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!

“Gear

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What's the Difference: LCD vs. DLP Pt. 3

Image courtesy of Christie Digital

Image courtesy of Christie Digital

Today we’ll get to our final installment of LCD vs. DLP. We’ve covered some basic design differences, discussed the pros and cons of LCD, so today we’ll tackle the pros and cons of DLP. And I’ll tell you which one you should buy (spoiler alert, I’m not really going to do that; it’s not nearly that clear cut). But first, DLP; what’s good, and what’s not.

DLP Pros

  • High reliability. Because of their sealed optic engine and lack of organic or inorganic panels, they tend to last for a long time and look the same throughout the life span. 
  • No convergence issues. It’s a single chip, so you don’t have to worry about images not lining up. Of course, when you start looking at 3 DLP projectors, convergence becomes a factor again. 
  • No real screen door effect. At a given resolution, the pixel pitch tends to be tighter on a DLP than LCD. Thus, you are less likely to see the pixels. The image tends to look more homogenous. Again, at 1920x1080, these differences are shrinking a lot.
  • Higher apparent output. DLPs have a while slot on the color wheel to boost brightness. Thus, the image may look brighter than an LCD. This is deceptive, however. I’ve seen shootouts of projectors where a 5000 lumen LCD is clearly brighter than a 7000 lumen DLP. I suspect this has more to do with how “lumens” are calculated, however. 

DLP Cons

  • The rainbow effect. I mentioned this last time. Because of the color cycling that happens when the image is produced, some people can see a rainbow of color on the screen. 
  • Color saturation might not be as good as LCD. Again, this has to do with the way the colors are reproduced. There are some DLPs with exceptional color saturation, but they tend to be expensive. Lower cost units are often a little washed out. 
  • No grey. A DLP micro-mirror is either on or off, black or white. There is no grey. To produce a grey, the pixel as to be flashed on and off between black and white many times per second, and this can produce some artifacts. Whether this is a problem or not will depend on your content. 

Does It Matter?

Maybe, maybe not. Again, for many applications, either a DLP or LCD projector could be perfectly acceptable. As I said, I’ve seen some LCD models that look so much better than DLPs it’s not funny. At the same time, I’ve seen some DLPs that are gorgeous. Like many things, it’s more about the price point than the technology. Once you start comparing projectors of comparable (and sufficient) price, the differences become more subtle. 

That’s not to say there aren’t choices to be made. It all depends on the application. For something like environmental projection, you can easily get away with an inexpensive LCD projector. When you start talking about IMAG in a large room, you have to start choosing more carefully. I’m not convinced it’s the underlying technology that has to be the key factor, though. I’ve been to enough NAB’s and InfoComm’s and seen enough LCD and DLP projectors to know either can look great. Often, it comes down to availability, price, suitability, lenses, service and what your dealer carries. The good news is, either technology can be more than good enough. And they keep getting better

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What's the Difference: LCD vs. DLP Pt. 2

Image courtesy of Christie Digital

Image courtesy of Christie Digital

Last time, we touched on the basic, underlying technology of LCD and DLP imaging systems. Today, we’ll look at some of the pros and cons. As I said last time, much has been written on this subject and I’m not going to exhaustive here. If you want a very thorough look at this, albeit from a home theater projector perspective, check out this article at Projector Central

LCD Pros

  • LCD projectors are generally less expensive than 1-DLP units at a given brightness. This is a general rule, and there are plenty of exceptions. But if budget is a big concern, look to LCD.
  • LCD generally has better contrast. This is relative, however. Keep in mind, you’re shooting the image onto a white screen. So the blackest the image will ever get is as black as the white screen ever gets. 
  • No rainbow effect. I sometimes notice a slight jitter in DLP images. It’s not always readily apparent, and I’m a trained observer. But LCD images tend to be pretty rock-solid. 
  • Better apparent resolution. Because the pixels are very clearly defined, graphics tend to look sharper on LCD projectors. To some extent, this is academic now that we’re getting up to 1920x1080 chipsets in both technologies, and given the average viewing distances. But there is a difference. 
  • Better color saturation. Because a DLP color wheel typically has a white slot in it to boost brightness, the color saturation can be lower. LCDs behave more like LED lights; the brighter they are the more saturated they get. 

LCD Cons

  • Lifespan of panels. We don’t really know how long the LCD panels will last before they start breaking down. We do know they break down and the colors start to shift. Newer inorganic panels seem to hold up better than older organic designs, but some are projecting the life of an LCD panel to be between 4,000-10,000 hours. That could be 1-3 bulb changes. Of course, a lot of those tests are being done by DLP makers, so… If you are using your projector for a few hours on the weekend, and occasionally during the week, this is probably not an issue. In a big command center where projectors are on 24/7 for years, this is a problem.
  • Dust. The LCD engine is not sealed, so it’s possible dust can get in there. This is less of a problem with pro-grade projectors that have good filtration systems. Still, if you have a dusty environment, be aware of this. 
  • Screen door effect. Because the edges of the pixels are so well defined, you can sometimes see the spaces between them. It looks a bit like viewing the image through a screen door. Again, with higher resolution and tighter pixel pitch, this is less of a problem than it used to be. 
  • Mis-convergence. Because an LCD image is made up of three images of different colors, they have to be lined up perfectly. If they are not, you’ll see fringing of color on vertical or horizontal lines. Again, with newer, pro-level projectors this is less of a problem. But it does show up on budget models.

There’s a look at the LCD. On Friday, we’ll wrap this up with a look at DLP pros and cons, and some concluding thoughts on which one is better.

“Gear

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