A lot of people wonder “Do I need a home studio mixer?” Usually when people ask that they are referring to the complicated boards with all the dials, switches, and sliders that all the mics and instruments plug into. The simple truth is: No. You don’t need one of those big boards, but you might want one depending on several different things.
If you just want a recommendation for a mixer, then here is my recommendation:
- For budget studio recording get the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Recording Audio Interface and then use REAPER to mix.
- For a more professional sound get the Behringer X 18 Air Series – (Read my full review here)
- For live recordingperformances get the Allen & Heath ZED60-14FX – (Read my full review here)
For more recommendations, check out my article:
What is an Audio Mixer?
What is an audio mixer and what is an audio mixer used for? An audio mixer is simply a device that takes multiple audio channels (for example 2 vocal tracks, a guitar, and piano) and blends them together into a single output stream.
As I covered in my audio interface post, you can’t just plug your guitar or non-USB microphones directly into your computer or Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) and start recording music. You need something that can take the analog signal from your mics and instruments and convert it into a digital signal that your computer can understand. This is where the audio interface comes in handy.
The big board audio mixers is an audio interface between your music equipment and your DAW. The advantage of a mixer is that you generally do a lot of the actual mixing and adjusting of levels on the mixer itself as you are playing or singing, instead of later on the computer.
The disadvantage of using an audio mixer as opposed to a simple audio interface is that the output of the mixer is a single stream and saved as one file instead of each channel having its own file. This limits what you can adjust later on your DAW.
If you use a simpler audio interface like the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Recording Audio Interface, then your sound goes directly from the instruments, to the interface, and then into your DAW without any changes. You are left with separate files for each audio stream (singing, guitar, piano, etc…) and you would then use a software mixer (Read here for DAW software recommendations) to adjust and combine the different recorded channels.
When To Not Use An Audio Mixer?
You may not actually need an outboard audio mixer, but you do need some sort of audio interface. If all you want to do is record singing or a podcast, then I suggest you simply get a USB microphone like the Audio Technica AT2020 USB microphone and plug it in. In this instance the microphone itself contains the audio interface and plugs directly into your computer. You can use your computers included audio recording capabilities and get going.
Going this route will not give you professionally sounding music though. Going this route is best for podcasts or recording voice overs. You can only record one thing at a time this way, and with no (or very limited) ability to adjust the audio, you will get pretty sub par results.
When to Use an Audio Interface Instead of a Mixer?
The next option (this is what I do) is to get a simple audio interface (this is what I use) that you can plug your guitar (or whatever instrument) and a microphone into. You then plug the audio interface into your DAW via a USB cable. I then use the cheap DAW mixing software REAPER (you can get a free trial) to record and mix everything.
I suggest you get an audio interface with at least 2 inputs so that you can record more than one thing at a time. This will make mixing it later much easier. The Focusrite audio interface that I use only has 2 inputs, but it’s enough for me. If I want to post a song on YouTube where I am playing guitar and singing I will actually record the singing and guitar playing in 2 separate takes, and then mix them together. That way I can take my best singing take and my best guitar take, and put them together for a final product that sounds great.
I prefer to use DAW software to do my mixing because it makes it much simpler to record perfect tracks that sound 100% professional.
When to Use an Audio Mixer?
The final option is to use one of the outboard Audio Mixers. All your mics plug into it, the mixer combines everything into a single stream, and then it outputs that stream to your computer as one file. This means that your great singing take is stuck with any missed notes on your guitar during that take. If you want to get everything right and fix your mistakes, then you need to throw out the whole thing and perform the entire song again until you get it perfect.
I generally only use audio mixers for live performances where there is no second take. You do all the mixing on the board. The level adjustments are made as the music is played and sung, and then immediate pumped out to for the audience to hear and computer to record.
If you want to use an audio mixer than I recommend the Allen & Heath ZED60-14FX Mixing Console. Like a regular audio interface, you simply plug it into your computer (DAW) via USB cable. All the mixing is handled on the board and it outputs a single file to your computer.
While you could get the Allen & Heath ZED60-14FX Mixing Console and use it to record one part of your song at a time and then remix it on your DAW with REAPER or some other DAW software, it would be overkill.
It can also be pretty difficult to learn how to properly mix on an outboard console. If you record by yourself or don’t have anyone who can sit at the board making adjustments live, then it can get pretty frustrating to have to go back and forth all by yourself.
My recommendation for the best home studio mixer for someone just starting out is that you get a simple audio interface like the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 and then mix it on your DAW. It’s 2016 and with current technology, unless you’re recording a live performance, that’s really the best solution for home recording.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below!