How to use an audio mixer (soundboard)

In this instructable I am going to go through all the control features found on most mixers (mixing consoles, mixing desks, audio consoles, soundboards - they all refer to the same thing). I will start with the absolute basics:
What is a mixer?
A mixer, in its purest and simplest form, combines or meshes an array of inputs into a few controllable outputs (hence the name, MIXer). It is pretty much universal that mixers will have at least a volume control on the output. The vast majority will have volume or "level" controls on each input, or "channel." A great many still will have a variety of controls on each channel, from gains or trims to EQ and aux'es and buses and PFL's and more; don't worry though - I will go through each of these at least briefly.
When a new sound guy looks at a mixer for a large church, per se, he may feel overwhelmed by the oceans of knobs that may or may not be there. But here,I will explain what these knobs do, and you will actually find them to be overwhelmingly simple.

The first thing you need to know is that I will be dealing with moderate to large mixing desks and sound boards, with at least 10 channels (available inputs) or more. These are what you will see if you want to "run sound" for a church or venue or record music of bands, etc.
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Step 1: Channels

The most important aspect of understanding mixers is understanding the channels. On almost all consoles, the channels are laid out in strips; the signal comes in physically through the back of the device, then passes through that channel's various controls from top to bottom, with the gain or trim at the top and the fader at the bottom. I will go through what each of these steps does in their own, well, steps.

Simply look at one of the black circle inputs (XLR's for microphones and snakes), then follow the column of knobs straight down. This is a channel strip.
sdmccoy1 year ago
Thank you so much for this. It is so simplistic and I'm glad I found you. Know I understand what I am suppose to do/be doing.
musicmike11 year ago
You mentioned headphones here. I wonder if you could answer a question.

I have a Kam KMD20 and want to hear the applied effects through the headphones and but seem to find out how to do it.

Any ideas?


yoyology1 year ago
This is extremely helpful! I run video for our church's Praise and Worship service, and if the sound guy doesn't show up, I'm left sitting next to the mixer and shrugging when somebody asks me to do anything. I need to get a basic understanding of the board so I can run it in an emergency, and this is just the intro I was looking for. Thank you!
_Basse_5 years ago
Can anyone recommend a "begginer" Soundboard ?
It all depends on what you're using it for. So, how many mics, instruments etc and what it's actual purpose is. Tell me that and I'll give you a recommendation :D
David, my purpose is home recording of "live" instruments. I have been jamming with some friends and we are now interested in recording our music. We would be connecting an Akai XR-20 drum machine, an electric bass guitar, a MIDI keyboard and possibly a microphone. What is a good mixer or soundboard that you would recommend for that. I have a lead on a Studiomaster Club 2000 14x2 for $200. Is that a good buy?
Yeh, that's a good bargain if you can get hold of it. You will need  fair amount of cables too. If you're looking to record digitally (idealy) you will need a way to connect the desk output to the computer sound card for recording. This can be done by connecting the stereo output of the desk into the line input on the computer, and use a simple program like Audacity (free) to record your session. The drum machine outputs in stereo (two channels) so you'll need two jack cables to go into the mixer. The same applies for the keyboard I would think (if it has a stereo ouput). The bass guitar can be run directly into the mixer on a jack cable like the other sources. The microphone will use one XLR cable. Ideally, you want to keep the jack sources on as shorter leads as possible, as they can easily pick up interferenace from other electronic devices, but the mic can be on a long lead.

So yeah, that desk should be fine! The only thing is that you'll be recording on just two tracks, so everything you record will have to be balanced correctly on recording to give a good sound output. You can kind of cheat with multitrack recording, my recording each track one at a time, and then layering them all together on the PC. This can also be done on Audacity.

Good luck!
This may be old, but you can NEVER plug a bass or any other guitar direct to the jacks on the mixer. It will sound horrible! This also applies for Pianos. You have to use a DI-Box (Direct input), converting jack to XLR
Our praise and worship band always plug directly into our mixer. We go from the mixer to powered speakers & have a great sound. The ONLY problem we have is the Behringer mixer started loosing 2 of the channels our mics use so we went w/ a Mackie PRO FX 16 mixer. MUCH BETTER!!! Our Church uses a Mackie PRO FX 22 mixer. We plug everything into a 16 channel snake which then runs to this mixer. Same as our band, great sound. We did however install DI boxes to take the noise out of the system. I hope we get years of service from the Mackies as this is our first time going to that brand. I trust Behringer powered speakers & amps but have too many friends that have had trouble out of their mixer boards. I really enjoy this forum 7 will definately have to lean on some of you from time to time as I've been a drummer since the 70s but am just now starting to learn the mixing end.
Hmm, that only applies on instruments and keys that are cheaper and so don't have a "true" line out as far as I know, otherwise there would be no purpose in mixing desk manufacturers having line ins on their desk, no?
Easy, it can be used if you want to plug in an iPod or CD player. You can go from <3.5mm minijack> to 2 (a red and white one) You have to use 2 channels, one for the white (left) and one for the right (=red). Make sure you set the balance for the channels respectively far left and far right.

I've never come across a piano with XLR. After reconsidering, yeah, a piano might be able to plug in directly. But we (my soundcrew) always use XLR because we don't have jack-jack cables that are over 50feet.

Only acoustic guitars with an element with XLR can be plugged directly in a mixer without a DI. (not very common, mostly only jack)
The Jack from a guitar gives a different impedance and voltage, and it will sound very crappy.
A DI is small pre amp converting it to XLR, using a 9Volt battery or the 48volt from the phantom.
Also, an electric guitar draws his current from the amplifier, and if you plug it in your mixer you might blow out some fuses.
If you're going to record separately and layer everything together, you might as well save on the $200 mixer, use a preamp, and do everything on your computer. I'm sure they have some good software for Windows if you're using a PC that isn't as costly as Pro Tools. If you have a Mac, GarageBand works fine, perhaps with a few more programs you can get for free. I use Logic Studio. It has tons of great tools for mixing, and a whole lot more.
I would like a 3-input stereo line input mixer (simple and cheap as I can get away with) to combine an mp3 player, my laptop, and a white noise machine. Thanks, I appreciate any and all suggestions you may have.
Depending on the the connection (ie as long as you can get them to quarter inch jacks, you should be fine) then these should be suitable. The first is about as basic as it gets, the second adds a mic channel and some control if you need to get a bit more customized, the third has a few more channels in case you feel the need. These links are for the UK retailers but they'll all be available on global sites. Have a look, hope this helps:
Thanks very much!!
Take care,
It all depends on what kind of things you are looking for the board to be doing, if you give me some sort of idea what you want and I can give you some recommendations.

07511 664218
idkdoyou4 years ago
do you have to use a coputer to record your music and do ect.........
It's actually arguable that you don't even need an external audio mixer. There is software for every computer operating system that can produce the same effects. I have an iMac with Logic Studio. All I use is a small preamp for my microphone and my friend's guitar. Pretty much everything is done on the computer.
your explanation is very good !!
and you are correct that there is no need of external hardware !!
In olden times , the computer processing speed was very low . so they used external electronic mixers . If you have a powerful pc you dont even have to use hardware mixers !! right ?
not always but most people recomend it if you are not able to use a pro sound recording system
It may not look like it, but this sound board has 28 channels.
Braedenb132 years ago
Hey, I run a tech booth at church and we want to start recording sermons and putting them on the Church Website for home-bound seniors. We have our computer and we have a 16-channel soundboard. If i wanted to record it, could i but a XLR cable that converts to a 3.5mm Jack and plug it into the microhone jack in the computer, and record it that way in Audacity, and upload it to the Website? I just want to know before i buy the cable.

thegeeke2 years ago
I know that this instructable, but incase anyone is still looking at this, NEVER waste your money on a berrienger (sp?) board. Anyone who knows anything about sound would agree.
agree. No matter what I would be for. The Behringer Xenyx mixers are a bad quality copy of mackie onyx boards!
Any berringer board is a copy of another decent board. Berringer just takes good boards and fouls them up. They will use the exact same design, except with the cheapest parts and labor they can find. I'm told (I never actually confirmed this) that Makie actually won a lawsuit against berringer because whoever had designed the Makie board had too much time on their hands, and if you looked at the circuitry from a few feet away it spelled "Makie". Makie opened up berringers board in the court room, and sure enough, the circuitry spelled makie! (I guess you could say berringer copied the board "to the letter"!) ;)
psychodalek3 years ago
im with sliff. i just need to know the basics of what to buy to create sound blends and mixing like Bassnectar, Reso, or Deadmau5.
You need a few things. You need a dj mixer, midi keyboard or any other midi input device OR a synth pad like a Native instruments maschine and a laptop with software (pro-tools or something like that)
Perkey2 years ago
Thank you for this post. I recently became interesting in how a Mixer works and this Instructable is well put together and very informative!
pcool2 years ago
i want to learne this production of producing my bet myself and i need american bet
I need an idea of what kind of soundboard I should get for producing music. Such as creating house/club music. Any ideas?
darylelamma3 years ago

I need some help and I'm hoping someone here can rescue me. I used to play on the circuit for a lot of years and owned all of the bands live sound equipment. When we finally pulled the plug, I stuck it all in a trailer and stored it. I recently was asked to join in with some guys who were just getting started and I offered to break out my PA system. The trouble is that we had a sound engineer back then and I had one hell of a time trying to set the damn thing up last weekend. I managed to get it to function, but it's definitely not set up correctly. I was hoping someone could analyze what I have and tell me what I'm doing wrong.

I have a 32-channel soundcraft, but opted to use my Mackie 1604vlz that was used to mix the drums. I thought it looked a little more user-friendly. I basically hooked things up as follows:

Went from main out on the back of the mixer to the inputs of an Ashley 2-channel crossover and from there to the back of one of my Crown 802 amps. I had tried to put a BBE twin 31 band eq in between the mixer and the crossover, but it didn't work out ,  so I removed it from the loop. I went out from the amps to a pair of dual 15" with horns and left the 18"s unplugged thinking that I just didn't need them for such small venue.

I went from aux 1 and 2 out to the input channels of a Lexicon MX400 to get some simple reverb and on aux 3 and 4, I went out to a Presonus studio preamp to get use of the compressor, de-esser and other effects for the vocal mics. I went from output on these racks back to aux return on the board. I mic'd an acoustic for the other guy with a SM57 and then a 58 for his vocal and used a 57 for myself.

I also ran a signal from the aux out to a dual 15-band eq and then to a crown 602 to power two stage monitors.

When I tried to push some sound to the mains, I started getting feedback that just seemed to take on a life of its own. It seemed to be coming from the proximity of the 57 and 58 combination and I couldn't get the db levels up very far at all on the board without uncontrollable feedback. I also noticed that I couldn't push the aux out signal gain without creating the same problem and it was as though the volume was being controlled by the auxes rather than the main outs.

I'm definitely not familiar enough with this mackie board to tell if I have it set up correctly or what the problem may be. If there's someone on the forum who can take a shot at getting me headed in the right direction, I'd be grateful. We're supposed to perform again this weekend and I'm all for canceling it unless I get my **** together in a real hurry. You'd think a guy who owned all this equipment and much more than what's mentioned here would know how to run it, but I'm a player and wouldn't even begin to hold myself out as knowing anything about sound reinforcement.  

Any help, questions or dialogue would really be appreciated. 


Firstly, what make and model are your speakers? I don't see why you were using a crossover but not your subs - 15" tops should be relatively full range anyway, so even then I wouldn't reccomend using it for anything other then to keep hight frequencies away from the subs. For a small venue, I wouldn't reccomend putting anything (other than amps, of course) between your mixer and speakers. Are your subs passive or active? Does your crossover have a full range/straight through output? Sorry if this doesn't seem very structured, I'll look into this for you tomorrow, I'm struggling to stay awake right now. Hope your event went well. ~Cc
Thanks a great deal for taking time to respond. The speakers are executioners and they are mounted in Legion cabinets. I thought that the crossover might be necessary to separate the frequencies between the horns and the dual 15's. I'm not certain what you mean by full range/straight through output. It'a an ashley dual channel but don't have the model number in front of me at the moment. All of the cabinets are passive. The biggest problem I had was feedback remained right on the edge of expressing itself. The monitors seemed to have a lot to do with that and regardless of how I set them, if I tried to drive the sound up to a level necessary to hear well enough, feeback would arise. My mains were well out in front of us, so I really didn't understand where the source of the problem was originating. I definitely don't know my equipment well enough and am embarassed to admit it. In my day, this equipment was run by a sound engineer that actually knew what he was doing. I was hoping to get some guidance about what to use in my line of equipment to obtain the best setup that would be uncomplicated enough for me to handle it on my own. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated. Again, thanks for your help. Daryl
anki11284 years ago
 the theory is well explained.also well related to concept of q point ,bass and boost.
stval02204 years ago
Thanks for the Introduction of mixer. It is good informations. It has been improved my knowledge about mixer. Thanks again.
joeltan1114 years ago
I love this tutorial....
going to use it for teaching purposes. 
But, i wish to ask if there are any guides or tutorials which detail the operation of a digital board, as this guide is focused on a analogue board.

xXKab0oseXx4 years ago
hey 'ancient' ive recently ive been goin to practice with some friends of mine and i don't know anything about the 'technicalities of music so their sound tech left the band and now they want me to replace him, but i don't know anything about a mixer board. im engineering with an europower pmp5000. do u know anywhere i can go to read more up on this particular sound mixer?
please note before reading this i am not trying to be mean, i am offering my opinion from past experience how about u dont accept a job u cant do. if u cant mix a simple desk you shouldn't be engineering. if u cant mix a piece of junk Behringer then you have no hope of mixing anything. its something you either have or you dont.
oh well ive got to start somewhere and this seemed like the perfect site to ask a blunt question. and ive got to start somewhere but thanks for the comment ill take it as constructive critisizm
Markusaurelius (author)  hoihoi1514 years ago
True: "if u cant mix a simple desk you shouldn't be engineering." False: "if u cant mix a piece of junk Behringer then you have no hope of mixing anything. its something you either have or you dont." If everyone believed this, there would be no engineers at all - you don't come out of the womb with a trained ear and technical knowledge. You didn't, I didn't, and xXKab0oseXx didn't. Everybody's gotta learn somewhere. So it is true if you can't take a little Behringer yet, you probably shouldn't be advertising yourself out to companies and venues as an audio engineer - but you get better with practice, and you practice by mixing something. The owner's manual is a great place to start, usually. It'll tell you any specifics in the way that board works that aren't covered in my rather generic instructable. Then I would recommend practice by mixing this band's practices. See if you can get them to practice somewhere with a sound system, and since there's nobody else around to hear how bad you WILL be at first, you can play around and learn with ruining somebody's show :) The most important thing in becoming an engineer, however, is consistency, and just like any other skill: practice, practice, practice. You HAVE to do it on a regular basis. At least once a week, preferably more. After a couple weeks you should get real familiar with the technicalities of mixing. A good ear for EQ and processing takes a couple years of practice though, so don't think you're an engineering after a couple gigs - but don't get discouraged when you know there's something wrong but you can't fix it yet. A trained ear is not developed overnight. Read up, too. As ironic as this is for me to say, in general, stay away from advice on the internet, or at least practice some discerning. Remember the cardinal EQ rule: IT'S ALWAYS BETTER to CUT bad frequencies than to try to BOOST what you THINK is nice. Don't believe anything that goes against that rule, until you're a seasoned engineer who is confident and practiced enough to make his own judgments. Try the magazine, LIVE SOUND. Good stuff.

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