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Q: How can I can I tune my mixer to get a better recording?

A post by David Mellor
Friday April 08, 2011
It seems that a RecordProducer.com reader's mixer is out of tune. Or is he building a hot rod?
Q: How can I can I tune my mixer to get a better recording?

I'm guessing that that this person wants to tune his mixer like a mechanic would tune a car. Of course, before you tune a car you have to maintain it. And before you maintain it you have to take care of how you use it.

So how do you take care of how you use a mixer, by which I assume a physical mixing console?

Well firstly there are some don'ts...

  • Don't put drinks anywhere near it
  • Don't smoke in the same room
  • Don't put anything on top of it
  • Don't sit on it
  • Don't do anything with it that it wasn't intended for, like plug a power amplifier into a microphone input.

Then you have to keep it clean. Use a vacuum cleaner as much as you can, and what you have to dust off, dust away from any openings, particularly around the faders. Don't spray anything onto it (that's another don't).

You may consider leaving it permanently switched on, as switching on and off will stress the components. On the other hand, you wouldn't then be able to cover it overnight because it would get too hot. Your call on that.

So once all that is in place and the only thing that could degrade performance is normal usage, you have to maintain the mixer.

Three things will inevitably happen to a mixer as it ages... Its faders and pots will become scratchy and switches unreliable; internal connections such as between module and backplane will degrade; electrolytic capacitors will degrade and suffer reduced performance.

At this point you need to ask yourself whether you are a musician and producer, or are you a maintenance technician? Probably best to give the job to someone who knows what they are doing.

Now, suppose your mixer is well looked after and well maintained. Perhaps now you should consider tuning it for improved performance? Hot-rodding it, in other words.

I'm going to resist the temptation to say that anyone who is considering this is nuts. OK, temptation resisted.

Hot rodding mixers used to be quite the thing. Back in the 1970s you couldn't read an article about a studio published in Studio Sound magazine without learning that the console had been 'heavily modified'. Things do turn around, don't they? Now if you had a vintage Neve or SSL you would be most proud of its 'period features'. Like a house having an antique fireplace or Minton tiles.

There is a case to be made for replacing inferior integrated-circuit op-amps with better ones. Anyone who has attempted to build an audio circuit with the notorious 741 will understand this completely.

Some hot rodders would go further and change all the capacitors (not just the degradation-prone electrolytics) to a brand that they think offers sonic advantages. And while you're at it why not take out any iron-cored inductors you can find and replace them with air-cored versions in equivalent values? No risk of magnetic saturation. Oh and the transformers - replace the standard issue ones with a new set, hand-wound by virgins.

If you think I am veering towards flippancy, actually I'm not. If you are a producer, then keep your console in good condition and produce. If you want to go on a bold adventure into console hot rodding, and this is going to be your purpose in life, then go ahead. This is the way new lands are discovered.

Two questions...

1. How have your hot-rodded your console, and how did it turn out?

2. Does anyone actually like the sound of the 741?

A post by David Mellor
Friday April 08, 2011 ARCHIVE
David Mellor has been creating music and recording in professional and home studios for more than 30 years. This website is all about learning how to improve and have more fun with music and recording. If you enjoy creating music and recording it, then you're definitely in the right place :-)
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