I was starting to get overwhelmed by all the audio sources in my shack, then I saw some contests are starting to require recordings of both sides of contacts. How the Hell am I going to do that??? So I started looking at options and thinking about the audio routing in my shack. I have two radios with soundcards, Computer audio in and out, satellite radio, my Phone for music and podcasts, etc. It never ends.
I decided to integrate an audio mixer into the Shack and it was the best piece of non-Ham-specific equipment I ever bought. There are many mixers out there, I got a Mackie 802 VLZ4 8-Channel mixer. I have had others suggest different models, but this seemed like the one for me. This was a new thing for me, and I had to start from scratch. It did take some time to learn about how these mixers work. There are several different input/output types that are intended for various pieces of musical equipment, microphones, etc. I will provide a few suggestions and some things to be careful of, if you decide to go this route.
One thing to be careful about is the number of “channels” that are supported. An 8-channel mixer sounds like total overkill for a Ham Shack, but some of the “channels” are only one side of a stereo input/output, so it is not. Believe me, I have utilized nearly all of the channels already, after only a few months.
My other warning would be to actually read the manual. If you are new to this type of equipment, it takes some time to understand the lingo of the folks in the music business. You need to translate their language to your station’s particular set of equipment. Mackie has a very good manual, which includes several example setups. I found this to be very useful in getting started.
One other potential issue is all the additional cables. You may already have a mess of cables, and may not be desiring another set of audio-specific cables. I will just say it is well worth it. Here is a picture of mine.
I keep it on top of a riser above one of my radios. The cabling has really not been a problem. I have thus far had no EMI/RFI issues either. You will need to buy a bunch of standard audio mixer cables to connect your equipment.
I am using the “tape” input/output for the connections to the PC soundcard. I think this will support the required recordings for any contest.
This particular mixer offers several “outputs,” so it is very flexible. I can route audio to speakers, headphones, my PC, and the “Control Room” which I use for the audio input to my microphones on the radios via my DX Doubler SO2R box.
Now that I have this integrated, some nights like tonight, I run a Mode like FT8 and just fire-up the music. Since FT8 does not require any listening, I get to work some new Stations while enjoying a great concert. Not sure how you can beat that.
Give an audio mixer a try in your Station, and you might be glad that you did. I can’t even start to list the benefits and the flexibility it provides. If you have hearing-related issues, you will especially like the capabilities it provides to adjust the audio frequency response and balance between the Left/Right channels. I will not be without one again. Now, back to my concert. There is a UA6 calling me on FT8 and I want to work him while enjoying some great music. Maybe I will get to like FT8 more after all.
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