of the auditorium, then XLR out to the mics. In addition to the 100 foot 12 channel snake I have a 50' 8 channel snake ... both of them in a sterlite bin. This bin is pretty heavy, so I would welcome a lighter alternative. I agree that Cat5 presents you with a single point of failure for ALL of your input channels should something happen to the cable, but as I've never lost an analog cable including all of my XLR, I would venture to guess that roadworthy Cat5 can take a beating, and the cable would still be much lighter than the snake cable.

    The other heavy thing I have to carry around is a bin full of XLR ... another thing I would like to get rid of.

    It would be really nice if wireless XLR mic adapters and wireless self-powered speakers became commonplace -- that would eliminate both the XLR and the snake!

    With the recent transition of pro audio to the digital world, I'm sure this is all coming in a matter of time.
     
  5. Stevens R. Miller

    Stevens R. Miller Well-Known Member

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    Excellent replies, all.

    Regarding this, just checking:

    Typo, right?
     
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  6. RonHebbard

    RonHebbard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Does this mean the "Luddite" is also dead or will we simply spawn a newer, vastly improved, feature rich, digital Luddite with latency?
    Remember "Analog Tom" Hall, the entertainment lawyer from Los Angeles on the ProSound LAB?
    Call me Analog Ron, Luddite to the stars.
    I'm not dead yet but it's more imminent every day.
    Thank you Monty Python.
    If it wasn't for latency, I'd be gone already.
    Toodleoo!
    Ron Hebbard.
     
  7. KBToys82

    KBToys82 Active Member

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    I bought the PreSonus 32AI for our auditorium and use the RML32 mounted behind the proscenium with a Cat6 that they are running this summer over the drop down ceiling to the booth. I will be using the RML a lot during our talent show night. If it wasn't for the fact that PreSonus is coming out with new stage boxes for their new SL32, I would highly recommend getting both.
     
  8. MNicolai

    MNicolai Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    I still like a good analog mixer for very particular, simple use cases, but most of what I run into is minimum 32-40 channels. There's simply no reason not be digital at that level even if you don't buy the stage boxes Day 1. With Dante especially, you can add a lot of functionality to a system by forking over all of $35 for a Dante Virtual Soundcard license.

    Used to be you would be cautious because if you had a speciality digital console and digital snake and your console tanked you were at the mercy of being able to find something compatible. That fear is long gone. Given a few hours notice you probably can't get an identical console but any rental shop can give you some form of console or stage box that will work over your data cabling. Aside from someone in the audience spiking a solo cup over the console I haven't heard of very many console failures in recent past. Digital consoles have become very stable and while they still have their quirks, they don't have more than you'll find in a used-and-abused analog copper system.
     
  9. FMEng

    FMEng Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    Choices of analog consoles are getting very narrow, and seem to be limited to basic, lower quality models. It's very hard for an analog console to compete when the digital consoles have vastly more capability and features for about the same money. We have all benefited from the price war started by the X32.
     
  10. Stevens R. Miller

    Stevens R. Miller Well-Known Member

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    A couple of answers to my question have suggested the prices for both types are comparable, but I'm having a hard time finding that in the marketplace. At Sweetwater, for example, I see nine 24-channel analog mixers under $2,000, with the lowest price being $700. That's a price-range a small community theater company can consider, and twenty-four channels is about as many as they'll ever need. Conversely, Sweetwater only offers one 24-channel digital mixer under $2,000 (if you don't count the rack-mounted USB contraption for $1,000, which I don't think would be suitable for amateur use).

    The needs of the community theater companies I work with are extremely simple: they need between twelve and twenty-four mono inputs, three-channel sound shaping, an auxiliary sender for stage monitors (and maybe a second one for recording). The company I mostly work with has a Behringer UB2442FX with some built-in sound effects, but we never use those. While it is easy to see from this discussion that digital boards have many capabilities superior to analog boards, I'm still left thinking there's no reason to pay extra money for one if one has no digital sources and no need for the other capabilities digital boards possess. If they really were the same price, of course, I'd say go with the flow and buy the latest proven technology. But it looks like low-end digital is, roughly, twice as expensive as low-end analog, for the same number of channels.

    Anyone got a vendor with less expensive digital choices?
     
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  11. JD

    JD Well-Known Member

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    THAT feature alone makes it all worth while. To be able to walk around the space and hear exactly what people seated at the show are hearing is priceless!
     
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  12. jkowtko

    jkowtko Active Member

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    Having parametric EQ on every input channel so you can deal with feedback on a per-channel basis in addition to whatever you will do with the house, is also a somewhat priceless capability.

    Also, this hasn't been mentioned, but in my opinion the volume/gain curves on the digital boards are smooth whereas on analog boards they tend to be peaky ... so the sound I hear from a digital board (e.g. in a musical) is more pleasing to the ears. I usually run light compression on every input channel too ... that may account for some of this.

    Bottom line, analog boards are going the way of the phonograph ... all will be gone soon except for the "vintage" and "audiophile" models ... so unless you are looking for one of those options, any money you spend on an analog board at this point is likely to be a throw-away in the long term
     
  13. Stevens R. Miller

    Stevens R. Miller Well-Known Member

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    Heh. You guys keep using the word "priceless." When I try to talk our non-profit community theater companies into buying new gear, if I use the word "priceless," they hear the word "expensive." (And then I hear the word "no" :) .)
     
  14. jkowtko

    jkowtko Active Member

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    Lol! I would use that term more in terms of the hassle/convenience factor. For example you can put compressors on every channel of an analog board ... Behringer makes a 4 channel comp/gate that fits into 1U, and at one point I bought four of those to get compression on 16 input channels of our analog board ... wasn't really that expensive, but dealing with the rack units and the cabling was a real pain. As a mechanical engineer I am somewhat of a minimalist, so I like it when you can incorporate multiple functions into one unit as the digital boards have done (and as electronics has done consistently over the past 3-4 decades). And, even though you increase failure group size in your system, the cost generally comes down and the convenience is far worth it (at least for what I do).

    Like I said before, I can't wait to get rid of all the XLR cables some day when mics and speakers are all wireless ... that will be another "priceless" moment for me as it will cut my setup and teardown time virtually in half ... :)
     
  15. rphilip

    rphilip Active Member

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    One other big advantage of digital mixers is scene recall.

    You can easily store and recall different eq, compression, effect, grouping (sub group and or DCA/VCA) settings and advance through the scene's as you move through the play. It also means that you can backup the settings in case of equipment failure or inadvertent knob twisting by other people.

    Philip
     
  16. venuetech

    venuetech Well-Known Member

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    Stevens let me put it this way, with an inexpensive analog mixer you get ONE simple audio tool. With an inexpensive digital desk you get a Tool Chest PACKED Full of audio Tools. That are instantly available with the click of a button.
    The big question is do you need a control surface or will a iPad or laptop serve your control access needs?
    I would guess that you would want a control surface like a traditional desk.
    I would suggest the compact x32 by behringer, but these days there are competitive products that may be worth looking at.
    I do like the x air18 but it has no traditional surface controls, that in not a problem for me. its price point is hard to beat. Again there are competing products to consider.
    Go digital! You will not look back.
     
  17. EdSavoie

    EdSavoie Well-Known Member

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    I wouldn't say analog is dead yet...

    We bought a Behringer 32 Channel board to replace our PowerMAX 16 that shot sparks out the back last year. It offers a considerable feature set given the low price point, such as dual digital effect engines, 32 channels of which 28 include XLR inputs with selectable pad, and four output busses + aux.
     
  18. jkowtko

    jkowtko Active Member

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    The only drawbacks I've heard for digital desks to date --

    * layers -- extremely powerful, yet very confusing to the novice, and sometimes even to the experienced engineer who hasn't used his/her equipment for a while :|

    * crashes -- this is a computer running software, and as we all know software in general isn't bug free. I've heard the horror stories in past years of the occasional sound console crash requiring a complete reboot of the console in the middle of a performance. The good side around this is that in many cases the problem is in the software, so a firmware update will often cure such problems. And I haven't heard of any problems recently.

    I have a small Behringer 1202FX I bought used for $50 that I use for tiny gigs, but otherwise am sold on digital.
     
  19. TimMc

    TimMc Well-Known Member

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    Priceless in that, as Sound Designer (and typically the operator as well), I need the desk to have sufficient control over the inputs, busing, and outputs. If the mixing desk can't do that, it doesn't matter what the price tag was.

    I *really* need (and use) 4 band fully parametric EQ on each input, with separate & sweepable HPF. I need that regardless of analog or digital. I need 6 audio groups in which I can insert 4 to 6 band parametric EQ, again regardless of analog or digital. Those capabilities are irrespective of input count, for the most part.

    For some of the other work I do, I use a Shure SCM268, with no EQ or buses or anything else. It's a "horses for courses" thing, but in theater and music entertainment the technical requirements for consoles are greater than than were 20 years ago and the cost-effective way to get the needed capability involves ones and zeros.

    The other alternative, having actors project and the manual creation of SFX seems like a quaint and dated concept.
     
  20. RonHebbard

    RonHebbard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Stand-by thunder sheets. Thunder sheets GO!
    Coconut shells at the ready.
    Toodleoo!
    Ron Hebbard.
     
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