Let’s start with the simple question: what determines a great music production? For many, the answer is the producer. Other people who understand what goes into a good music may argue that the instruments used for the production have more influence than the outcome. This is a debate that you may not encounter often but true music producers understands that their instruments are as important as their talent. Even with the best music brains around, creating top-quality sounds and music will not be possible if there are no good instruments around.
For a recording studio, one of the most important instruments needed to get things done is the audio recording mixer. Without the right mixer, it will be impossible for producers to get the best out of recorded sounds. Even with the best instrumentals and vocals, a music can never become a masterpiece until it is properly mixed. Mixing is more like the art of blending the sounds together to create the awesome final product that actually pleases the ear. Audio mixers are used in the music industry at different levels and occasions. They can be used during concerts and live performances as well as for recording songs in the studio. Here, we are going to concentrate on audio recording mixers that can be used in recording studios.
What Exactly Is an Audio Recording Mixer?
Basically, an audio recording mixer is an instrument that is used to blend audio signals from various input devices to create a harmonious sound. It is an instrument that can be used to manipulate different audio signals that need to be channeled into a single harmonious sound. With the audio recording mixer, the music producer or engineer will have control over the volume, tone, and timbre of different sounds needed to create the masterpiece he/she intends to create.
Audio mixers have been in existence for years and have evolved overtime. From the analog audio mixers of the past that offered limited functionality to the new digital mixers that give producers control over almost everything in music, there are a wide variety of options. Most of the top-quality new mixers are very versatile, giving the producer so much control over the individual audio signals and the final product that can be obtained. They come with various advanced features that basically let the producer achieve so much by simply pushing few buttons.
DAW-Specific Mixers and Control Surfaces
While you generally have full control over the type of audio recording mixer to include in your studio setup, there are few in the market that are specifically made for some digital audio workstations. Individuals using Avid Pro Tools, for instances, have Avid designed consoles that can complement their software. Mixing from such control surfaces can be done even in professional studio setups.
It is also possible to embark on sound mixing without an actual mixer on ground. Many DAWs come with functionalities that allow for mixing within the setup but there is something special about dialing tones directly from a console. The sort of mixing you can obtain from the best mixers in the market cannot be compared to what you will get when you mix completely within your DAW. Using an intuitive mixer can also trigger your creativity more than using a keyboard and mouse to mix. Besides, the presence of a good quality mixer improves your studio setup and make you look more professional.
Audio Recording Mixers Buyers Guide
Like every other important studio equipment, audio recording mixers come in different types. Even products from the same manufacturer are different in many ways and deciding on the one to buy can be tough. Ideally, good amount of research is needed to identify the very best products in the market. Musicians, studio owners and engineers often do not have enough time for this research and that is exactly why reviews of products are important. This section of the article will focus on guiding you towards making the right decision.
Factors to Consider When Shopping For Audio Recording Mixer
As mentioned earlier, you will find so many audio recording mixers on the market when you decide to buy. We have researched extensively to identify the very best products on the market and will review them afterwards. It is still important, however, that we discuss in details the factors you must consider in choosing the perfect mixer for your studio. Here are some of the most important factors to consider discussed in no specific order:
Digital or Analog Mixer
The debate about the mixer type that is most ideal for studio setup will definitely continue for decades to come. The fact is, it all comes down to what you like most and what you feel comfortable using. While there are people that adore the polished and pristine sound delivered by digital mixers, others love the warmth of analog instruments. Stick to your preference and you will enjoy using your mixer.
You will also need to consider the instruments you have in your studio while deciding between analog and digital audio recording mixers. If you have mostly analog gear, it will be better to get an analog mixer to go with them. If most of what you have been using are digital instruments, it will be more ideal to go for a digital audio recording mixer. If you have a large studio and a robust budget, there is nothing wrong with buying both digital and analog mixers, especially when you don’t work alone most of the time.
A Mixer You Understand
As much as you need the best audio recording mixer, you need instruments you understand properly. It wouldn’t be very helpful to invest in a mixer you can’t use properly. This is one you will see some really good producers still stuck to some mixers that are decades ago. It is important that you make upgrades but it has to be something you can actually understand with ease and use.
Asides from your creative nature and understanding of sounds, your knowledge of what your instrument offers and what you can get from them will determine the results of your production and mixing efforts. Experts will often opine that it not really about the quality of your gear as it is how well you know and understand it. This does not mean that a top quality mixer is not needed for the best quality sound. The point is that a good mixer is only as good as the individual using it. If you have the best audio recording mixer and do not properly understand how to use it, you won’t be able to do so much with it.
You can always learn more and get accustomed to your near mixing gear but it is important that you buy one that you are already familiar with. This will ensure that there will be any serious disruption in your workflow even as you take some time to get use to your near mixer.
An audio recording mixer is not something you should change too often. This means you will have to consider how long the device will last. It will be very devastating to have your mixer breakdown after few months of use. Though this is unlikely, it is possible and some have actually encountered such problems. It all comes down to the build quality of the mixer. You need to consider the materials used and the one the mixer is designed.
You also need to consider how you are going to be using your new audio recording mixer. For a mixer that will sit in your studio permanently, it will likely last longer even if it doesn’t have the toughest build. When you want a mixer that you will be taking on the road for mobile recording, you will have to consider sturdy build ahead of features. You also have to consider what taking care of your new mixer will entail.
Ease of Use
We have talked about buying a mixer that you actually understand how to use. While being familiar with certain types of mixers increases your ability to use and get adapted to them, there are some mixers that are simply difficult to use. If your workflow matters to you and you don’t want to deal with the frustration of trying to figure out what is what and what does what in your gear, look out for mixers that are easy to use. An intuitive interface is always highly desirable in any studio gear.
Even if you are a fan of features, it is important that you find it easy to understand such features and how to use and apply them. It wouldn’t make any sense if you have to take days to mix a single music because of the complexity of your gear. Your dexterity and understanding of sound will not be too helpful when you have an interface that is hard to understand.
Another reason you will have to consider a mixer that is easy to use is if you don’t intend to be the only one using your studio. If you happen to have another producer in your studio, it will be more helpful when your gear is not too difficult to operate. Collaboration is very important in music and you have to be open to the idea. For new producers, it is important to prioritize ease of you so that your mixer wouldn’t affect your efficiency.
This is a really important consideration, especially when you know exactly what you need at the moment and in the future. It basically comes down to the number of channels you will be recording simultaneously. Unless it is your style to track too many instruments at a time, there may not be need for a mixer that has too many channels. For producers that track drums, a large mixer with so many channels is needed. Some can use as much as 12 to 24 inputs just for drums. Those that have few instruments to track can do with fewer channels. Some overdub and track a single instrument at a time.
According to your style, ensure that you buy a mixer with enough channels to accommodate your inputs. If your mixer has some sort of limitation in terms of number of tracks you can record before the mix is full, you will have to bounce tracks. This can affect the quality of your mixes as you have less control over the process.
For a home studio, a mixer with very few effects can be enough to get the job done. For professional studios, an audio recording mixer with special effects will add more quality to outputs. It also depend on your style as a producer and what you are used to. The quality of the effects can also vary from one console to another so you can pay attention to this too. In most instances, reverbs and a few delays are enough to get the job done. Thanks to most new digital audio workstations, effects are not often a major issue with mixers as most come with built in special effects.
When we discussed about making the decision between analog and digital audio recording mixers, it was mentioned that the mixer should complement your current set-up. There are obviously several hardware and software tools you use for recording, your mixer needs to be compatible with them. You have to determine this before going ahead to buy any mixer. There are instance where mixers have compatibility issues with some Mac and PC products. Cases of this nature are very rare these days but you still need to check for any compatibility issue with computers.
Most often, there are no issues with cables and microphones. You will need to pay attention to your Digital audio workstation for any compatibility issue with the mixer you intend to buy. In most cases, also, there are few issues encountered in connecting the hardware. It is always a matter of getting the hardware to work with the software.
When you have a robust budget, you can go all out to get the particular mixer you want. This may not be the case when you are just setting up your studio and need to buy several other instruments. You will finding consoles at different price points and you need to find the one that is reasonably priced and can meet your need. Don’t go for the cheap models but ensure the one you buy is reasonably priced for the features it will offer you.
Without further ado, here are the 20 best audio recording mixers you can buy today.
Top 20 Best Audio Recording Mixers
Talk about a compact digital mixer from a recognized industry leader. QSC has been around for nearly five decade and this is one of the best compact mixers they have made. It is the perfect solution for studio owners who want something compact yet professional-grade. It is a 32-channel professional digital mixer. With a perfectly easy to use interface (touch-and-turn interface), the TouchMix-30 is ideal for musicians, AV production professionals, larger bands, and audio professionals of any kind. While it can be the perfect studio mixer, it can also help in performance venues and other stages.
In terms of audio quality, this mixer leads among other small mixers. It features Class-A microphone preamps, top-quality converters, real-time analyzers (RTA), patch matrix, and a host of other features that ensures that it delivers top-quality results. In terms of connectivity, you don’t get it better anywhere else. It can be connected easily over Wi-Fi to iOS and Android devices. Of course it can also be connected to a computer via USB.
This is one of the devices that takes mixing to a whole new direction. It provides an integrated hardware/software ecosystem that will generally enhance every mixing task. In terms of design, it is perfectly built to last. It is a 24-Channel mixer that can even be connected to other StudioLive AI Mixers to create 40, 48, or 56 Channel system. On its own, it offers Dual Fat Channel signal processing on all its 24 input channels and all buses.
The StudioLive 24.4 2AI comes with perfectly integrated software library that includes PreSonus Studio One 3 Artist DAW, Capture 2.1 live recording software with virtual Soundtrack mode, and UC Surface multi-touch mixer-control software with Smart Measurement technology. It has 40-in and 26-out FireWire s800 audio interface too. The StudioLive 24.4 2AI offers wired and wireless connectivity: PCs and Macs can be connected through any standard router and networks. Wireless remote control through StudioLive Remote-AI iPad app and QMix-AI iPhone/iPod touch aux mix app is enabled too.
Another powerful mixer for those that prefer compact instruments, this Chrome Edition of the Allen and Health QU-16C digital mixer comes fully-packed with exciting features. It combines an innovative design that is quite appealing and durable with exceptional functionality that will help musicians and producers achieve top-quality mixes. Thanks to the sixteen million 5-inch touchscreen and dedicated data encoder, the mixer is quite easy to use.
Some of the outstanding features of the QU-16C are Automatic Mic Mixing, Spectrogram for feedback-hunting, high contrast metallic finish control, 16 AnalogQ total recall preamps with zero crossing detection, and an advanced paddles 1dB step gain stage. It also features 17 motorized ALPS faders that allow instant access to all channels and masters in a compact space, in addition to a dedicated master fader that follows the mix selection. It also support USB audio streaming.
This is another QSC TouchMix compact Mixer that makes it to our list of best mixers in the market. A compact solution from one of the leading manufacturers in the industry, the TouchMix-16 is a powerful 22-channel mixer that will fit right into any studio. In terms of build-quality, this is an outstanding device. It also has all the features and compatibility of large smart consoles. Asides from the studio, this device can also be used for live performances.
Some of the features that makes the TouchMix-16 an interesting console include Class-A microphone preamps, Anti-Feedback and Room Tuning Wizards, and real-time analyzers (RTA). It also comes with gate and compressor on all input channels, as well as 4-band full parametric EQ, variable high-pass and low-pass filters on all inputs. The mixer also offers two mixing modes: simple and advanced. This makes it possible for most users to create top quality mixes irrespective of their experience levels.
This is part of the ProFXv2 series from Mackie, a series that features a wide range of impressive models. Like other models in the series, the ProFX30v2 delivers unmatched sonic performance. In terms of design, the mixer is well-built. It looks solid enough and will certainly serve for years. With 30 high-headroom line level inputs, there is adequate amount of features at every knob. It is also very easy to use.
Some of the features you will find very helpful in this mixer include 24 low-noise Mackie Vita Mic Preamps that will add live to any input; an all-new ReadyFX effects engine with 24 great-sounding effects including reverbs, delays, and choruses; single-knob channel compression for smooth and dynamic control; as well as 7-band graphic EQ for tuning mains or monitors. The built-in USB interface allows for easy recording of your mix or for music playback during shows.
There are so many things about this mixer. Coming from Behringer, the mixer is a lot better than many would expect. Judging from the reviews left by so many users, this 18-input digital mixer is a lot better than what they expected when they bought it. A very affordable mixer, the XR18 is well-built and quite easy to use. Though it looks more like what will serve best for live performance, it can also be an excellent studio mixer.
The Behringer XR18 Digital Mixer comes with 16 award-winning MIDAS-designed, fully programmable mic preamps audiophile sound quality. It also offers 18 x 18 channel, bidirectional USB interface for direct recording on iPad and Android tablets. With the mixer, external routers are not needed as it features Built-In Tri-Mode Wi-Fi router for direct operation.
Another top-quality product that guarantees clear sound mixing, this 24-channels mixer from Allen and Health can add a lot of value to your studio. In terms of design, it is a well-built device that will fit into any set-up. It also looks appear like a solid mixer that will serve for years. Thanks to the USB I/O with sonar software, this is another mixer that is extremely easy to use.
In terms of the features, there are lots of important ones that help the ZED-24 deliver the sort of quality musicians and professional producers desire. It comes with 16 Duo Preamp mic inputs that ensures that all your inputs are top-quality. In addition to that, there are 5 auxiliary sends, 3 Band EQ with sweep mids, and 100MM Professional faders. Though it has been around for a while, it remains a reliable mixer and the price is quite reasonable.
For their over 4 decade’s presence in the industry, Soundcraft have always been associated with innovative flagships. The EPM12 is best known for its quality build and exceptional audio performance. In addition to debuting some new technologies and ideas, the mixer also has an easy-to-understand control surface that will enhance your mixing experience in the studio. Considering the fact that this is actually a low-cost mixer, it embodies lots of value.
Some of the features that may interest you about the EPM12 High-performance mixer includes 60mm high quality faders; 2 configurable auxiliary buses; XLR-type and ¼” metal jack connector sockets; RCA phono stereo playback inputs and record output; 3-band EQ with a swept mono inputs; 2-band EQ on stereo inputs; the true, TRS insert sockets on all mono inputs and mix out; 10-segment LED output metering; and professional +48V phantom power for condenser microphones. It is a powerful mixer for studio owners on a budget.
This is yet another product on our list from Allen and Health. It is an amazing little desk, complete with onboard effects, that performs excellently and can serve on different occasions. A truly portable mixer, this can be carried easily to a gig for live performance. It can conveniently fit in any studio setting, offering a simple approach to recording and mixing for musicians and professional producers. It comes with IK Multimedia AmpliTube X-Gear software which makes life easier for the user by granting access to superbly modeled amps and effects.
There are a number of features you will like about the ZED 10FX Digital Mixer. The prominent ones include the illuminated PFL indicator, 48V microphone phantom power, DI level switching for sub mixing, XLR main stereo outputs with inserts, responsive 3-band, swept mid EQ with MisiQ, and the flexible monitoring section with headphone and speaker feed outputs.
10. Yamaha MG20
Yamaha needs no introduction in the industry and a product from the company is always top-quality in terms of build and functionality. The MG20 mixer is definitely one of the devices you will love to have in your studio, especially if you are a fan of analog mixers. It has a rugged, reliable construction that is certain to stand the test of time. It also has an intuitive, easy-to-use interface that will make life easier for you in the studio. A 20-channel standalone mixer, this is a true definition of class.
As you can expect from all Yamaha products, the MG20 has an impressive list of awesome features: 16 studio-grade discrete class-A D-PRE preamps with inverted Darlington circuit provides fat, natural sounding bass and smooth, soaring highs; 3-band EQ and high-pass filters gives maximum control that result to cleaner mix; and 1-knob compressors allow easy control for overall improved sounds.
11. Mackie 12 Mixer
This mixer belongs to the VLZ4 line of multi-channel compact mixers. Mackie, the reliable manufacturer, describes this series as a legend in no-nonsense compact mixer design, performance and durability. This particular brand fits right into this definition. A very solid mixer, it will fit right into your studio, offering more bang for your buck throughout its useful life (which will be a long time, considering that it is built like a tank). It is also an easy to use mixer.
One of the most remarkable things about this mixer is Mackie’s industry-proven Onyx preamps that are known for their crystal-clear sonic clarity. There are four of these preamps in this 12-channel mixer. It also features phantom power for condenser mics. Weighing just 6.5 pounds, this is a lightweight mixer that you will also enjoy using as a portable mixing solution. It is also a very budget-friendly mixer.
This is definitely one of the best analog DJ mixers in the market today. Coming from no other name than Allen & Health, this is one uncompromising mixers that can also make a great addiction to a studio set-up. It has all you need for unrivaled mixing. Considering that it was built to serve DJs who are often booked for back-to-back performances, this is a monster mixer with durability written all over it. With the legendary Xone analog design getting used to it will not be a major challenge.
With Xone:96, there are two independent USB connections, each with 6 stereo inputs and outputs for a myriad of routing options. The state-of-the-art 96kHz/32-bit processing is something to be excited about too. Other impressive features include 2 dedicated FX sends, four stereo input channels with 4-band EQ, and a separate master insert for your outboard hardware. This mixer is pricey but it is worth every penny you will spend to get it.
13. Yamaha MGP32X
Another powerful console from Yamaha, this mixer has been described as digital heart and analog soul. It is on a class of its own with several amazing features that will improve your mixing experience. In terms of build quality, you can always trust Yamaha products: this does not compromise in any manner. It is strong mixer that will serve for years. It is also very easy to use. Whether you are used to digital consoles or prefer analog mixers, it wouldn’t take you time to get used to the MGP design.
The MGP32X Mixing console comes with 24 Mic inputs with 48V Phantom Power and HPF per channel. It also has 6 auxiliary sends + 2 FX sends. In addition to all that, there are 4 group Buses + ST Bus, 2 Matrix out, and 1 Mono out. The Yamaha MGP32X Mixing Console is the next step in the evolution of compact professional mixers.
14. Peavey PV20
Peavey is another name that has been established as a trustworthy manufacturer in the industry. This console is one of the best they have produced and it will certainly offer lots of value to your studio. In terms of build quality, the product is strong enough to serve you for years – the Legendary Peavey reliability is real.
This 20-channel mixing board comes with several features that makes audio mixing smoother and more fun. It features built-in DSP effects with multiple reverbs and delays. It also features 16 RQ low-noise microphone inputs with insert points; pre-fader monitor sends; post-fader effects send; 3-band EQ on all channels; voice enhancer; and precision 60mm faders on input channels and stereo master out. The PV20 mixing consoles is compatible with MacOSX and Windows XP, ME & 2000: It can be connected directly via the USB port.
Another compact mixer from Behringer to make our list of best mixers in the market, the Xenyx X1222USB mixer is feature-rich for its size and price. Considering what it offers and the price, you may think this is too good to be true but most verified customers have nothing but praise for the console. Weighing just 9.3 pounds, it is a lightweight mixer that can be carried about, but it will also improve a professional studio and make life easier for musicians and producers.
The Behringer Xenyx X1222USB comes with 4 state-of-the-art, phantom powered Xenyx Mic Preamps; 4 studio-grade compressors with ‘one-knob’ functionality; neo-classic ‘British’ 3-band EQs; all-new studio grade FX processor with 16 editable presets including reverb, delay, flanger, chorus, pitch shifter, and multi-effects; as well as built-in stereo USB/Audio interface to connect directly to your computer. There are loads of other features that make this mixer an excellent console, and you will get all these for a very affordable price.
16. Soundcraft EFX12
Soundcraft is known for some cool innovative consoles and the EFX series is considered one of such. It combines all the features that made the popular EPM mixer a success with a 24-bit digital Lexicon outboard equipment. This results to a much improved multipurpose compact-range mixers that are still affordable. In terms of build quality, the mixer is sturdy enough. It is quite easy to use but the most impressive thing is the feature list.
The EFX12 High-Performance 12 channel mixer. Musicians and producers have, at their fingertips, 32 effects to choose from with a tap tempo function, 3 effect parameter controls, and a user effects setting store facility. Other interesting features are 3-band EQ with a swept mid on the mono inputs; Ten-segment LED output metering; TRS insert sockets and inserts on all mono inputs; and a headphone output. Users also have more flexibility, thanks to an effects channel level clip LED and Mute function.
Belonging to the innovative DL Series from Mackie, this portable device offers powerful digital mixing capability with the ease-of-use and mobility of an iPad. The 16-channel mixer offers unmatched sound quality, thanks to its 16 boutique-quality, industry proven Onyx preamps and Cirrus Logic converters. In your studio, the mixer will offer improved flexibility as you can wirelessly control your mix from different iOS devices. It is quite easy to use.
Some of the other impressive features you will like about the Mackie 2044387-00 DL1608 mixer include the 16 stereo-linkable input channels; 2 stereo-linkable iPad return channels; 6 stereo-linkable aux sends; 4 stereo subgroups; 2 stereo FX processors with dedicated sends returns; 16 Onyx mic preamps; and 8 balanced outputs. The Mackie 2044387-00 DL1608 16-Channel Live Sound Digital Mixer has the most intuitive control app ever. This makes it one of the best mixers to use.
Allen &Health has something for everyone and this 12-channel mixer is ideal for groups that need to travel light. As well as being a good mixer for touring bands, it can also fit into your studio with ease and improve your recording and mixing experience. It is also a well-built device that will stand the test of time. It is also easy to use, thanks to the configurable USB audio in/out that makes recording easy.
The ZED-12FX features 6 Mic/line inputs; 4 auxiliary sends; 3-band EQ with sweep mids; and 100mm Professional faders. Another reason why this is a wonderful mixer is the DuoPre preamps that uses two stage design, with carefully controlled amounts of gain in each stage. Connectivity is also a breeze with this device: just plug in the USB lead to the device and select the USB routing on the mixer and the device on your computer. It is compatible with PCs and Macs.
Another wonderful product from Behringer, this 22-input mixer has all the features to make your mixing experience easier and more productive. It is a premium ultra-low noise, high headroom analog mixer that is built to last. Once you are familiar with analog mixers, using it should be very easy.
Some of the features that make the mixer one of the best options in the market include 8 state-of-the-art phantom-powered Xenyx Mic Preamps; 8 studio-grade compressors with super-easy ‘one-knob’ functionality; Neo-classic ‘British’ 3-band EQ with semi-parametric mid band; and new studio-grade FX processor with 16 editable presets including reverb, chorus, flanger, delay, pitch shifter multi-effect, Tap function, and storage user parameters settings. The built-in stereo USB/Audio interface to connect directly to your computer.
Another portable mixer from Allen $ Health, Zed-10 can be used for recording live or in studio setting. The device is well built and weighs just 9.7 pounds. It is also easy to use, thanks to the professional XLR stereo output and a flexible monitoring section with headphone and speaker feed output.
There are several incredible features that make the ZED-10 the ideal mixer for musicians and producers recording in the studio. The 3-band, swept mid frequency EQ design utilizes MusiQ, and this improves sounds from individual instruments. Guitar DI ensures that you obtain wonderfully natural guitar sound. The Zed-10 also comes with full access to a full version of IK Multimedia AmpliTube X-GEAR software that delivers legendary guitar and bass tones. Connecting the Allen & Health ZED-10 Mixer to a computer is also very easy; all you need to do is plug in a USB lead to your ZED, select USB routing on the mixer and the device on your computer and you are ready to transfer CD-quality audio either way. It is compatible with PC and Mac devices.
The need to have a top-quality mixer in a studio cannot be overemphasized. With the right mixer, musicians and professional producers are able to make the best of their creative talents. It is also important to get a mixer that will help to make your work easier. Here, we have provided enough information that will guide you to make the right decisions about the mixer to buy for recording studio. We have also reviewed some of the best products on the market and provided links to get them. Process the helpful information carefully and buy the right mixer that will add value to your studio and make your work more exciting.