One of the hottest things in pro audio mixers is the tablet controlled mixer. The type I’m referring to has no physical controls at all, only a wireless or wired connection. Big name makers including Soundcraft, Mackie, PreSonus and Behringer are all building such units. In my opinion this technology has some strengths but several weaknesses.
Compact Footprint. These units can be located right on the stage (saving wiring costs) and the sound tech can sit in the service and mix (since there is no need for a sound booth.)
Super Portable. For new start up churches using a rental space, it’s easy to move, setup and tear down. In fact, this may be one of the best solutions for small start-up churches in a rental space. It also can work great for outdoor situations like a Easter sunrise services or church picnics.
Ease of Troubleshooting. The sound tech can walk around the stage and hear feedback or problems and make adjustments right on the spot.
Hardwired Connections. Most of these units have the option for a hardwired connection via a network cable. This makes a good backup in case you have WiFi problems or tablet issues. Several also have Mac, PC or Linix based connectivity for use with a computer. I feel that this kind of backup is essential in a permanent installation situation.
Limited Surface. If you are using more than 8 channels, accessibility can become an issue. Generally, apps will only show a limited number of faders per page and you need to scroll between multiple pages to find which channels need to be turned on and off. You can work around the issue by grouping channels into submixes. I was recently at a tradeshow and the rep for a well known mixer company got totally lost in his mutiple mixer app pages and couldn’t get back the volume control to turn down his music. He was looking a little embarased.
Wireless Connection. For the freedom of using a tablet you must rely on a WiFi connection to function. If your router quits, then you have no mixer. This also raises the question about your WiFi density. How many routers do you have in the room already? How many people in the room have internet sharing enabled on their smartphone, essentially making them a mobile router? Some systems can use a hardwired connection, which is a very important backup to have in place.
Tablet Cost. While the mixer price seems lower, the additional cost of a tablet should be considered. Most companies prefer Apple hardware which is more expensive. Several are starting to support Android tablets which can be had for significantly less money.
Gear Life. For most small to medium churches, replacing their mixer about every 10-15 years is normal. In terms of phone/tablet/computer technologies 10-15 years is a very long time. For example, using 2016 let’s take a look at computer technology in 2000 and 2005. In 2000, Windows 2000 and Mac OS-9 were the latest computer operating systems, the PDA (Palm Pilot) was in wide use and the Ericsson R380 was the first device to combine a phone and a PDA and be marketed as a “smartphone” using LCD display and a stylus. In 2005: Windows XP and Mac OSX “Tiger” were current operating systems while the Blackberry was in wide use as the latest “smartphone.” The first iPhone wouldn’t hit the market until 2007 and the iPad until 2010. Here’s my point. Gear that relies on a certain type of computer hardware to function can easily become obsolete. A well know mixer company built a mixer that used the iPad for it’s control surface, it slid right in and conected to the 30 pin. That feature is now obsolete because Apple has changed the connector. If you’re going to replace your gear every 5-7 years then this might not be an issue for you.
By now, you might be getting the idea that I’m down on tablet based mixing. On the contrary, I use an iPad to tweak and mix and it has a lot of great advantages. Often for events like a church dinner, I’ll go all tablet. However on a Sunday morning, where everything NEEDS to work, you’ll find me behind my PreSonus StudioLive which also has a physical control surface. If I forget my iPad, if the app locks up, if my software won’t work without an update, I’m not worried. Why? All the functions of my digital mixer can still be controlled on the mixer itself, no tablet or computer needed. Physical controls assure that your mixer simply works and can be used long into the future, regardless of the state of computer technology!
If you are a small church using a rental space and will eventually need to upgrade your system for a permanent space, a tablet based mixer could be just the thing you are looking for. The Soundcraft Ui series will work with any device that supports an HTML 5 capable web browser and the Behringer X Air series had apps for Andriod and Apple mobile devices as well as software for Mac, Windows and Linix computers.
Not sure what will work for you? Proclaim A/V will be glad to take a look at your situation and recommend a solution!