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Today’s Incredible Shrinking Mixer - ProSoundNetwork.com

Today’s Incredible Shrinking Mixer

By Strother Bullins. Many of us still pine for large, traditionally styled mixers built around dedicated, perinput channel strips, physical knobs and faders. Yet many are likewise considering—and subsequently buying—what are essentially smaller touchscreen-equipped products and/or I/O devices that depend on wireless GUI-centered third-party control via touchscreens, smartphones and tablets. As such, the “incredible shrinking mixer” is a modern reality for a number of compelling reasons.
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Many of us still pine for large, traditionally styled mixers built around dedicated, perinput channel strips, physical knobs and faders. Yet many are likewise considering—and subsequently buying—what are essentially smaller touchscreen-equipped products and/or I/O devices that depend on wireless GUI-centered third-party control via touchscreens, smartphones and tablets. As such, the “incredible shrinking mixer” is a modern reality for a number of compelling reasons.

Today, all major live digital mixer manufacturers have offerings with built-in touchscreen control of key parameters, significantly increasing intuitiveness while saving valuable space, both in use and in transit, too. Premium live mixing products such as Allen & Heath’s dLive, Avid Venue S6L, all DiGiCo mixers, Harman’s Soundcraft Vi and Si, Solid State Logic’s Live, and Yamaha’s PM-, CL-, QL-, LS9- and TF-Series offerings, are built around the concept of “deep-menu’ed” manipulation via touchscreens paired with traditional faders. Thus, every manufacturer’s flagship console is considerably smaller than ever.

For mid-level live mixing, lines such as PreSonus’ StudioLive Series allows users to enter the hybrid physical/virtual touch world at even smaller sizes and lower price points. Such options incorporate wireless features for engineers to move about the venue via third-party GUI control and allow multiple monitor mixes onstage by musicians, not to mention multitrack recording capabilities via USB at the physical work surface itself. QSC’s TouchMix Series operates similarly. Though it provides no surfacemount faders, the Series’ largest model—the 32-channel TouchMix-30 Pro—includes a 10-inch touchscreen at the user’s left and a notably ergonomic physical button array plus central “touch and turn” encoder knob on the right.

Notably, manufacturers such as Mackie—having built affordable, fully analog mixers for decades—are now offering digital mixers with neither mix surface nor proprietary GUI whatsoever; these products depend on third-party tablets or phones and Bluetooth connectivity. Starting with the DL1608 and DL806 paired with iPads, and continuing with the small-to-medium scale tour-ready DL32R, Mackie’s GUI mixers have found users and engineers in a broad range of environments—clubs, houses-of-worship (HOWs), theaters and more.

Other manufacturers have followed suit; case in point, Soundcraft’s Ui Series now offers up to 24 channels of digital mixing with multitrack recording via USB, and is controlled via iOS, Android, Windows, Mac OS or Linux browsers—no proprietary app required. Yamaha’s TF Series now boasts the TF-RACK, a compact, rack-mount version of its TF Series of digital mixing consoles, offering every single feature of its TF Series desktop models via third-party GUI.

Going even smaller and more affordable, products such as Mackie’s ProDX Series—comprised of the four-channel ProDX4 and eight-channel ProDX8—offer low-channel count wireless control and streaming, processing and connectivity in a piece of hardware not much larger than your fist. In particular, a ProDX can be controlled by either iOS or Android devices, allowing an engineer to be mistaken for someone simply texting in the audience. And—though it is classified as a monitoring device—Mackie’s Big Knob Studio and Big Knob Studio+ include a 2x2 and 2x4 USB recording interface, respectively; such offerings continue to redefine the concept of small mixing or I/O products.

Yet the epitome of the “incredible shrinking mixer” may be Roland’s new USB-powered GO:MIXER Smartphone Audio Mixer. The GO:MIXER is more of an idea-capturing tool than active mixing tool and may well symbolize the industry’s progression toward smaller and smaller gear; at 4 oz. in weight, 3.75 inches square, and one-inch tall in size, it is smaller than most microphones.