The Tools of the Trade – Audio Engineering Equipment

No matter if you are an aspiring musician or simply curious about what goes into making beautiful sound, understanding the core tools of production such as mixing consoles, microphones and headphones is helpful in understanding their role and purpose in audio production.

Other essential audio engineering skills include fast sound adjustments and being able to troubleshoot issues on the fly.

Mixing consoles

Audio mixers combine and route audio signals and can have various capabilities depending on their type. From digital to analog models, with features like cue systems that enable sound engineers to listen to select inputs without impacting console outputs or meters that monitor signal levels, mixers offer many uses in sound engineering studios.

A mixer is often at the core of recording studios and concerts alike, mixing music for different events using complex equipment that often needs extensive training to use effectively. There are three primary kinds of mixing consoles: analog, digital and hybrid. Analog consoles use physical components while digital consoles use computers to control fader levels and other functions; hybrid consoles combine analog and digital circuitry for preamps and equalization to produce warm, natural sounds that provide warmth to their soundscape.

Most audio mixers feature multiple input channels, each equipped with switches for selecting line-level or mic-level signals and gain controls to adjust levels accordingly. They often also come equipped with parametric or semi-parametric EQ bands as well as buttons enabling engineers to reroute signals to a monitor mix, activate pad to reduce overall signal level or activate other useful features like high-pass filters.

In the mid to late 1950s, Les Paul developed the first modern mixer. By synchronizing eight tape recorders together into “The Octopus,” this multitrack system gave him greater flexibility and control of his recordings; however, physical effort was required to adjust volume levels of individual tracks. Today’s modern mixing console offers far more efficient solutions that provide audio engineers with everything they need for creating quality mixes for any event.

Audio interfaces

Audio interfaces are an integral component of sound engineering. From working on virtual instruments in a home studio to recording full bands and acoustic drum sets at professional studios, these pieces of equipment help engineers transform analog sounds signals into digital information that can then be processed by their computers or recorders – this process is known as audio conversion and the main function of an audio interface.

A top-quality audio interface will offer multiple inputs (such as 1/4″ jacks and XLR) to connect microphones, drum kits, synthesizers, grooveboxes, samplers and other line-level equipment such as microphones or drum kits to it; outputs such as speakers or headphones; as well as typically providing 48V phantom power which may be required by certain high-quality studio condenser microphones as well as onboard headphone amplifiers for use with high impedance headphones.

Some audio interfaces offer features to allow users to apply real-time audio effects while they’re recording or during playback, a process commonly referred to as digital signal processing (DSP) that helps ease computer processor usage when recording multiple tracks simultaneously or playing back multichannel mixes.

An audio interface typically features low-latency monitoring that is essential for real-time feedback and evaluation of recordings during production phase of workflow. This feature helps ensure a higher-quality mix when listening back to recordings – and, consequently, higher sample rate/bit depth audio interfaces typically produce superior recordings than their counterparts.


Equalizers are essential tools in an audio engineer’s arsenal for manipulating audio frequencies to achieve desired results. Filter circuits used within equalizers apply either positive, referred to as ‘boost’, or negative gains — known as cuts — across specific frequency bands. Controls on an equalizer include centre frequency, slope (also referred to as Q value) and bandwidth.

Basic equalizers provide an easy solution to common issues like buzzing noises or muddy vocals, while more advanced models allow fine-tuning individual frequency bands – such as those found in midrange voices – with higher Q values creating narrower bands affected by equalizers, while lower Q values produce wider, flatter bands of frequencies affected by equalizers.

Audio equalizers are essential tools that can make an average mix into something exceptional. Unfortunately, their many settings and features may be daunting for beginners; but learning all there is about different types of EQs will allow you to master this essential mixing tool.

Graphic equalizers use sliders that move up or down in decibels to boost or cut specific frequencies; on the other hand, parametric equalizers provide precise control of various parameters.

Some equalizers feature display panels that display frequency-response modifications caused by current settings, making it easier to maximize their use. A fully parametric equalizer features high and low shelving filters with at least one peaking filter that can switch between shelving and peaking modes for optimal results.


Compression is an invaluable tool when mixing on either hardware or software, and can transform how your tracks sound. Compressing reduces the dynamic range, shortening the gap between its highest and lowest peaks to produce more uniform sound – helping your mix sound punchier and louder than before. Audio compression may also help prevent clipping or distortion by keeping signals within their set threshold levels.

There are various kinds of compressors, each offering unique characteristics to add depth and life to a song’s overall sound. Certain compression types work better for certain sources and knowing your desired sound can help determine which compressor is the most appropriate option.

VCA compressors are known for their precision and versatility; they excel at technical tasks like taming transients or shaping tight mixes. FET compressors provide energy to drums or sources with energy requirements, while tube compressors offer smooth compression with a warm sound signature.

Attack and release settings play a significant role in how quickly a compressor reduces signal volume when it passes the threshold. A fast attack will clamp down on transients entering through, while long release allows them to pass with gradual gain reduction.

The ratio control determines how much a compressor reduces amplitude when signal goes beyond threshold, enabling users to achieve various sounds. A lower ratio produces minimal compression while higher ratios create dense pumping sounds. Other key settings include knee and compression type settings: hard knee produces immediate compression while soft ones provide gradual gain reductions.


Digital audio allows amateur musicians to produce music in their bedrooms with plugins that emulate classic pieces of studio equipment. Prices, functions and types may differ but all use digital signal processing to mimic the tasks engineers perform when processing sounds on mixers and other equipment; some effects such as equalizers and compressors have specific applications in mixing/mastering while distortion or reverb can add creative sounds-design tools that alter instrument or vocal timbre.

Compressor plug-ins reduce the dynamic range of an audio track, minimizing its ratio between peak and valley levels and aligning all tracks within your mix closer together. We rely on compression to flatten out drums, smooth vocals and give our mix an overall cohesive sound – each compressor having their own distinct sound, whether taking after famous hardware units or charting new digital territory.

Equalizer plug-ins (commonly referred to as EQs) are indispensable components of mixing. Used to correct imbalances and bring out the best in each instrument, FabFilter offers professional-grade EQs with intuitive user interfaces and impressive sonic capabilities such as their Pro-Q, Pro-L and Pro-R models – boasting graphic multiband EQs as well as old school fixed frequency emulations functions – that will bring out their full potential during each mix session.

Delay is another essential time-based processing plugin, creating everything from subtle echoes to psychedelic dreamscapes and dramatic cavernous repeats. Popular delay plug-ins include PSP Stompdelay which emulates guitar pedal resonant delays; Soundtoys Primal Tap, with beat-synced rhythmic effects like panning, tremolator, phaser and filterfreak; these effects are used by top mix engineers to give their mixes depth and space.