Mixer Retrospective

As I once again find myself roped into mixing students this weekend (on a Yamaha MG32-14FX), I started thinking about how much I like mixing on the SD8. Then I started realizing how spoiled I am. Which led me to think about all the desks I’ve mixed on. And the more I thought about that, the more I realized how much I enjoy mixing, regardless of what I’m mixing on. So with that, I’m going back in time to recount the desks I’ve been able to mix on during my 20+ year career; starting with...

The First One

When I started mixing, I was a part of a small church plant. We had no money and no band to speak of. Somehow we raised enough money to buy a small 8-channel Crate powered mixer. It had all of 2 aux sends and no faders. “Mixing” was basically managing the levels between the guitar, piano and 2 vocals. It was all we had, and I learned the importance of multi-tasking to turn the band down while turning the pastor up. It was a simpler time, but I was already looking forward to my first “real” desk.

Adding Faders

My first “real” desk (ie. it had faders instead of knobs) was a Tascam, and it was long enough ago that I don’t even remember the model number. It was a 16 input mixer that was really a recording board. I bought it because we were moving into our first building, still had no budget and I got a great deal on it. It was fun to mix on, as by then our band had grown and I was learning the basics of routing audio to multiple monitor mixes and even recording. For what it was, it was a great mixer. After a few years, we outgrew it, however, and it was time for a bigger one.

Mackie SR-24

This is the one a lot of people start on. I actually still see quite a few of them in service today, which is a testament to the fact that they are tough to kill. We upgrade to the Mackie from the Tascam when a member of our church offered to donate some money to upgrade our sound system right around the time a local music store was going out of business. Again, we got a killer deal and it was again fun to graduate to more inputs, more auxes and for the first time, groups! It was about this time that I started training people to mix; by now I was fully addicted to the mixing bug. This upgrade also brought with it a patch bay (which I soldered by myself) and new speakers. By this time, mixing was a lot of fun.

Mackie SR-32

My next board was the same as the last, only with more inputs. We ran 20-24 inputs a week with a pretty solid band. We had 4 monitor mixes and 2 effects. With this system, I started to discover the major limitations of this desk’s design; lack of headroom. If you’re mixing on an SR-24 or -32, you have to do a really good job managing gain. The mix busses run out of headroom quickly and when you overload them, they just sound bad.

Yamaha PM3500

After a few years of mixing on the SR-32, we moved on to another church (though not because of the board...just to clarify). Our next church was significantly bigger and was outfitted with a PM3500 (and a DM2000 at broadcast). Moving from the SR-32 to the 3500 was pretty great. The 3500 of course has fully sweepable EQs, VCAs, 8 Groups, a Matrix and a ton of Auxes. We also had an impressive array of outboard gear. It was here that I started working with professional musicians and really started honing my mixing chops. The input counts were much higher, we mixed 6-8 monitors from FOH every week and there was a lot to manage. But boy was it fun!

Soundcraft Series Two

When we moved back to my home town, we started attending a church that had a Series Two at FOH. It was my first exposure to a British board, and I really liked it. Except for the power supply, it was a great desk. We routinely filled every input each week, and had multiple bands with wildly different configurations, but it sounded great and was a blast to mix on. The EQs are very responsive and I love the pre’s.

Yamaha M7-CL 48

A few years later we moved to Minneapolis to TD a church there. They had recently installed an M7, though sadly, they basically pulled the previous Mackie 8 Bus and plugged the M7 in it’s place, so they weren’t taking full advantage of the desk. After a few months, we fixed that. The M7 is a nice desk to mix on, and I quickly became addicted to dynamics and fully parametric EQ on each channel. We started getting more creative with the remote mixing capabilities of the desk. The musicians I got to work with kept getting better and even though the room and PA was very tough, it was a lot of fun when it was sounding good.

Yamaha 01V

Once our church was planted, we moved to new diggs. I really wanted a RSS M-400, but the budget and install company dictated an 01V. Honestly, I have a love-hate relationship with the 01V. Yamaha packed a lot of power into a small footprint, but that small footprint means a lot of multi-function controls. There is a lot of layer swapping on an 01V, but it worked well enough. Our bands were great, but small so it was manageable. Still, I wasn’t that sad to leave it behind in cold Minneapolis when I moved out here to sunny SoCal.

Yamaha PM-5D EX

When I arrived in SoCal, this is what we had (along with an M7 at monitors). Before I started mixing on it, I thought it was the bomb-diggity. However after a few weeks, I started liking it less. Though there is a ton of power in the desk, I found the UI less than ideal. It seemed to take a whole lot of button presses to get anything done, and even with the assignable 8 faders in the center, it always seemed I was swapping layers. And then there’s the nearly unmanageable scene system. It was a solid desk, but I wasn’t that sad when we loaded it on a truck and sent it away (oddly, back to Minneapolis!).

DIGICO SD8

Now I feel like I’ve arrived. The SD8 is by far my favorite board. If I took the best features of all the previous 9 desks plus a whole bunch of new ones it would be the SD8. It’s by far the fastest surface I’ve ever navigated, the snapshot system is impeccable, and the sound is amazing. For me, this is the standard by which all future desks will be judged.

So that’s my list. What have you mixed on, and what is your favorite?