How to Set Up a Live Sound Signal Chain

Written by rupinder dhillon
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How to Set Up a Live Sound Signal Chain
The sound engineer operates the mixer during performances to enhance the sound. (Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

A live sound signal chain includes all of the instruments, microphones, effect units and speakers required for a performance. The mixer is at the heart of the sound chain and is controlled by an engineer during performances to improve sound quality. Using the right equipment and connecting each part of the signal chain to its appropriate device or channel on the mixer is essential to producing a clear sound.

Skill level:
Moderate

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Things you need

  • Monitoring speakers, 1 per performer
  • Microphone stands, 1 per microphone
  • Microphones, 1 per performer or instrument amplifier
  • FOH speakers, 2 or more, depending stage size and performance space
  • XLR cables, 1 per microphone and compatible speaker
  • 1/4-inch TRS cables, 1 per compatible instrument or audio processing unit
  • Snake cable (optional)
  • Mixer
  • Gaffer tape
  • Outboard effect units (optional)
  • Amplifiers (optional), required for passive monitors

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Place the monitoring speakers near the front edge of the stage. Aim each monitor at its respective performer. Monitors allow performers to hear themselves and other performers.

  2. 2

    Place each microphone stand at least 1 to 3 feet in front of its respective monitor. Place the microphones in their stands with their backs aimed at the front of their monitors.

  3. 3

    Place crowd-facing speakers --- FOH speakers --- at least 5 feet in front of the microphones and monitors to avoid feedback. Place them at the front corners of the stage and aim them at the audience.

  4. 4

    Connect the performers' microphone, instrument and effect audio outputs to the input channels on the mixer, using XLR and 1/4-inch TRS audio cables. Group similar outputs. For example, if you are using five microphones to capture a drum kit's sound, connect the microphones to input channels 5 through 9. Use a snake cable for a neater set-up.

  5. 5

    Secure cables to the ground with gaffer tape.

  6. 6

    Connect the audio inputs of outboard effect units, such as reverb, EQ and compression, to the AUX send channels on your mixer. The sound engineer controls these effects to enhance the live mix. The channels you use depend on how your mixer is wired, which is detailed in your mixer's manual. If your mixer contains built-in effects, you may skip this step.

  7. 7

    Connect the audio outputs of the outboard effect units to the Aux Return channels on your mixer. This routes the sound back into the mixer. If your mixer contains built-in effects, you may skip this step.

  8. 8

    Connect the Aux Send channels on the mixer to the audio inputs on the monitors, if you are using powered monitors. If you are using passive monitors, connect the mixer's Aux Send channels to the audio inputs on your amplifier. Connect the amplifier's audio outputs to the audio inputs on the monitors.

  9. 9

    Connect the mixer's main audio outputs to the audio inputs on the FOH speakers, if you are using powered speakers. Connect the main audio outputs on your mixer to the audio inputs on your speaker amplifiers, if you are using passive speakers. Connect the audio outputs on your amplifiers to the audio inputs on your speakers. Connect your speakers last to avoid damaging your equipment.

Tips and warnings

  • Always perform a sound check for all of the instruments individually and mixed together before a performance.
  • Connect equipment, such as crossovers and speaker processors, between the mixer and speakers or mixer and amplifiers.
  • Do not make audio connections while your sound system is on. Doing so may result in damage to your speakers.
  • Lifting or moving heavy equipment without proper support or help may result in an injury.

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