Economic mixer solution for live performances using multiple audio ins and outs

    Jan 08 2013 | 11:54 am
    Hey everybody,
    I am working for an independent theater/performance group and we are looking for solutions for our audio. I built a live looping machine in Max and now we need the correct hardware to make everything happen.
    Things we want to do:
    3 or more microphones are positioned throughout the room. (In later pieces we want to use headmics instead, so it should work for both.)
    Each microphone should have a dedicated channel, so I can route it in Max accordingly.
    After processing in Max, we want to distribute the signals to four speakers that can be adressed individually.
    For now I am using my Mbox 2 Mini with its 2 Ins and 2 Outs to route 1 Mic to the left channel of the out and 1 Mic to the right.
    1.) Would you suggest a bigger USB interface? Or mixers? I checked and most do not seem to support multiple channel routing but just one stereo image for all the channels together.
    2.) The next thing would be a good way to trigger the looping. In my current solution I am using either a Wiimote or a Infrared Apple Remote. But we'd like the performers to be able to do it by foot as well. Which would mean buying something like this:
    3.) Would it be enough to have active speakers connected right to the Outs of the interface? Or could a better sound be achieved with less money if we bought one 4-ch amplifier and 4 passive speakers?
    I suppose one or two of you are doing similar stuff so any help and/or experience shared would be very much appreciated.
    Thanks a lot and have a nice day, Kilombo

    • Jan 08 2013 | 12:45 pm
      I'd get a larger audio interface indeed, not a hardware mixer. It will be much more flexible and expandable. I personally like the MOTU interfaces a lot. Get one with ADAT ports if you want to be able to expand the number of (mic) inputs and outputs later on.
      You can connect your active speakers straight to the outs of the interface. Though I like to have a physical/analog volume control in between. For the hands-on control and because you loose audio resolution when reducing volume in software. This can be done with amplifiers though I prefer a mixer because amp volume knobs are often not very fine grained. Still, you can set the amp volume at a general setting and do the fine tweaking in software. You'd set the max volume by sending out your loudest part from software at just under 0dB and set the amp level accordingly. Give yourself some headroom (sound gets dampened in a room full of audience so you need a bit more volume than in rehearsal).
      * Edit: most active speakers have volume controls on the back, although not always down to -infinity. Sometimes only -20dB or so. This makes 'm impractical for some uses without mixer. *
      Or you use a hardware mixer in between the interface and the amps/active speakers. Can be tricky and costly to find one flexible enough for multichannel routings. If you know it's always going to be 4-channel it's easy to find one but if you consider doing different experiments later on you might be stuck with an expensive mixer that doesn't allow you to do what you want.
      I'm using a compact Mackie 802VLZ3 that gives me 5 individual outputs with some smart routing. I need it small because I travel with it.
      I don't know about that for trigger box, or similar. I'd probably build it myself.
    • Jan 08 2013 | 2:42 pm
      hello. I don't have a lot of time to answer you in great detail, but i wanted to let you know that if you want to go analogue(which is not very common for theatres i think) this guy: is maybe an interesting device. Actually also if you decide to do the whole thing with a digital mixer or just an Audio interface and some midi controller, you could have just 4(stereo) additional pre-fader Aux busses for 8 Signals. I love this thing, use it a lot, and it's actually quite cheap. Cheers!
    • Jan 08 2013 | 5:51 pm
      Cool woyteg, I actually looked at that one (online) for similar purposes. I kind of have a dream rig in my head where computer, audio interface and a matrix mixer like that sit in a flight case for easy and safe shuffling around.
    • Jan 08 2013 | 10:59 pm
      Yeah matrix mixers are great! I actually always wanted to buy the Sure Auxpander But the EU forbid it :) haha.. too much lead is in there.. As far as i know this is the only afforable device of this kind since then.(midas makes a great matrix mixer but, yeah it's midas.. i think it costs 1 or 2 thousand euros) The only thing i would critisize about the omnitronic one is that it makes some noise(not in the signal, just in the room!) sometimes, and my rack kind of acts like a resonator, so it's kind of annoying. But maybe this is just my unit. cheers! EDIT: ah and yeah.. the having the computer inside a rack is the only thing i have been thinking about since a couple of weeks..
    • Jan 09 2013 | 12:32 am
      Thank you guys!
      That already helps a lot.
      Regarding the following: "Actually also if you decide to do the whole thing with a digital mixer or just an Audio interface and some midi controller, you could have just 4(stereo) additional pre-fader Aux busses for 8 Signals."
      My experience with gear of that sort is limited, so I only have a slim understanding of how things work together. Can you explain a little more in detail how this solution would work and with what gear?
      As for the Mackie 802: As I understand it, you're using that as the audio interface between mics and computer, right? I might be looking into something else since only 3 48V mic ins are included. But thanks a lot for your hints!
      I have a meeting with the director tomorrow night and I might have more questions afterwards.
      If you're interested I can keep you posted and tell you the solutions we go for and how it works.
      Thanks again and good night, Kilombo
    • Jan 09 2013 | 1:51 am
      Lets assume you four audio signals 1. Running int a (digital or analog) mixer. You just have to double, or split, them before running into your mixer. Eg. With a y-type cable or a patchbay. Even better, if you would like to use your mixer preamp for amplifiing the signal before the omnitronic thingy you could go into the mixer with each signal and get it out again via the insert jack or a direct out jack, per channel 2. For the audio interface solution.. Hm.. Really depends what you want to do, but yeah you just have to send everything out to the device and maybe get those signals back in also. Of course you would need preamps for your 4 mics. Most lower price souncards i know have about two or less. Hope that helps.
    • Jan 09 2013 | 11:59 am
      > As I understand it, you're using that as the audio interface between mics and computer, right?
      Not exactly. I'm using it between the line outputs of my audio interface and the amps/monitors. I don't use mic inputs. If I would I'd plug them into the mic pre-amps of my interface. It only has 2 so I'd expand it with an ADAT (or line-out) pre-amp box for more.
    • Jan 09 2013 | 5:22 pm
      Some more thoughts:
      You should ask yourself if the computer part is integral to the audio setup, or whether you want a base installation with additional computer processing. If everything you do involves software processing etc it can make sense to make the audio interface the center of it. If on the other hand you want a standard system (that others can also understand and use instantly) you're probably better off with a hardware mixer as center piece. Make sure it has enough busses for sending to and receiving from the interface so you can add the computer processed elements to the mix.
      My experience with computer-centered setups is that they tend to be highly personalized and need prior knowledge/instructions to be able to be used by others.