Mixing Live Sound on an iPad – Can You and Should You?


It’s truly amazing how far technology has come. And these technologies are being scooped up by every industry – live audio is no exception. Being able to walk around as you mix a show is very intriguing and often asked about.

Can you mix live sound on an iPad? Yes, you can mix live sound using an iPad by implementing very basic networking technologies.

Mixing with an iPad is becoming more and more common in the world of live sound. The answer to “can you do it” is a very simple yes. However, a more important question may be, “should you?” Keep reading to find out!

Can You and Should You Mix Live Sound on an iPad?

Most digital console manufacturers these days have implemented wireless networking technology into their consoles enabling us to control them remotely. This has proven to be a valuable tool for many of us in the live sound industry.

The question is, can YOU and should YOU be taking advantage of this feature set? The answer is yes, you can and should be. There are many tools and features on every digital console that not everyone will benefit from. However, controlling your console remotely is one that every single person can and should do.

That said, it doesn’t come without its own set of pros and cons. Lucky for you, I’ve written this article so you don’t have to think of them yourself! I’ve listed the pros and cons of mixing with an iPad below.

Benefits of Mixing on an iPad

There are lots of benefits to mixing with an iPad! Using one can make you mobile and make other tasks much easier and efficient. It’s very common, and in some cases assumed, that an iPad will be utilized.

Let’s look at some of the benefits of using one!

You Can Listen Where the Audience Listens

A challenge often faced in live sound is our mix sounding different in different parts of the room. We can overcome this in a few different ways, but in the context of this article, being able to move around and listen where the audience listens can play a huge part.

Something you’ve probably seen many engineers do, and maybe have done yourself, is get a good mix dialed in and then take a walk. This is for exactly that reason – to listen where the audience will be located. Now, having the ability to mix remotely not only allows the engineer (you) to more confidently take that walk, but now we can make adjustments along the way.

You Can Mix Monitors More Easily

Every engineer knows how stressful and excruciating mixing monitors can be. You’ve got 8 musicians on stage all asking you for something different in their monitors. You’re trying your best to accommodate their requests, but not only are they getting impatient, but now their monitors are feeding back and they are yelling with a new set of requests and… well, the story goes on and on.

Having the ability to meet the band on stage with an iPad and work with each member individually is near invaluable. Granted, this doesn’t work in every situation, but having that option available definitely comes in handy.

Some Mixing Tools Are Faster and Easier to Use

Believe it or not, many tools you find on an iPad mixing app are actually easier and faster to use. Take the EQ (equalizer) for example.

On a digital console you typically have a few controls for all your EQ parameters; such as frequency, gain, Q, and filter type. And on some consoles, only a single control. This can definitely slow you down when you’re trying to work quickly.

On an iPad, those controls are normally utilized in how you use your fingers on the touch screen, just like a phone. For example – in the Behringer X32 and Midas M32 mix apps, the gain and frequency controls within the EQ can be simultaneously controlled with one finger. You simply click, hold and drag your edit point; left/right for frequency and up/down for gain. And, your Q width can be adjusted by “pinching” the same point.

Controls like these are often times much easier and quicker on an iPad.

You Can Easily Troubleshoot Problems

Troubleshooting is a “must-have” skill for anyone in live sound. Half of my time is probably spent either fixing a problem or making sure another problem doesn’t happen. Point being, you WILL have problems.

Having an iPad has saved me so much time in troubleshooting alone. I can’t count the number of times I’ve ran back-and-forth between the stage and the console simply checking if something I’ve tried worked. But when I’m able to use an iPad I can check in real-time whether or not what I’m doing is working – priceless!

For this reason alone I recommend anyone with the capability to use an iPad.

Makes You More Efficient When Working Alone

We all work alone at some point, whether that be intentional or not. Regardless, when you do find yourself in that situation you’ll realize how much you appreciate the help you normally have. This is a time when mixing with an iPad can really help you out.

I’ve done many shows in which I was working for a band, but was unofficially deemed “head of audio” for the entire event because there was no other audio guy in sight. At this point, I am now in charge of not only my bands needs, but now the needs of every other band, artist, speaker, etc…

Having the iPad available allowed me to continuously mix the show (side stage) while also dealing with the needs of the next artist. I DO NOT recommend trying this… trust me. However, a simple tool like the iPad made it possible for me to take on the task.

Can Help Save Space

If at all possible, it is always recommend to have your console at FOH (front-of-house). This is standard and is simply the most practical. However, for some this is truly just not a possibility.

Take a small church for example. A congregation of 100 people trying to cram themselves into a room that is too small, and now we want to take up more space with all our equipment? This might not be possible.

In order to save space we can put our console on the stage, behind the stage, in a closet… wherever it needs to be. We can then connect with our iPad and go about the service. This is not an ideal situation, but it is the situation many people are in. So, mixing with an iPad is a great option in this case!

Downsides to Mixing on an iPad

We’ve just looked at many of the benefits of mixing with an iPad. But as you know every upside has a downside.

Mixing on an iPad can leave you in some dangerous situations and vulnerable to the inconsistencies of technology. Be careful how much faith you put in it!

Let’s look at some of the downsides of mixing with an iPad.

Losing Wireless Connectivity

One obvious point of mixing with an iPad is that you will be wireless. This is a dangerous place to be. The less wires you have, the more can (and will) go wrong!

If you lose connectivity to your router, you have no control over anything. And there are many ways you can lose signal. Think about if your router comes unplugged because someone tripped over the cable. Or your venue has filled with people since soundcheck ended and has lowered the quality of signal you have to your router. Or a band came in with their own wireless system and now it’s interfering with yours.

There are many things that can go wrong wirelessly when depending upon an iPad.

Can Only Do One Thing at a Time

Although some tools may work quicker on an iPad, you are still limited to only one tool at a time.

On a console, I can be adjusting many things at one time. I can be riding vocal faders with my left hand while simultaneously adjusting multiple EQ controls with my right hand. Or adjusting effects levels with my right hand while searching through menus with my left.

Doing multiple things on an iPad is near impossible. If you want to adjust the kick drum EQ, then that’s what you can do in that moment. If you want to rider faders and adjust other settings at the same time, you just simply can’t do it with an iPad.

Some Features Not Available on iPad

Sometimes manufacturers don’t include every feature or control within their app. For example, if you want to control the input gain on a channel, some manufacturers require you to do this at the console.

Or like the Midas M32 – If I want to link a FOH console and a monitor console together, I must set the sync port to either AES50A or AES50B, which I cannot do on the iPad app. This requires me to run back and forth between consoles to check each setting.

While it is very convenient to use the app, this is definitely a downside to relying on it too heavily.

Keeping the Battery Charged

I admit… I’m guilty.

There have been a few times in which I forgot to charge my iPad. Not only that, but I didn’t even think to check the battery level before the show started. Then I got the 5% battery warning. And on top of that, I was using an iPad-Only setup, meaning there was no physical mixer for me to run to. This is bad…

Luckily, I was able to find a charger. But even then I was stuck to the wall the rest of the show because the app was draining my battery at the same rate it was being charged!

Needless to say, that wasn’t a fun show. It is a very valuable lesson though in that it’s not always a good idea to rely solely on an iPad setup.

So if you do want to mix from an iPad, make sure it’s charged!

Unexpected Updates and Freezes

This is something I never even thought about, until it happened.

I was, again, on an iPad-Only setup. Then mid-show, my iPad decided it needed to update and I needed to login to my account. This is pretty difficult to do when you in the middle of nowhere in a third-world country and no internet service. (speaking from experience)

This began my cycle of repeated iPad restarts throughout the entire show. And every time I restarted, I knew, that during the restart process I had absolutely NO control over the sound of the event. Not good.

Luckily, I was able to make it work, but it was one of the most stressful shows I’ve ever done!

As with most technology, it is sometimes unpredictable.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are many benefits to mixing with an iPad. But every benefit comes with a drawback. At the end of the day, the iPad is an amazing tool that can be used in a number of situations. But it’s just that – a tool. It shouldn’t be relied upon exclusively, but if used wisely can greatly benefit your workflow!

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