Desks are cool. I have one. 48 lines, 52 channels, 130 kilos. The Soundtracs Sequel II. People often ask “Do you mix on it?” No, I don’t and never will because of the revisions, but this theme demands a dedicated post. Anyway, mixing desks are effective in the recording environment so there are my thoughts about it.
Although my primary recording interfaces have a very advanced mixer, you cannot beat the real faders and knobs with a mouse. All operations with levels and routing for monitoring are way faster and precise with them. I mean WAY faster. Everything is under your hands. Also, if I want something to be in my DSP mixer I have to use one or two channels of preamps and ADCs even if I don’t want to record it. With a desk, I don’t have to make such compromises. Especially for live sessions, when every channel is occupied and everybody demands individual submix.
And if you don't have a serious DSP mixer in your audio interface, you may significantly improve your options for routing and monitoring. Also, it’s a good point to connect all of your analog equipment if you use it. Channel Inserts, sends, returns, groups provide a significant amount of possibilities.
Mixing desks usually provide microphone preamps, equalizers and sometimes compressors. If a desk has direct outs, it’s possible to use it for recording. Quality varies but there are lots of good desks with decent channel strips and it’s cheap. In my case since I don’t want to mix on it, I don’t need automation and other mixing-related options. A live console is optimal. Live sound is going digital so there are plenty of great analog desks for sale for a fraction of their former price. Per channel cost is just ridiculous sometimes.
And if you want to incorporate a serious amount of analog hardware, you have no other option than a good desk.
But there is a problem. Consoles, especially old ones, need maintenance. I’ve seen lots of them which sound like a trashcan with a pillow inside because of owners who know nothing about it. And if you can’t do it you have to hire somebody who can. I’ve rebuilt about 40 channel strips in my desk, it sounds far better; I believe it’s better than new now.
If you record straight to ADC from preamps, you can live without a console. If you can maintain a console properly, it will be a good upgrade for your workflow, routing, and monitoring options. If you use additional hardware, sometimes you have no other choice. And the most important.
They are just astonishingly beautiful beasts.