updated: 01 Nov 2005

Monitor Mixes for Everyone!

From time to time my band is called upon to do our silly thing in smaller establishments, with, uh, lesser, more primitive accomodations. In particular, the lack of a PA. For years I actually got by with a very simple PA consisting of a Mackie 1202 mixer, a crown DC300A power amp, and a Crown MT-1200 power amp. This was equipment that I'd accumulated over the years. and I ended up racking the Mackie and the DC-300 together and used it for a rehearsal PA. For gigs, I'd bring this and the MT-1200 in its own rack, and voila, there's the PA.

The Mackie is an amazingly versatile little mixer, but it's really not all that well suited to this particular task. First of all, there are five of us that sing, though not all at the same time. The 1202 only has four mic inputs, so the drummer and I would usually end up swapping a mic channel (and sometimes the mic itself) a few times over the course of the evening.

Also, this particular Mackie is not set up very well for providing monitor mixes. True, it does have two AUX sends, but the sends are post-master-fader, which means that if you tinker with the main volume for the house, you completely bollocks up the monitor mixes. Two mixes really isn't enough, and add in a bouncy, reverberant room, and you have a recipe for an Excedrin headache.

Separate monitor mixes is really where it's at. I looked into a number of boards, and it seems most of the compact mixers out there suffer from the "swiss army knife" syndrome. They do many different things, perhaps none of them particularly well. As it happened, I picked up a Rane MM-12 pretty cheap on eBay. The MM-12 is a "matrix mixer" designed specifically as a dedicated monitor board. It does that job pretty well. It has 12 inputs, but there's some funky submixing, so really you get eight independent input channels, with six indendent outputs. You can put any input channel on any output, completely independently. Furthermore, each input has a three-band shelving EQ, and each output has shelving plus parametric EQ. That's right, eighteen EQs! So you can tune each mic and each monitor independently. How cool is that?

Since there are five of us that sing, we use the first five mixes for monitors, with the sixth mix being the house mix. I also managed to score Rane's matching six-channel power amp, the MA-6 - it's basically three bridgeable 300W stereo power amps in one 3U chassis. It's got plenty of juice for the monitors, perhaps not quite enough for the mains. That's what the Crown MT-1200 is for. Channels 5 & 6 of the Rane are bridged so this PA has four 150W monitor channels, one 300W monitor channel, and (425W + 425W) for the main mix with the amp in dual-mono mode. Tons-o-headroom. I built a little patch panel for the front, with speaker terminals with everyone's name on it, so everything you need is accessible on the front panel. It all fits in an 18-space rack. It's a little on the heavy side, but it's a snap to set up. Everything is already patched together, so you just plug in mics, monitors, and mains and you're ready to go. Very clean, with plenty of headroom.



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