Gateway's Sound Advice
The first of a regular column where the expert teaching staff of the Gateway School Of Recording & Music Technology answer readers' problems.
The start of a regular column where members of the teaching staff of the Gateway School Of Recording & Music Technology answer readers' questions.
Q. What exactly is an 'in-line' mixer and does it have any advantages over a normal mixer?
Dave Ward, who teaches the multitrack courses at Gateway, explains:
A. An in-line mixer is a console upon which the group outputs and the monitor section have been placed in the line of the input channels. On a traditional 'split' console the input channels are set out to the left of the mixer, with the group and monitor sections on the right-hand side.
Up until a few years ago most mixers needed only a few more input channels than the number of tracks on the multitrack tape recorder they were being used with. For instance, for 16-track recording we would use a mixer with 24 inputs, the extra 8 being used for the return signals from stereo reverbs, digital delays and other effects. Modern recording, however, requires many more inputs on a mixer because the use of timecodes has enabled us to 'drive' drum machines and sequencers from a timecode track on the multitrack tape recorder. The outputs of such instruments (which are rarely recorded on tape these days but kept 'live' throughout the session instead) all need their own input channels on the mixer, and this has resulted in mixing consoles becoming longer and longer - indeed some professional consoles have up to 54 or more input channels. Engineers working on such consoles have to rent a motor bike to get from one end of the console to the other!!!
By taking the group output controls on the monitor section from the right-hand side of the mixer and placing them in the line of the input channels, a great deal of physical space is saved which allows manufacturers to produce more compact, easier to use, models - although such mixers have tended to increase in 'depth' (front-to back) and the studio engineers who use them are all doing arm-stretching exercises!
Many engineers will argue that space saving is the only advantage of an in-line console and they prefer to work on a split console, but I have spoken to plenty of engineers who have been brought up on inline consoles and they prefer that way of working. In the end it comes down to what you are used to.
The new 'MIDI' mixer from Soundtracs has been cleverly configured as an in-line console to provide space for extra features. The Seek 18-8-2 also is a clever mixture between an in-line and a split console which partly accounts for its diminutive stature and slimline design, while further up the price scale Soundcraft, of course, have been producing their in-line console which is to be found in many studios.
Q. I have heard much mention of how certain pieces of equipment accept MIDI song pointers and others do not. Can you explain what 'MIDI song pointers' are and their significance when using sequencers and drum machines?
Steve Parr of Wallen Parr Music & Production, who lectures at Gateway on MIDI and synchronisation, replies:
A. Before sequencers and drum machines were equipped with MIDI the only type of communication between them was 'when to start' and 'how fast to run', making it impossible to start a sequencer halfway through a piece of music, or song, and have a drum machine know where the sequencer was in the music so that it, the drum machine, could start playing from the appropriate point and keep time. This was a great limitation in sequencing and it meant that all such devices always had to be started from the beginning of the music to achieve the correct synchronisation between them.
Devices equipped with MIDI, however, issue a 'code' at the beginning of every bar that identifies the number of that bar; in other words, the code points to the position of the song that the device is up to, ie. it generates 'MIDI song pointers'. On receipt of the MIDI song pointers any device that is able to receive and understand them will reset itself to the corresponding bar so that you could start your sequencer or drum machine anywhere in the song and have all connected MIDI devices starting exactly at the right place - not necessarily at the beginning.
The ability of MIDI to deal with this information was overlooked by some manufacturers when they were writing the software for their first MIDI instruments, with the result that great care should be taken when buying equipment as to whether the MIDI protocol includes song position pointers and only go for gear that does. One or two very famous (and expensive) sequencers and drum machines neglected to implement song position pointers, much to the chagrin of their owners, so beware!
Q. I have been looking through reviews of mixers in back issues of SOUND ON SOUND because I am going to be buying a Fostex A80 8-track tape recorder and I have seen frequent mention of the terms 'group buss' and 'auxiliary'. Could you explain what these are?
Gateway's Steve Parr replies:
A. When mixing it is sometimes convenient to group sounds together so that you can record them all onto a single track of your tape recorder. This is done by feeding the instruments onto a group buss which then comes out of a connector on the back of the mixer and is wired to a tape track on the recorder. Mixers will have varying numbers of these busses according to their complexity - a stereo mixer will have two, left and right; a bigger mixer may have 4,8,16 or even 24 depending on the number of tracks the tape recorder it is connected to has. But sometimes, for budget considerations, the output of a group buss may be connected to more than just one track of the recorder: for example, a four-buss mixer (12-4-2, 16-4-2 etc) connected to an 8-track recorder may have output buss number one wired to tape tracks 1 and 5, number two to tracks 2 and 6, and so on. You select the track on which you wish to record at the tape machine end.
It is often useful when recording to set up a separate 'mix' to the one you are monitoring, for musicians' headphones or for feeding to a reverb unit, and this can be done by means of an 'auxiliary buss' - 'auxiliary' for short. Each channel on the mixer will have a knob labelled 'Aux', 'Echo' or 'Foldback' which acts as a volume control for feeding the signal on that channel to the auxiliary buss. Somewhere on the back of the mixer will be a connector labelled 'Aux Out' and this is where the sum of all the varying amounts of signals that have been fed onto the auxiliary buss by the individual auxiliary knobs will appear, giving the user a separate mix to do with what he pleases. Obviously, the more auxiliary busses on a mixer the more versatile it is.
Further information about the full range of Gateway courses can be obtained by writing to: (Contact Details)
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