Lets face it, we went digital a long time ago. Take a look at your outboard gear and tell me it’s all analog. For most of us we are still using analog soundboards whenever we set up. It’s always a great sense of relief when we finally get that huge thing up and out of its case, and set up. What if we could shed a hundred pounds off of it, make it light up like a Christmas tree and make everything perfect?
I am not saying that we don’t all strive for some type of perfection when we are mixing. The analog sound has been king for many years and we have become accustom to the things we have to do to make it happen. I am always twisting, turning and sliding faders to amplify that nice and tight mix that we all know is out there. What if I could sweeten the deal by shedding some weight of the board. Maybe make it light up my area every time signal hits me. Is it possible to just press a button to throw a compressor on the asshole who started off the night telling me he was a “very dynamic singer” I wonder if I would miss going to a channel, adjusting the highs, sweeping the mids and fattening the bottom in 1/2 a second. With digital you have to remember which layer it is, select the channel and to to your fat channel. I get it, but is the sacrifice for the sound worth it. I might miss inserting a compressor by running around to the front of the board with my flashlight? Why can’t I just go to the main eq and pull 400 down a couple of clicks in .5 seconds because those damn trap boxes are howling? Why you ask, why? Because that would be too easy, and for everyone who takes the easy route there are consequences. For me I would have reach anxiety being to confined to such a small desk.
The digital world hit us hard many years ago and made things much simpler in everything that we do from digital watches to digital cell phones. No one even wears a watch anymore, and don’t think apple watches are going to take off. Everything I have is digital from my coffee maker in the morning to my alarm clock that I turn on at night. So why do we need to switch to a digital console? Wouldn’t that just make things go with the flow and easier to maintain. It would, wouldn’t it? Lets discuss some pros and cons concerning both the digital world and the analog dinosaurs that still take up space in our garages and homes.
So you want to start a rock and roll band. You want to play the clubs and move on from your garage and nasty neighbors who are not only tired of hearing your muffled sound at midnight but they are tired of calling the cops. You want to get out there and see the world, play in front of people and get that album to everyone of your fans. You drive to your local music vendor and have them work up an estimate. Forgive me. That was the way we did it when it was time for us to get on the road. Let me rephrase this a little bit. You go online, you search for a PA system you add this and add that and before you know it your nearing a $20,000 – $30,000 mark. Everyone reaches into his or her pockets and between each of you; you only have a couple of hundred bucks. Is this where we decide to go analog because the digital soundboard is ½ of this fictitious budget. Is this were we go used and analog because it saves so much? In many ways it does, but if you get an analog board remember it doesn’t end there with signal processing. You will need to eq the room, and monitors. You will need effects and compressors. And you will need all the cables to connect all of these things together. All together did you just spend as much as you would have on an entry-level fully digital console? I can tell you that the manufactures of these things keep this in mind when deciding the price. I would suggest a double expense report. Add up all the gear both ways. Either way it is a very large investment and the most difficult thing is to put money back into the “band fund” after it has all been dumped into the sound system.
I have set up, and torn down my system for many years. Whether it was outside or inside it is always a pain in the ass. The simplicity of a digital set up is far greater in many ways. A digital console is a lot less to set up with incredible versatility. An analog console weighs a ton and takes up sometimes three times the room. If you are performing at a venue with less space and still want the toys then the digital console is the way to go. If you have the room and want to sprawl out displaying all of your toys in front of you then the crisp warm sound of analog is the way to spread your wings. The size of digital consoles has really changed over the past couple of years to make them even more vestal.
Lets first ask a couple of questions about your ears. Putting the size of the console aside, which type of sound do you prefer? Does the 24-track analog tape sound belong in the studio? Do you even notice any more? Remember when mp3 first came out? Do you like the sound of satellite radio? Should I just grow up and face the fact that whether I like it or not I am switching to digital? When the iPod first came out all of my friends grabbed one and paid out the wazoo for it. They plugged it into their home stereo and “cranked up the tunes”. My first thought was to just leave because I wasn’t really into heavy metal but I stayed and played. The sound was just awful and you can’t disagree with this one or you need to reevaluate your thoughts on running sound or being in a band. This was my first thought on the “new” digital sound and it stayed with me for quite some time. It has changed drastically as the size it takes to store music has become smaller and the original 1kbps sound (just kidding). So digital is sounding better, and getting better, but what about the whole picture with it reflections on digital consoles…well its getting better too. In my opinion, they are close really close.I say this because the difference is becoming less and less. To me however, it’s because we are getting use to the sound of digital not because it is a close comparison.
The price of digital vs. analog is usually where most fall into opinions. The market has made them much more affordable and they are even available used. If it’s a used digital board that fits into your budget from an unknown source you may not want to go down that path. I have had consoles work for a week and then as a display unit in my garage the next of what not to do. I am going to discus three types of boards, an “entry level” board, a “we play just about every weekend board” and one that fits into a truck. For most of us local boys and girls it’s a “we play just about every weekend”. For this I will start with the Behringer X32. I know what you might be thinking and when this first came out I immediately had that flashback too, when I bought my first Behringer product. I cringed at the idea of powering an entire PA with anything Behringer. Lets face it, their cheap and work but at what cost? It’s not the case with this thought. Behringer bought out Midas and Midas comes packaged up in this board. Behringer invested 20 million dollars into their factory to and spend about 3 years developing this board. It is simple and has all the tools you need to get everything fired up quickly. If you are running analog now, the switch over is very quick. The channel knobs have a great analog feeling up at the top left corner of the console and the selector to switch from the first 16 to the next 17 through 32 is right next to all the faders on the lower left.
More to come…