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Introduction to mixing consoles

An introduction to the technology and operation of mixing consoles.

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The mixing console is the centerpiece of the recording studio, operationally and visually. The choice of mixing console defines a commercial studio - we talk of an 'AMS-Neve' studio (often simply 'Neve'), or an 'SSL studio'. There are other mixing consoles, but these are definitely the top two. Neve has a long tradition in recording dating back to the 1960s. Many Neve consoles manufactured from the early 1970s onward are still in use and are respected for their sound quality. SSL is a younger company, but they single-handedly defined the modern mixing console as the center of studio operations including control over tape machines, automation and recall. Whereas Neve have had a number of rethinks over the years on how a mixing console should work, SSL have been very consistent and there are many engineers who won't work on anything else, largely because they would have a tough learning period to go through.

The first thing that a newcomer to recording has to realize is that we are not in home studio territory any more. These consoles are expensive - $300,000 or more. They are expensive because they are designed to do the job properly without compromise, allow efficient use of studio time, and attract business to the studio. As a learning music recording engineer, it should be ones ambition eventually to work in studios on Neve or SSL consoles. Anything else would be second best.

Firstly, let's consider the functions of a multitrack music recording console:

  • Record from many microphones and line input sources simultaneously.
  • Record to multitrack, or mix live sound sources into stereo.
  • Allow previously recorded tracks to be monitored while overdubs are made.
  • Mix a multitrack recording into stereo.

With these points in mind, let's run through the console. Each channel module contains the following:

  • Microphone input
  • Line level input
  • Multitrack monitor input
  • Insert point
  • Equalizer
  • Auxiliary sends
  • Compressor
  • Noise gate
  • Small fader & pan
  • Large fader & pan
  • Solo/PFL
  • Automation controls
By David Mellor Tuesday May 27, 2003
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