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When it comes to proper sound engineering, having a reliable mixer is crucial for both live and studio performances. As the point of convergence for all things sound — think: microphones, instruments, digital audio — the mixer is where each audio component output is processed and then delivered to the speakers.
Think of the mixer as the central point of editing. The mixer controller has the ability to adjust volume, EQ, balance, and even add effects. This allows the audience to enjoy a properly constructed audio experience, rather than every instrument at the same volume at the same time.
There are two general types of mixers; powered and unpowered. A powered mixer is one which contains amplifiers. An unpowered mixer must use an additional component: amplifiers. Each mixer has a general use case, which depends on the size and performance you’re looking for. The best powered mixers are easy to travel with, simple to set up, convenient, and good for those playing smaller crowds. A downside to powered mixers are their maximum power output; controllers are limited by the total power of the unit.
An unpowered mixer, on the other hand, allows for greater power control, since it works in tandem with an amplifier network. Unpowered mixers are typically used for larger audience venues, like theaters and stadiums. Some professionals look at unpowered mixers as the higher end of the sound mixing spectrum; think automatic versus standard transmission.
For our list we put together three unpowered mixers that are easy to transport, easy to use and packed with professional-quality features for clear, concise audio.
1. Mackie, B Box, 12-Channel Mixer
Mackie’s attention to detail is an admirable hallmark. The ProFX12V2 is packed full of features that will enhance live sound mixing to any engineer’s delight. With proprietary Mackie Vita preamp technology – which is designed specifically for live sound – and the plethora of built-in ReadyFX effects, the ProFX12V2 boosts a live performance to professional levels easily and dynamically.
What we like: clear sound, a ton of inputs, and a built-in USB interface for easy playback and recording.
PROS: At just over 14 x 14 inches and weighing just nine pounds, it’s super portable.
CONS: This is the top end of the entry level mixer models, and will take a bit of time to learn.
2. Yamaha 10-Input Mixer
Yamaha, the perennial over-achiever, delivers excellence in both sound quality and reliability with this unpowered mixer. The MG10XU houses 10 channels, studio-quality preamps, and continues to deliver on Yamaha’s desire to distribute the “purest possible sound.”
Yamaha has crafted a simple and straightforward unit brimming with sonic superiority. Confidently mix live with purity and power.
Great for taking this on-the-go, the mixer is made from a rugged, impact-resistant material that holds up to long-term use.
PROS: High-end features on an entry-level unit.
CONS: Some have mentioned issues when syncing with a PC.
3. Mackie 4-Channel Mixer
Mackie’s long line of PROFX mixers are built to suit most live performance scenarios. Much like the PROFX12V2, the PROFX4V2 contains the same effects package and construction. The difference: this is a 4-channel model versus a larger and more versatile 12-channel mixer.
Still, this mixer has a ton of features that rival its larger counterparts. You get a ton of built-in effects for easy mixing, plus find inputs for your laptop and instrument, along with a headphone output for monitoring.
What we like: Mackie’s “built like a tank” mentality means this mixer is great for mobile events.
PROS: Small component with durable construction and high function. At roughly 12 x 12 inches and weighing less than five pounds, this is the most portable mixer on our list.
CONS: Limited equipment connection capacity.