PC Recording Studios: Elements of a Full-Featured Mixer
Part of the PC Recording Studios For Dummies Cheat Sheet
Mixing is one of the essential elements of all audio recording programs. Mixing is the ability to blend your individual tracks together into a single pair of stereo tracks. Simple mixers let you control the volume and panning information (left to right positioning in the stereo field), whereas full-featured mixers give you nearly complete flexibility over numerous elements of your tracks.
Full-featured mixers include the following:
Automation: Being able to automate your mix — changing volumes, panning, effects send levels, and others — is important because when you mix with your mouse you can adjust only one thing at a time. To have a complex mix where each of your tracks has changes throughout the song requires decent automation capabilities. Powerful programs let you adjust everything: volume, panning, muting, soloing, send levels, effects parameters, and so on.
Send effects: Sends are signal routing functions that let you send part of your audio signal to a different place in the mixer. Basic programs limit the number of Sends available to you for each track to as few as five, whereas more sophisticated programs raise this limit to 64 or more. This feature is important if you do complex mixes that use numerous effects. (For this, you also need a very powerful computer or a host-based effects processor.)
Inserts: Inserts are signal routing functions that let to place an effect inline with the audio signal as it works its way through the mixer. Like Send limitations (see preceding bullet) many basic programs have low limits on the number of insert effects that you can plug in to each track. Full-featured programs raise this limit to where you have much more flexibility in what you can do.
Surround mixing: Being able to mix beyond a two-channel stereo format can be helpful if you mix for video or DVD audio. Basic programs don't offer this option, so if this important to you, you need to look for a full-featured (read: more expensive) solution.
Offline bouncing: Offline bouncing lets you mix your song as quickly as your computer's processor can process the data rather than in real time. This is a handy feature if you have a lot of songs to mix or if your songs are long. The alternative is real-time bouncing, where your song plays at regular speed (and you hear it all through your speakers). With long songs, the wait can be agonizing, so this might be a necessity for you.