Recording studios contain microphones, tape machines and a CONSOLE (a large desk consisting of channel strips to process each individual microphone or playback instrument).

All consoles can be used for Recording from microphones or Mixing from pre-recorded tracks.  All consoles can combine many tracks into stereo and also route many tracks into different combinations.  Consoles allow you to send any microphone to any track you want to just by assigning the channel output.

All of the channels in most consoles include the following components:

  • A mic pre or line level knob
  • A fader or rotary knob that is used to increase or decrease overall volume
  • A mute switch (to turn the channel off)
  • A solo switch (to temporarily turn off all other channels)
  • A pan knob that is used to assign sound any place within the stereo field (left <> right)
  • An equalizer (“EQ”) to change the tone and timbre of sound (bass, midrange, treble, etc)
  • Send knobs to feed the sound into various effects such as reverb
  • A Phase reversal button to reverse the phase of the sound wave itself
  • An insert point to add external equipment to the chain that the sound will go through
  • Bus assignments (that assign sound to different tracks in a multitrack tape recorder)
  • Some console channels also contain compressors and gates

Consoles can have any number of channels, but are often fitted in increments of 8.  Digital music can be mixed entirely within a computer program using a mouse, but many engineers prefer to use a dedicated console that is nothing more than a big mouse, with each control changing a computer setting rather than affecting the actual sound.

All consoles contain a center “Master” section, where the total combined sound can be processed as a whole.  The Master section includes a “Master Fader” which is used to fade the song in or out.

Each channel can contain a SEND.  A Send is a knob on each channel that allows you to send a little bit of any channel into a single destination.  That destination can contain any type of effect.  The most popular send use is to add reverb (so you can send all of the instruments into the same “room” sound).  Live music shows often require the use of Sends to create a separate mix for musicians to hear onstage that differs from what the audience hears.

Sound gets INTO consoles from either microphones or line level sources such as tape recorders.  Each sound is routed directly into its own channel.  Once in the channel the sound is processed (often only gain, eq, panning, and overall volume).  The channel output is combined with all the other channel outputs by sending them all into a single audio stereo bus that goes OUT to a stereo recorder (or hard drive).  This is the actual output of the console and is the actual mix.