Home Recording Mixer Basics: Channel Strip - dummies

By Jeff Strong

The set of controls for each sound mixer channel makes up what’s called the channel strip. The channel strip contains a lot of information, and the visual position of the various functions often doesn’t correspond with the actual flow of the signal.

The following illustration shows the channel strip in a typical analog mixer, and the next illustration shows the channel strip for a software mixer. Even though the mixer may look confusing with all its knobs or buttons, lights, and sliders, you only need to understand the basic makeup of one channel to understand them all.

The channel strip’s job is to send the signal from an instrument or microphone to wherever you want that signal to go.

The channel strip in an analog mixer moves the signal through your mixer.

The channel strip in an analog mixer moves the signal through your mixer.
The channel strip in a software or digital mixer lets you control your signal in many ways.
The channel strip in a software or digital mixer lets you control your signal in many ways.

Because most home recordists use a digital mixer of some sort — whether software or hardware —the channel strip is explained in Pro Tools to give you an idea of the functions of digital mixers in the channel strip window. Your mixer may have some different features (and a different layout), but the basic functions are pretty universal. These features are as follows:

  • Input: This is where you choose the input that’s assigned to the channel strip. In most systems, making the selection is as simple as clicking the Input button and choosing from a menu that opens on-screen. You can generally choose between a physical input from your hardware interface or a bus (an internal signal).

  • Output: This button controls the output of the track — where the sound goes when it leaves the track. This can be a hardware output or any of the buses (internal signal paths) that are available in your system.

  • Automation Mode: In digital systems, automation means having certain channel strip parameters (such as volume, panning, mute, send level, and insert level) adjust dynamically throughout the song. Using this button, you can choose among the different automation modes. These vary depending on the type of system you have.

  • Track Group: This menu lets you group your track with others. This is handy for creating submixes (mixed tracks within the larger mix) such as for drums. Creating a group lets you adjust one track fader to control all the faders in the group.

  • Panning dial: Use this dial (or a slider in some systems) to pan your track to the left or the right in the stereo field.

  • Panning display: This display shows your track’s panning position — its place to the left, right, or center in the stereo field.

  • Solo and Mute: These buttons either solo or mute the track. Solo means that all the other tracks in your song are silenced (muted). Muting means that only the selected track is silenced.

  • Record Enable: Pressing the Record Enable button enables the track for recording. When enabled, this button flashes red. In digital mixers, SIAB systems, and computer control surfaces, this button is located on the physical unit and not on the screen.

  • Volume Fader: This is the control for setting the volume of the audio that’s contained in this track.

  • Velocity/Volume Meter: This display, located to the right of the Volume Fader, shows you the volume (Pro Tools calls this velocity) of the track as the music plays. If you have a color display, any notes above digital 0 usually show in red at the top of the display.

  • Track Type: This icon shows you the type of track. This is handy with systems that can record and play back audio and MIDI tracks.

  • Numerical Volume: This display shows you the volume of the track in decibels.

  • Track name: Many digital mixers allow you to customize the tracks’ names so you can remember what’s recorded on them. You see the name listed here. To change the name at any time, click it and type a new one.