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Mixer for a (really) small church
I currently attend a new church of about 40 people, and have been tasked with shopping for a new mixer. The church is very musically gifted, and I'd like get good gear that's going to last us a while and allow for growth. At the same time, I don't want to go overboard, since we are still rather small. Coming from a big church, I can see what's useful in the long run, but I feel uncomfortable suggesting expensive gear for a church our size.
Right now, we're using an 8-ch Bardl P120U mixer, but have a lot more potential inputs: 5 vocal mics (usually only 3-4 in use at a time), 1 wireless mic, 2 keyboards, bass, 1 guitar, and drums. I'd also like 2-3 more channels for computer and MP3 player (one on stage and one in the booth). If I count those all up, with 3 mics for drums, we'd max out at 16 inputs.
I have 3 monitors on stage now...that would go to 4 if the drums go in a cage. Mains are mono. I'd like another stereo out for recording messages, plus another output for the nursery, eventually. The pastor would like video recording eventually, but I can probably split that from the recording output.
Features I'd like: Groups and a good EQ. If I can get 2 sweepable mids, that's awesome. If not, I'll survive (I'm spoiled).
Big plans. Small (tiny) budget: $2000. Since we don't have anything but a mixer, amps and speakers, it'd be nice to get some DI boxes, more cable and (pipe dream) a system EQ.
The way I see it, I've got a few options:
1) A 24-channel, low-cost board.
If it were me I would avoid the Carvin mixers. I think the bass amps are fine, but I wouldn't purchase items outside of their bass and guitar products.
With a budget of $2000 I would get a Presonus 16.4.2. Like you know already it has all of the built in processing you would need, 4 band parametric EQ's, and 6 auxes.
It is expandable by adding another 16.4.2 to get you 32 channels (but it has some limitations such as subgroups can't go between 2 consoles).
Also, don't forget you have the Aux A and B inputs as well so you really have 18 inputs (although only 16 with mic pres). The Aux A and B have full Fat Channel control and are routable to the Auxes as well. You can also route them to the Subgroups and utilize the faders if you prefer.
Call around to some authorized dealers and typically pricing is in the $1800 range.
It all depends on what the expected timeframe is, where it's important to have room to grow, and how much money needs to be spent on other things first.
Of course the two places to really spend your money are microphones and loudspeakers, the transducers. If it's no good coming in from the mic or no good once it comes out the speakers, throwing electronics at it is a losing battle. I imagine your mics and speakers are "good enough", at least for now. That would leave you some money left over to make improvements elsewhere -- mics, DIs, system processing, etc.
If it were me in your shoes, the first thing I'd look at is a used O1V or a used O3D with some extra outboard mic pres. They're cheap enough, fit your channel count, have a little bit of maybe breathing room (expansion card for the second layer of at least O3D), and have the bulk of the outboard you'd want. They should go for about the $1K or less mark, and they've been out long enough that I wouldn't expect them to dramatically depreciate in a couple of years.
Analog can be inexpensive enough to start in, but by the time you've added outboard over time, you've spent more on outboard than you would on something like a Studiolive. At this point analog is depreciating rapidly as a great number of venues, soundcos, etc. have replaced their analog boards with digital and are motivated to lose the dead weight of their older analog gear.
Probably four years ago now, I was ready for my church to upgrade mixers from the B-stock GL2200/432 we got at a good price from the local music store a couple of years before. A friend of mine in Austin had two analog mixers about to come out of his church after their digital upgrade. Even then there wasn't a market for used large-format analog, and the floor space the old ones were taking up was worth more to them than the boards. We picked up their GL3300/840 for just about a song, and it's served us well. (On a side note, we also could have gotten their 56-frame Series 5 for just about the same song, but it was just too big.)
I'm about to upgrade us from the 40-frame GL3300 to a 32-frame GL4 I have in storage. I bought that four or five years ago, and it's been on all of one gig. The better EQ section and extra auxes are worth the drop in channel count, so it makes sense.
When I started at my current church in 2005, we had a 1604-VLZ and some EV Eliminators on sticks. It's been a story of incremental improvements the whole time. The important thing is to have a general master plan that you can make incremental improvements towards.
BTW -- my favorite budget system processor is the BSS PS8810 (also same as Crown USM810). They go for pretty cheap on the used market these days. I've got one at my church as system processor, and another as the lecture-system automixer. They're an 8x10 matrix processor, fixed architecture, but reasonably flexible. If you have a few hundred left over, you might try to grab one or something like it.
BTW: The learning curve on the Presonus is very easy in my opinion. It's very analog feeling.
We have the 24ch version at my church and I know have 4 people trained up on it, 2 of them had never touched any digital board before and they were able to pick it up quickly. After a couple of rehearsals with me guiding them they were able to run on their own.
So, don't let that be a factor.
For what it's worth, Behringer has really upped their quality, and everything comes with a 3 year warranty now.
I have their XL1600 and believe it to be comparable sonically to the Allen & Heath GL2 it substitutes for.
Here's what I think you're looking for in a board:
20+ mic/line mono inputs
2-4 mic/line stereo inputs
6 aux sends (8 if no matrix)
Matrix (recording and nursary feed)
With that, here's a list that meet most if not all of the above
Allen & Heath GL2400
Mackie DL1608 - two can be linked together
Allen & heath GLD
you could also look into a SAC - software audio console - which would be even more flexible and able to grow as you grow.
Cory Champion - Fortress Productions
Technical Director - Cambria Baptist Church
A used mixer in very good to excellent condition, you may be able to get higher quality with better control options and more channels for the same money. These days the used market is clogged with very good to excellent condition equipment where the only thing wrong with it, is that it's analog. Since your effectively analog now that shouldn't be an issue. Some DSP's will accept analog input and output, so you can always add such a unit later on.
Thanks for the replies, everybody...and sorry for getting back to the conversation so late.
Wayne....you bring up an interesting point. I was just struggling with the decision of whether to replace the speakers or mixer this time around, and came to the decision that I should tackle the mixer first, since our current one is dying a slow death. No doubt speakers would offer a huge improvement as well...we're currently on a pair of Superlux SN112s, which definitely could also use replacement. But they're the least "broke" for now. Maybe next year.
chchamp - your list is pretty much exactly the same as what I was looking at, minus the digital list, since most of those are over the price limit. I'll take a closer look at the Behringer, and it seems like the Mackie Onyx doesn't have as bad a reputation as some of their other boards. Might be a good compromise.
It looks like if I go digital, I'm going either used or with the PreSonus. Everything else is over budget. Plus, although I think a basic digital console wouldn't be too hard to teach someone who is interested in helping, the people who would be filling in could honestly care less about what everything does. That makes me think that analog may be better, since I can label everything.
On a side note, I was able to try out the PreSonus and Behringer boards yesterday. I was really surprised how cheap the PreSonus felt - the faders felt like they'd break off in my hand. I did like all the features and how intuitive it was, though. The Behringer felt pretty good all around, which surprised me as well. Amazing what you can learn by trying something out first.
Honestly, in your budget for a church your size I'd stay analog. Digital can do some great things on the day, but fully leveraging a digital console like that requires some up-front work to create the scenes for each part of service.
Here's what I hear you need:
* At least 16 channels, preferably with room to grow.
* 4 Aux feeds with room to grow.
* Mono and stereo mains.
* Matrix output or more aux feeds, for additional outputs later on.
* Solid EQ section (semi-parametric mids with treble/bass shelving, HPF).
* Less than $2000, preferably less than $1500 for some extra equipment.
In the grand scheme of things you really don't want that much. All these things are definitely possible, but you might consider used/refurbished equipment if you feel you'll need a 32-channel frame.
Mixers I recommend:
Allen & Heath ZED-series (ZED-420, -428 or -436). I bought the 420 for my last church's praise ban8d. The 20 has 16 mic pres, the 28 24 and the 36 32; the extra 4 channels on the board are in two stereo strips without mic pres, good for a CD player, effects returns, etc. The 420 and 428 are both easily within your price range with a few hundred to spare; the 436 depends on where you look (GC sells em for $2100 but a few online vendors have them advertised for $1900-ish, still new). The ZED-R16 is an excellent mixer for recording, but is beyond your means at about $2500, and its built-in FireWire connectivity (which is great for feeding a multitrack) isn't as useful in a day-to-day live situation.
+ USB I/O, for hooking up a laptop for playback (routable to ST3) OR recording (fed from L/R or matrix). This is the only analog board I know of to have this after you get beyond the cheapie "home studio" 4-12-channel variety.
+ 6 auxes, two of them fixed pre-fader, two fixed post-fader, and two that are switchable pre-post per channel.
+ 4 subgroups, independently routable to L/R or Mono, or you can just use them in the matrix feed.
+ Per-channel phantom power selection, allows you to give phantom to the condenser on one channel without frying the ribbon mic on the next channel.
+ Independent left/right/mono faders allow you, with some tweaking, to have three completely different main outputs.
+ An independently-routable mono feed allows for mono subs (or more likely, using mono for the house mix while routing sources that don't need reinforcement to L/R for recording or out-of-house zones).
+ 2-channel matrix allowing you to mix the groups and L/R/M mains into a unique stereo mix; again perfect for recording feeds or for sending a different mix out to other areas of the church.
+ 4-band defeatable semi-parametric EQ (parametric mids, high-low shelving) with high-pass filter at 100Hz to reduce popped consonants.
* Top-loading (mic pres and send/returns are on the top surface of the mixer). This is generally personal preference; a lot of sound guys like the ability to mess with connections without going around behind the board, while others like a cleaner look.
* Near-weightless faders. Very little resistance to movement makes it easy to work with several faders at once even with "weaker" fingers, but can make the board more susceptible to bumps or accidental changes.
* Per-channel level monitoring allows you to "zero" the inputs without ever hitting a PFL switch. But, the individual channels only get 0 and Clip lights, while other mixers have four-light setups on each channel (Signal, 0, +6 and Clip). The groups and mains do have four-light individual monitors, allowing better use of the PFL feature to dial in individual channels while keeping an eye on the main mix.
* No "Pad" switch to bypass the preamp on the XLR in; A&H advertises that the pre is clean through its entire adjustable range so a line-in signal can just be turned down, and there is a balanced 1/4" line-in on each channel that bypasses the preamp.
* 2 stereo strips control 4 stereo L/R pairs. ST1 and 3 are RCA inputs and can route directly to L/R or to the channel. ST2 and 4 are 1/4" unbalanced-ins and always route to the strip. Independent gain controls allow blending of the two stereo sources on one strip (or for master level control of feeds routed directly to LR)
- Each of these should be considered a large-format mixer; the 420 is among the largest-footprint 16-channel mixers I've ever encountered.
- Label space is at the bottom of each fader (easy to smudge if using Vis-a-Vis), and not a lot of room at the top of the fader for a length of label tape.
- No light socket; you're stuck using clip-on lights in low-light situations.
Mackie Onyx 24.4/32.4. My current church's main board is a 32.4. Excellent board, easy to use, within your price range even in the 32-channel frame (the 32.4 retails right at your budget; the 24 is $1600 leaving plenty of room). Mackie gets a bad rap, but this Onyx series is much better than their base-level stuff.
+ Probably the best value in a mixer at this pricepoint.
+ Per-channel phantom, pad and HPF controls.
+ Defeatable 4-band semi-parametric EQ
+ 6 Aux feeds, each one selectable per-aux as pre- or post-fader. Pre is generally good for monitors, post is good for recordings and external feeds.
+ 4-light level monitor on each channel (-20,0,+10,Clip) and the subgroups allows you to adjust gain for proper sustained levels for each channel without using PFL.
+ 4 subgroups with main mix assign
+ Stereo AFL on groups and matrix feed, and Stereo PFL on stereo strips. AFL only one of a pair and you hear it in mono; AFL the pair and you get the stereo image.
+ 2-channel matrix takes the group, left and right feeds for a uniquely-balanced recording or external zone feed.
+ Built-in compressor assignable to main mix or to group pairs allows for compression or signal limiting of hard-to-chase sources.
+ Lamp socket allows for a 4-pin XLR-type light to plug directly into the board.
* No four-light monitor by the main mix fader, but isn't that what the main meter is for?
* No per-channel pre/post switching on any aux means certain more flexible aux setups like, say, running a CD track to the floor monitors post-fade just ain't gonna happen.
* Heavier "weight" (resistance) to the faders makes slow, smooth changes to individual faders easier, and provides better bump-resistance, but it's a little harder to work with a fader on each finger.
* Back-loading provides a cleaner look "up top" at the cost of having to go behind the mixer to change connections.
- One fader for "main mix". Left and Right channel balance controlled primarily by panning sources as necessary. No Mono level control.
- Mono output is an LR-sum with no independent routing or level control, so mono-fed subs would need a crossover/LPF, and sending L/R to external zones or recording requires you to adjust the recorder's gain when the main mix level has to change.
- 32-channel mixer is really a 28-channel mixer with 2 stereo strips. 24-channel is really a 20-channel. Buyer beware when figuring channel requirements; stereo feeds are great if you can actually use them, but in our case we actually need independent left-right level control on our one stereo source in order to use CDs that have a "full" mix on the right channel but only a "dub" mix (no vocals) on the left.
Allen & Heath GL-2400-24: The ZED's big brother. The 24-channel frame is right at your budget, and you can go used/refurbished and save a few hundred bucks. The 32-channel frame is probably out of reach unless you find a good one on the 'Bay or the 'List.
+ Per-channel pad, HPF, phantom AND polarity. The polarity swaps hot for cold, which is useful when doing top-bottom miking of drums or certain mic setups on guitar.
+ Defeatable 4-band semi-para EQ
+ 6 auxes, all with per-channel pre/post (Aux 1-4 is on one switch, 5-6 on a second).
+ 2 Stereo strips each control two stereo inputs, each of which can be routed through the channel fader or directly to L/R.
+ Even the stereo strips have a mic pre, so the 24-channel frame can be configured for 24 mono channels if desired.
+ 4-channel matrix, fed from the four groups and L/R. This is enough for a recording feed AND two seperate mono zones without ever involving the main mix.
+ Reversible group/aux masters; normally the groups and mains use the faders and the auxes use the knobs, but by pressing a switch each of the fader/knob pairs can be switched so the aux is on the fader. Useful for controlling monitor feeds using the faders.
+ Individual Mono fader, which can be configured several ways; the default is an LR-sum, but you can also feed Aux6 directly to it ("Aux-fed-subs" mode), or hook a floor wedge to it and route PFLs/AFLs to Mono ("Engineer's wedge" mode).
* While configurable, the Mono feed isn't fully independent like on the ZED, so to really "assign" to it without assigning to LR you have to use Aux6 set to post-fader.
Mixers I do NOT recommend:
Yamaha MG-series: At first glance an OK console, but it has some serious failings and a pretty high price tag for what it does have, and those generally make me say "no thanks".
+ Independent mono master controls output level of L/R sum. Has built in configurable low-pass filter, perfect for mono-fed subs.
+ 4 subgroups all assignable to stereo main.
+ Stereo sub-out with independent volume control lets you send the stereo mix at two different levels to two different devices (usually a recording).
+ Per-channel pre-post switching for all auxes in pairs.
* 4 dedicated auxes is enough for now, but if you need another monitor or external zone you'll sacrifice the effects routing.
* Semi-para 3-band EQ. Not 4-band but it'll work for most things.
* "Mute" buttons are actually "ON" buttons and light when the channel is not muted. If you normally have most of the board muted, this can be more intuitive as you can quickly see what IS on, not what isn't.
* No independently-routable mono means the mono fader, intended for subs, is going to get a little of everything on the low end, not just kick, floor tom, bass and keyboard left hand. But, as just an LR-sum it's still great to have the independent level control.
* 2-light level monitors on all channel faders provide for at-a-glance level setting and feedback cutting; 4 light would be better but meh.
- 4 stereo fader strips is more than most churches need (unless you have and need a playback stack of tape decks, CDs and a laptop) and it means the 24-channel mixer only has 16 mic inputs.
- Phantom power applied in banks, not per-channel. If using unbalanced XLR ins or certain devices like ribbon mikes which can't tolerate phantom, you have to segregate devices onto one half or the other of the board to supply phantom to devices on the remaining half.
- No matrix. Your recording feed/external feeds will only include what you need to send to the main mix, in that general blend, unless you use auxes (which means they can't be monitor feeds).
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