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Author Topic: Mixers from a Harp Players Perspective  (Read 1519 times)


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Mixers from a Harp Players Perspective
« on: February 19, 2012, 12:37:27 AM »
A Bunch of Wires
Why would a harmonica player need a mixer? Typically, you have just one microphone plugged into your PC’s sound card, you can add digital reverb later, It seems like a needless luxury. After all, a mixer is just a bunch of wires, it provides no new features .... right? Wrong.

The reason I bought a mixer
The first reason I bought a mixer was just so that I would have a place in front of the PC where I could plug in my microphone. I did not like having to reach around behind my PC. After I got my mixer, I plugged my microphone into my tube pre-amp to my delay to my mixer to my soundcard. I did that for 8 years. I think a lot of harp players do it like that. I have the output of the sound card going to my stereo. I listen to the music either through the stereo speakers or through headphones attached to the stereo.

But I want to describe some other mixer possibilities that not only may make recording easier, but also may improve your sound. It improved mine! (I have not uploaded with the new sound yet.)

I have a Mackie MS1202 mixer. As I describe it, I am going to oversimplify its features a little bit, just so I can describe my use of it more easily. It’s a $300 mixer that has 4 microphone/line ins .

Interesting Feature One
It has four line ins. I sometimes attach say two harp microphones and a vocal microphone to it at once, so I can switch between them when recording a song without having to pull out any wires. Each input channel has its own volume control and Hi and Low EQ so I can adjust the settings for each individually and leave them. (I had been doing this for years.)

Interesting feature Two
The mixer has an auxiliary loop output to which I have attached by Boss digital delay. Sound goes from my microphone, into the mixer, it is split in half, half remains “dry” just like it came from the microphone, the other half goes to the aux which goes to the delay which returns “wet” with the delay echo, the two signals are then re-united and then go to the sound card. The aux output has its own volume control, so I can control how much delay is returned and sent to the sound card. As I mentioned , the processed signal, which has the echo or delay is called the “wet” signal. Each of the four input channels on the mixer has its own Aux volume control. This means that if I have 3 microphones plugged into the mixer, not only can I control the volume of the microphone sound being sent to the sound card, but I can control the about of wet sound being sent to the sound card too, and I can do this for each of the microphones independently of the others. So, without unplugging any wires, I can share my Boss DD5 Digital Delay stomp box with 4 different microphones at once. I can change the amount of delay on each separately from the others. If you play a little guitar or bass, this setup is especially convenient. Let’s focus on the convenience of this. If you want to increase or decrease the echo on line one, you don’t have to twiddle with your stomp box, you just turn the volume control right on your mixer which is very visible and very assessable. And then you can do the same thing for line two, three, and four. (On a technical note, you set your Delay so there is no dry sound, it is all that when you twiddle that knob, you are not accidentally increasing the dry sound too, which would unbalance your mix.) Peter tells me about cm domains web site

Interesting Feature Three
On the above mentioned aux bus, the mixer has a mono (one line out) to the stomp box, but accepts stereo back in. It just so happens that my Boss DD5 has stereo outs which I had never used. I had always just used the mono out. When I plugged the stereo outs of the stomp box to the mixer … wow! This stomp box has a much bigger sound! It was a much bigger, room filling sort of sound! Before, in order to get a sound like that I would have had to process the recorded mono wav into a stereo wav. There is this subtle going back and forth between the two stereo channels which makes the sound big. Unfortunately, my old copy of Cakewalk did not have any such effect. I often manually created a similar but cruder effect by playing and recording the same solo twice (like the Beatles always did with their vocals in their early records.) But now I had a more subtle version of the same effect that took no effort at all. Wow! sony x10 better battery

Interesting Feature Four
The Harp Commander itself sounds much bigger, better and badder when the dry part of the signal can go directly into the computer’s sound card without having to go through the Boss DD5’s circuitry. I mean, it is a BIG difference. Right now, I have the gain and the bass turned up on the Harp Commander, and when I suck one of those low bent notes you almost expect the window panes to rattle. I have a Mesa Boogie V-Twin pre-amp which I have used for years. I bet it will benefit also. The thought to keep in mind is that in the past when I used the delay, both the wet and the dry part of the sound had to pass through the delay.

Interesting Feature Five
Each of the four input channels also has a private input/output loop called an “insert” that only affects the channel it is on. It is called an “insert” because it allows you to insert any device between the microphone and the volume controls. I could attach my Mesa V-Twin tube pre amp to the private input output insert of channel 1. So without touching my microphone or Harp Commnder connections, I could warm the sound up further by adding some real tube to it using the private insert. (It has the same effect as connecting the Harp Commander to the V-Twin pedal, to the mixer. ) Or, I could move the Harp Commander to the private insert in channel one, my V-Twin pre-amp to the private insert of channel Two, my Bellari MP105 to my private insert of channel three. I would plug my microphones or guitar directly into the mixer, and be able to control the volume levels of all these various pre-amps with the same mixer controls. Superb essay writing service is a rare breed, but is always at hand!

Interesting Feature Six
Since the mixer has volume controls on each of its four channels, I have been getting good signal from either a low or high impedance microphones that I plug directly into the mixer. The Mackie has both the ¼ phone plug (line in) and a 3 prong balanced microphone input on each channel. I can plug a microphone into either. The 3 prong microphone input automatically amplifies the signal coming in, typically from a low impedance microphone. I plug the high impetance into the line in ¼ plug. In other words, the mixer functions as a DI box. Most DI boxes usually have an input impedance of at least 2 Meg Ohms to ensure no detrimental loading to the input which can cause loss of high frequencies due to the loading effect or impedance mismatch usually encountered. I doubt that the mixer has that, but it seems to work well enough. Maybe some of our engineers will comment.

So that’s it for mixer features. What you plug into the auxillary line can affect all channels, yet each channel can control it separately. What you plug into a channels insert affects only the one channel.

Once you understand it, for the home recording setup, the computer/digital recorder is like the stomach where stuff is stored, and the mixer is like the nervous system connecting everything together. A mixer is like a patch bay that will make it such that you don’t have to move wires around as much.

I did a little research on the internet. In the evolution of the home studio, typically people evolve in the following way:

(1) You get your recorder.
(2) You get a mixer and understand its capabilities..
(3) You get a sound compressor. A compressor lowers the highest peaks of the loudness of a signal, and also brings up the softest parts so that they are more nearly the same volume as the loudest parts. So when you are playing your harmonica, the differences in volume between different parts of a bent or unbent notes are made more nearly the same. It makes recording a lot easier. The good news for harp players is that most of us already have tube pre-amps, and these pre-amps tend to do this too. They just don’t have the dials that allow you to control the compression so precisely.

Whether you buy a $50 mixer with only 2 line inputs, or a $75 or $300 mixer with four line inputs, will be up to you and how you think you will be using your mixer. For home use, I would not get an 8 input mixer just because it takes up too much room in the home studio. If you are only recording one instrument at a time, then you don’t need all the extra inputs. I actually think 4 inputs is about right. If you play a little guitar or keyboard, then 4 inputs is definitely what you want.

Well, I hope that I have described a mixer's features from a solo harmonica player's perspective clearly enough that you can understand the desireable features it adds to your home studio. It is interesting, but all mixers large and small use the same concepts and do the same things, so once you master say your 4 track mixer, and understand the auxillary bus and inserts, then you will have a very real conceptual understanding of the big mixers.