How to Set Up a Sound Board

A soundboard (also known as a mixing board, mix console, or sound desk) is a complicated and sometimes intimidating piece of gear. Here’s a step-by-step guide to setting up a mixing board for a small live show with a bare-bones PA system.

Before we get to the step-by-step instructions, it’s important to understand the fundamental layout of a sound board. The input section and the output or master section are the two main sections of a mixing board.

The input section is made up of a number of separate channels, which can range from four to thirty-two on a mixing board. Each channel is made up of a set of inputs on the back of the board and a corresponding set of controls, which are referred to collectively as a channel strip. A channel strip typically consists of a gain or trim control that controls the volume at the first stage as the signal enters the desk prior to any processing or routing; a channel fader that controls the volume after the processing; and one or more auxiliary sends that function similarly to faders but send to alternate outputs on the sound board that are used for effects such as reverb.

The master section directs the output of the mixing board to various outputs on the desk’s back panel. A sound board’s output section typically consists of a master fader, which controls the volume of the board’s main outputs in other words, it’s the master volume for the entire system, auxiliary masters, which control the volume of the auxiliary outputs, and auxiliary returns, which are used to bring the signal from a reverb unit or other outboard effect into the mix without using up a channel.

Steps

1. Determine the location of your sound board. This is important because sound volume decreases as you move away from the source of the sound and the way that sound reflects off surfaces in the room; you want to be in a position where you are far enough away from the speakers that you don’t have sound blasting directly in your face all night, but close enough that you don’t end up turning the mix up way too loud because you can’t hear it a lot of the time. You should also consider the length of your microphone cables and the location of the room’s electrical outlets.

2. Set your speakers and power amps in place.

3. Connect your speakers. Connect cables from the power amp’s output jacks to the ‘Input’ jacks on your speakers. Note: If you have powered speakers (speakers with a built-in power amp), you can treat all references to power amps as referring to the speakers themselves because the amp and speaker are already connected.

4. Connect your Power Amps. Connect cables from the mixer’s Main Out jacks to the power amp’s ‘Input’ jacks (or powered speakers).

5. Connect your displays. If you have monitor speakers on stage for the musicians to hear themselves, connect cables from the sound board’s Auxiliary Output jacks (nearly always labelled Aux Out) to the power amp’s monitor input. Keep in mind that most sound boards have more than one auxiliary output, so keep track of which ones you use for which amp/speaker.

6. Create your stage setup. Set up your microphones and stands, as well as any DI (direct Input) boxes required for instruments to plug directly into the PA system (such as an acoustic guitar, or a keyboard).

7. Make a list of inputs. When standing at the desk, make a numbered list of each mic or DI box on stage, from left to right. As an example: 1. Direct Input for Guitar 2. MIDI Keyboard DI 3. Kim’s Vocal Microphone.

8. The sound board should be labelled. Place a strip of painter’s tape just below the faders on the sound board, and use a marker to copy your input list onto the tape so that each fader has one item under it (you may have to use abbreviations in order to fit these labels in the space under each fader, write Vox instead of Vocal Mic for example).

9. Connect your microphones. Connect your mic cables to each mic and DI box using the Input List from step 7 as a guide. For example, in our previous example, you would connect a cable from Input 1 on the sound board to the DI box for the guitar, Input 2 to the keyboard DI, and so on. It’s worth noting that many small format sound boards allow you to connect a 1/4 instrument cable directly to the mixer, eliminating the need for a DI box. This jack would be labelled Line In, as opposed to Inst, which would stand for Insert Point rather than instrument.

10. The board should be reset to zero. Make sure all of your faders are down, as well as your auxiliary sends and Gain or Trim controls on each channel, and that the ‘Main Mix’ button for each channel is pressed down and all other bus assignments are up.

11. Power on your sound board first and then your power amps.

12. Turn your outputs on. Bring up the Master Fader and the master controls for any auxiliary sends you’re using. You don’t want to bring these controls all the way up; if your master fader has a 0 or unity mark next to it, start with it just below that.

13. Examine your audio. Allow someone to speak into one of your microphones while slowly moving the corresponding fader up. If the fader is up and the volume is too low, gradually increase the Gain or Trim control for that channel until you are happy with the volume. Repeat for each microphone and DI box until you are satisfied that everything is in working order.

14. Examine your monitors. While someone is speaking into a vocal mic, gradually raise the Auxiliary Send control on that channel for the auxiliary send to which you’ve connected your monitors (Aux 1, most likely) and ask them when they can hear themselves through the monitor speakers. In general, the volume of the monitors should be set by the musicians, as they are the ones who will be listening to them.

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