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Should you need a manual to operate a mixing console?

If a mixing console needs a manual to operate, then there must be something seriously wrong surely?

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I had the pleasure of working on an amateur ballet show the other day. I don't do much live sound these days so it's nice to keep my hand in.

Of course I took the precaution of reading the theater's specification before I turned up at the crack of dawn on the day of the dress rehearsal and show.

And when I walked into the control room, a cheery sight greeted me - a conventional analog mixing console. You know - I didn't even notice what make it was, but it had the channels in the right place, groups in the right place, all the usual facilities. Easy peasy.

Now supposing the theater management had some time earlier decided to re-equip the sound booth (fat chance, usually a theater has to burn down before that happens!) and someone 'in the know' had recommended a digital console?

Suddenly from analog simplicity we move over to a potential nightmare.

There is one vital accessory any digital console needs - the manual! You can't expect to be able to operate a digital console without the manual.

If it's a console that you have worked before, then fine. Or if it's a console by the same manufacturer as one you have used previously, you might be able to pick up how it works quite quickly.

But where analog consoles have matured to the point where all their basic facilities are almost identical, digital consoles are all very different to each other.

You'll need the manual just to understand the menu system of some digital consoles!

What is the answer to this, I wonder?

It could be for sound engineers to equip themselves with their own library of manuals, so they can be prepared for any situation. Or perhaps they should develop the 'digital' centers of the brain, possibly through dietary supplements.

No, the solution will come in time. Gradually manufacturers will pinch each others' best ideas and eventually the digital mixing console will evolve into a unified form.

Digital consoles will have similar facilities and similar methods of operation - facilities and methods that have been found to work well by actual pro users, whom manufacturers obviously have to please.

But I sense we're in for a long haul before that happens. Does anyone have any ideas how we can speed up this process?

By David Mellor Thursday November 30, 2006
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