Components of a Pro Audio System

A SIMPLE, GENERIC SYSTEM LAYOUT

In this lesson, we will begin looking at the different components of a professional audio system. In articles to come, we will look in more detail at each component separately.

Source. This would include microphones, direct boxes, playback & other sources of audio.

Mixing Console. Where most of the action happens – the blending of inputs and outputs.

Processing. Various components which tweak and split the sound for various uses. Functions in a system processor would include Crossover, Gain, Polarity, Equalization, Delay, Merging & Splitting.

Amplifiers. Equipment that receives line-level inputs and delivers speaker-level outputs.

Loudspeakers. The various forms of transducers that convert electrical signal into acoustical energy. They are manufactured to optimally project a specific frequency range, i.e.: subwoofers, woofers, mids, and high-frequency horns.

SYSTEM FLOW TERMINOLOGY
It is important to get into the habit of speaking in terms of proper signal flow. Often, you will hear someone say “my amp is plugged into my guitar”. This is not correct. The guitar is the source. The sound travels O U T of the guitar, down the path of the cable, and I N to the guitar amp’s input. This same thinking applies to every input and output in an audio system. Force yourself so use the correct terminology, bearing in mind the direction of signal flow. You don’t plug anything INTO the output of a mixer! The mixer’s output plugs INTO the next piece of gear in the chain.

THE IMPORTANCE OF GAIN STRUCTURE
In a properly set up system, the console, processing, and amplifier inputs should all clip (reach the point of distortion, or overloaded signal) simultaneously. This gives you tha maximum headroom  (also called signal-to-noise ratio) out of the entire system chain.

THE AGE OF DIGITAL
Just a few years ago, the “processing” component of the signal chain was an entire rack or two of different pieces of gear. But in today’s reality of excellent quality digital audio processing, that same amount of processing (and more) fits in just 1 or 2 rack spaces. In addition, the proliferation of digital mixers and self-powered speakers means a lot of today’s signal chains look quite a bit different than those of just 15 years ago.

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