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Gear Tech




How to choose a Mixer - buying tips

Tim Hazelwood

Gemini BPM 250There are tons of mixers on the market and one thing is for sure, they have even more features nowadays than you can shake a stick at.

For most mobile uses you will want the following features.

2 Mic Inputs- Often overlooked is the Microphone area of the DJ mixer. Some companies will give you two inputs but the second input may not work at all or is useless because it is tied to a line input channel that you may need for your cd players.

Mic Control- Make sure the mixer has some type of lo - mid - high and gain control for the main mic input. This allows you to tailor the sound of your voice without being affected as much by the overall EQ on the master outputs.

Channels- Most mobile boards use 4 channels - one for the mic(s) input and 3 more for other devices like cd players, tape decks, turntables etc. If you use turntables make sure that the mixer offers a switch to allow the use of turntables. On most mixers this switch is called the phono/line switch. Turntables need more of a signal boost than do line devices like CD players etc. The phono line switch gives the boost to the phono input when the selection is made. Do not use the phono input to plug in a cd player as you may cause some permanent damage to the mixer. So far we have used one channel for the mics. Most mobile DJ's use the other 3 channels for their CD players. One CD player is connected to the line input of each channel. Using a 3 cd player system is the most common as it gives you some breathing room should one of your cd players die on you at an event. It happens more often than you think so seriously consider adding the third player if you havent done it yet.American DJ COmmander 3633

Channel control- The better mixers have individual hi - mid - low and gain control on each channel. This allows you to tailor the sound of each item that you have plugged in. For instance. You may have a Numark Dual bay cd player in channel 2 and 3 and a Sony home player in Channel 4. The individual channel controls would allow you to balance the different sound characteristics of the 2 different makes of CD players. The difference in sound from each CD player may not be that huge at low volume but when amplified to full volume you may hear a noticeable difference.

Headphones- (also called PFL or monitor or CUE) This section of the mixer is critical. You should be able to listen to what is playing on any channel at anytime and in any combination. You should also be able to listen to multiple items at the same time. Some of the new mixers also allow you to blend the signals on a variable scale to whatever is coming out of the master outputs. This helps you to set your volume level before bringing in the next mix.

Balanced outputs- A lot the of new mixers have balanced outputs. IF you are using a balanced system you can actually push your mixer a little further before running into a distorted signal. Sometimes the difference is very noticeable and other times not so much. It depends on the overall quality of the mixer and of the individual components plugged into the the mixer (these should also be balanced output devices.) IF the devices you are using do not have balanced outputs the benefit of using a balanced output mixer will not be substantial but you will see some benefit.

Pioneer DJM 500Booth or Zone 2 output- This is also a very important feature. There are many times when you need that second output to connect a subwoofer or a second amplifier. The Second output allows you to do it very easily without having to split your signal. It is becoming more and more common to see DJ's using a small speaker placed on or under their table instead of headphones. The booth output is where you would control the volume to that third speaker. Personally I like to control the output to my sub woofer system from the booth output knob. That way if I run into a song that has too much bass, I don't have to touch my EQ which was set for the room, I only have to modify the output going to the subs.

Samplers and sound effects- Many mobiles DJ's like these added features but they usually add a good amount to the price tag of the equipment. Take a good look and listen to the quality of these items as part of the overall mixer and ask yourself if you may not be served better by an outboard piece of gear that accomplishes the same goal, which leads us to our next item.

Effects Send and Return loop- This is an option on many mixers and allows you to send an individual channel out to a signal processing unit, vocal effects processor or to a sampler. The outboard processor or sampler will take the signal from the channel, modify it and then send it back to the mixer. The overall change made by the external processor can be controlled (usually by a rotary knob) on each channel of the mixer. If you are going to add effects, processors, or samplers, make sure that the mixer has the effects loop on each channel. Some mixers only have the effects loop on the master out section of the mixer. The send and return feature is not commonly used by mobiles but it is an important feature to understand and originally came from Live sound mixers.

Signal to noise ratio- the higher this number is the better. A rating of 85 or better is usually ideal. This is one of the best indicators of the overall performance of a DJ mixer. It measures how much "noise" the electronic components of the mixer add to the original signal. The problem with this rating however is that you do not know if the manufacturer is actually telling you the truth. To further complicate the matter, there are different methods used to take this measurement. The third item that comes into play with this measurement is that some people will buy a mixer because of the signal noise it adds because of the feel or edge it may give to the music they are playing. While the last item is not as frequent...; it does happen and makes mixer selection a very personal matter.



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