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A small and amateur home-studio setup usually consists of a preamp, a couple monitors, and a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) program.
So, do you absolutely need to add a mixing board into the mix in order to make great music?
Well, not necessarily. However – if you’re recording often enough or live-streaming audio or video regularly, a mixer offers a massive amount of convenience over a small preamp, with unmatched ease, precision and professionalism that shines through in your final product.
A mixer adds to your available editing options exponentially and efficiently, as well as takes the heavy lifting off your DAW too since it does a lot of the A/V processing without even needing the software program. You’ll still need your DAW to piece a track together, but instead of constant clicking and searching for effects and adjustments in the application, all the knobs, sliders, and even effects are physically right there in front of you. A mixer also gives you opportunities to plug in more external instruments and mics, and give them their own designated channels that you can always monitor and adjust with a couple quick flips.
Multiple channels running through a mixer are also a great way to let the band and technician still hear eachother and their instruments between takes without needing the DAW constantly running, and can significantly cut down on latency – which can mess with the recording process and test your patience. Latency is the amount of time it takes for your mixer/DAW to process the audio and send it back to you, creating an annoying and unwanted delay. Not only is it a nuisance, but it can really throw you off when trying to keep an accurate rhythm during recording of vocals and instruments. And while there are shortcuts and hacks around it, they can take constant adjusting and resetting. A mixer is specifically made to let you hear things immediately, without needing to send it through your computer first.
All of this goes way beyond recording and producing music though. In recent years, mixers have become increasingly popular for podcasting and live-streaming, and it’s easy to see why. Using a laptop’s little mic makes for an unlistenable and distracting conversation, with a noticeable difference once everyone has their own mic input – and that’s just for the audio aspect. Add visual, like Twitch streaming or YouTube/Facebook live, into the mix, and you’re gonna need a designated powerful board to process everything going on (especially in HD quality).
A mixer will let you get all the effects and levels set first, before it even hits the computer, doing a big chunk of the work and making sure your streams and songs are smooth every time.
1. Behringer XENYX X1222USB 16-Input USB Audio Mixer
Behringer has beyond proved itself as a maker of reliable studio gear over the past three decades, and the XENYX is no different. This model has been out for a few years already but still holds up, and is perfect for playing live, studio recording, video editing, live streaming, and especially podcasting thanks to its multiple mic inputs.
The 24-bit Multi-FX Processor inside comes loaded with 16 presets, all of which are editable and even allow you to save your own. You have full control over reverb, chorus, flanger, delay, pitch shifter, multi-effects, and even a tap function to set the perfect tempo. Its XPQ Stereo Effect instantly brings big vibrancy and grandiosity to any track.
The 7-band stereo graphic EQ puts you in full control of frequencies, and the FBQ Feedback Protection lets you know when one is about to ring, protecting your ears and your gear.
The USB interface easily connects up to your computer and DAW, and all 4 XENYX mic preamps inside are phantom powered for things like condenser mics. There’s four studio-grade compressors with an LED light for each, and their own designated knobs to adjust them and smooth out things like bass guitars and kick drums.
There’s even a “Voice Cancel” button for karaoke at your next party.
If you’re serious about starting a home studio, this is your ideal command center. It also comes as a bundle, including 4 cables and a microfiber cleaning cloth.
2. Monoprice ix8B 8-Channel Live Sound and Recording Mixer
The ix8B may look a little intimidating to someone just learning the recording process, but we found it to be simple, quick and clear to figure out, with a selection of effects and capabilities that far exceeds other mixers in its class.
One of our favorite features here was the built-in audio-to-digital converter, or ADC. This is a huge headache-saver, and lets you focus on recording directly into your computer and studio app (or playing live), instead of annoying technical problems and troubleshooting.
There’s XLR/TRS connector options for both of the mono inputs, and the Bluetooth option lets you bypass tangled cables and stream music wirelessly, as well as +48V Phantom Power for each mic.
3. Behringer XENYX 1002B 10-Channel Audio Mixer and Accessory Bundle
Another great option from Behringer, this one a bit more scaled down than the 1222 model above, and a better option for those with smaller workstations or without the need for as many inputs or effects.
There’s 10 inputs instead of 16, and 2 preamps instead of 4, but it’s still plenty powerful though. Just like the 1222, it features ultra low-noise, high headroom, and the built-in 3-band “British” EQs for a warmer sound. Plus the preamps provide a 130dB dynamic range, and a bandwidth of around 10Hz to 200kHz. Clip LEDs on all channels let you know when your levels are too loud, and there’s dedicated insert ports on all the mono channels.
Connecting up to a DAW is simple, and same goes for hooking up an external music player and PAs. There’s five mic inputs and five stereo-paired line-level inputs, as well as switchable phantom power for use with condenser mics. Its smaller size makes it more portable, and the option for 9V battery power means you can have a mobile studio ideal for outdoor events.
As another incentive for beginners, this comes with everything you need, including a pair of dynamic stereo headphones, cables with velcro straps, and a guidebook to get your studio started.
4. Phenyx Pro USB Audio Interface Audio Mixer Bundle
Right out of the box, this bundle arrives tightly and securely packaged in its own plastic case, and comes with everything you need to get started; studio headphones, a wired mic, USB and XLR cable, and a wall plug adapter.
There’s built-in 48V phantom power for use with condenser mics, a sliding lever that makes equalizing easy to adjust, and designated colorful knobs that clearly show you what levels you’re at with things like delay and echo, highs, mids, and lows.
The unit is compact enough to carry in a backpack to gigs or while on the road, and is an excellent choice for those just starting out experimenting with a home studio or getting a podcast up and running.