Search of the Perfect Budget Mixer

Today, most will either go for a cheap controller setup to use with their existing computer, or jump straight into the top-flight gear that they see used by their heroes. However, there are still a lot of situations in which a budget mixer can be incredibly useful, so we’ve gone in search of the best mixer for under $300.

There are many people for whom using a computer to mix is neither desirable nor necessary. A decent laptop for DJ use can be had reasonably cheaply, but it’s still a hefty investment if you don’t already own a suitable one, which makes that $200 controller look like less of a bargain. Plus, there are lots of DJs who choose to use other formats—whether it be vinyl, USB devices, or even CDs (remember those?). Whilst there are a few options out there (like Pioneer’s XDJ-R1), that generally means separate media players with a mixer, and not everybody needs to drop $1000 on an install-level mixer.

Fundamentally, a DJ mixer is a box that allows the mixing of a number of input sources, and the distribution of the resulting sound – a device that in even a modest home setup can be incredibly valuable. In my studio setup, my Pioneer DJM-700 is the central location for all my connections—controllers, decks, audio interfaces, and even other mixers go into it, with outputs to powered speakers and my computer.

A CENTRAL HUB
djm700

Even the cheapest DJ mixers will generally have at least four inputs and two outputs—perhaps not all playable simultaneously, but at least accessible. It could be argued that a small ‘studio’ mixer would do a similar job, but those tend to be more endowed with microphone and instrument level inputs, and if you have a lot of DJ-specific gear, a DJ mixer will usually offer you better bang for your buck.

MIXING EXTERNALLY

djm900

Here’s a little industry secret for you (shhh): All DJ mixers work pretty much the same way.

Of course, there are bountiful rewards to be had when you spend a small fortune on a mixer. Sound quality, durability, and advanced features all improve as the price tag goes up, but as mentioned above, all DJ mixers basically do the same thing. So if you’re getting gigs, and finding that venues can’t (or won’t) accommodate your all-in-one controller setup, then you may want to go modular, for example, running an X1/Audio 6 combo through the currently installed mixer.

But just because the club has a shiny DJM-900NXS doesn’t mean you need to own one. A carefully chosen sub-$300 mixer will offer all the functionality needed to get the hang of external mixing, and may even benefit you long term, as you won’t be reliant on specific mixer features that may not be available at your next gig. If the only mixer you’ve ever used is a shiny $2000 Pioneer, you’re going to get a shock when you roll up to the club and find a rusty Xone:62 with a broken crossfader and two line faders missing.



Mixing Tips For PreSonus Studio One

PreSonus is now in version 2 of their entry into the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) wars. They are quickly adding their own spin on what they think a DAW should be and how it should work. Here are some tips and tricks to get the most out of the mixing process with Studio One.

Tip 1 – It’s The Console

The console is where you’re going to do most of your mixing. After showing the console from Studio One’s ‘view’ menu, you’ll notice that there’s a lot more here than just a simple mixer. You can view your audio interface’s available inputs with metering here. You can also setup and configure MIDI devices, view the trash and select what you want to see inside the console window. It’s a highly customizable view that can be set up to match your workflow.

Tip 2 – Size Isn’t Everything

Studio One’s mixing console has a feature that I’m sure will soon become something audio professionals can’t live without, and that’s scrollable channel strips. As we’ve discovered, you can make these channel strips display a huge amount of information from EQ thumbnails to sends and busses. One of the the unique things about Studio One, however, is how it handles displaying all of this information.

When you add multiple of components to your channel strip such as compressors and sends, the channel strip will become ‘scroll-able’ instead of just getting huge and taking up more screen real estate. You can now scroll within the mixing console over a specific channel strip to see more information such as EQ thumbnails and FX routing.

Tip 3 – Detach, Full Screen, Re-attach

PreSonus has built Studio One with the multi-monitor user in mind. The console can be quickly and easily ‘detached’ from the main window. You can simply move it to a second display and maximize it to fill the screen.

If you don’t use two monitors, you can also detach the console with the goal of keeping it ‘floating’ in the foreground. Then, when you’re ready to resume your typical workflow it can be ‘re-attached’ with the click of a button.

Tip 4 – Does This Channel Make Me Look Fat?

Fat Channel is a group of 5 related processing tasks that will help you sculpt, add punch or fatten up just about any sound you run through it. It combines a filter, gate, compressor, EQ and limiter into a seismic beast of a plug-in. You can enable or disable any of the modules within it, and you can save your Fat Channel settings as a preset to instantly add a huge amount of EQ and dynamic processing to any source.

Tip 5 – A New Kind of Insert Chain

I have a fear of commitment. I know there are some of you out there who will select a region of audio and apply audio effects to it with wanton abandon. I also know there are some of you who will actually record audio tracks with effects on them, and that thought keeps me up at night.

If you are the kind of person who loves to wait until the last possible second to ‘print’ effects (like me), you’re going to love how easy it is to cycle through and edit your inserts.  Just open any insert and click on the arrows by the preset name at the top of the menu. I was amazed at how seamlessly and instantly I could cycle through the various inserts in my channel and adjust the effect parameters.



How To Put Some Soul Into Your Click Track

Click tracks are like Kryptonite to musicians. There isn’t a lot of enjoyment one gets from recording with them. Click tracks sound like nails being hammered into a coffin. A coffin you’ll find the remnants of your soul whimpering in. Ok, maybe that’s a little harsh, but clicks aren’t fun and can suck the life out of a groove sometimes.

However, click tracks are often vital to a recording session. They’re a necessity, but one that can rob a session of its vibe.

Connoisseur of 8th Notes

One of the shortcomings of a click track is that it’s impartial to wherever the 8th note may be sitting. Which means, it really has no feel. Anyone who has spent a lot of time cutting records can write a dissertation on how much the 8th note may vary between grooves. It’s a subtle, but hugely important detail.

Lava Lamp

My aim is to create a mood while recording. “Click, Click, Click, Click…” may create a mood, but not one of happiness and comfort. A traditional click is often restrictive to an artist’s performance.

Method

To create the homemade click track for the “Lonely”, I did the following: stomp for 4 bars, find the best bar, cut it and loop.

All Together Now

If you’re playing with a loop or homemade click track, you can include it in everybody’s cans. That’s another weird thing about click tracks. Some engineers will only feed the click to the drummer.

So, you’re following the drummer and the drummer is following the click. Sometimes not everyone is seeing eye to eye and the drummer has to negotiate which direction he leans since he’s the only one hearing both.



Home Music Recording – Getting Started

Music RecordingRecording music at home can be simple, affordable, and fun. It can also be complex, expensive, and demanding. There are many websites which offer advice regarding high-end recording equipment, help recordists perfect their craft, and suggest “budget” studio scenarios for $5,000-$10,000.

However, as John Volanski, suggests: “A home recording studio could be as simple as a multi-track cassette deck, a microphone, a musical instrument and a second stereo recorder to mix the recorded tracks onto. Of course, a home recording studio can get much, much more complicated with multiple recorders, computers, synchronization devices, sequencers, mixers, signal processors, power and ground issues, acoustic treatments of the room, monitor speakers, and many other issues to understand and problems to overcome.”

While, some musicians jump into recording with both feet, many others would like to record as a hobby – beginning with a very simple setup, laying down one or two tracks at a time, with an initial outlay of less than $1,000 and gradually upgrading as your needs grow and your skills improve.  Thankfully, music recording equipment and software capable of producing quality results is now available to newcomers with a modest budget.

To begin, there are two basic routes to choose from:

1) Use a stand-alone, multitrack recorder for both recording and mixing.  Depending on the model, tracks and mixes may be burned to a CD, saved on compact flash cards, or transferred to your computer via USB or FireWire connections.

2) Record directly to your computer, employing a simple audio interface and recording software such as Cubase or ProTools.  While there are advantages and disadvantages of each, the bottom line is: either option works well.  The choice is largely a matter of personal preference.