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How to Record: Console Basics (Lesson 5)

Hi, it’s Warren Huart here. Hope you’re doing marvelously well today.

Today, in lesson 5, we’re going to talk about the basics of using a recording console, or a mixing desk, or a mixing console. All the different terminologies that we use whether you’re in America, or England, or wherever.

So as usual, please, of course, subscribe, you can go to the link below and subscribe. You can go to and you can sign up for the email list. There, you’ll get free access to our Vimeo account. We’re actually just — we just did a video at Sunset Sound, which will come up there. We did a little backstage, looking at Studio 2 actually, which was a great room with the Neve console and everything.

And also, there’s a drum recording one there, there’s access to free drum samples if you sign up, all the ones that I use. You can download all the drum session that Greg D’Angelo played that you can edit and practice editing drums on, and there will be continually added stuff to that. Some free music, etcetera. So please sign up to the email list.

Okay, so today in lesson five, I’m just going to take you through a basic signal flow on a recording console, and the routing, and this is on an SSL, and of course, there’s many, many different consoles. These days, you know, you can buy the large format consoles like this, which are increasingly coming down in price as we move more to in the box.

There’s also some fun little consoles I know that API is making a little one with only like, two to four faders on it, and this just — the reason why people I think still like mixing consoles, even if it’s just for the small little ones like little small eight fader ones to like, sixteen, to 24, to 32, to 40 plus, it’s just — it’s that sort of aesthetic of being able to move a fader when you mix.

You know, I love working in the box, I love the ability of what you can do in Pro Tools or Cubase, Nuendo, um, Reason, Ableton, all of those different DAWs are incredible. They’re really wonderful because they give you the feel of a mixing console, but you’re doing everything on a mouse, which is fine. The first thing you could do is you could buy, like a HUI.

A HUI is an H-U-I. It’s an old Mackie format that they came out with, and that works via MIDI, and allows you to control the faders in your DAW. So we’ll show you some little examples of different HUIs that you can get. AVID make their own, like the ICONs and the D-Commands, you know, and you can buy some of those used at really reasonable prices. Mackie still makes one, and there’s lots of other people. I know SSL makes one now, and those are really, really cool, because they give you the feeling of a mixing console. So you’re not just using the mouse to control fader moves, you’ve actually got a fader which you can ride, and it’s so much more subtle.

You know, you can just sit there and boost the vocal, and come down, and that’s a nice thing to do, because when you’re sending your signal, like your vocal to a console, it’s getting compressed. If you do your fader move on — in Pro Tools in your DAW, for instance, not only are you turning it up, you’re also hitting the compressor on the console a little harder, so it’s nice — you know, to do the fader on the console, or if you’re in the box, do the fader move post-compression.

Okay, that’s a lot of information, so if that isn’t clear, please leave questions down below down there. Love to have discussion on it. I’ve noticed recently that a lot of people are getting involved and creating a lovely community here where everybody is helping each other out, which is really the purpose to these videos, is to get everybody to talk, so that we can all learn off each other, because many people have left comments that have taught me things, and maybe readdressed what I do.

There’s no experts in this. Anybody that thinks they’re an expert, as Jack Douglas said, doesn’t know what they’re doing, because you are continually learning, and this is why we do music, because it’s creative and we get to learn from each other. It’s wonderful.

Okay, so let’s go and look at the console and discuss a basic SSL channel strip, and use that as an example to understand how a console works.

Okay, great, so let’s look at a channel. We’re going to use the kick channel here on channel 1. Okay, so here is the input section. This is where we first come into on a console.

Now, this is my line input, and this is my mic input. Now, I use this console primarily just to run my mixes through, so I have a lot of external pres, you know, like the 1073 DMP, I have a lot of 312s, and I have lots of different flavors that I use. So most of the time, when I’m tracking drums and pianos, guitars, vocals, basses, etcetera, I am using external pres, which is pretty similar to the way that most of you will be working. You’ll use an external pre, and then you’ll either be mixing in the box, or you’ll go through a console.

So in this console here, I’ve got my line turned up, because this is my signal coming from Pro Tools, and I’ve got a little extra bump here on my kick. This flip control is selected between the mic and the line input, so at the moment, it’s out, so it’s coming in line for mixing.

Okay, so that’s the gain control here. There’s also a pad, if the signal is super hot on the mic input, you know, I might have a condenser, a really hot signal coming in, a guitar amp, or something like that, so you can pad the input.

This is a polarity switch. What that does is flip the phase. So if the waveform is coming up and down like this, you can flip it so it goes down and up. Now, you might do that when you have multiple mics on the same source, and it seems like the bottom end in particular, the larger waveforms, are canceling each other out. Try flipping the polarity, put that in, and you’ll notice — you’ll see an improvement, or not an improvement.

Obviously in Pro Tools, in a DAW, you can visually see the waveforms, so these days, you can get quite creative, and you can use time adjuster plugins. They allow you to delay the signal. That can create — that can actually help you with the phase as well.

But anyway, that’s the polarity switch, that’s the flip switch between mic and line. Most consoles are going to have something that looks pretty much similar to this. The subgroup is probably something that you won’t see very often, it’s not something that I necessarily talk about.

If we move up here to the buss section, you’ll see — every console is going to have a way of routing to different busses. To some degree. Some might only have auxiliaries, or busses that way, and we’ll look at those in a second, but on this particular console, we’ve got an additional 32 busses, which is great, and what I’ve done, I’ve selected 29 and 30 here, and I’m actually sending this on my — as a drum submix to an external compressor. Then coming back into the console.

That creates a drum crush. So you can do fun things. Each console is going to have different ways of doing that, but on this particular SSL, that’s what I’m doing.

Okay, so let’s move down to our dynamics section. To be honest, not all consoles will have dynamics sections. Dynamics are, of course, compression, an expander/gate — that is not going to be available on every mixing console, but what is interesting about this is we can learn and understand this, and we can use this for the plugins that are available — I mean, there’s the SSL plugins that Waves makes, there’s also a UAD one which is incredible. So understanding this is kind of useful, but you know, on a lot of consoles, 90% of consoles don’t have this dynamics section built into them. But those that do, this is what we have.


Okay, so it has a compressor here where you can select the ratio, so the way the ratio works is to say that for every — for two to one, like every 2dB that goes over zero, it only lets one out. For every 3dB that goes over, it only lets one out. So therefore, we consider, like, 20 to 1 to be limiting. Some say 10 to 1, I would say 20 to 1. It needs to go 20dB over zero before 1dB goes up in volume.

This threshold is where you set that point. There’s a zero dB threshold, but here I’ve got it set a little hotter at about 5 or 6 dB. 5 or 6 dB above zero before the compressor comes in.

Okay, and then we’ve got a release time, which is set relatively fast, and the way the release time works is basically how long it holds onto the signal as it goes over zero. That really shapes the sound, if you — you can make it so if it’s very short, you can make it so it’s quite snappy. It lets — it releases pretty quickly, and increases the attack of the signal.

Here, we have an expander, which is completely off at the moment. I find that when I’m using my kick, because this is my natural kick that comes down this, I don’t want the expander to come on or the gate to come in, I want to hear — like, I select gate here — I don’t want it to come in too quickly, because I want the kick to breathe.

My kick drum that I use in my live room is basically a big, boomy kick with no sound hole in it. Then I’ll put another kick sample, something coming in on a different channel.

Okay, next here is my dynamics section, the way that the dynamics work. When it’s set to channel in, it goes compression, EQ. When it’s set to channel out, it goes EQ to compressor. I like that, because I can boost the EQ, and then have it hit the compressor. It’s a very, very significant way to make it sound like an SSL. The SSL has that sound when you hit EQ going into compression. It’s a really, really great, spanky kind of sound.

Next, lets talk about the EQ section. This engages the EQ. That’s off, that’s on. Okay, here is some low boost that I’ve put on at 60Hz, so that’s our — selectable between 30 or 50. Here’s our low mids, I’m cutting. This is an insert control that you can put on. What this is doing is turning on a transient designer, which I put on there to help shape it. Again, you can do that with a plugin. They make SPL Transient Designer plugins.

Then, also, I can select whether this insert is pre or post-EQ. So at the moment, it’s post-EQ, but I could have it pre-EQ if I wanted to. Then I’ve got high-mid frequencies here, then I’ve got high frequency boost and cut, and then here’s my filters, which is basically high pass filter and low pass filter. So I can narrow the bandwidth. I can make it — this is a kick drum, so I’m leaving it pretty open on the bottom end, but if it was like, a vocal, I might want to come up here and cut out some super lows that might be muddying it out, or some — you know, some heavy rock guitars that I want to be huge, but I don’t want to get in the way of the bass, I can kind of come in.

The same thing with the high pass filter, I might — sorry, the low pass filter, I might want to shape some o the top, you know, but not have it get in the way of the symbols and the ambience, etcetera of the vocal, so I might do this.

Okay, let’s move down to our auxiliary sends and our busses. Here, we have quite a few things that we’re doing. Um… This is a cue left and right. This is my — and what that is is this is where my headphones are coming from. So this is my headphone send, and I can select it to come down on a small fader, which you’ll see in a minute, but on this console, we keep it pretty straight forward in explanation. That’s because if this is a kick drum, I’m having it come down the center, but if it was an acoustic guitar, I might want to pan it over here, or there, I might want to put it out of the way of the vocal, which would be coming down the center, but as it is, this is the kick drum, so it’s going straight down the center, and this is the send for the volume that is going to the headphones.

Also, I can have it pre, so it’s not affected by the small fader — by the fader at the bottom, sorry, but I don’t have it set pre, because I — it gives me an extra set of adjustment.

Okay, here are different auxiliary sends. There’s nothing coming out on one at the moment. Two and three are actually going to effects sends, and four is going to — which is nice, is going to a dbx 120, which is a subharmonic synthesizer, which gives me lows, like 20 to 40Hz on my kick drum, which comes up on another channel.

On an SSL, we have this thing called a float control, which allows me to take this channel out of the mix, but it will still send all of the different auxiliaries I’ve got here, and that’s useful, because I can then hear returns of effects and the subharmonic synthesizer, etcetera that’s going on on their own in isolation.

Okay, so here on the SSL, we have a small fader. The small fader sends can be pretty much assigned to do anything. At the moment, they’re set to an output, which is actually going to 29 and 30 up there, so this is — this controls what is going to 29 and 30. It allows me to make up a little submix, and you know, blend it quickly and easily.

Also, you could actually have it as an additional return on a mix by selecting to input, and I’d be able to use these as more inputs on a mix, which is really nice. I could also solo, obviously, and listen to those, I can cut them, you know, turn them on and off, mute them, basically.

Last, but no means least, on the channel, we have the large fader. Now obviously, that’s just a channel fader, and that allows me obviously to send to the master buss. There’s also a VCA group here. That means that I have a group control — a fader controlling everything assigned to that group, which in the drums, is all going to VCA group 1.

That allows me — and you can do the same thing in Pro Tools, you basically buss all of your drums to one auxiliary. You know, a stereo auxiliary, say, one and two, and that’s just controlling all the drums in one go as opposed to individually controlling them, which is good when you’re doing drum pushes to choruses, and you want to push your drums up, like a dB in the chorus just to make them a little bit more aggressive or loud.

Obviously, you can solo the channel from here. You can also cut the channel, and of course, you can pan. Obviously, for a kick, it’s set to the middle, but again, if it was an acoustic guitar or a vocal — I’m sorry, an acoustic guitar or a piano or something, some other instrument, melody instrument, I might want to pan it out of the way of the vocal.

So that’s basically the input — the input all the way through to fader of a channel on a console. Now, an SSL is a little bit more involved, because it has better dynamics sections than most consoles, and it has a lot of different ways of routing, but it answers most of the questions.

So that’s the mixing console basics of just a channel. It shows you, you know, EQ, dynamics sections for those consoles that have it, basic routing, how you can assign things to different areas. Each console has its own little idiosyncrasies. It has its own little way of doing things. An SSL is a lot more involved than most consoles, even Neve consoles, except for some of the most modern aren’t that involved, but an SSL, traditionally, was always designed primarily for mixing, so it had a lot of different functions.

So please subscribe, go to and sign up for the email list, and get a bunch of free stuff, but leave me comments! Go below, leave some comments, I love having discussion, it’s so much fun when you guys come in and talk about your experiences with consoles and ask questions. It’s great, and I’m really enjoying the sort of sense of community that you guys are creating.

So please, leave some questions, subscribe, sign up, talk to you soon. Thanks very much.


Warren Huart

Warren Huart

Warren Huart is an English record producer/musician/composer and recording engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Learn more at

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