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Updating your console
Does your console budget define your vision, or does your vision define the budget?

Time to Upgrade: Choosing an Audio Console

Every available digital console will offer a certain amount of FX processing, and now, mostly more than the average user would ever significantly tax.

The Realistic Need to Upgrade

In this industry, it’s pretty common to assume the lifespan of a digital audio console to be about seven to 10 years. Any additional time/use of an audio console that exceeds ten years can be considered an added bonus. The benefits of that old console by then are likely long gone, though, and the church is likely trying to get “just one more year,” before having to upgrade.

Do higher sample rates really matter for live/church applications?

Churches across the country are of so many different room sizes, congregation demographics, and worship/musical styles; there are so many consoles to choose from.

Here’s a quick rundown of things to think about when choosing to upgrade the audio console at your church.

Form Factor

The location and physical size of your audio mixing console is often a discussion point. When many churches moved from analog to digital about 10 years ago, most consoles got smaller, but were able to do more. We now have the ability with almost every console to remotely mix via an iPad or tablet in the worship space, so the physical location of our console might not be as important, if you’re only managing a handful of inputs for a small service or worship space.

Some consoles are built to live in an equipment rack and be primarily controlled by a tablet, while some of us must have real faders to be “mixing.” It really depends on the application and who’s mixing, when making the decision for what’s right for you.

Input Channel Count

How many channels are enough? 16, 32, 48, 64, 72, 96, 128, 256? With the array of consoles that have been developed over the last few years, physical inputs are relatively inexpensive and connect to a surface/mixer, via some flavor of CAT6/IP protocol or coaxial MADI.

The bigger question is how many live inputs can I mix with this console simultaneously and what do I need to do with them.

It’s rare that a contemporary style church with a band, a few vocalists, maybe a small vocal ensemble/choir or string section would need a console that can mix more than 48 or 64 input channels, but it really depends on who’s mixing and the audio experience they are trying to produce.

Some churches like to digitally split multiple sources and have different processing paths for a single source (guitar, kick drum, etc.). In this scenario, you’ll need a console that can mix more that 64 channels; which is why most large format audio consoles can handle input processing for 96, or even 128 channels, standard. You might not need all that power, but it’s there, if you do.

Bus Outputs and Config Options

Once you have all your inputs set up and you build a mix, where does it go?

Bus configuration is often not fixed (variable) on medium/large digital consoles, so you can configure the console to how you’re going to use it.

Do you need LCR, LR, or Mono Mains? How many mono wedge Aux outputs or Stereo IEM auxes do you need? Do I need the ability to build Subgroups, Matrices, or DCAs? It’s typical that most modern digital consoles have at least 24 buses available, sometimes many more, and the ability to custom configure them varies wildly by manufacturer and model.

Multi-channel IP audio network distribution protocols, like Dante and AVB, are changing everything, though. Even some smaller consoles are incorporating expansion card slots, allowing the integration of audio networking and giving even small churches the ability to send multiple channels of high quality audio over a network, incurring minimal latency, over a “single cable.”

Sample Rate/Processing Power

Do higher sample rates really matter for live/church applications? Is 96kHz really hype and not really a benefit?

We’ve all been mixing digitally in the 48kHz realm for a long time - almost every affordable live digital console before 2016 was mixing at 48kHz. The benefits of 96kHz have really been seen in the recording side, and how sources impact FX processing, but audibly in the house … maybe.

Every available digital console will offer a certain amount of FX processing, and now, mostly more than the average user would ever significantly tax. Are 16 stereo FX processors enough? (the answer is YES, btw)

Also, do you need multiband compression on every channel or just the ones that need it? The moral of the story is to buy what you think you’ll realistically need, and plan for a little bit of expandability.

Adding an FX expansion card to your console to run external Waves FX or processing is always a nice option if the internal console FX just won’t cut it for your standards. The secret is, though, internal FX (emulators) are getting so good, that you’ll have trouble differentiating the internal from external FX.

Volunteer Usability

A major thing to think about when buying a new console, is “who’s going to run it?”

Most churches need a console that can be operated by volunteers but has the tools to get the sounds desired by a contract or staff engineer. The interface and workflow of each console is different and needs to be assessed, to fit how you and your team work.

Quick Tip: The speed of a console and the ability to quickly get to what you need is important. No one wants to search through menu after menu, layer after layer, just to find out how to choose pre/post on a single channel, right? Things need to be easy and intuitive.

Price

The biggest factor! Your church wants to pay less and get more, and fortunately, that’s the ways it works with digital consoles of the last few years.

Pay for what you need.

Do your research.

Get your hands/ears on multiple consoles before you buy.

Don’t buy a console, because it’s less expensive and the marketing is good. Buy the console that is right for you.

Pulling the Trigger

Does your console budget define your vision, or does your vision define the budget?

At some point, the 10-plus year console that you’re using will fail, and are you ready for the sticker shock of the next console/system required to facilitate ministry at your church for another 10 years?

Eventually, you will just have to go for it. So … plan for it.

We often find churches make wiser decisions, save money, and have better long-term success, when they partner with an experienced church integrator that they can trust.

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