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Upgrading Signal Chain: New Mixer vs. Standalone Pre-amps
Old 19th January 2013
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🎧 5 years
Upgrading Signal Chain: New Mixer vs. Standalone Pre-amps

Hello Everyone!

I've joined the forums just to ask for advice on this topic. First off, let me explain my existing workflow/signal chain:

1) microphones go into a behringer eurodesk mx9000
2) stereo busses plus 4 direct outs go into an audiofire 12*
3) audiofire 12 connects to my computer
4) all monitoring is done via the mixer

*) Most of the time I only need 8 inputs, but I do occasionally record a group that requires all 12 inputs be put to use.

Now, the mixer was a hand-me-down from a friend who got sick of dealing with it; under my ownership, the mixer has steadily become even flakier than it was before (the mains didn't work when I got it, channels have been dying, and it's a noisy mixer with lot's of crosstalk). The weak point in my signal chain is definately the mixer, so I want to replace it, as I see things I've got two options:

A) Buy a new mixing console
B) Get some standalone pre-amps and take the mixer out of the signal chain completely

In terms of signal quality per dollar it looks like stand-alone pre-amps are the way to go. Sytek's MPX-4Aii get's me 4 channels for around $900, I could get two of these and then try and get some more colored stuff to fill up the last 4 channels. The problem is, that while I'm overall pretty happy with the Audiofire as an interface, there's perceptible latency in the signal you hear in the monitors (I'm not monitoring through the DAW, just straight through the Audiofire).

So I need a solution for monitoring, and when I record the large group, I need at least 3 independent monitor feeds. Option "A" would take care of monitoring, but truly nice mixers are really expensive. The most expensive mixer I can really justify buying would be a Toft ATB (probably 16 channel), but you seem to pay quite the premium when you go from mixers like the MixWizard or Soundcraft M16 up to an ATB, and I'm worried it's not really worth it. I would expect the A&H and Soundcraft mixers to be less expensive to repair (since they are more common, therefore the spare parts would be more common; the MixWizard at least, has individual circuit boards for the channels and a pretty good reputation for being both durable and repairable), plus a significant portion of the price of a mixer is amortizing the R&D, since A&H and Soundcraft do way more volume than Toft, presumably, more of the price of a MixWizard is actual components vs. a Toft ATB.

So there is a hybrid approach:

C) Buy a mediocre console for monitoring to use with good standalone pre-amps.

The problem with "C)" is that I can't find any "mediocre consoles" that offer a balanced return, not just a trs-stereo send/receive insert (and I'd be glad if anyone could point me to some of these); what I'd really love is a switch on the main input that let you bypass the pre-amp, but an honest-to-god channel return is a close runner-up. The ATB's have 'em, but if I buy an ATB, I won't have any money left to spend on pre-amps.

Any guidance on these issues would be helpful, in particular, is there another approach I'm completely missing? Is there any mid-range analog mixer that's price-competitive with the Toft ATBs that I should be considering instead? Am I worrying too much about ground loops from the channel inserts?

Edit 1: fixed some spelling errors.

Edit 2: As I think more about this, it seems like the solution might be to:

D) get a patchbay (or build some Y-cables) so that I can split the signal from my preamps to route to a relatively inexpensive analog mixer for monitoring while also sending the signal directly into my audio interface as well.
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