Is this mixing board good for a home recording studio?
October 12, 2014 12:42 PM   Subscribe

We have been gifted what I think is a very nice mixing board. I'm wondering if it's a good fit for a home recording studio, or if it's too much.

My wife's church was cleaning out their excess stuff and was about to throw away this mixing board. They gave it to us instead. It's an Allen & Heath SR-16. A little googling tells me that it's a really top-notch piece of gear.

We've always talked about building a home recording studio, and I'm wondering if this is the thing that will get us to finally do it - or if it's overkill. We're wanting to be able to plug in 1-2 electric instruments (a guitar and a keyboard), plus a microphone or two, and mix it all into either a Mac or PC, into either Garageband or Audacity.

My gut tells me that this particular board is overkill for us, and we'd be better off trying to sell it (I've seen them online for anywhere from $300-$1300) and buying something smaller and other gear with the proceeds. What do the music experts of the green think?
posted by jbickers to Technology (7 answers total)
It's a good piece of kit to use to get started, given that it's functional. If it is still working well, then the only downside to it is that it's an older piece of gear that lacks "mod cons".
posted by doctor tough love at 1:31 PM on October 12, 2014

Allen and Heath makes good-sounding equipment. I've not used that particular board, but it's probably overkill for you in a home studio.

You could sell it and get a newer board with a digital interface to connect it to your computer - there are some hybrid analog/digital boards which don't expose everything to the digital side - for instance they might have a USB connection on them which can act as an input and output stage, but doesn't do multitrack.

Or, you could get a used full digital board from the proceeds.

On edit: (The reason I say sell it is because you'll need some sort of digital interface to connect it to the computer anyway.)
posted by tomierna at 1:34 PM on October 12, 2014

You could always sell it later. Since you already have it, I might use it to figure out if a home recording is actually something you want or will use. I am assuming you already have at least the guitar and keyboard. You could play around with the mixer as a starter and figure out what you actually want out of a mixer -- which features will you end up using and which do you wish the A&H had? It would suck if you just sold the gifted mixer, bought a different mixer and then hated it and you're stuck trying to re-sell that for less value. But that's just me!
posted by AppleTurnover at 1:38 PM on October 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'd agree with apple.... Use it since it's free.

Some additional thought . That unit will sell for maybe maybe $300 not $1300 so since there's no dollar signs swirling in your eyes I'd keep it. As for recording that's a live sound console (sr means sound reinforcement in Allen and heath lingo) so after you get really good at home studio you'll outgrow it (as its missing multiple master tracks you'll always being mixing live to a stereo recording). BUT BUT BUT you will learn some very clever chops in the meantime and if i recall that board has 4 aux busses so you'll be plenty flexible for the early stages and through to recording several live musicians at once. I'm firmly in the keep it category.
posted by chasles at 4:26 PM on October 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

It isn't too much, it is just a better fit for PA. But as PA boards go, they are very smooth.

Depending on the vintage, A&H generally makes better stuff than Mackie does. But I agree with chasles, you're more likely to get $300 than $1300 for it online. So keep it.
posted by arnicae at 6:01 PM on October 12, 2014

we'd be better off trying to sell it (I've seen them online for anywhere from $300-$1300

No, keep it and use it.

The church was not totally off their rocker for deciding to pitch it, the value of used analog mixing boards has plummeted in the last few years, given the rapid growth and reduced prices of digital mixers.

If anyone has actually paid $1300 for that model mixer within the last decade, I will eat my hat. For something that old (apparently from the mid 80's to early 90's, Allen & Heath barely has any info on the thing on their website) $150 is more like it. At best.

(The manual, by the way, is here (pdf link).)

I'm wondering if it's a good fit for a home recording studio, or if it's too much.

As chasles ponts out, it's more of a "live sound" board than a "studio" board. Very generally speaking, "studio" boards are meant to make simultaneous multitrack recording easier, so on a 16 channel board there would be an output for each of the 16 channels.

This desk doesn't have that, but it looks like you could do four-track recording via the groups. Although, as tomierna points out, you would need a 4-channel interface if you wanted to do that.

We're wanting to be able to plug in 1-2 electric instruments (a guitar and a keyboard), plus a microphone or two, and mix it all into either a Mac or PC, into either Garageband or Audacity.

This would be just fine for that purpose, assuming you're planning on making stereo recordings (which your mention of Audacity suggests you are.)

Generally speaking, Allen & Heath is the "next step up" from Mackie & Behringer & Peavey (although they do have some serious pro mixers, the SR 16 isn't really one of them.) The microphone pre-amps are usually quite good sounding, the EQ section is useful & "musical", and they're well-made and durable. Yours would hardly be the first 20-year-old A&H mixer I've seen happily chugging along.

It wouldn't work as the basis for a studio where you're planning on having people pay you to record their bands, necessarily, but for what you seem to want to use it for, I'd say keep it and use it and learn from using it.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:58 PM on October 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

That's a good board, but it doesn't really mesh well with the kind of recording that people (perhaps yourself) want to do today, which is multitrack recording using a computer and a DAW like Protools or GarageBand.

That board is fine for traditional stereo-mixdown recording, but that hasn't been the dominant paradigm for studio recording in decades. Because it only has 2 outputs, there's no ability to fix the mix in post. You have to do nearly all your mixing live. It's a good, if unforgiving, way to learn, but I wouldn't suggest it as a road to go down unless you want to learn that particular skill. If you just want to make decent musical recordings, there are other, better, simpler ways today.

So, can you use that board? Sure. You can plug a mic into it, and then run the outputs into an ADC (USB or Firewire interface) and record. It's kinda overkill, but it will let you PFL the mic and serve as a really bulky preamp if you need that. But it's something of a waste of space if you only have a couple of mics and you're just passing the signal straight through to the ADC and the computer because you're doing all the creative stuff in the digital realm in your DAW (Protools, GB, whatever). All of its controls are just things to get accidentally jostled and screw your digital recording, in that case.

If you play live gigs, then it'd be honestly useful to have around. You can do a pretty decent sound reinforcement setup for a 4-piece band with a 16x2, and of course it'd be a fine house board for a small theater or event space. That's probably why the church had it.

If you're really only interested in recording, not live reinforcement, and particularly if you're not interested in acquiring or playing around with a lot of analog audio gear, then I'd just sell the board and get one of the inexpensive 4x4 digital-output boards, preferably one that doubles as a control surface for the DAW of your choice. The pres might not be quite as good as the A&Hs, but I'm not sure that's entirely enough reason to have it around.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:06 PM on October 12, 2014

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