Mixing Console Signal Routing

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A sometimes confusing subject for people new to large mixing consoles...let's take a look.

This article is driven by the same force that drives many. When I see a trend in the forums of people asking the same type of questions, I try to consolidate my thoughts into a single article, rather than post the same things all over the forums.

One common trend at the moment seems to be signal routing on a mixing console, and on a related topic, what to look for when buying a console.

With that in mind, let's take a look...

The Mixing Console

Over three years ago (wow, it's been THAT long...) I wrote an article called Anatomy of a Mixer which overviewed, in the simplest of ways, the basic structure and routing of a mixing console. You would do well to read that first. If, however, you are the impatient sort I will again review in an even more simple way the basic components of a console so when these terms are used later in the article, you will know what I am referring to.

  • Channel Strip - The strip of controls for each channel on the mixer, often containing an EQ, aux/monitor sends, subgroup assignment buttons, a fader and sometimes an LED meter.

  • Aux Send/Return - This is where you plug in effects, the send goes to the input of your effects chain, the out of the effects chain comes back to the return.

  • Monitor Send - Not all mixers have these, but the ones that do, this is a way to send a monitor mix to the stage or monitoring system of a studio.

  • Subgroup Out - An alternate way out of the console, in a studio situation generally used for tracking, in a live situation sometimes used to group channels for easy control or to send monitor mixes back to the stage.

  • Headphone Out - Usually the same mix as the main output, just powered for headphone use.

  • Control Room Out - Generally a main mix output (or it's able to be set to be any mix or subgroup) that has an independent volume control for the control room.

  • Main Out - Just what it sounds like, the main stereo mix coming from the console.

The Channel Strip

The channel strip generally incorporates many of the above mentioned components, or methods to access them. The notable pieces of a channel strip that relate to routing are these:

  • Aux loop knob - this is simply a knob that, when turned up will increase the amount of the signal from that channel that gets routed to that loop and sent to whatever effect(s) are set up in that effect chain.

  • Subgroup assignment buttons - generally smallish push button located beside the fader, sometimes elsewhere in the strip. These only exist on mixer with subgroups. The buttons are labeled with the same names of the sub groups and the main outputs, press the buttons for whichever outputs you wish that channel to get sent to, one or more than one. We will cover this more later.

  • Monitor outs - much like aux sends, but with no return, meant just for sending an amount of a channel signal to a stage or studio monitoring system.

Common Configurations

If you are like many people who just have a small mixer with no subgroups, which you use essentially for preamping and maybe some effects loops, it's pretty simple to hook up and route, because you don't have as many options.

In this situation, you generally have all your gear plugged in to different channels of you mixer and the mixer outs go to the line in of your sound device. The outs of your sound device then go to your amp/speaker setup. Simple, no overlapping recording tracks and it does the job.

When people start getting confused is when subgroups and recording multiple tracks at once get tossed in to the picture. At this point the set up starts getting a little bit more complicated.

In this scenario, I will use as an example that you have a sound device with 4 inputs. The Delta 44 from M-Audio, let's say. You also have a mixer that has 4 subgroups and main outputs. Let's say the Behringer Eurorack UB2442FX-PRO for the sake of example.

The most common problem I see with people new to setting up studios is recording a track and all the backing tracks get recorded along with it. Subgroups help this situation. One uses the subgroups to assign only a specific channel, or set of channels to go out of that group, and that output goes to the input of the recording device. All playback tracks get routed to only the main outs, not the subgroup outs.

Take the main outs of the mixer and run it to your amplifier or power speakers. Then, the subgroup outs go to the inputs of your sound device in whatever order you wish, as long as you can remember it. The outputs of your sound card should (or, can) loop back into your mixer into one of the stereo-linked channel sets. Then assign it's outputs to only the main outs. All the other channels are for all your instruments, sound modules, DI boxes, mics and whatever else. As you wish to record from any channel, set the outputs to be the subgroup that goes to the input of the sound device you wish to record from. Optionally, you can also assign it to the mains.

More Info

We can go in to much more detail, but I already have in previous articles, so, for more details regarding these topics, read these other two articles at HRC:

While this article is not supposed to be an all-inclusive introduction to routing options, I am hoping it will get you thinking about how to use your gear to it's fullest possibilities.

Rock on...

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User-submitted comments

Mar 12, 2005 04:23 am
Awesome !
Awesome ! clear and to the point well done.

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