There are two VERY IMPORTANT pieces of hardware that help control and tweak the dynamics of audio. The two devices are a compressor and a mixer. You’re probably asking yourself, “Why in the world would I need that”. You see just having a microphone is like taking an instance of sound and throwing it out there. When we communicate via speech our vocal volume fluctuates. If we don’t need EQ mixers and Compressors strapped to the side of our ears, then why do we need them in recording?
Believe it or not, your ears actually do have it’s own internal compact compression system. You have three sections to your ear (Outer, Middle, and Inner). The outer section is what we normally see. It’s the flappy pieces of flesh on each side of your head. There is a connected passageway that leads down to the ear drum. This picks up the sound. The inner part of the ear functions like a transducers. It converts the vibrations.
So where does the natural compression come in at? When incoming sound becomes “too loud” (eg. Concert), the muscles around the three bones tightens up altering the normal functionality of natural sound processing as well as the level entering the ear. A compressor does exactly what it names suggests. It compresses sound. Why do we need compressors in recording/broadcasting? So the audio that you are hearing can be relayed at a consistent level while maintaining the difference of normal and loud.
Think about it. At the beginning of a song, a singers vocal volume usually starts off soft and subtle. As the song reaches it’s climax the singers voice reaches louder volume. However, even when a singer is practically screaming into the mic while maintaining a note, the overall volume does not sound louder in volume as any other part of the song. This is because a compressor is keeping those very loud decibels at a specified level. Dynamic control is a very important key to acquiring GREAT audio quality in recording and broadcasting.
So what does a mixer do and where does it come into play? A mixer does exactly what it’s name implies. A mixer allows you to mix multiple audio sources and tweak the dynamics, volume, and harmonics of each sound individually. A mixer also handles audio routing. That is, it routes audio signal to a specified location.
If you’ve ever had the opportunity to see a production setup for a music concert, you’ve probably noticed that there are lots and lots of audio cables involved in the setup. You’ve probably wondered how do they get all the instruments, microphones and lights in sync, mixed and working together. The majority of this is done by a mixer.
Generally, when you use an analog mixer with your computer setup, all your devices such has your microphone, outboard gear, and other audio sources will plug into your mixer. Your mixer then plugs into your sound card which is connected to your computer.
Now a mixer isn’t really a requirement if your going to be only using one microphone, however having one does make life easier when you have multiple audio sources and having one around provides scalability for you in the future.
A simple ideal setup will look something like this. Your microphone connect to the pre-amp/compressor input . Then the output of the preamp will lead to your sound card. The output of the sound card connects to your computer.
A simple ideal setup with a mixer will look something like this. Your microphone will connect to your preamp/compressor (Assuming your mixer doesn’t have one on board). The output of the Preamp/compressor goes to the input of the mixer. The output of the mixer goes into your sound card which is connected to your computer.
Though audio technology talk can be a boring topic for some, it is truly one that is VERY IMPORTANT. It’s a crucial piece in making sure whatever media you are delivering sounds good and relayed clearly. If people can’t understand what your saying b/c of your quality OR if you have poor audio quality, your project or message can be quickly over-looked. With a basic understanding of audio, the audio components covered in this blog and some effort, you can be on your way to the top with audio quality like the pro’s.