This article is written for Hypnotists that carry a mixer with them. It will teach some basic attributes of a better mixer over a cheaper, smaller mixer with less buttons, knobs, dials and switches.
When you know how to use all the buttons, knobs and switches on a sound console the flexibility it give you is sometimes subtle but for a fickle ear or for optimizing what you are working with it does make a difference.
Metaphor: I don't know any professional photographers that use an automatic camera. They want to be able to set a white balance, set the F Stop (the speed of the shutter) and aperture (how big the lens opens to allow more or less light in) themselves. It is similar with sound. I can hear the difference and it drives me nuts when the sound is not tuned correctly, if there are no dynamics and worst of all is the sound is distorting.
Behringer sells low priced mixers. They did recently acquired Klark Teknik and Midas which are both high end sound companies. Both of these companies were superior to Behringer and in Digital mixers, Behringer is now excellent. On the other hand, Behringer sound consoles that are analogue have always been cheap, entry level stuff.
In my experience, what sets Mackie Brand Equipment ahead are all the additional buttons, knobs, switches and ports they offer on the small, 802 and 1202 boards that are industry standards now for many professional musicians who have home recording studios.
The 802 has three tuning knobs (high frequency, mids and low frequency). Being able to set your EQ (equalization) more accurately is a major asset in producing a clear sound from a variety of different Microphones, which all perform differently - and being able to set the EQ for music, which has a totally different dynamic range than human spoken voice.
Being limited to two EQ knobs on small mixers just can't do it for me. That is very limiting. I want to be able to turn up a lower bass sound for when I tap my microphone to create a heartbeat sound effect, and with large audiences the high frequencies need to be enhanced because highs don't carry distances as well as bass sound does. That is why cars with big sound systems THUMP. Lows carry, highs do not.
Bass sound is felt. It creates vibration in the low end. For people to hear High Frequencies, they must be able to see the speaker. the sound must have little or no interference getting to the person. High can bounce off hard surfaces, but I do not like depending on that.
My Mackie 802 also has a passive Auxiliary channel. It works independently of the main speakers. this means I can set my volume on my floor monitor separate to the front of house speakers. I like to be able to independently set the volume and adjust the volume during my show. when I do the induction, I will turn down the monitors and let the sound coming out of the main speakers be more subliminal, or if there is a lot of noise I think is distracting, I can turn up the monitor to cover the noise. also I use it to enhance the sound my volunteers here at times for example when I say, "the louder that music gets the more you want to dance..." I can turn up my monitor without hurting the audience's ears.
Mackie's also have a mute button, a solo button and a gain knob (that top knob in each channel just below the XLR input) for each channel. I use these together to set the gain at a maximum volume level without crossing a volume threshold that will cause distortion. To do this: (1) I mute the channel, (2) I solo the channel. (3) I then can watch the VU meter (those little lights that jump up and down as sound goes into the mixer) and see when it peeks out. If the lights hit the red, I will distort. If they are to low and I need more volume, I can increase the amount of sound I am allowing into the channel set by the gain knob. When I need to crank the system for more volume, this is handy as I can now visually set the peek volume of the gain at a maximum level without it touching the red. I will turn the music up high in my iPod and VU watch the meter on the mixer, or I will scream into the mic. the Microphone is muted, so the sound does not go through the speakers, but only registers in the board's VU meter.
There is a Mackie 402 mixer, but it only has two tuning knobs and no auxiliary out, so I would not use it myself. The 402 and 802 boards are fairly new on the market. Before they were available, I used a 1202 board. It had a second auxiliary channel, and I would run this with a mic wire to my camera. To do this you need a decent camera operator who can then set the sound volumes coming in from the board, which is always a different mix than the front of the room. My 802 doesn't have the second aux (auxiliary) output so I have a second 802 mixer for those rare times I do have a competent sound/video person and want to get a better sound mix from the show.
With all that said, I do use an automatic camera and do not use one with an F Stop and aperture setting, so if you are using a mixer that can't do all these things, I understand - I, personally, always find it very limiting.