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Mixer Stereo Channels

Ben Langfeld

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I'm just wanting to conduct a bit of research and would value your opinions on the following:


In theatre, stereo playback is regularly required from line level sources located right next to the mixer. As far as my experience goes, and logic dictates, using stereo mixer channels for these sources is ideal, and there's rarely a need to split L and R to seperate mono channels. I'll come back to this.


In live music, playback gear isn't used half as much. An MP3 player or laptop or CD/MD player for music before and between acts, but that seems to be more or less it. All other stereo feeds tend to come from the stage via a DI (keys/synth/samplers, backing tracks, etc) and as such go in a couple of mono channels anyway.


What I'd like to know is, in what situations and how frequently do you tend to use stereo channels. Conversely, do you ever need to/want to split stereo sources into two mono channels and why? If you could possibly include details of the following, it would be much appreciated:

  • Type of show
  • Type of desk (if there's any pattern in things like frame size, feature set, general market position (does it tend to be Midas or Behringer?))
  • Source & Application
  • Any other relevant info.

I'd be very thankfull to anyone who could help me by answering any of these questions. And before questions arise, this is nothing to do with any course that I am studying for, it's just for my general interest. Oh, and I'm attempting to further my knowlege of both mixing live music/theatre shows and of electronics by designing a range of mixing consoles, where I'm hoping to eventually get to things like VCAs, mute groups, matrices etc. I can hear sniggering in the corner there! :)


PS: Is it just me, or has the spell checker vanished from the posting screen?

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As it happens ive spent all day rigging for a show tommrow night,

the night consists of a band doing several sets, a DJ, and some after meal speakers

The desk ive got in there for the job in a A&H GL4000 40channel, all the band is bought back on 25 channels, the dj on another two.


2 of the 4 stereo channels are being used for FX returns, another one was being used for a CD player, the other is being used by the visual company to bring DVD playback into the system


hope this helps?



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Hi there,


We mailny do sound for festivals and bands etc, and on one of our A&H GL3300 (a 28+4) we always use the 4 stereo's for...


3 fx returns and a cd / md for playback.


I generally always use stereo channels for fx returns...




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Well, the obvious answer to "why use them" is for stereo sources. In this case, I'm thinking more of things like CD or MP3 players than live instruments like keyboards or drum kits. Even though instruments can be stereo, you'd rarely want to have them spread right across the stage with bass notes on the left and the highs on the right. Even if I'm mixing in stereo, I'll usually take a mono feed of an instrument and just pan it to a single point on the sound stage. The other big use for me (like ChrisTS) is for stereo effects returns, usually 'verbs.


Besides my caveats above about instruments, the other reason I'll often split a stereo source into two mono is where the CD or other playback unit is being used for sound effects (most of my work is theatre, not clubs or concerts) where I often want a specific effect routed to a single speaker hidden somewhere.


You ask about type of desk. Most of my mixing these days is on a variety of Yamaha digital desks ranging from my DM1000 up to PM5Ds. This means that, rather than true stereo inputs, I'm using paired mono channels (properly paired if you've not used a Yammy...you programme it so that moving one fader of the pair automatically moves the other. However, my choices of "to pair or not to pair" are based on the same criteria as above.



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Also a lot of desks' stereo channels have less EQ options than regular mono channels, e.g no sweepable mids, which can be desirable for SFX playback or when you have a particularly difficult source




That's precisely what I was thinking. The same thing would apply to fx returns.

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I'm a big fan of stereo channels, and generally find their more-limited EQ not to be a problem. That said, I only use the things for FX returns, or for local stereo sources such as computer playback.


A couple of months back I got caught using a Spirit something or other that has one EQ knob per stereo return, and that was enough to place the fx appropriately in the mix.


The pain comes when you're not doing a conventional LR presentation, but are running "surround sound". I said "surround" in bunnies as in theatrical work it's not surround as in 5.1, but "surround" as in several sets of speakers located in various locations, and I'll oft-times have three stereo feeds from the computer, and more is not unknown.


The only desks I know of that have an adequate number of stereo channels are the MixWiz 20:s, but the older model only had four outs, and the new model is stereo only. Unfortunately these desks have a lot of other useful features missing. Maybe the digital revolution will catch up with me next year, as its seems that a 01R96v2 with extra A/D-D/A will fulfil my multi-in and multi-out desires, and a whole lot more besides.

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Out of 4 Stereo returns, I use 2 for FX, one for CD / MD in the rack, and the other one is free in case the DJ goes next to me. That's on the Spirit Series 2.


On the Mackie, I rarely use anything more than one or two just for CD player / MD. FX comes in on either one or two mono channels, as they're a lot easier to Mute than the piddly aux returns in the top corner!


On little spirit that's normally for smaller gigs, it's DJ on one (or CD player if I am just putting a CD on my self), and FX return on t'other.



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I generally prefer to have all inputs coming to mono inputs where possible - I tend to find that this gives a little more flexibility for EQ and for routing.


The stereo channels will normally only get used when the mono inputs are getting a little full and some space is needed - when it'll be CD or MD playback, preferably for less important things like pre-show announcements, or maybe FX returns.


This is mainly on dance productions with a few opera's and variety shows and some theatre-based talks and is on both analogue (Midas, Spirit) and digital desks (mainly on our Yamaha O2R - all other digital frames brought in have been full and needed to use stereo channels to avoid using a larger frame size).

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A few peeps have mentioned returning effects through the stereo ins. Whats the advantage to doing this as opposed to the aux returns, other than the ability to eq the retuning effect?


Well, speaking for myself, it often comes down mainly to the feeling of extra control being able to balance the wet and dry signals using nice smooth 100mm faders on the main part of the board rather than tweak around with the typical return controls in the master section of the mixer. Obviously, some boards handle this better than others, but all too often the returns are small and fiddly.


As you say, the ability to EQ can be an advantage as well, though this aspect is somewhat secondary to me.

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To add to what Bob said, effects returns usually don't have a mute button, which I often want at the end of each song.

Often I'll route all effects returns through one group (or put them on one VCA/DCA) so that turning effects down or off is easy to do.

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