Audio Console Layout

Photo courtesy of Chris Costes

Photo courtesy of Chris Costes

Based on some of the consoles I’ve seen lately, audio console layout is something that doesn’t seem get a lot of thought. However, a properly laid out console not only makes mixing more fun, it can keep us from making big mistakes during a service. 

Legend has it that in the early days of mixing, as analog consoles got larger, engineers noticed that channels farther from the master had more noise in them. So it made sense to put the money channels—the vocals—nearest to the master. As the master was typically on the right, that meant the left-most channels became home of the drums—who would notice noise in the drum channels? 

Somewhere along the line, a somewhat common layout emerged: drums, bass, guitars, keys, vocals. As consoles and input count continued to grow, we started seeing the master section land in the middle of the console instead of on the right. In that case, usually the band fell to the left while vocals and effects fell to the right.

Back then, where channels showed up on the console was completely dependent on what inputs they were plugged into. Today, with digital consoles, it’s easy put any channel on any fader. But before we do any patching—digitally or analog—it’s important to spend some time thinking about why channels go where they do. 

Why You Do Is More Important Than What You Do

I’ve seen all sorts of…shall we say, interesting channel layouts on consoles. Drums spread all over the place, the lead guitar next to the pastor’s mic, vocal effects in the middle of the keyboards. It’s as if someone just patched inputs into the first open channel or floor pocket without any thought at all.

And while there are all sorts of ways you can lay out your console, the first consideration is to make sure you do it on purpose. Don’t just shove inputs into any old channel. Take some time to think about it and patch it in a way that makes sense. Keep all the drum channels together, and then keep the band together. Having all the vocals next to each other makes it a lot easier to find them. Put the channels you adjust all the time closest to you, so you’re not reaching all the way to the end every time. Think about how you mix, then organize the channels in a way that supports what you do.

For Example…

There is no “right” way to organize a console. But here are some ideas of how to do it. Personally, I like to start with drums (kick, snare, hat, toms, overheads), then bass, guitars, keys, vocals and finally effects. Other channels like speaking mic’s, music playback, video and other utility channels are either to the right or left of effects depending on the console. 

When I was at Coast Hills, I had my current console set up with my VCAs on the right, which put my vocals right in the middle in front of me. My preference is to mix more on channel faders than VCAs, but I know others who prefer the opposite.

I also know guys who put the bass right next to the kick because they like to work those two together. I keep my bass in my guitars VCA; others put in with the drums or dedicate a VCA to just kick and bass. 

Stay Consistent

When I mix on analog consoles, I still follow the same basic layout. The advantage of a consistent layout is that I can mix almost any band on any console and without looking know where the faders are. In contrast, I’ve watched other guys mix and spend half their time searching the board for the guitar fader, only to miss the solo. 

Regardless of how you choose to layout the console, once you come up with a plan, stick with it. Adapt and change as needed, but maintain as much consistency as you can.

Small Digital Consoles are Tricky

The current trend toward smaller mixers (i.e. fewer faders) with higher channel counts makes smart layout absolutely critical. If you only have 16 handles to deal with, you simply must be intentional about what you put where. In that case, I would most likely not use up the first 8 faders on the top layer for the drums. 

In that case, it might be more prudent to put a drums VCA on channel one and treat it as one instrument (which, arguably, you should do anyway). As you fill up your fader bank and channels spill into another layer, it is often a smart idea to duplicate a few channels on every layer. For example, you might want to have the worship leader’s mic on the same fader of every layer so you can get to it quickly regardless of the layer you’re on. 

The fewer faders you have, the more strategic you need to be with grouping channels into VCAs. How  you group the channels will be dependent on your band and your workflow. 

I once mixed a 28-input CD release party on 12 faders. I built multiple layers that were very similar, but expanded various sections. For example, layer one had the drums as a single VCA. But layer two gave me all 8 drum channels. Layer three split out all my effects, which were a single VCA on layer one. Things that didn’t get used often were down on layers four and five, but the lead singer’s vocal and guitar were always in the same place on every layer. 

I spent about 30 minutes initially setting up the board, then tweaked my layout during rehearsal based on how the set unfolded. Of course, this is easier with a digital board than analog, but the principles remain. Think about your layout and adjust it until it makes sense and works for you.

Next week, we’re going to revisit the concept of input sheets. I’ve written about them before, but I think the topic bears repeating. Plus, I have some new stuff to share. Have a great weekend!


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CTA Review: Digital Audio Labs Livemix Pt. 4

This is our final installment of the Livemix system from Digital Audio Labs. We’ve taken an overview look, dug into the system components, looked at some features and today we’ll wrap it up with the remaining unique features and a conclusion. 

On the Beat

The Livemix also includes a built-in metronome. One person can configure it and trigger the start stop while all others have individual volume control. Actually, anyone on the network can run it, but I suggest leaving it in one person’s hands. 

Load and Save

It’s easy to save and later load mix settings. If you have some musicians who rotate in and out, they could save their presets and quickly load them back up. The presets are global, so it doesn’t matter which mixer they get when you set up. You can also load and save presets from Mirror Mix mode, which means if you have a mixer at FOH, you could quickly configure everyone’s mixer during the week without leaving the booth.

 What’s Not to Like?

As I said at the beginning of this, I really like this system. Overall, it’s very solid, and I’m sure I will be recommending them often. There are a few things I’m not crazy about, however. First, like the dreaded Aviom, when the system first boots up, all the channels are at half volume. I understand the reasoning for this, but it is a bad idea. Most people forget the volume knob also goes down, and as they try to build a mix, they will end up with all channels at full, not being able to hear anything.

I would use one of the presets to turn all channels off, except for the talkback. It would be easy enough to use Mirror Mix to turn up each person’s channel(s) before rehearsal starts so they at least hear themselves. But let them start at 0 for everything else. 

Second, while the dual mixer concept is great for many situations (and they’re really not even that expensive at $525 or so…) You’re going to have a lot more “mixers” on stage than needed. At my last church, we could have gotten away with two units for the front line—the worship leader could have shared with a BGV and the other two BGVs could easily share. But while drums and bass were right next to each other, the way the platforms were set it would have been a pain to try to share a mixer. Same with keys and perc/winds. So we would have ended up buying individual mixers for each and not using one side.

I guess the other way to look at that is you end up with more capacity for bigger events. In those cases, people just have to learn how to work together, even if it’s a bit inconvenient. With eight duo’s on stage, having 16 mixes is a nice bonus. Still, I’d love to see a single unit at some point. And while the mixers are not that expensive, the input module is (about $1000) and the Dante card will set you back another $800-900. Still, you only need one, so overall the system price is very competitive. 

The Bottom Line

The system sounds great, has a ton of features and is easy to use. I didn’t even really get into the touch screen functionality or how fast and easy it is to build a mix. If you’re interested, download the manual and read it. It’s actually well written and illustrated and gives you a great way to understand the feature set. With the analog input module, this is a good system. With Dante, it’s really good. I can see using a lot of these.


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CTA Review: Digital Audio Labs Livemix Pt. 3

 So I thought I could do this in one more post. But it turns out there is just so much to say about this cool little system that I had to break it up into two more so they don’t become too long. Today, we’ll consider how it really works. What makes this product different from the rest? Next time, we’ll wrap up with the final set of features and a bottom line. 

Remote Mixing

Select the mixer you want to work on, and you now have full access to the mix on another mixer. 

Select the mixer you want to work on, and you now have full access to the mix on another mixer. 

One of my favorite features of the Roland M-48 system is the ability to put a mixer at FOH then select any mixer on stage and hear that mix. We can even make changes if a musician is struggling with getting set up properly. Livemix takes this concept a step further allowing any mixer to control any other mixer on stage. By selecting Mirror Mix, you can listen to and adjust any mixer in the system. This would be great for a FOH engineer to help out a musician, but there are other advantages. Say you have one musician who is really good at putting together a mix. He or she could be a resource to anyone on stage with a simple button press. Or the worship leader could help a vocalist or player who can’t quite get it dialed in right. This is a cool feature with lots of possibilities. 

Share the Aux

I’m sure this has happened on your stage. The band is trying to figure out a song and they need to hear the recording. Most times, one of our singers will hold a mic to their iPhone and play it back. It’s horrible and I’ve tried to tell them we can play it from FOH, but it’s easier for them to do it this way. With the Livemix, anyone can plug a phone into the Aux In jack, then share it to the network. A separate volume control on each mixer gives the musicians individual control over how loud the aux channel is. This is another cool feature.

Built-In Ambient Mic & Intercom

Most personal mixers these days come with an ambient mic. And while they’re not great, they do give at least some sense of ambience on stage. Personally, I don’t find our folks using them much as we have house mic’s piped back into the system for ambience, and they sound much better. Still, if you don’t have that, a small mic on the mixer is better than nothing. 

Most times, our team would turn the ambience mic up only when others were speaking during rehearsal. This saves them from having to pull their ears out. Livemix obviously understood that and added an intercom function to the system. Press and hold the A or B mix button and it routes the ambient mic to everyone’s intercom channel (with a separate volume control, ‘natch). I tried this out and while not as good as say a handheld mic, it’s certainly very usable. 

More Me

Sometimes when a musician is playing along, they just need to turn themselves up a little bit, and rather quickly. The Me knob makes it easy. You can assign any of the 24 channels to the Me group and the Me knob will act as a master control for those channels. So a worship leader who plays guitar can have both his vocal and guitar in the Me group and quickly get more me. Of course, you could also use this for any other source or groups of sources that would need regular, easy adjustments, the click for example.

Speaking of Groups

You can create up to four additional groups after the Me group. You could use these for simple things like tying together two stereo channels of a keyboard, or grouping all the drums together. When you adjust the level of one member of the group, all are adjusted. You still have individual control of each channel, however, so you’re not stuck with that mix forever.

OK, we’ll call it there for today. Next time around, the rest of the cool features and a wrap up.


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CTA Review: Digital Audio Labs Livemix Pt. 2

Last time around, we took a look at the Digital Audio Labs Livemix system in overview. It’s an easy to use system that offers more than meets the eye. Today, we’ll start digging into some of the features that make it unique.

DSP in the Brain

As always, there are different ways to design a system. Some systems, say the Roland M-48, use a lot of DSP in the mixer itself. This affords great flexibility and they can do a lot of things very well. But that power comes at a price. First, there is the actual price of the unit, which is on the high side. Second, they are complicated to set up to fully utilize all that power. 

The Livemix takes a different approach. Instead of loading up the surfaces with a bunch of DSP, they put most of it in the Central Mixer. This allows them to do some interesting things. For example, each of the inputs has a 3-band EQ, and dynamics control. Unlike the Roland, the channel EQ and dynamic settings are global for every mixer. This sounds like a limitation on paper, but in practice, I found our musicians rarely delved into the channel EQ on the M-48s anyway. Instead, they usually adjusted the main bass and treble controls—something the Livemix also offers. Except here it’s a 3-band EQ and mix dynamics that are local to each mixer. 

The Central mixer also offers an adjustable HPF on each channel. While not fully adjustable, there are enough set points to be useful. When using the Dante input module, you can choose any 24 inputs from the Dante network. Again, this is a global setting; all the mixers get these 24 channels. However, you can assign those channels from any mixer in the system or Dante Controller. 

More Than Meets the Eye

The Central Mixer is a simple-looking affair. It’s 1 RU high and looks like a network switch. The front panel contains eight RJ45 jacks (not EtherCon), a USB port, a power switch and data indicator. If you are using the Dante option, all you have to do is plug the Mix-16 into the Dante network, and patch the channels. It’s pretty simple. If you’re using the analog input module, a shielded Cat5 connects the AD-24 to the Mix-16 (and then it takes up 2 RU). The USB port allows you to route a 2-track mix of any of the mixers on the network to that port for recording. Plug in up to eight CS-Duos and you have 16 mixes at your fingertips. 

The Mix-16 supplies not only audio data but also power to each CS-Duo, which keeps the cable clutter to a minimum. There are also two more RJ45s on the back of the Mix-16 labeled Livemix Data Out 1-16 and 17-32. The manual states those are for future use. At InfoComm a while back, they were suggesting those could be used for sending the 2-channel mix from each mixer back to a D/A box for use with wireless IEMs. Guess we’ll have to keep our eyes open for that one. 

On the Surface…

The CS-Duo itself contains the aforementioned controls as well as a few inputs and outputs. Of course, we have two 3.5mm headphone jacks in the front, one for each side of the mixer. There is also a 3.5mm Aux In jack that can be very clever (more later). On the back, we have a pair of 1/4” TRS jacks that can be configured either as stereo headphone outs or balanced line outs (one for the A and B side). A TRS foot switch jack also hangs out back there. It’s a multi-function foot switch available from DAL that does all kinds of cool things. Finally there is the RJ-45 (non-EtherCon) for data and a USB port for loading and saving settings. 

By now, you would be forgiven for thinking this is really similar to other products on the market. The ability to mix 24 channels is a nice upgrade from other 16 channel systems, but other than the dual mixers, what’s really unique? Stay tuned!


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