The Digital Matrix

Picking up where we left off, today we'll talk a little bit about how digital consoles are changing the way we think about a matrix mix. Perviously, we discussed what a matrix is, and how to use it. Rather than try to give a completely illustrated guide to every digital console and how it works (which I can't because I've not used them all), I'm going to pick out a few desks that represent, at least in broad strokes, how a matrix functions in the digital realm. 

Yamaha PM5D

While the PM5D is a digital desk, it handles the matrix pretty much the same way an analog desk does. The PM5D has 24 mix busses, plus LCR. It really doesn't do groups, you simply assign your channels to the mix busses. Any of the mix busses can feed into a matrix mix, as can the LCR mixes. Once you're at this level of a board, the set up gets complicated fairly quickly. As I've not spent much time at all behind a 5D, I won't attempt to suggest a variety of options. Suffice it to say if you have a 5D at your church, you should have someone on staff who knows how to use it.

Yamaha LS9

This board is becoming increasingly popular in the church arena. It's small, has a high feature set and is very affordable. The LS9 has 16 mix busses (plus L, R & Mono and Monitor L,C & R), and 8 matrix mixes. Like the 5D, the matrix is fed from the other mix busses. In a church setting, the matrix mixes are going to be primarily used for recording sends, cry rooms & lobby feeds and things like that. With only 16 mix busses at your disposal, you will probably be feeding the main mix into your matrix most of the time. The matrix mixes then become a level control for your various outputs. 

If you are not running stereo IEMs (which consume mix busses pretty quickly), you might be able to do some quasi grouping with a few leftover mix busses and use them to feed into a matrix for various mixes as we discussed on Tuesday. If you even separated the band into 2 mix busses, and used a third for vocals, you could come up with a combination of "external" feeds for recording, cry rooms, etc. using those mix busses and matrix mixes. Though the LS9 only has 16 Omni outs, you can add additional outputs using the MY-Card slots. Those outputs can be fed from the matrix to give you some more output capability.

RSS M-400V Mixer

Roland's entry into the digital mixer game is an interesting one. While I've not mixed on it yet, I've played around with the software, and I'm impressed. The M-400 is very well integrated with the REAC digital snake, which provides plenty of configuration and I/O options. I'm not entirely sure I have a full grasp on what it can do, but it seems quite powerful. Like the LS9, the M-400 has 16 mix busses, L, R & Mono. It also has 8 matrix mixes. And while the matrix mixes are fed primarily by the mix busses and L&R, you can also pick any two other input channels and put them into any of the matrix mixes.

This starts to get really interesting. For example, for a recording feed, to make up for the fact that the music is always going to be a lot louder than the pastor speaking, you could send L&R to a matrix, then also add in the pastor's channel. That would bring the level up to a more comparable level with the music.

How useful this is depends a lot on how you set up your mix busses. But certainly, the ability to directly add a channel (or two) into a matrix mix could come in handy. This is a board I want to spend some more time with at WFX in November. It has some great functionality that and a price point that would work well for many churches under 1000.

In some ways, using a matrix mix on a digital board is a little less useful than an analog board because you don't really have groups to derive your matrix mixes from. Because every digital board I can think of uses DCAs (a topic for another post), you don't need to group say, the drums, the keys, the guitars, etc.. You can do it all with DCAs and with better sonic purity. The cost is that the matrix becomes less useful. That is, unless you're driving an M7...

Yamaha M7CL

In many ways, I saved the best for last. I've said before that I believe the M7 is just about the ideal all-around console for churches between "large enough to need digital" and several thousand. And once you cross that 3000-4000 attender threshold, you probably have someone on staff who can efficiently drive a Venue or a 5D--that is, if you really the need additional capabilities of those boards.

The M7 breaks new ground with it's approach to the matrix. At first glance, it appears to be set up just like the LS9--16 mix busses plus L, R & Mono. It also has 8 matrix mixes. What makes the M7 unique (for just about every digital desk I could find) is that you can assign anything to the matrix mix, right down to the channel level. This effectively makes the M7 a 24 mix bus board, only better. It's better because you can assign mix busses to the matrix; L, R & Mono to the matrix and individual channels to the matrix. 

Because you can stereo link matrix mix pairs, you could create an additional 4 stereo monitor mixes. Or stereo record mixes. You can use it to break out record sends to different places if you want. At Upper Room, I use Matrix 1 as my video record send, and use Studio Manager to mix it on the fly without affecting the FOH engineer. You can read more about that here. We also have another record send that goes to the cassette recorder & HD24 fed by Matrix 2. Because we don't have the time to deal with that mix much, it's fed mostly by the mono mix, with a little extra pastors mic for good measure. 

In a sense, the matrix becomes another "layer" of mix busses on the desk. For mixing the CPC contemporary service, we use a matrix to feed the ButtKicker for the bass player. We have matrix mixes set up for wedges when we need them. When thinking about how to use a matrix mix on the M7, just think, "What would I use a mix bus for," and you can use a matrix for it as well. 

I originally thought the LS9 had this functionality, but it doesn't. So far, it's unique to the M7. I don't know if it would be a simple software update to enable this on an LS9, or if it's a matter of processing power. Either way, until the LS9 can do this, the M7 remains my favorite all-around church board.

Hopefully, these three posts give you a little more insight into the strange and wonderful world of the matrix. While not exhaustive, I tried to give an overview of what you can do with these useful tools we have at our disposal. Happy mixing. Next up, VCAs and DCAs...