Channel Strips: A Beginner’s Guide

Learn the basics of channel strips with our beginner's guide. Discover the components, parameters, types, and best practices for using a channel strip.

Do you ever feel like you’re lost in a sea of audio jargon? Like you’re drowning in a wave of technical terms and complicated equipment? Well, fear not, my friends. Today we’re diving into the world of channel strips, and by the end of this post, you’ll be riding the audio waves like a pro.

In this beginner’s guide to channel strips, we’ll be covering everything from the basic components to the different types available, as well as tips and tricks for using them effectively. We’ll explore common parameters like EQ and compression and even touch on the different plugins you can use to enhance your recordings.

What is a channel strip? A channel strip is a piece of audio equipment that combines various processing tools, such as EQ, compression, and noise reduction, into a single unit. It’s used to shape and enhance the sound of individual audio channels in a mixing or recording session.

What is a channel strip?

Channel strips are vital dynamic processors for music recording and mixing that are incorporated into a single device. This is frequently the preamp, equalizer, compressor, and even limiter or other signal processors in the hardware domain. These are often pricey standalone machines, but the concept is the same as a single channel.

Image of a mixer channel strip. Source: wiki images
Image of a mixer channel strip. Source: wiki images

Channel strips provide a solid starting point for studio work, with most processors bypassed or blank out by default. As you work, you can quickly and easily enable and disable sections of the channel strip as needed. When there are too many low-end frequencies piling up, you can enable a high-pass filter.

My favorite MIDI keyboard (at the moment):

AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3

Channel strips: a beginner's guide | 717qmgla7zl. Ac sl1500 | audio apartment
My favorite MIDI keyboard (at the moment):

AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3

I’m loving the AKAI MPK Mini MK3 for its compact design and the range of controls. It’s one of my essential tools. The velocity-sensitive keys and MPC-style pads are great for making beats, while the thumbstick and knobs give me precise control.

What are the main components of a channel strip?

If you’re getting into recording or mixing audio, you’ll likely come across the term “channel strip” quite often. Let’s take a closer look at each of these components and explore how they work together to create a polished and professional sound.

1. Preamp

The preamp is responsible for amplifying the incoming signal from a microphone or instrument to a level that the rest of the channel strip can process. It also shapes the tone of the signal, typically by applying gain and adjusting the input impedance to match the source.

2. Equalizer

The equalizer allows you to adjust the frequency response of the signal, typically by boosting or cutting certain frequency ranges. This can be used to shape the tone of the sound, fix any problematic resonances, or create interesting tonal effects.

3. Dynamics processing

This includes compressors, limiters, gates, and expanders. These tools are used to control the volume levels of the signal. A compressor, for example, reduces the dynamic range of a signal by reducing the volume of loud sounds and increasing the volume of quiet sounds. A limiter is a type of compressor that prevents the signal from going above a certain threshold. A gate, on the other hand, reduces the volume of sounds below a certain threshold.

4. Aux sends and returns

These allow you to send the signal to external effects processors, such as reverb or delay units, and then bring the processed signal back into the channel strip. Aux sends typically have their own volume controls, allowing you to blend the dry and wet signals.

Pros and cons of using channel strips

Channel strips are essential tools in audio production that combine multiple audio processing functions into a single unit, streamlining the workflow and enhancing the sound quality. However, like any piece of equipment, they have their own advantages and disadvantages. Let’s explore them below.


Channel strips offer several benefits that make them valuable tools in audio production:

  • Simplified Workflow: One of the major advantages of channel strips is their ability to streamline the audio production process. With a channel strip, you have access to multiple processing tools, such as equalization, compression, and preamplification, all in one unit. This simplifies the setup and saves time by eliminating the need for multiple separate devices.
  • Consistent Sound: Channel strips help maintain a consistent sound throughout your audio signal path. Since all the processing tools are integrated into a single unit, you can ensure that the signal passes through the same components, resulting in a cohesive and uniform sound. This is particularly useful for recording sessions or live performances where maintaining consistent audio quality is crucial.
  • Easy Integration: Channel strips are designed to integrate seamlessly into various audio setups. They typically come with balanced inputs and outputs, allowing you to connect them directly to your mixing console, audio interface, or other audio equipment. This makes it convenient to incorporate them into your existing setup without the need for complex routing.
  • Space-Saving: By combining multiple processing functions into one unit, channel strips help save valuable space in your studio or live sound setup. Instead of cluttering your workspace with separate devices for each processing task, you can have all the necessary tools conveniently located in a single unit.
  • Presets and Recallability: Many channel strips offer preset functionality, allowing you to save and recall your preferred settings for different audio sources. This feature can be a time-saver, enabling you to quickly set up the channel strip to match your desired sound without the need for manual adjustments every time.
Image of a sound engineer working on a mixer. Source: unsplash
Image of a sound engineer working on a mixer. Source: unsplash


While channel strips offer numerous advantages, there are a few potential drawbacks to consider:

  • Limited Customization: Channel strips often come with a fixed set of processing tools and configurations. While this can be beneficial for simplicity and ease of use, it may limit your ability to customize the processing chain according to your specific requirements. Some audio engineers prefer having separate, dedicated units for each processing task to have more control over individual parameters.
  • Cost: Compared to purchasing separate individual processors, channel strips can be relatively expensive. Since they incorporate multiple processing functions into a single unit, the cost is generally higher than buying separate units for each task. This may be a consideration if you have a tight budget or if you only need specific processing tools and don’t require the additional features of a channel strip.
  • Repair and Maintenance: In the event of a malfunction or failure in a channel strip, repairing or replacing the entire unit may be necessary. This can be more costly and time-consuming than addressing issues with individual processors. Additionally, if one component of the channel strip fails, it may render the entire unit unusable until repairs are made.
  • Limited Expansion: Channel strips often have a fixed set of processing functions and features, which means they may not accommodate future expansion or upgrades easily. If you require additional or specialized processing tools in the future, you may need to invest in separate devices, which could disrupt the streamlined nature of your setup.
  • Function Dependency: When using a channel strip, if one part of the unit fails or needs to be bypassed, it may affect the entire signal chain. This dependency on a single unit means that issues with a specific processing function can impact the overall audio quality until the problem is resolved.

How can you effectively use a channel strip in your mix?

Using a channel strip effectively is crucial for achieving a professional and polished sound in your mixes. Here are some tips for making the most of this powerful tool:

1. Understand the signal flow

Before you start using a channel strip, it’s important to understand the signal flow. Typically, the signal flows from the preamp through the equalizer, dynamics processing, and then to the aux sends and returns. Understanding how each component affects the signal can help you make informed decisions when processing your audio.

Compression can be a great tool for controlling the dynamics of your audio, but it’s important to use it carefully.

2. Start with a clean signal

Before you start processing the signal, make sure you have a clean recording to work with. This means setting the gain levels correctly and minimizing any noise or interference.

3. Use EQ sparingly

While an equalizer can be a powerful tool for shaping the tone of your audio, it’s important to use it sparingly. A good rule of thumb is to start with a flat EQ and only make adjustments when necessary.

4. Use compression carefully

Compression can be a great tool for controlling the dynamics of your audio, but it’s important to use it carefully. Set the threshold and ratio appropriately, and listen carefully to how it affects the sound. Avoid over-compressing, as this can lead to a lifeless and unnatural sound.

5. Experiment with aux sends and returns

Aux sends and returns allow you to add external effects to your audio, such as reverb or delay. Experiment with different effects and settings to create a unique and interesting sound.

6. Use your ears

Ultimately, the most important tool for using a channel strip effectively is your ears. Listen carefully to how each component affects the sound, and make adjustments based on what sounds best to you.

By following these tips and understanding the signal flow in a channel strip, you can effectively use this powerful tool to create professional-quality audio mixes.

If you want even more tips and insights, watch this video called “What Are Channel Strips” from the Start Producing Music YouTube channel.

A video called “What Are Channel Strips” from the Start Producing Music YouTube channel.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Do you still have questions about what a channel strip is? Below are some of the most commonly asked questions.

What does a channel strip do?

A channel strip combines different processing tools to shape and enhance the sound of individual audio channels in a recording or mixing session.

How does a channel strip differ from a mixer?

While a mixer combines and balances multiple audio signals, a channel strip focuses on processing a single audio channel, providing more precise control over its sound.

Do I need a channel strip for my home studio?

It depends on your recording needs and goals. A channel strip can be a valuable tool for shaping and enhancing individual audio channels, but it’s not always necessary for basic recording setups.


Well, folks, we’ve reached the end of our journey through the world of channel strips. We’ve covered everything from the components and parameters to the different types and best practices for using them effectively. And hopefully, we’ve made some waves along the way.

Now, before we part ways, let me ask you – did we answer all your burning questions about channel strips? Are you feeling more confident about diving into the audio world armed with this knowledge? Let me know in the comments below, and I’ll be sure to get back to you.

And hey, if you found this post helpful, be sure to share it with a friend who could use a crash course in channel strips. Don’t forget to check out my full blog for more tips and tricks on all things audio. Thanks for riding the sound waves with me, and until next time, keep mixing and stay groovy!

Key takeaways

This article covered what a channel strip is. Here are some key takeaways:

  • A channel strip is a piece of audio equipment that combines various processing tools, such as EQ, compression, and noise reduction, into a single unit.
  • The main components of a channel strip include EQ, dynamics, and gain controls.
  • Common parameters found on a channel strip include high-pass filters, low-pass filters, and frequency bands.
  • Tips for using a channel strip effectively include starting with a clean signal, using gentle settings, and trusting your ears over the numbers.
  • A channel strip is not the same as a mixer, as it focuses on processing a single audio channel, providing more precise control over its sound.

Helpful resources

Image Andrew Ash
Written by Andrew Ash, Staff Writer

Hey there! My name is Andrew, and I'm relatively new to music production, but I've been learning a ton, and documenting my journey along the way. That's why I started this blog. If you want to improve your home studio setup and learn more along with me, this is the place for you!

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Edited by Nick Eggert, Staff Editor

Nick is our staff editor and co-founder. He has a passion for writing, editing, and website development. His expertise lies in shaping content with precision and managing digital spaces with a keen eye for detail.

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