About 12-15 years ago, large format digital mixing consoles started showing up in houses of worship. With a price tag unapproachable to all but large to mega churches, they were the pioneers of the small-format consoles we enjoy today. Over the last decade we have witnessed the shift to affordable small format digital consoles ranging from $2,000 to $5,000, a fraction of the price of an analog console and outboard gear to match its capability. But only in the last several years have we seen fully automated 32 channel digital consoles hit the market for under $3,000. Currently, when considering all the processing power residing in these digital consoles, It’s almost impossible to equate investment cost to comparable analog gear. Digital wins "bang for your buck" hands down.

Sound quality has been one area analog has trumped digital when comparing the two, mainly because with analog consoles the signal is never converted to digital and back. Only the top tier digital consoles had high end mic pres and converters to give great sound. Once again, this is no longer the rule. With the latest line up of small format digital consoles sporting great mic pres, converters, and processing , they sound as good or better than their analog counterparts. And once converted to digital, the signal is much more resistant to noise than it’s analog mate.

Scenes and presets have always been a huge selling point for digital consoles. They are essentially purpose-built computers and the reasons for using them are the same as for any computer: it keeps a record of everything you do; it saves your changes; it recalls whatever you want recalled; you can transfer the information to another computer, and so on. You can save hundreds of ‘scenes’ or presets to be recalled by the push of a button. There are dozens of reasons this is great for your facility, the biggest being “no one can mess up settings on the board that can’t be fixed with a simple recall”!

These new digital wonders pack a load of processing into a small package. Even a low-cost console has a 4-band fully parametric EQ, dynamics/compressor, and delay available on every channel, as well as six to eight internal 31-band EQ’s and four banks of effects processors. To get this in an analog setup would take an analog console physically larger than the digital, plus 2 or 3 tall racks of outboard gear to match the processing; not to mention the rat’s nest of cables. Granted, all this processing in a small footprint means operation of digital consoles can be a little more challenging. With analog consoles, dedicated controls for every function are laid out in plain view on the surface of the console. This is one of the few remaining reasons to consider buying analog. With digital, knobs and faders on the control surface will have multiple functions, depending on setup and layering. Thus the need for the operator to be a little more focused at times.

Unless you have a separate monitor console and operator, the importance of Aux sends cannot be overemphasized. You may never use a single effect (though most mixing techs use at least a touch of reverb), but the Aux sends are where the various stage or monitor mixes will be established and adjusted. If IEMS’s are employed (in-ear monitors) the importance of establishing a good mix for each musician becomes even greater than with stage ‘wedge-type’ monitors. Another great feature of digital consoles is the ability to control various aspects of the console remotely with iPads, tablets or even smartphones. This can be a blessing when mixing monitors. Aux sends are also where separate mixes for the cry room, backstage, a video or audio recording, or an adjacent feed to an overflow room will be generated and adjusted. Most digital consoles have 2 to 4 times the number of aux sends as comparable analogs.

There are other advantages, but with limited space, these will serve as a good start. There are still occasions where purchasing an analog console is the better way to go, but those are slowing becoming few. When considering a new console, let us ask you the right questions and guide you in your decision. You’ll be glad you did!