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A small hobbyist home-studio setup usually consists of a preamp, a few monitors, and a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) program.
So do you absolutely need to add a mixer into the mix to make great music?
Well, not necessarily. yet – if you record fairly often or regularly stream live audio or video, a mixer offers an enormous amount of convenience over a small preamp, with unparalleled ease, precision and professionalism that shines through in your product final.
A mixer adds to your available editing options exponentially and efficiently, while also relieving your DAW, as it does much of the A/V processing without even needing the software. You’ll still need your DAW to put together a track, but instead of constantly clicking and searching for effects and adjustments in the app, all the knobs, sliders, and even effects are physically right there in front of you. A mixer also gives you the ability to plug in more instruments and external mics, and give them their own designated channels that you can always monitor and adjust with a few quick flips.
Multiple channels running through a mixer are also a great way to let the band and technician hear each other and their instruments between takes without the need for the DAW running, and can significantly reduce latency – which can disrupt the registration process and test your patience. Latency is the time it takes for your mixer/DAW to process the audio and send it back to you, creating annoying and unwanted delay. Not only is this a nuisance, but it can really put you off when trying to keep a precise rhythm when recording vocals and instruments. And while there are shortcuts and hacks, they may require constant tweaking and resetting. A mixer is specifically designed to allow you to hear things immediately, without needing to send them through your computer first.
This all goes far beyond recording and producing music. In recent years, mixers have become increasingly popular for podcasting and live streaming, and it’s easy to see why. Using a laptop’s tiny mic makes conversation inaudible and distracting, with one noticeable difference once everyone has their own mic input – and that’s just for the audio aspect. Add visuals, like live Twitch or YouTube/Facebook streaming, into the mix, and you’ll need a powerful card designed to handle whatever comes your way (especially in HD quality).
A mixer will let you set all the effects and levels first, before it even hits the computer, doing a lot of the work and ensuring your streams and songs are smooth every time.
1. Behringer XENYX X1222USB 16-Input USB Audio Mixer
Behringer has proven 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 now but still holds up, and is perfect for live, studio recording, video editing, live streaming, and especially podcasting thanks to its multiple mic inputs.
The 24-bit multi-effects processor inside comes with 16 presets, all of which are editable and even let you 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 stereo XPQ effect instantly brings great liveliness and grandeur to any track.
The 7-band stereo graphic EQ gives you full frequency control, and FBQ feedback protection lets you know when it’s about to ring, protecting your ears and your gear.
The USB interface easily connects to your computer and DAW, and the 4 XENYX mic preamps inside are phantom-powered for things like condenser mics. There are four studio-grade compressors with an LED light for each, and their own designated knobs to tune them and smooth things like bass guitars and kick drums.
There’s even a “Voice Cancel” button for karaoke at your next party.
If you’re seriously considering 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. Behringer XENYX 1002B 10-Channel Audio Mixer and Accessory Bundle
Another great option from Behringer, this one a little smaller than the 1222 model above, and a better option for those with smaller workstations or who don’t need as many inputs or of effects.
There are 10 inputs instead of 16 and 2 preamps instead of 4, but it’s still quite powerful. Just like the 1222, it features ultra-low noise, high headroom and built-in 3-band ‘British’ EQs for a warmer sound. In addition, the preamps offer a dynamic range of 130 dB and a bandwidth of approximately 10 Hz to 200 kHz. Clip LEDs on all channels let you know when your levels are too loud, and there are dedicated insert ports on all mono channels.
Connecting to a DAW is simple, and so is connecting an external music player and PA. There are five mic inputs and five stereo-coupled line-level inputs, plus switchable phantom power for use with condenser mics. Its small size makes it more portable and the 9V battery power option means you can have an ideal mobile studio for outdoor events.
As another starter incentive, this comes with everything you need, including a pair of dynamic stereo headphones, cables with velcro straps, and a guide to getting your studio started.
3. Audio Mixer Pack with Phenyx Pro USB Audio Interface
Right out of the box, this set comes packed tight and secure in its own plastic case, and comes with everything you need to get started; studio headphones, a wired microphone, a 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 EQ easy to adjust, and designated colored knobs that clearly show you what levels you’re at with things like delay. and echo, treble, midrange and bass. .
The unit is compact enough to carry in a backpack at gigs or on the road, and is a great choice for those just starting to experiment with a home studio or setting up a podcast.