What is Signal Flow: Learn How to Easy Route your Signal!

What is Signal Flow


Understanding where the audio signal presently is, and where it’s going to go, is a key side of working on a large-format mixing console.

It makes all these knobs and buttons a lot less intimidating if you already know what’s creating the signal, what the signal is passing through, where it’s being processed, what’s processing it, and the way that process is affecting your audio.

In the event, you wrap your head around what is signal flow all the other ideas of frequency and dynamics and equalization will fall into place as a result of these concepts are inherent in understanding the units and elements affecting signal flow.

How Do We Use Signal Flow?

In sensible terms, there are principally two classes of the way to direct signal in digital music production. One includes splitting tracks down a parallel path (the aux send) where effects processing may be managed individually from the dry source track. The opposite includes routing a number of tracks to be grouped and processed collectively in a submix.

Even for those who’re new to the idea of signal flow, you may have most likely at least heard of utilizing aux sends for effects in a mix, and you might also have a fairly solid grasp on how to use this type of signal routing.

While you use an aux send, you’re successfully splitting the signal down two paths — the unique straight line from the audio track to the mix bus, and a second (auxiliary) path that you’ve simply made. It’s like a fork in the street, besides the signal travels down each path simultaneously.

Why Should We Care About Signal Flow?

Signal flow is a tool, and doubtlessly a strong one. It may be tougher to know how signal flow shapes sounds than a tool as compression or reverb does; routing a signal to a bus doesn’t inherently change the way in which it sounds.

Nonetheless, the paths we route signal down and where & how within the path we select to process it may have an infinite influence on what we’re in a position to do in a mix session.

When you get a handle for the way routing signals can create new methods to sculpt sounds in a mix, it begins to turn apparent that the chances are fairly near limitless.

analog mixing console and what is signal flow

Signal Path In-Depth

So we all know typically what the function of a mixing console is now, so let’s break it down into extra details and perceive what occurs to the signal as it travels from its source to monitoring. The information below is for the analog signal path in order for you to know all of the steps you may take before you record your signal in your DAW.

It seems to be fairly similar to the processing chain in your DAW, however, that is the microphone signal we’re talking about – no matter if you are recording vocals or instruments. Let’s check it out.

Mic or Line Input

You’ll first want to tell the console whether or not you’re recording from a microphone source or a line (similar to a keyboard or synthesizer). The reason is mic signals are so much weaker than line so to ensure correct gain staging you have to set the desk as much as receiving the appropriate feed. If a mic is chosen then your sign shall be input to the desk preamp, whereas the line will normally skip this part as the additional gain isn’t needed.

mic line input

The Phantom Power

In case you are utilizing a condenser microphone you have to enable phantom power, which sends a small electrical signal to the microphone, basically turning it on. At all times double-verify nonetheless as not all mics would require phantom power and may be damaged by accident turning it on.

phantom power

Set the Gain

Next, it’s good to set the proper gain stage. Gain staging is essential to getting a clear signal and guaranteeing you may have enough signal-to-noise ratio. You’ll also normally have a Pad option that lets you decrease the signal by a specific amount of dB whether it is too loud (for instance in case your microphone is especially sensitive and your singer is particularly loud).

We have an article on gain staging mistakes. Check it out here!


If ‘mic’ is chosen then the signal will path to the desk preamp. As talked about before, microphone signals are typically fairly weak, so a preamp is required to extend the gain of the signal to a recordable stage. Typically producers will use exterior preamps relying on their style, quite than the desk preamp, which may be inserted into the signal chain via a patch bay.



You’ll normally see a choice to reverse the phase of your signal. Basically, this flips the waveform of your sign upside down, so the constructive oscillations are actually negative and vice versa. That is essential to verify when utilizing a number of microphones as if one or more are out of phase (i.e. when one is positive the opposite is negative) then you may end up dropping the low end within the affected tracks and typically the entire signal itself.

phase button on console


An insert will normally lie between the preamp and EQ part of the desk. It permits you to place an effects unit or signal processor (corresponding to a compressor) into the signal chain. You would want to bodily route this out of the insert, into your effect, after which again into the signal chain. That is typically achieved via a patch bay or by points on the channel strip in smaller mixers. In your DAW is completely different.


You’ll normally discover an EQ section on your desk that permits you to tweak the frequency content of your signal. The EQ on a mixing console isn’t as efficient at targeting specific frequencies as a graphic EQ or a plugin however they’re nice for making changes through the recording process. Some EQs can both be set to affect the signal before it hits your DAW or after (on the monitoring stage).

eq section on console

AUX Sends

A mixing console normally has a collection of auxiliary sends on every channel. In the event you’ve mixed in the box before, then consider these like a bus channel. An aux permits the desk to send an equivalent signal from the channel to a different destination. This could possibly be to utilize an outboard effects unit and even to easily create a replica of the unique track to parallel compress.

An auxiliary send will typically have the choice of ‘pre’ or ‘post’ send, which provides you the choice to send the signal before or after your faders. Pre means you could alter your fader as much as you want within the control room, however, this won’t have an effect on the level of the auxiliary whereas the post will do the opposite and shall be affected by your faders.

Headphone Mix

An important part of any recording session is ensuring every performer has their very own headphone mix of the track. You’ll normally discover a part on the desk that permits you to increase or decrease the volume of every track feeding to the headphones (though this may typically be achieved with auxiliary tracks, through which case a pre-fader auxiliary could be suitable).


After all the above your signal will hit your DAW, which is the place you’ll bodily record the track. This won’t need a lot of explanation, however, it’s worth remembering that tweaking any of the above parameters (corresponding to gain, phase reversal) won’t have an effect on the sign once recorded so you’ll want to make sure your settings are excellent before beginning to track.


Signal flow isn’t just a few technical concepts audio engineers rant about to sound sensible. It’s a vital part of determining how to resolve issues while recording and mixing!

Make sure to have all the things cleared before you record the signal of your microphone and instrument because, after that, you won’t be able to go back and fix things. It is best to have everything sorted out and record the best possible take when it comes to using your hardware units and microphones.

You’ll save a ton of time fixing issues. And that allows you to focus on the creative stuff as an alternative to getting slowed down in technical points. If you have any questions in regards to what is signal flow, please let us know in the comment section.


Nikoloski is the founder and main content writer and editor of Mixing Tips. With his experience in audio engineering, mixing, and mastering for over 15 years, will provide hands-on experience and expertise in all the matters covered on this website.

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