Live sound mixing consoles are the heart of any live event’s audio setup. With the right mixer, engineers can shape stunning sound that engages audiences and enhances performances. But with so many options on the market, how do you choose the right mixing desk for your needs?
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll highlight the top 5 live sound consoles available today. We’ll break down their key features and ideal use cases. We’ll also provide tips on prioritizing mixer features based on your goals and budget. Let’s dive in!
Overview of the Top 5 Live Sound Mixing Consoles
A mixing console balances and enhances all the microphones, instruments, and other audio sources used in a live show. The engineer mixes these elements together to create a great-sounding mix for the audience and performers.
When shopping for a live mixer, here are some of the most important factors to consider:
- Channels – How many input channels do you need? More complex productions require bigger consoles.
- Analog vs. Digital – Analog consoles are classic, but digital offers advanced features.
- Workflow – Choose a board whose workflow matches your mixing style.
- Expandability – Can you add more channels later as needs grow?
- Effects – Built-in effects like reverb and delay save money over outboard gear.
- Budget – Prices range widely, from under $500 to over $15,000.
Balancing these factors will lead you to your ideal mixing solution. In this guide, we spotlight the top 5 consoles spanning various sizes, capabilities, and budgets.
1. Soundcraft Signature 12MTK
The Soundcraft Signature 12MTK is a compact, budget-friendly analog mixer loaded with features. It’s ideal for local bands playing smaller gigs.
- 12 input channels with great Soundcraft preamps
- 4 quality effects processors including reverb and delay
- Anti-feedback notch filters for room tuning
- Faders, FX returns, and more
- 16 channel USB recording interface
- Warm analog sound quality
- Built-in effects save money
- Rugged metal construction
- Excellent value for money
- Limited number of channels restricts use for larger acts
- No digital connectivity
Ideal For: Local and regional bands playing bars, clubs, weddings, private events
Price Range: $250 – $400
2. Allen & Heath Qu-16
A step up in functionality, the Allen & Heath Qu-16 provides flexible digital mixing in a compact form. It’s great for regional bands and medium-sized venues.
- 16 input and 6 aux channels, expandable to 32
- Crystal-clear 24-bit, 96kHz audio quality
- Built-in processing like compressors, EQ, gates
- Digital effects including reverbs and delays
- Advanced mixing and routing options
- Networkable digital connectivity via dSnake
- Excellent sound clarity and routing flexibility
- Easy workflow with the intuitive Qu-Mix app
- Solid metal chassis built for live use
- Screen is on the small side
- Only 4 dedicated FX busses
Ideal For: Cover bands, corporate events, medium-sized venues, houses of worship
Price Range: $1000 – $1500
3. Midas M32
The Midas M32 is an industry-standard digital console for mid-to-large sized live shows. Its advanced capabilities make it a favorite of seasoned professionals.
- 32 bi-directional channels for inputs and outputs
- 25 mix buses for custom monitor mixes
- 8 assignable effects engines offer premium FX
- DN32-Live Ethernet networking with iPad control
- Motorized faders, scribble strips, and more
- Crystal clear Midas-designed preamps
- Very intuitive workflow and iPad control
- Extensive input, routing, and output options
- Excellent effects and processing
- Expensive compared to competitors
- No onboard multitrack recording
Ideal For: Touring acts, large venues, professional AV rental companies
Price Range: $3000 – $4000
4. Behringer X32
Providing immense functionality for the price, the Behringer X32 is ideal for regional acts wanting robust digital mixing.
- 32 input channels, 16 mix buses
- 40-bit floating point DSP FX processing
- Motorized faders, channel LCD screens
- Dual AES50 Ethernet ports for audio networking
- Integrated Ultranet personal monitoring
- Excellent bang-for-your-buck value
- Deep digital signal processing capabilities
- Flexible options for stagebox expansions
- Road-tough ruggedness and reliability
- FX are not as pristine as costly consoles
- Fader motion could be smoother
Ideal For: Regional bands, medium-large venues, budget-conscious users
Price Range: $2000 – $3000
5. Avid Venue S6L
The Avid Venue S6L is a top-tier modular system for large concert tours and professional shows. It’s the pinnacle of digital mixing power and flexibility.
- Massive 192 inputs and 64 buses
- True modular engine bay and surface design
- Groundbreaking E6 engine with FPGA processing
- Touchscreen with extensive metering
- Automatic mix modes and potent effects
- Elite-level sound quality with pristine preamps
- Extremely customizable and scalable
- Networked digital snake and processing
- Road-proven reliability for global tours
- Very expensive, up to $50,000 fully loaded
- Overkill for smaller applications
Ideal For: Major touring acts playing arenas and stadiums
Price Range: $15,000 – $50,000+
How to Choose the Right Mixer Based on Your Needs
With so many mixing console options available, it can be challenging to determine which one fits your application best. Here are some key questions to ask yourself when deciding:
- How many input channels do I need? Count your mics, instruments, and other inputs. Allow room to grow.
- What size venues am I playing? Clubs and bars need smaller mixers than festivals.
- What is my budget? Entry-level analog mixers start under $500. High-end digital consoles can cost over $15,000.
- Do I need advanced digital processing? Digital boards offer great effects and control, at a price.
- Will I expand later on? Consider a console with networking and stagebox capabilities.
- Do I need a modular system? Major tours require scalable systems.
- What is my tech skill level? Choose a mixer with an interface you’re comfortable using.
Prioritizing Features Based on Your Goals
For local and regional bands playing smaller venues, an analog mixer with great preamps and some built-in effects is a smart budget choice. The Soundcraft Signature 12MTK is ideal for this.
As you progress to bigger stages, digital boards with advanced routing, processing, and networking become important. The Allen & Heath Qu-16 or Behringer X32 offer great mid-range functionality.
Professional touring bands playing arenas and stadiums require immense FX power and flexible modular systems. The Avid Venue S6L is the leading console for massive tours.
Permanent installs like churches and theaters need both excellent sound and simplicity. The Midas M32 is a top choice for set-it-and-forget-it mixing.
No matter your ambitions or budget, choosing a live mixer is an investment. Carefully weigh the channels, connectivity, effects, routing, and workflow needed for your productions.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between an analog and digital mixer?
- Analog mixers route audio via physical circuits. They offer a warm, classic sound but less flexibility.
- Digital mixers convert audio to digital signals, providing advanced options like recalls, processing, and networking – but the sound isn’t always as “pure.”
How important are effects and built-in processing?
- Effects like reverb, delay, and chorus add polish to vocals and instruments. Compressors and EQ shape sound. Budget boards offer basic FX, while high-end mixers provide superb studio-grade effects.
What mixer size do I need for different venue capacities?
- Fewer than 100 people: 16-24 channel mixer
- 100-500 people: 24+ channel mixer, with advanced processing
- 500+ people: 32+ channel mixer with networking and monitors
- 1000+ people: 40+ channels, modular scalability
What brands are considered industry leaders?
Some of the top professional audio mixing console brands include:
- Avid (Venue series)
- Midas (M32, PRO series)
- Allen & Heath (SQ, dLive)
- Yamaha (PM5D, CL series)
- Soundcraft (Vi series)
- Digico (SD series)
How much does an average live sound mixer cost?
- Entry-level analog: $200 – $500
- Intermediate digital: $1000 – $2500
- Advanced digital: $2500 – $7000
- High-end modular: $7000+
What training or knowledge is needed to operate one?
- Reading signal flow diagrams is helpful for visualizing routing
- Understanding gain staging principles allows proper level setting
- Knowing how to EQ, compress, and utilize effects helps polish the mix
- Digital boards require learning the workflow of their software interface
How can I expand a mixer if I need more inputs later on?
- Consoles with networking interfaces like Dante or Waves SoundGrid allow connecting external stageboxes.
- Additional analog inputs can be added via sub-mixers or audio interfaces.
- Some mixers feature expandable bays to install more input cards as needed.
What should I look for if I want to mix monitors separately?
- Consoles with a high number of aux sends allow discrete monitor mixes.
- Matrix mixes also feed separate monitor zones.
- On digital mixers, separate control interfaces can adjust different mixes simultaneously.
How do I integrate a mixer with other audio equipment?
- Most mixers offer main XLR or 1/4″ outputs to feed speakers or recording interfaces.
- Digital boards with AES, Dante, or AVB integrate with modern digital audio networks.
- Analog boards can connect to outboard gear via insert points and FX send/return loops.
What should I consider when choosing a mixer for touring vs. permanent install?
- Touring requires extreme durability and portability. Redundant/modular parts prevent show-stopping failures.
- Installed systems need comprehensive input patching and routing. Intuitive interfaces allow guest users to mix easily.
We’ve covered a lot of ground here! To recap, the top live sound mixing consoles available today include:
- Soundcraft Signature 12MTK – Compact analog, best for local gigs
- Allen & Heath Qu-16 – Feature-packed digital, ideal for mid-size shows
- Midas M32 – Professional quality for tours and installs
- Behringer X32 – Advanced digital at a great price point
- Avid Venue S6L – Elite modular system for huge concerts
The most important factors when choosing a mixer are channels, connectivity, effects, routing, expandability, and workflow. Carefully consider your particular needs in venues and productions to select the best console.
Investing in a quality live sound mixing desk is worthwhile. Your audiences and performers will appreciate the great mixes you’ll achieve! With this guide’s advice, you can be confident choosing the perfect console for your live productions.