USING PERSONAL MIXERS- THE BASICS

IMAGE FROM ALLEN AND HEATH

 

What is a personal mixer?

 Personal mixers give each musician or performer the ability to have an individual monitor mix on stage that they are able to control.

 If you are still wrestling with whether or not to use In Ear Monitors, Ultimate Ears has a great set of posts about making that move. You can read them here.

Ten years ago, the Personal Mixer landscape was very different. There were only a handful of manufactures led by Aviom. The user landscape was also more limited with mostly mid to large size churches using them on par.

Fast forward to 2016 and both have changed. Multiple manufactures like Digital Audio Labs, Allen & Heath, Roland, Elite Core, DBX, Behringer, MyMix, and others have joined Aviom in the market.  The user base has also grown as prices and ease of use has narrowed the gap.

While there is much conjecture on which one to purchase, I have some tips on using them that may help once you have them. 

So how do most person mixing systems work?

Most (not all) systems are set up in THREE ways:

Analog setup

Image from Aviom.com

For an analog sound console the system has an interface box with a ¼” send and return for each of 16 channels. These send and return to the inserts on whatever channel/ group on the console that you would like to use on that channel of the personal mixer. It is important to remember that this is interrupting the signal path of that channel and is therefore affected by every device in front of the insert point (gain, phase, etc.). Checking the owner’s manual should let you know where in the signal path the insert point is located. The interface box converts the 16 channels into a “digital” signal and sends a copy of said signal down 8 to 10 network cables to each of the personal mixers.

Digital setup

image from aviom.com

 Dante setup

image from aviom.com

Digital mixers that do not have remote digital snakes, meaning they have analog inputs right on the back of the console, usually have some kind of digital card slot for A-net digital network from Aviom. Both Aviom and Allen-Heath will work with A-net along with Pivitec, although the later is not officially sanctioned.

If the digital console runs on a digital network most have the ability to work on Dante or MADI. Each manufacturer will have their own proprietary network protocol and are usually brand specific;

Roland- REAC

DBX- Blu

Behringer- AES50 (Not exclusive to Behringer)

Aviom- Anet (Although others, as I said will also use this protocol)

Elite Core- Proprietary protocol

MyMix- MyMix protocol (analog/ ADAT)

Allen-Heath- ACE/ dSnake

Digital Audio Labs- Proprietary protocol

Many of the units will also interface with industry standard protocols;

            Behringer- Dante (through the X32 or M32 console only)

Aviom- Dante (with a Dante interface unit)

MyMix- Dante (Focusrite Rednet3) MADI (RME ADI-648)

Allen-Heath- Dante, MADI, SoundGrid, EtherSound (with appropriate card for the ME-U)

Digital Audio Labs- Dante (with a Dante card for the MIX-16)

Best Practices

 So now that you have your system, what are some things you can do to make each mix as good and helpful as possible? Here are some thing to think about when training users;

             -Make sure the master volume is at unity or “0”

If you crank the individual instruments but have the master volume down, you will cause distortion and discomfort.

-Try and keep the main EQ as flat as possible

            Like mixing for the PA, EQ should be in small doses.

-Pan instruments and vocals to create space

While in a large venue mono may be desirable to make sure everyone hears the same mix, it tends to clutter up an in-ear mix. Use panning to keep things in special perspective.

-Add what you NEED not what you WANT

This isn’t the main PA, if you have everything in the mix it gets pretty cluttered. This can muddy up the mix and keep the listener from hearing what they NEED to be able to play and sing with the rest of the group.

-Use the ambient mic sparingly

Many of the mixers have an onboard ambient mic. This can add great space to the mix, but it can also cause chaos.

-Make the over all level as loud as you need, not just LOUD

Remember that the ear-buds are only inches from the eardrum and this can cause hearing damage very fast.

I love what my friend Randy (a world class monitor mixer) says about mixing for musicians and singers. He uses the S. T. P. treatment.

-Self           

They need to hear their own voice/ instrument.

-Time             

They need to stay in time so they need to hear the snare/ hi-hat/ whatever     is keeping time.

-Pitch

They need to stay on pitch so they will need the melody.

            Everything else is just ear candy.

Earphone Considerations

You can have the best mixer and a well crafted mix but if you don’t have good monitors, it will all be for not. So lets talk earphones. I am going to split this up into three sections, and give you the pros and cons of each;

Generic headphones (e.g. Shure SE 215, Westone UM 10, UE 900S)

If you are on stage once a month, or on a tight budget, these are for you. Entry level pricing is around $100 per set and you can replace the earpiece with cleaning for multiple users. Although the more expensive generics may have duel or even triple drivers, the affordable ones are usually single driver units. They are usually a bit more fragile, but the lower cost make replacing them less painful. And they sound much better than iPod earphones or the drugstore brand that makes you look like a pirate.

Custom molded earphones (e.g. Ultimate Ears, 1964, etc.)

If you use earphones every week or more, you really need to invest in custom molded earphones. While it is a larger investment, the benefits far out way the sacrifice. They are also better for your hearing and your physical ears. There is no generic that can beat the sound of a good quality set of custom molded IEMs. Prices range from $400 to $1800 plus getting your ears molded at an Audiologist. You can save that money with Ultimate Ears as they have patented a digital ear scanner. You can find more info on this here.

Cheap headphones

                        DON’T USE THEM for this kind of monitoring. Just Say NO!

Final thoughts

-Not everyone should have a Personal Mixer
        You may want to think about mixing the BGV's from the sound console. 

-Training, Training, Training
        You will have to train and train often. Have a quarterly training. 

-Patience is key
        No matter how much you train, users will not remember everything. Be patient and know               that is the norm from now on.

-Know the mixer better than them
        You are and forever will be the expert. Live it, learn it, love it.

More information online:

Personal Mixer Buyers Guide

Personal Mixer Spotlight