Let me start by saying that I’m not going to argue here which format sounds better or argue why you should use one format or brand over the other. Analogue and Digital console technology both have their place and reasons for being used in our industry. I’m merely going to present the reasons why I like to mix FOH in the digital domain.
I am literally able to alter and custom-tailor the layout of the console to suit my specific
personal mixing/work-flow environment preferences. This may include both input and/or output routing. Granted, this flexibility can vary (sometimes greatly) from one console brand to another however, I can usually easily make the necessary changes to suit my own specific needs.
Patching: I can layout/arrange my inputs on the console surface in any configuration/order I choose (irregardless of the input list) and soft-patch all of these inputs accordingly. I can also quickly edit the soft patch to suit the necessity of a festival patch when required. Some limitations may include the ability to “stereo pair” even or odd numbered channel pairs. This limitation can generally be easily overcome by moving one or more inputs on the surface to accommodate natural stereo pairs.
Input expansion capability: I’m able to easily expand my input channel capability by double and even more, in some cases. This is without the need (necessarily) to expand my console’s control surface size. By adding another stage rack or rack-mount input modules at the stage, I can handle virtually any number of input channel demands.
Selectable EQ, dynamics and delay on every input and output: Fantastic! Gone are the days of not enough of any or all of the above. Enough said here.
Effects and Plug-ins: Gone are the days of wishing I had one more of these or two more of those. Effects and available plug-ins also do vary greatly from one console brand to the other. Knowing the sounds I need or prefer to use is key here. Specific allocation of available DSP may also expand or limit my effects and/or programming capabilities.
Not only that but I can create pre-set folders for any and all of the above!
Output delay and EQ: On those days when I’m not carrying racks and stacks and the local PA of the day needs a little more TLC to get it to where I need it to perform; I can do all of my own sound system optimization onboard! Awesome….
Multi-track recording: Many digital consoles have either built-in or add-on digital multi-tracking capability. Take this one step further and utilize the “virtual sound check” feature and I can tweak my mix from last night’s show with no band on stage!
Automation: I have the ability to completely program/automate my show on a scene-to- scene (song to song or cue to cue) basis and also choose which specific parameters I need or want to remember therein. This feature offers amazing flexibility for programming mutes, pans, effects changes/cues, fader positions, patch changes, and recalling plug-in/EQ/dynamics presets, among others. This is especially great when you have a long play list with a lot of instrumentation and/or effects patch changes on a tour.
Recall: A digital console will recall any properly saved or loaded show file in it’s entirety. Thank you.
File sharing: I can easily send my show files via email anywhere in the world in advance and have my show loaded and ready on the console before I arrive. A word to the wise: I always advance the current firmware version on the console you are visiting. This greatly reduces the risk in show file loading-failure or file corruption. I always double and triple back-up everything in multiple, separate locations.
Digital Signal Flow: I may now send my mix directly to the PA with out ever leaving the digital domain. Almost all crossovers/signal processors are fully digital now and many PA amplifiers and even self-powered speakers have digital signal processing capability built in as well. The result: One or two less “here, there and back again” patches required.
I like having a smaller footprint at the FOH. In this day and age (barring an unlimited budget, of course), size does matter and space is the final frontier. With the rising cost of transportation and fuel, a console footprint whose size and weight are significantly smaller can save big bucks for many aspects of a touring production. Everything from space and weight in the truck (or trailer) to the actual final footprint at the FOH mix position puts dollars into pockets. A significantly reduced FOH foot print means more patrons can buy tickets and fill seats. Mixing “in the box” eliminates my need for a lot of extra outboard processing, cases and cabling as well.
Digital console technology has come a long way over the last 10 years and it’s getting even better and infinitely more dependable every year. Simply said, I think they sound just fabulous! I’ve mixed through a sizable variety of digital consoles over the last decade and I do have own personal my favorites, of course. I will freely admit that I also carry my own external word clock for certain applications, which in my opinion offers an audible improvement to my ears, when called for.
At the end of the day, mixing in the digital domain offers me a whole host of new possibilities and endless degrees of flexibility that I found previously nearly impossible to imagine. It’s not just another tool in my arsenal. It allows me to continue to do what I enjoy the most. And that is making people smile and dance and yell and scream for more!