Originally Posted On ChurchProduction.com on December 10, 2014
Several years ago the market for personal monitor mixers was rather limited with just a few brands with even fewer features. The concept behind them is simple … have the band and vocal team mix their own monitors, and better yet let them use in-ear monitors, which lowers the stage volume. Churches loved this idea, and an industry was born. The key component was the ability to transmit the audio via a Cat5 cable—keeping the cost of cabling low and manageable. No longer did we need the noble fake fern to hide the hideous monitor wedges. Our stages went silent and our mixes improved.
As technology has progressed, so has the personal monitor mixer. Digital Audio Labs (DAL) is one of the many companies making a splash in this market now. DAL has been around since the 1980s making digital audio products (hence, the name.). They got their start making PC sound cards for broadcast facilities. Their latest venture, the Livemix Personal Monitor System, is quite a step up from the days of PCI sound cards.
The Livemix takes some of the best features in the personal mixer market and adds a unique idea I have never seen before. The units are capable of mixing 24 inputs, which is an upgrade from the early days of only having 16 channels. While there are other mixers on the market that have larger channel counts, the Livemix CS-Duo has an interesting twist. Each stand-alone unit is actually two mixers in one. I have to admit; I first thought this was silly. I couldn’t wrap my brain around why this was useful. I could only assume the benefit was to reduce cost to the end-user by not having to purchase as many mixers (which is an honorable reason, I’ll give them that). On our church’s stage, the band and vocalists are so spread out. So I didn’t think sharing was a feasible option. Then I set the demo units up in the same fashion I would our current personal monitor mixing system. I quickly realized this wasn’t some silly feature. Our current personal monitor structure is made up of two separate 16-channel systems—one for the band and the other for the vocal team. The main reason for the dual systems is lack of channels, since we are limited to 16 for each. Just like most tech directors, I prefer a clean stage. At our church, it has almost become a game to hide the mixers as much as possible. I often try and group the vocal team mixers around music stands or larger instruments like the piano or drums. That was when the light bulb came on and I saw the benefit of the dual mixer. I was already putting units next to each other; the obvious next step would be to merge them into one. Once the service has actually started very few changes ever have to be made, so sharing mixers is an easy adjustment. The great features do not stop there. Besides being a 2-in-1 control surface, it has a color touch-screen. The screen is a little on the bright side, but not quite enough to be a negative though. When you consider that more and more, musicians are using iPads on stage now, light bleed is just a tension to be managed, so it’s not a big issue to me. The touch portion of the screen on the Livemix CS-Duo requires more force than I would have expected, but as I found out, that was intentional. It is designed to work with not only your finger, but with a stylus-type device (pencils more likely from the band members) as well as guitar picks. The touchscreen control is the heart of the entire unit. There are a few knobs, which I’ll describe later, but most of the settings will be done from the screen. Each side of the mixer has a color—Side A is blue and Side B is Red. When I first unboxed the surface, I didn’t think anything of it. However, once you’re setting up the mixer, all things related to the side you’re adjusting correspond to that color. Nice idea when working on a dark stage. In addition to the 24 input channels, there are also four accessory channels. These are for: auxiliary in, ambient microphone, intercom, and metronome. I can’t decide which is my favorite accessory. The aux input is nice for the worship leader to be able to plug his phone in to play a demonstration track. Currently, my worship leader likes to hold his microphone up to the phone’s speakers. Obviously, that’s a less-than-optimal solution. The aux input through a button on the touchscreen toggles whether the operator can hear the input locally or send it to all the stations. The built-in intercom is also a great idea for band members who do not have a vocal microphone, allowing them to communicate with each other. This way, they do not have to pull out their in-ears to talk. While on the topic of the intercom, (stay with me, I promise this segue works), each unit has dual 1/8-inch headphone connections, as well as dual quarter-inch outputs. The quarter-inch outs can be configured as a balanced mono for use with a powered monitor. I thought it would be really cool to have a CS-Duo mixer at front of house (FOH) with me for several reasons. The first is the intercom. Giving myself a cue wedge, the band can now talk to me at FOH with ease during rehearsal. While I have a talkback on the mixing console, the intercom on the Livemix CS-Duo was more fun to use. Another feature I found handy at FOH, as did the worship leader, is the ability to MirrorMix. This allows any control surface to control any of the other mixers. For example, let’s say there is a brand new acoustic guitar player on the team that weekend. The worship leader, without leaving his or her own mixer, can assist that person by either making adjustments remotely to their mix, or building one from scratch and sending it to their surface.
The knobs are simple, and like a lot of the newer mixers out there serve multiple functions. Along each side of the unit is a master volume knob, a Me knob, and a volume/pan knob. Pressing the Master Volume knob opens the configuration page for that output. Each output has settings for limiting, reverb, high-pass filter (HPF), dynamics, and EQ. The Me knob is cool—the idea is to group your personal channels and put them on a single volume control. For instance, a guitar player who is also a singer can group his two inputs together in the Me group. Volume and pan are also included. Getting sound into the units is quite simple; there are currently only two options. The first is connecting via analog into the A to D convertor. The second is through the Dante networking protocol. I primarily demo’d on the Dante card, and found the setup was very simple, thanks to DAL’s well-written quick-start guide. I was impressed with how the Livemix system is designed with volunteers in mind. The menus are well laid out for ease of navigation, yet the robust feature list still excites a seasoned veteran to the personal mixer scene. Features like EQ settings can be stored and recalled per channel—a brilliant addition, especially when your band changes week to week. The control surface also feels substantial and well built, not as though it would fall to pieces if accidentally dropped. I went into this review rather skeptical, but ended up moving the Livemix to the list as of contenders to replace our current personal monitor mixing system.