So you’re wondering which audio mixer you should buy, rent or otherwise try out. In this comprehensive buyer’s guide, we’ll go through everything worth considering before you make any decisions about an audio mixer.
If you’ve found yourself asking, “which audio mixer should I buy?” this extensive resource is for you.
Please feel free to jump around this article and read all additional resources I have provided links to.
With that, let’s get into this comprehensive audio mixer buyer’s guide to help you in your next mixer purchase!
Table Of Contents
- What Is Your Audio Mixer Budget?
- What Is The Intended Use Of The Audio Mixer?
- Portable Or Stationary Audio Mixers
- Analog Vs. Digital Audio Mixers
- Passive Vs. Powered Mixers
- Line Mixers
- Summing Mixers
- Recording With Audio Mixers
- Important Audio Mixer Specifications
- Typical Audio Mixer Applications
- A Note On Control Surfaces
What Is Your Audio Mixer Budget?
The first thing to consider when making any purchase is your budget. Money can be a touchy subject for some, and so I’ll keep this section brief.
I would never advise anyone to overspend on any audio equipment. Know what you can realistically afford, and do your best to stay within those limitations, whatever they may be.
Audio mixers, like many audio devices, range significantly in price. The market is rather large, and so there should be a good selection for any budget.
Note that some retailers offer payment plans, which could be an option.
Consider the cost to benefit ratio of the purchase of the mixer. For example, if the mixer is needed for business, perhaps stretching the budget is more appropriate. On the other hand, if you don’t plan on making money with the mixer, perhaps a more conservative budget is appropriate.
Also, consider any additional accessories or upkeep that may be required for your audio mixer.
Only you can determine your budget. All I’m here to say is that you should consider it.
What Is The Intended Use Of The Audio Mixer?
There are plenty of applications for audio mixers. Any multi-channel recording will benefit from a mixer, whether the mixer is built into a software application or it’s a hardware mixer (which we’re discussing here).
In pondering audio mixers, we can list out a variety of different applications. Notable examples include:
- Studio recording
- Live sound
- Portable/field recording
- Film production
Knowing what the intended application(s) are will help you in your search for the ideal audio mixer. Mixers are often designed for specific applications. We’ll discuss the aforementioned applications and more in the upcoming section Typical Audio Mixer Applications.
This preliminary section is meant to get you thinking about what applications your mixer will be used in to help you make a better purchase decision.
It’s important to restate that you may not even need a mixer. There are software applications that can offer audio mixing, and every digital audio workstation (DAW) will have mixing capabilities. Mixing can even be done with the gain staging of multi-input audio interfaces and portable recording, though the mixing capabilities will be rather limited.
Remember that mixing is simply the process of combining audio signals and routing them to their intended output.
Portable Or Stationary Audio Mixers
When opting for a hardware mixer, we should spend time considering the portability of the mixer. Of course, technically, all mixers are “portable,” though some can fit in your backpack and others require street closures and cranes to be removed from top floor mixing rooms.
The most portable mixers naturally tend to have fewer channels.
With digital signal processing (DSP), digital mixers can offer more channels and additional functionality in smaller form factors, especially with the use of banks. Analog mixers are effectively a big as required to have all their functionality readily accessible by the user.
The form factor and the weight of the mixer will play major roles in the overall portability.
Audio mixer form factors run a wide range. Some large consoles are built into studio furniture. Other mixers are small desktop units, and there are line mixers on the market that fit into rackmounts.
Unless you’re setting up a permanent installment in a live venue, studio, or broadcast centre, a portable mixer will likely be a better choice. That being said, the final decision is up to you. All I want to say is that portability ought to be a consideration.
Analog Vs. Digital Audio Mixers
Mixers, like many devices related to audio, are often separated into two camps: analog or digital.
Analog mixers deal will analog audio signals, which are effectively alternating electrical currents. These AC audio signals have waveforms that are analogous to the sound waveforms they aim to represent.
Digital mixers deal with digital audio signals, though they must also work with analog audio in some capacity. Digital audio signals are made of digital information and are often based on pulse-width modulation (having a sample rate and a bit-depth). Digital signals are effectively discrete representations of continuous analog signals.
Most times, there are analog-digital converters (ADCs) at each of the digital mixer’s analog inputs and digital-analog converters (DACs) at each of its analog outputs. More on this in the Inputs & Outputs section.
Though audio is often stored digitally (formats include mp3, wav, FLAC, AAC, etc.), audio devices that transduce sound into audio (and vice versa) work with analog signals.
Microphones and electric instruments (guitar, bass, synths, etc.) typically output analog audio. Even if the instrument is digital, it will typically have a DAC at the output to output analog audio. Note that digital audio outputs are also possible, but these devices will generally output analog.
Similarly, headphones and loudspeakers cannot reproduce discrete digital audio as sound. They require the electrical power of continuous analog signals.
With that preface, let’s consider analog and digital mixers.
Analog mixers are often more affordable and almost guaranteed to be more straightforward than digital mixers.
Because analog mixers work with analog signals, each channel and processor of an analog mixer will be built with its own analog components. This means that physical, electrical components (resistors, capacitors, etc.) are responsible for everything from the preamps, volume faders, bus sends, compressors, equalizers, etc.).
The controllable parameters of an analog mixer will be laid out on the mixer itself in the form of buttons/switches, faders and knobs. This makes analog mixers bulkier but ultimately more straightforward and intuitive to operate.
- Click the link to check out analog mixers at Sweetwater
- Click the link to check out analog mixers at B&H Photo/Video
- Click the link to check out analog mixers on Amazon
Digital mixers are often much more functional than their analog counterparts, offering extensive routing capability and additional processing in smaller form factors. This functionality, of course, comes at a cost but is often well worth the extra price.
As mentioned, digital mixers will have analog audio inputs and outputs. However, shortly after these inputs and shortly before these outputs, there are ADCs and DACs, respectively. All the audio within the digital mixer is digital.
DSP chips/systems are generally much more affordable than the relatively bulky analog circuits that accomplish the same process. Therefore, digital mixers can offer more functionality in less space.
The digital audio signals can be processed by more advanced processes (compression, EQ and effects). They can also be routed with much more flexibility and less signal degradation since it’s much cleaner to copy digital data than to send AC signals through physical circuitry.
Furthermore, digital mixers can offer multiple banks of faders, effectively offering channel counts that double, triple, etc., the number of physical faders. Additionally, preset recall gives digital mixers a huge advantage over analog mixers.
Digital mixers can also be designed with WiFi or Bluetooth connectivity, application control (from a computer, tablet, smartphone, etc.), or Ethernet network integration (Dante, Audio Video Bridging, etc.).
- Click the link to check out digital mixers at Sweetwater
- Click the link to check out digital mixers at B&H Photo/Video
- Click the link to check out digital mixers on Amazon
What About USB Mixers?
Though USB connections will be discussed in the Inputs & Outputs section, I figured I should mention USB mixers in this section, too.
USB (Universal Serial Bus) is an industry-standard digital connection that can be found on both analog and digital mixers.
In the case of analog mixers, the analog audio is converted to digital via an ADC just before the USB output.
In the case of digital mixers, the proper digital audio channels can be assigned to the USB output.
A proper USB mixer effectively combines the design of a mixer and an audio interface together.
- Click the link to check out USB mixers at Sweetwater
- Click the link to check out USB mixers at B&H Photo/Video
- Click the link to check out USB mixers on Amazon
Passive Vs. Powered Mixers
When searching for a new mixer, you’ll likely find powered options on the market. Though conventional mixers are generally passive, powered options are worth understanding.
The two are mostly the same, with the difference being that powered mixers have built-in power amplifiers. These power amplifiers will amplify the mixer outputs signals to speaker level to effectively drive the connected loudspeakers.
Mixers, along with other audio processors, are generally designed to operate at line level. Recorded audio is also typically at line level. Professional nominal line level is defined as +4 dBu, which is equal to 1.782 dBV or 1.228 volts.
Speakers, however, require speaker level signals. Speaker level signals aren’t as standardized (speakers vary significantly in power handling capabilities) but range from just about line level to 100 VRMS (+42 dBu or +40 dBV) or more.
Passive mixers output line level signals. Powered mixers, with their built-in power amplifiers, offer speaker level outputs.
Passive mixers generally connect to loudspeakers in the following ways:
- Either the passive mixer sends audio to a standalone power amplifier, which then drives passive speakers (speakers without built-in power amps), or
- The passive mixer sends audio to active speakers (speakers with built-in power amps), which amplifier the signal accordingly.
Either way, the line level signal must pass through a power amplifier.
Because powered mixers have the power amp built-in, they can connect directly to passive loudspeakers. Note that powered mixers may also offer line level outputs to drive separate power amps.
Powered mixers are bulkier but more convenient. They are generally marketed for smaller, portable PA systems. Note that the power amplifier specifications (namely the power output and impedance ratings) must be compatible with the loudspeakers in the system.
Passive mixers are much more common in many more applications. The line level output is much more universal and less restricting than a built-in power amp with defined specifications. Passive mixers are less bulky and tend to offer more functionality.
- Click the link to check out powered mixers at Sweetwater
- Click the link to check out powered mixers at B&H Photo/Video
- Click the link to check out powered mixers on Amazon
Related My New Microphone article:
• What Are The Differences Between Passive & Active Speakers?
• Why Do Speakers Need Amplifiers? (And How To Match Them)
Line mixers are simple mixers that deal with line inputs and line outputs. They’re typically analog designs and offer a volume fader and pan control for each channel. Some line mixers have main and monitor outputs. They rarely have effects or extra processing.
Line mixers are often used for submixing, multitrack monitoring, level matching, and connecting separate playback devices to the sound system without taking up channels on the main mixer.
Note that standard mixers can function as line mixers, either entirely through the main outputs or via a bus. However, these mixers are capable of much more than a line mixer. A separate inexpensive line mixer is often best for these simple routing applications, while the main mixer handles the more demanding preamplification and processing.
- Click the link to check out line mixers at Sweetwater
- Click the link to check out line mixers at B&H Photo/Video
- Click the link to check out line mixers on Amazon
Summing mixers are effectively high-end line mixers. They take individual channels/tracks and sum them together.
The application for summing mixers is generally in the studio, where individual tracks from a DAW are sent to the summing mixer for summing. Of course, the DAW’s software mixer does this already. The idea behind going through a high-end summing mixer is in the “analog sound” that the hardware mixer will impart on the audio.
Analog circuits, especially those with high-end components (op-amps, transistors, tubes, transformers, etc.), will colour the sound with natural compression, saturation and other deviation. These analog “impurities” are often sonically pleasing and cherished by listeners.
So, the analog sound of summing mixers is their selling point. Summing within a DAW may lead to a sterile digital quality while sending a mix through a summing mixer can bring the mix to life with analog character.
- Click the link to check out summing mixers at Sweetwater
- Click the link to check out summing mixers at B&H Photo/Video
- Click the link to check out summing mixers on Amazon
Recording With Audio Mixers
Most dedicated mixers do not have built-in recording capabilities (though many recorders have limited mixing capabilities).
If you’re looking to record directly into the mixer, you’ll need a digital mixer with recording capabilities. Usually, the recording will be done directly to a hard disk (often an SD card).
In most cases, if you’re choosing an audio mixer with the idea of recording audio, you should consider a separate recording device.
USB mixers will connect directly to a computer and act as their own audio interface. Check the channel capabilities via USB. Some mixers will offer a 2-channel interface (left and right stereo), while others offer multitrack recording capabilities.
If you’re looking to record a stereo track from the mixer, it’s often as simple as feeding a stereo output with the proper mix to a stereo recorder. Remember that line level is the typical level for such outputs (and recorder inputs).
If the mixer doesn’t have a multitrack interface or internal recording capabilities, and you need to record multitrack audio, you’ll have to output the required channels to a multitrack recorder. In this case, opt for a multitrack mixer with individual outputs for its channels.
Important Audio Mixer Specifications
Audio mixers can come with a lot of specifications to read through. In this section, we’ll go through the most important mixer specifications to understand and consider when purchasing a new mixer:
- Number Of Channels
- Microphone Preamplifiers
- Channel Strips & Features
- Inputs & Outputs
- Onboard Processing/Effects
- Mute Groups
Number Of Channels
An audio channel is an audio signal path. The number of channels in a mixer refers to the number of individual audio paths that can be mixed together. The more channels available, the more audio devices can be inputted (and potentially outputted) from the mixer.
Each channel is typically designed to accept mic, instrument or line level signals. Mixers tend to offer audio processes and features on a per-channel basis by way of a channel strip (the preamp gain, volume fader, panning, and aux sends are basic features).
Each channel can be routed and mixed within the mixer, ultimately being sent to specified outputs.
Note that channels can be mono (single channel) or stereo (where two channels are combined within a single strip). Stereo mixer channels will typically be labelled with two numbers (i.e., 9/10) rather than a single number (i.e., 8).
When choosing a mixer, pick one with enough channels to accommodate your current needs and, preferably, enough channels to cover any future expansions.
Mixer channels will each typically have a built-in preamp. Understanding the preamplifier (both microphone and instrument) specifications can help us make more informed purchasing decisions regarding our mixer.
Specifications worth checking out include:
- Maximum input level: how loud can the input analog signal be before the internal circuitry is overloaded. High values can accept stronger input signals and give us more headroom to work with at the input.
- Gain: how many dB of clean gain can the mixer channel’s preamp provide. Note that dynamic microphones typically require more gain and passive ribbon microphones definitely require lots of clean gain.
- Equivalent input noise (EIN): the inherent noise produced by the preamplifier, measured in decibels A-weighted (dBA). This noise is added to the audio signal as it is amplified through the preamp. The lower the rating, the less noise the mixer will introduce into the signal.
- Impedance: the input impedance of the preamp, which acts as the load impedance to the connected microphone or instrument. Ensure the input impedance is much higher than the mic or instrument output impedance for optimal signal transfer.
To learn more about mic preamps, check out my article What Is A Microphone Preamplifier & Why Does A Mic Need One?
Channel Strips & Features
Beyond the preamplifier, mixer channel strips may offer any or all of the following features:
- Phantom Power
- Level Metering
- Phase Flip
- High-Pass Filter
- High-Impedance/Instrument Switch
- EQ Section
- Compressor Section
- Insert Send/Return
- Pre-Fader Listen (PFL)
- After-Fader Listen (AFL)
- Auxiliary Sends
- Group Sends
- Select (Digital Processing)
Phantom power is a common inclusion on microphone preamplifiers that outputs +48V DC (ideally) on pins 2 and 3 of a connected XLR cable. Phantom power is used to power the active circuitry within many “non-tube” condenser microphones and active ribbon microphones.
Most times, phantom power is available on a per-channel basis. Other designs will have multi-channel phantom power switched (1-4 and 5-8, for example).
For more information on phantom power, check out my article What Is Phantom Power And How Does It Work With Microphones?
Signal level monitoring allows users to monitor inputs levels on the mixer itself.
These meters are often rudimentary single LEDs that indicate if a signal is present and if the signal is overloading the input or not. Other
Phase flip is a popular feature for mixer preamps/inputs to have. As the name suggests, a phase flip switch will flip the phase (±180°) of the input signal.
To learn more about phase, check out my article Microphone Polarity & Phase: How They Affect Mic Signals.
Some mixers offer high-pass filters (HPFs) in their preamps to effectively filter low frequencies from the input signal. High-passing at the preamp stage can help clean up electromagnetic interference and mechanical noise/rumble before the signal is processed further.
For more information on high-pass filers, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
• Audio EQ: What Is A High-Pass Filter & How Do HPFs Work?
• What Is A Microphone High-Pass Filter And Why Use One?
Pads (passive attenuation devices) effectively reduce signal levels. Pads at the inputs of mixer channels allow users to bring down signal levels to avoid overloading the rest of the circuitry, including the analog-to-digital converter.
To learn more about pads in audio, check out my article What Is A Microphone Attenuation Pad And What Does It Do?
Input impedance switches allow users to switch the input impedance of a mixer input to best suit the incoming signal. High impedance is particularly useful when passive guitar and bass are directly connected to a mixer channel.
Some channel strips include EQ sections, which are typically semi-parametric with 3 or 4 bands. This is common with analog mixers, whereas many digital mixers have fully parametric digital EQs that are adjustable via a separate digital screen.
For more information on EQ, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
• Complete Guide To Audio Equalization & EQ Hardware/Software
• The Complete Guide To Parametric Equalization/EQ
• What Is Semi-Parametric Equalization/EQ In Audio?
Compression isn’t nearly as popular as EQ on a per-channel basis, though some mixers offer some sort of compression on their channels.
For more information on dynamic range compression, check out My New Microphone’s Complete Guide To Audio Compression & Compressors.
Insert paths allow users to send audio from a channel to outboard gear (typically effects and processors) and have the affected audio return to the channel, thereby inserting an effect/process into the channel, electrically speaking.
The solo button effectively mutes all other channels but the soloed channel at the mixer outputs.
Pre-Fader Listen (PFL)
PFL is considered part of a mixer’s cue system, which allows users to monitor select channels via headphone or monitor outputs without affecting the mixer’s main outputs.
PFL, as the name suggests, allows us to monitor the channel in question before it’s affected by the fader.
After-Fader Listen (AFL)
AFL is another part of a mixer’s cue system. After-fader listen allows us to monitor the channel in question after it’s affected by the fader.
The pan (panorama) of a channel refers to its position with a stereo mix from left to right. Each mixer channel should have its own pan control.
The mute button effectively mutes the channel’s audio from the main outputs of the mixer.
Auxiliary sends are the knobs that send a channel’s audio to separate buses (besides the master bus, by which the faders control how much of each channel is sent).
Auxiliary sends include monitor busses, effects sends/busses, recording busses, and headphone mixes/busses.
A channel’s group send is generally a button near the fader. Since most mixer groups are mono, many group send buttons will actually send the channel output to two groups (listed as 1/2, 3/4, etc.).
Channel faders adjust the level of the audio being sent to the master mix of the mixer and, ultimately, to the main outputs.
Note that channel faders affect the audio after it’s been processed and routed within other parts of the mixer.
Select (Digital Processing)
The select button on digital mixer channels will select that channel for further processing. The processing (compression, EQ, etc.) is typically adjustable via a separate screen with touchscreen or tactile controls.
Inputs & Outputs
We’ve discussed the channels of audio mixers. Now let’s dive into the inputs and outputs.
As mentioned, each channel is likely to have a mic, instrument and/or line level input. These inputs are generally XLR-M, 1/4″ or RCA connectors.
In terms of outputs, we’ve discussed the main outputs, monitor output and headphone outputs previously. These are typically XLR-F, 1/4″ or RCA.
But mixers can have many more inputs and outputs. Let’s consider the mixer inputs and outputs worth mentioning in this section (including those already discussed).
- Mic input: typically XLR-F. Designed to accept mic level signals.
- Instrument input: typically 1/4″. Designed to accept instrument signals (may require Hi-Z to be engaged).
- Line input: typically XLR-F or 1/4″. Designed to accept line level signals.
- Insert send (direct out): typically 1/4″. Designed to output the channel audio post-preamp (line level) for external processing/effects.
- Insert return: typically 1/4″. Designed to accept the output of the external processing/effects.
- Talkback mic input: typically XLR-F. Designed to accept mic level signals.
- Footswitch input: typically 1/4″. Usually designed to mute effects.
- Media in: typically RCA or 1/8″ (3.5mm). Designed to accept audio from smartphones and laptops.
- SD: for internal recording to an SD card.
- Remote control: typically Ethernet or USB. Designed for remote control of the mixer.
- Main outputs (passive mixers): typically left and right channel XLR-M. Designed to output line level main mix.
- Speaker outputs (powered mixers): typically left and right channel Neutrik speakON or 1/4″. Designed to output speaker level main mix.
- Monitor outputs: typically XLR-M or 1/4″ designed to output line level monitor mixes. This includes “control room outputs” and effects outputs.
- Record outputs: typically RCA, 1/4″ or XLR-M. Designed to output a line level mix for an external recorder.
- Headphone outputs: typically 1/4″. Designed to output the headphone mix or mixes.
- Interface output: typically USB. Designed to interface the mixer with a computer.
- Dante: Ethernet
- AVB: Ethernet
Of course, there are plenty of other I/O possibilities. Read the features/specifications/manual of mixer in questions for more information on the types and number of I/O.
Mixers, and especially digital mixers, can have onboard audio effects and processes. These include:
- Equalization/EQ (often semi-parametric or parametric)
Analog mixers are often restricted to semi-parametric EQ, though some analog mixers offer a DSP effects section for digital effects.
Digital mixers can have plenty of different processes and effects. These digital effects can be applied to individual channels (common with EQ and compression) or on FX sends (common with time-based effects like delay and reverb).
Related My New Microphone article:
• Full List: Audio Effects & Processes For Mixing/Production
Mixers are designed to mix the audio signals from their various channels together. These channels are mixed together in what are known as mix buses.
The most common mix bus is the mixer’s main output, which is fed by the faders of the channels.
Auxiliary busses are also commonplace in mixers, are fed by separate controls, typically potentiometer knobs, on each channel strip.
Buses can be fed pre-fader, meaning the amount of each channel sent is independent of that channel’s fader. This is common for monitor bus mixes.
Buses can also be fed post-fader, meaning the amount of each channel sent is dependent on that channel’s fader. This is common for headphone bus mixes, record bus mixes, and effects bus mixes.
Larger mixers will sometimes offer mix group (or subgroup) functionality.
Groups, as the name suggests, group individual channels together, thereby simplifying the mixing process. They act as fader controls between the individual channels and the mixer’s main outputs (so long as they are routed to the main outputs, which is usually standard).
For example, a drum kit with 7 mics would require 7 channels. We can adjust each channel’s relative level and pan position and then group the 7 channels into 2 groups (a left and right group). From then on, adjusting the overall level of the drums is as easy as adjusting the stereo pair of group faders (rather than adjusting all 7 channels by the same amount simultaneously.
Some mixers also offer mute groups, allowing users to assign individual channels, independent of their group, to a single mute control. This allows users to mute and unmute multiple tracks simultaneously, even if they aren’t necessarily part of the same mix subgroup.
Digital mixers may come with software to help with the functionality of the mixer. Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity often allow remote control over the mixer via a smartphone, tablet or laptop. This is a fantastic feature in live settings, allowing engineers to listen to and adjust the mix in various positions within a room.
Furthermore, some digital mixers are designed to accept firmware updates, which essentially continue to upgrade the mixer beyond the initial purchase.
Typical Audio Mixer Applications
Let’s consider common applications for audio mixers to help you narrow down your options depending on your needs. In this section, we’ll be discussing the following common mixer applications:
- Live Sound & Public Address Systems
- Recording Studio
- Broadcast/Television Studio
- Film Production
- Field Recording
Audio Mixers For Live Sound & Public Address Systems
Live sound situations and PA systems vary greatly in their size and purpose. For example, a system could be set up with a single podium microphone for an audience of 50 people. On the other extreme, a live sound system could be required to accommodate a 10-piece band in a festival with 200,000 attendees.
The needs of the mixer, then, vary greatly. That being said, here are some pointers for choosing the best mixer for your live sound applications.
Opt for a board that has more channels than you need at the moment. You never know when you’ll need an extra few channels for an extra few microphones or instruments. Furthermore, a channel could become damaged, and having a few spare channels should get you through a gig before repair.
Look at the input specifications and read up on the mic and line input specs along with any of the aforementioned features (HPF, pad, phase flip, phantom power, etc.).
Consider whether the mixing board will be a permanent fixture within the venue or part of a portable unit. Plan accordingly, taking size, weight, and connectivity into account. Digital mixers are often preferable for portability concerns.
If you plan on recording, ensure you have a mixer that is compatible with your recording setup.
Digital mixers with preset recall are superb if you plan on mixing the same type of performance regularly. Even if the acts aren’t entirely the same, preset recall will get you close to where you need to be before soundcheck (just be sure to save your presets properly).
You’ll likely need multiple monitor sends for bigger bands. The singer will likely require a different mix than the drummer.
Consider choosing a mixer with superb dynamics processing (compression, limiting, noise gating), EQ, and effects. A little compression, EQ, delay and reverb can go a long way in a live setting.
Consider a line mixer for an additional few channels (for between-set background music, announcements, speaking with the band during soundcheck, etc.) if you don’t want to run these extra signals through the main mixer.
If you have a small PA system, like those for singer-songwriter performances, consider a compact powered mixer to go along with a pair of passive speakers and perhaps a monitor. This small setup may be all you need!
- Click the link to check out live sound mixers at Sweetwater
- Click the link to check out live sound mixers at B&H Photo/Video
- Click the link to check out live sound mixers on Amazon
Related My New Microphone article:
• Top 10 Best Live Sound Mixing Board/Console Brands
Audio Mixers For Recording Studio
Before investing in a hardware mixer for a recording studio, ask yourself if you really need one.
Nowadays, the typical studio is centred around a computer and a digital audio workstation rather than a recording console. The audio interface and digital audio workstation will generally take care of all the same functions as a mixer would.
Furthermore, a control surface, which controls the DAW’s functions via a physical, tactile controller, is a superb choice for bridging the gap between old-school hands-on recording consoles and in-the-box DAWs.
If you’re after the classic analog sound, you may want to consider a summing mixer. These mixers will effectively mix the individual tracks of a DAW with analog hardware, thereby imparting “analog warmth” into the mix.
That all being said, you may want a mixer for your studio anyway.
Again, you should go for a mixer that has more than enough channels for your current needs.
Look for high-end preamplifiers, compressors and EQs in your studio console. These processes will be the main benefit over using a standard audio interface and audio plugins.
Perhaps the most important, due to the digital nature of the modern recording studio, is to choose a mixer that can be integrated into the DAW as a control surface. Sure, we can send audio from an analog console to a DAW or from a DAW to a summing mixer, but allowing the mixer to interact with and control the DAW while also processing audio is supreme.
- Click the link to check out recording consoles at Sweetwater
- Click the link to check out recording consoles at B&H Photo/Video
- Click the link to check out recording consoles on Amazon
Related My New Microphone articles:
• Top 11 Best Mixing Board/Console Brands For Home Studios
• Top 10 Best Studio Recording/Mixing Console Brands
Audio Mixers For Broadcast/Television Studio
When going down the broadcasting route, you’ll want an audio mixer that communicates well with other broadcasting equipment. This often means the most up-to-date network connections. Look for Dante and other Ethernet digital connections and perhaps even WiFi connectivity.
In terms of audio mixing, opting for a digital board has the added benefits of preset recall and additional routing flexibility.
Audio Mixers For Film Production
Mixing audio for film production often doesn’t require a mixer. However, like with studios, a dedicated board can help the process.
Look for mixers that can integrate with the video and/or audio editor/workstation software, and look for all the mixer functionality you’d want in a studio mixer.
Audio Mixers For Field Recording
Audio mixers for field recording have largely been consolidated into portable recorder designs. These mixers nearly all have the ability to record directly to a hard disk (usually an SD card), though they also typically offer audio outputs.
When buying a field recorder, look for:
- Channel count
- Locking knobs (so gain stages and panning aren’t altered accidentally during busy recording)
- Tone generator for level optimization with cameras
- Timecode generator
- everything else you’d look for with a mixer
- Click the link to check out field recorders at Sweetwater
- Click the link to check out field recorders at B&H Photo/Video
- Click the link to check out field recorders on Amazon
Related My New Microphone article:
• Top 11 Audio Portable/Field Audio Mixer/Recorder Brands
Audio Mixers For Podcasting
Audio mixers for podcasting need not be complex. There’s little need for internal processing and effects during a podcast recording session.
Choose a mixer that meets your portability needs and has more than enough audio channels. As mentioned, it’s best to purchase a mixer with more inputs than are required at the moment of purchase. You never know when an additional guest or co-host will be involved.
So, for podcasting, choose a mixer that fits your budget and has enough audio channels to accommodate each microphone.
Consider buying a mixer with recording capabilities when you opt for your podcast mixer.
If only two microphones or sound sources are required, it’s easy to hard-pan one channel to the left and the other to the right. This effectively gives two channels of clean audio from the left and right outputs.
If you have more than three channels, consider a multitrack USB mixer, a multitrack hard disk recording slot (typically SD cards), or at least a mixer with individual channel outputs to connect to a separate multitrack recorder.
If you do plan on recording directly to an SD card through a mixer that offers such functionality, make sure your SD card has enough storage. Podcasts can be quite long.
A Note On Control Surfaces
DAW control surfaces often resemble mixers but don’t actually offer signal processing and routing capabilities. Rather, they are special MIDI controllers designed to control digital audio workstations.
These control surfaces provide tactile control over multiple functions of the DAW, offering a more hands-on approach to DAW workflow than hotkeys and mouse clicks.
Control surfaces have the typical buttons, faders, encoders, and knobs. These controls can be routed to the track channels and other parts of the DAW. They tend to have channels, transport, navigation, and automation controls to help improve workflow within digital audio workstations.
Let’s consider the typical control features and what they actually control with the DAW:
DAW control surface transport controls typically offer the following functions:
- Fast Forward
DAW control surface channels typically offer the following functions:
- Record Arm
DAW control surface navigation centres typically offer the following functions:
- Track Scroll
- Timeline Scroll
- Horizontal Zoom
- Vertical Zoom
DAW control surface automation typically offer the following functions:
As mentioned in the previous section, some control surfaces are better suited to specific DAW software. Unlike generic MIDI controllers, we should double-check that the DAW control surfaces are compatible with our DAW of choice.
The following standards are used in control surfaces. I’ve listed the standards and the compatible DAWs:
- MCU (Mackie Control Universal):
- Avid Pro Tools
- Steinberg Cubase
- PreSonus Studio One
- Ableton Live
- MOTU Digital Performer
- Reason Studio Reason
- Image-Line FL Studio
- Bitwig Studio
- HUI (Human User Interface):
- Avid Pro Tools
- Steinberg Cubase
- PreSonus Studio One
- MOTU Digital Performer
- EUCON (Extended User Control)
- Avid Pro Tools
- Steinberg Cubase
- Apple Logic Pro X
- MOTU Digital Performer
- Steinberg Nuendo
Also, be sure that the control surface is compatible with your operating system and computer specifications. When in doubt, read the manual or system requirements of the control surface.
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This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.