Mixing Desks – Analog Vs Digital

In this blog post we will be looking at the differences between analog and digital mixers – they both have their pros and cons, so it’s important that you know what your requirements are before you buy one! We will be going over some key differences which should clear the fog of confusion that can surround mixing desks.

 

Ease of Use

Analog is generally what most people think of when they think mixing desk. They generally have a standard appearance, and have a fairly unified layout so that anyone with any knowledge of using a desk will be able to pick one up and get going straight away. Digital mixing desks on the other hand can look very different from each other, each with their own unique set of functions for the user’s benefit.

Analog will almost always be the easier to use for a novice, and for technicians that might have to work with lots of different desks. Signal processing is easy because each input relates directly to the channel it’s in line with, this basically means that if you plugged a microphone into input ‘1’, then the whole first channel on the desk will affect that microphone and only that microphone. See the picture below for clarification:

Analog Mixer ChannelAnalog Mixing Desk – Each channel is linear, as is the workflow on it. Plug your source into the top, adjust your gain underneath, then finally fine tune the volume at the bottom.

Digital can be daunting to anyone, even a veteran technician can be thrown off with the amount of customisation they have; you can generally assign any input to any channel. To compare this to the analog example, if you plugged a microphone into input ‘1’ it doesn’t necessarily have to be routed to the first channel, it could be channel 4, if that’s easier for you. This means that someone versed with their digital desk can plug audio sources into any input and map it all to whatever they choose, it might sound trivial but it has the potential to save a lot of time setting up in those situations where timing is key.

digital-mixer-signal-flow

Digital Mixing Desk – As you can see, a digital desk isn’t quite as clear at a first glance, but the customization options make it all worthwhile. So for example – if you plugged in an audio source to channel 1’s input (as shown) you can map it to any of the faders at the bottom by using the touchscreen display – highlighted in green; the signal can also be sent to different banks too (which can be changed by the buttons highlighted in red)

A lot of digital mixing desks have a feature called ‘scene recall’ which means you can save every setting on the desk for future use, this is possibly the most useful feature available as it can save a lot of time in most situations. Bands that use the same configuration for most gigs will be able to set up, plug everything in, then recall all of their settings in an instant; including any EQ, DFX (digital effects), even the levels will be balanced (not to mention that most digital desks have motorised faders that will move every fader to where it has been saved. It looks very cool!).

Gigs that have more than one band playing can also benefit from this feature as you can soundcheck the bands, save the scenes, and be able to recall it the second they get on stage. The last, and possibly most useful part is that these scene recalls can be saved to memory sticks, just another step to ensure that the show will go on no matter what.

 

Cost

This will be the deciding factor for a lot of people, but until you really understand the difference between analog and digital it won’t really make a lot of sense. Analog mixers (depending on how many inputs) can vary anywhere between £100 to several thousand pounds, whereas digital mixers will generally be at least £500+ (and usually have at least 12 inputs).

The pricing difference does make more sense when you factor in the amount of extra features the digital mixers come with, they will include lots of DFX which includes reverb, compression, digital EQ, gates, and more. You can get some of these features on analog desks, generally considered ‘Hybrids’ (a mix of analog and digital in one) but usually if you wanted a specific effect you would end up buying more hardware to do the job – like outboard compressors, graphic EQ strips etc. There are analog desks with digital effects, and they work fine, but they are usually ‘blanket’ effects where you set the effect and just dial in how much each channel can use; compared to the digital desks that will have all of these DFX available for every channel to have its own effect, completely separate to other channels.

 

Live Vs Studio

So far we’ve only really talked about mixing desks for use in a live situation, with home studios becoming increasingly popular it’s definitely worth mentioning. It really depends on what kind of studio you have/want as to what is better for you.

The most popular home studio is generally all digital based, where the music is recorded into the computer and edited completely digitally. In this scenario analog desks will need some form of interface to act as a converter from analog to digital since you can’t plug XLR leads into a computer.

Most digital mixers have a USB port that can be plugged into a computer and forgo the need for any extra hardware (once again) – One thing to note is the number of outputs that the USB has on these mixer/audio interfaces, as many smiply offer a stereo channel output (as in, what would go to speakers as a mix down) rather than sending the inputs to separate solo channels. Which is fine if you’re more likely to record a live band, and keep that live energy. Realistically though there’s not too much difference in a digital studio setting between the two since there are so many effects processors available as software. So unless you already have the gear or really want that analog sound (which a lot of people do prefer!) then both analog and digital desks are just acting as a way to get sound into your computer. Usually the digital mixing desk’s motorised faders will be mapped to the faders in the software available, which doesn’t seem like much, but it really can make a difference in a recording session since it’s all linked together – especially considering moving a fader at a glance will take far less time than adjusting it in software.

In an analog studio it’s a little bit more subjective – just like using the mixing desks live you’ll need to decide if you want your processing to be done within the one mixing desk, or if you want lots of hardware to do each specific job. There are things like mastering units which are pretty invaluable, since you can’t really get that limiter capacity built in.

 

Recommended Products

Here are a few of our top picks from our range of mixing desks!

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Digital Desk – Studiomaster Digilive16 – £679

Studiomaster Digilive

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Hybrid Desk – Yamaha MG16XU – £419

Yamaha MG16XU 16 Channel USB Mixing Desk With Effects

 

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Analog Desk – Allen & Heath Zed-12FX – £409

Allen & Heath ZED-12FX 12 Channel Mixing Desk with Effects

 

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Conclusion

It really depends on what you intend to use the mixing desk for, hopefully this blog post will help weigh the pros and cons of both analog and digital mixing desks to make it an easier choice. They both have their merits, and their downfalls, for more information please feel free to contact us on 01524 845310, or Ask the Wizard  and one of our dedicated members of staff will help you further.

Posted on Thursday, January 12th, 2017 in Blog