Small Consoles

by Jamie Rio
in Sound Sanctuary

This month’s discussion is on small-format mixing consoles for houses of worship, both analog and digital.

There are probably a few different definitions for “small format” consoles. To me, any mixer that can fit into a rack would fall into the category.

That said, if your worship house mixer is not in a rack, don’t worry about it. We still have plenty to talk about.

Portability, Footprint and Price

For those of you who are currently planning on purchasing a small-format mixer for your worship house, there are a lot of reasons why a small board is a good choice for a church, starting with portability, footprint and price.

With their smaller size, they are easier to move and set up in the sanctuary and at any other event outside of the worship room itself. Their smaller footprint means they won’t take up as much worship room paces.

They also tend to be easier to operate and also less expensive than large boards —except for some small-format digital boards, which tend to offer more bells and whistles than their analog counterparts.

On-Board Extras

Some smaller boards come with their own built-in power amps. This type of board can be handy in two main, two-mix monitor setup, or if you plan on moving your board and speakers from location to location.

There are also those that offer on-board effects processors, compression and graphic equalizers. Yamaha, Mackie and Peavey are among those that manufacture small mixers with on-board compressors. These are single-knob compressors with fixed attack and release times. The knob controls the compression ratio, like many of the auto compressors out there. While not infinitely adjustable, single-knob compressors are very handy.

Some manufacturers add effects processors to their small mixers. Yamaha installs some of the famous SPX and REV-X effects into their small boards. Allen & Heath, Mackie and Peavey also load some great-sounding effects into their boards.

Another very handy feature on many small mixers is a USB port. Connect your mixer to a laptop, and you can record the whole mix. Some manufacturers include specific software with their boards, but almost any DAW software will do the job of turning your mixer into a recording console.

Obviously, I can’t cover all the features that all the manufacturers offer, but just be aware that there are lots of small mixers that are packed with features out there.

Decisions, Decisions…

Your job now is to decide what features you want in the next small mixer you plan on purchasing. I can’t decide for you, but maybe it would be helpful if I shared with you the process that I went through in acquiring my latest small board.

A key consideration is the number of XLR inputs. In my case, I was looking for a rack mount mixer with 16 XLR inputs. My new mixer would be part of a sound system that I would specifically use for outreach events, small band gigs, speaking events, parties, etc. The system would also be added to my rental catalogue.

I did not need on-board effects or graphic equalizers, as I already had two 31-band dbx EQs and a TC Electronic effects processor in my rack. I was not planning on doing any live recording myself, but I considered a board with a USB port as a feature for potential clients who wanted to record their live events. I was also interested in on-board compression, as I have used the Mackie and Yamaha versions with success. And, of course, I was looking for a good price.

Very quickly, I narrowed my choices    down to the Yamaha MG206C, the Allen & Heath WZ3:16:2DX and the Soundcraft Spirit GB2R-16 rack mountable mixers. Ultimately, I decided on the Yamaha, because of the on-board compression and overall price. That said, I often lament that I didn’t go with the Allen & Heath, mainly because I like those 100mm faders and the extra aux sends (six as opposed to Yamaha’s four) would be handy.

My point here is not to sell you on any particular manufacturer or model, but to let you see how I went through my decision process. You will have to do the same thing in one fashion or another. So, I suggest you do your homework and decide what will best suit your house of worship.

Digital Mixers

One of the main advantages of digital boards is that all signal processing is on board. EQ, compression, gates and effects processors are available for every channel (generally speaking).

Also, digital boards should make for better recording boards. I know this is a matter of opinion, but once the analog signal reaches the digital board, the recording stays in the digital domain until it reaches analog ears.

I mentioned that a lot of small-format analog boards also have signal processing onboard, however, in the case of digital mixers, the signal processing is potentially better (at least cleaner).

There’s a place for small-format mixing consoles in any house of worship, and I own a couple of small mixers myself. Next we’ll talk about large-format and medium-sized boards.