The Mixer Conundrum
Not long before Christmas I went to Radio Shack to buy a mixing board (my old mixing board had died from age; I bought it in 1988). They only had 2, one for $40 and the other for $100. I didn’t want to spend $100, it seemed like overkill. In addition, the $100 mixing board was about 20” wide with the intent of being rack mounted. I just didn’t have room for that on my computer desk. The $40 model was about 5” wide, so I went with that one. It was 4 channel.
I got home and found out that they lied; it was actually 2 channel stereo or 4 channel mono. While we actually air our podcast in mono to keep bandwidth down, I didn’t like the limiting nature of this mixer. We would have had Steve Sansweet talking on only the right channel of the audio. So I sent Marjorie back to return it (which took 40 minutes thanks to Radio Shack efficiency).
Next I took to the internet to look for a mixing board. Being “old school” I REALLY wanted vertical sliders along with a cross-fade ability; basically I wanted my 1987 mixer again. Unfortunately each of those were, again, rack mount and quite expensive. Finally I found a Nady brand mixer over half off through an Amazon.com merchant. It had “knob” controls rather than sliders, but it was 6 stereo channels, and I was in a hurry. I ordered it on Friday, January 6th, calling that Amazon merchant three times that day to ensure it shipped that Friday. I needed it by the 15th.
The mixer arrived on the 10th. I opened it, and it looked good enough. Plus, having dealt with mixers before, is there any simpler piece of hardware? I tossed it aside happy to have it, with ideas of how I wanted to wire it. I planed to split our microphones into both Christine and the mixer, split the output from Christine to our headphones and the mixer, then output the mixer to my server. Simple as pie. Unfortunately my week was rather busy and I didn’t get to the mixer until Saturday.
Saturday I spent time organizing the computer room to make room for the new mixer (just over 12” wide). I ended up wiring in the mixer around 3:30 p.m. The mixer was very nice, with a digital VU meter and digital effects which can be added directly from the mixer. I plugged in the microphone and spoke…the VU meter didn’t move at all. I tried the other microphone…nothing. I break out the Nady manual, which was totally useless. I kept thinking of the old line from Beetlejuice, “It’s like reading stereo instructions.” What a totally useless waste of trees that manual was, it taught me nothing. I spent about an hour playing with settings to no avail.
At 4:30 my wife comes to get me telling me we need to leave, we had a dinner appointment at 5:00 in Springfield; it was time to go. But, no. When something breaks, especially in the computer room, I become single-minded. Time has no meaning, nor does any other person on the planet and how my lateness may inconvenience them. The problem must be diagnosed; the problem must be fixed. NOW.
I persevered but was becoming quite frustrated and angry. Marjorie, trying to hurry me up, calls her brother. Her brother is quite experienced with audio equipment being a guitar player in a blues band and setting up audio equipment for bands such as Ratt. I first ask him if the Nady brand was worth anything and he said they were pretty good, which is fine by me. We then start going through the various configurations. While we brainstorm I try something different; I plug my boom box into the microphone input. VIOLA, the VU meter moved. I had discovered the problem; the Altec Lansing headset microphones we were using were non-powered, unamplified microphones. The mixer needed mics with amps.