Whether you are a professional musician, a mixing engineer or just someone that loves playing music in their bedroom, an audio mixer is a useful product to have. It can help you get great sounding mixes in real time, and there is no better way to mic up a live band and give them the best possible sound. Finding the best audio mixer can be a real challenge because there are so many factors to consider if you want to find something worthwhile. Hence, before you make a decision you need to first figure out what you are looking for.
How to Find The PERFECT Audio Mixer
Provided below is a buying guide. These are things that you need to keep in mind when you are on the lookout for a mixer. Factoring in all of these things will help you make a wiser decision regarding your purchase.
There are lots of mixers available for all kinds of prices. You can probably find a mixer for under a hundred dollars, and there are certainly a lot of mixers out there that are worth thousands of dollars. Your price point will obviously affect the functionality of your final product, but it can also help you narrow down your options. Once you have figured out a price point, you will find that there are still dozens of mixer to choose from so you can apply a number of other variables to help narrow down your choice even further. However, figuring out how much you have to spend is a good first step to take.
There are three possible situations where you might need a mixer. These are as follows:
- In the studio
- At a live performance venue
- In your bedroom
Each of these situations will obviously require a different kind of mixer. Studio use will require solid mic preamps so that the final signal is as clear as possible. This becomes less important during live performances because there is usually so much noise that it doesn’t matter. Live performance mixers will require a louder output, though, because you can’t let the speakers do all of the work. If you are using your mixer at home, such things become a matter of personal preference.
Studio use means that your mixer probably won’t see a lot of rough use. Live performances, on the other hand, are notorious for being rowdy and causing damage to equipment. Certain musicians actually take pride in how much damage they can dish out. A more rugged and well built mixer won’t hurt if you are buying one for a performance space! A home based jam or recording setup is also generally not as clinical as a professional recording space. Spillage, bumping and other potentially damaging interactions are commonplace when you are jamming with your buddies at home. Hence, you will need your mixer to withstand this level of rough use if you don’t want to keep buying a new one every month.
Number of Channels
Every musician will require a different number of channels. If you are talking about a basic rock band setup, things are pretty simple. You will need one channel for vocals, one for each instrument. Drums are treated differently because you will need about four or five channels. This is because you have overheads and room mics to consider as well. However, if you are recording a simpler lineup you can make do with four channels as well. Conversely, if you are planning on recording a big jazz band you are probably going to need about twenty channels. Consider all of the possibilities and buy a mixer with the right number of channels.
There are two options you can choose from in this regard: analog and digital. Analog means that the signal will be adjusted through physical mechanisms and will be relayed onto tape. Digital means that the signal will be converted into data which will be processed and put out through a speaker. This is mostly personal preference, although supporters of each style will give their own take on which is better. Digital is generally easier to use and can sound great, whereas analog gives you a more old school rock sound.
A lot of the time you will be using a clean signal chain to get the real sound of the instrument being played. Other times you might want to process the signal and apply effects to it. Distorted, echoing, pulsing sounds require their own individual effects. You could always get pedals to do this, but sometimes it’s just easier to have the mixer do it for you. It also puts control in the hands of the audio engineer instead of the musician. As a lot of audio techs already know, musicians can be great at theory and playing but they often don’t know how to handle effects.
If you are planning on playing as a rock band through the mixer, you will need direct inputs for the guitar, bass and drums and XLR inputs for any mics that you might be using. Mics can be used through direct inputs as well, but a lot of the time they end up sounding tinny so it’s always better to opt for XLR in such situations. You also need to get eighth inch and quarter inch inputs so that you have a wide variety to use for your headphones and monitors.
People get so deep into the nitty gritty of ports, channels and signal chains that they forget one very important thing: how the final product sounds. Checking this is easy if you have a good ear. Does the mixer have a good balance of frequencies? Does it portray the instruments accurately? If your mixer ticks all of the boxes except this one, it is not something you should be investing in. This is especially true if you are working in a studio setting.
The Top Ten Audio Mixers
Now that you know what to look for, it’s time to check out a list of the best audio mixers on the market. These mixers and their details are provided below.
#1 Mackie PROFX22V2 22-Channel 4-Bus Mixer with USB and Effects
- 7 band graphic EQ
- 16 low noise preamps
- 22 inputs
- 16 effects
If you want an all purpose audio mixer and have the money to afford it, this mixer is what you should be getting. The 22 inputs are more than enough to give everyone a complete miking setup, allowing them to express their musicality to the fullest extent of their abilities. You also get a lot of control over the sound that is being produced.
This is thanks to the high quality effects that you will get, as well as the 3 band EQ that allows you to cut and boost frequencies as you see fit. Mixing and creating the perfect sound is also easier than ever thanks to the graphics display. Some people might not like using visual indicators to control audio. However, if you are a beginner you will be infinitely thankful that this product has given you such an easy way to get the best audio possible.
Another thing to appreciate about this mixer is the completely balanced frequencies you will get in the audio output. This will help your band play to its fullest abilities. This mixer works great both in the studio and at home and is a great solution for live performance venues as well, just make sure you deal with the feedback that sometimes pops up when you distort the bass.
- Enables complete band setup
- High sound quality effects
- Clear and precise audio signal
- Full control over EQ
- Graphic display makes mixing easier
- Completely balanced audio output
- Occasional feedback when distorting low end
#2 Zoom LiveTrak L-12
- 12 separate channels
- Supports simultaneous recording
- Scene saving function
- Five outputs
This audio mixer seems like it was made for studio use. The twelve channels isolate beautifully, with each track being recorded in a backdrop of complete silence. You also get phantom power in all of the outputs which helps you get the best result from your vocalist’s takes. This also prevents the chances of problems occurring during takes which might ruin perfectly good vocal recordings.
Another aspect of this mixer you are going to love is the scene saving feature. This lets you save levels and tones according to an artist’s preferences. If you are running a studio you are going to have a lot of people coming in and out, and recordings take multiple sessions before they are complete. This mixer allows you to save an artist’s preferences so you can refer to them when they come back. However, you don’t have any built in effects with this mixer which is understandable given that it is meant for studio use. The occasional latency is less understandable and might cause a few problems.
- Great for studio use
- Isolated channels make for great mixes
- Multiple outputs are powered
- Scene saving enables multitracking
- Wide frequency range
- Some instances of latency
- No built in effects
#3 Allen & Heath ZEDi-10FX Hybrid Compact Mixer/4×4 USB Interface with FX – Best Audio Mixer For Home Studio
- Four inputs and four outputs
- Separate XLR sockets
- Low pass filter
- 3 band EQ
Not everyone needs a huge mixer that is meant to support large bands. Sometimes you need something compact and portable, something you can use on the go or in a small room in your home. This mixer is meant for this purpose which makes it an important item to look into. In spite of its portable nature, this is a pretty powerful machine. The 3 band EQ shows that this is a serious mixer meant for serious musicians looking for a portable live mixing solution.
You can cut lower frequencies and get the overall balanced output that you desire. The XLR sockets are a nice touch because they allow you to get good vocal takes without any distortion or disruption. However, it should be noted that this audio mixer is not going to be of much use to large scale professionals who are looking for something that can handle commercial work. This mixer is also not very durable, so you will have to be careful while using it lest you end up breaking it.
- Compact and portable
- Easy cutting of lower frequencies
- 3 band EQ gives control over sound
- XLR sockets enable good quality vocal audio
- Perfect for small home setups
- Not suitable for larger studios
- Rather fragile design
#4 Yamaha EMX5014C 14-Input Powered Mixer – Best Audio Mixer For Live Performance
- Eight mono and four stereo inputs
- Six inputs with built in compression
- Two 500 watt amplifiers
- Feedback channel locator
Much like the Zoom LiveTrak seems to be built for studio use, this mixer is perfect for managing live performances. To start off with, you can compress subtle and nuanced players in order to make them more audible to the audience. Since the compression is built into the inputs you won’t have to worry about fiddling with a DAW; you can just use a knob to get the job done instead.
As far as live performances go, this mixer has a couple of monstrous 500 watt amplifiers which are perfect for loud live performances. In cases of feedback there is a channel locator that would come in very handy. This product becomes further suitable for live performances when you notice how durable and ruggedly built it is.
All that being said, you don’t get a lot of clarity from this mixer, at least not to a studio level. This is because of a lack of preamps, as well as rather substandard EQ control.
- Built in compression allows for louder sound
- Powerful amplifiers
- Feedback can be quickly located
- Highly durable and rugged design
- Perfect for live performance venues
- Lacks adequate preamps
- Not enough EQ control
#5 PreSonus StudioLive 24.4.2AI Active Integration Digital Mixer
- 24 channels
- Fat channel signal processing
- Integrated software library
- Firewire interface
This audio mixer is perfect for people that want a multi channel monster. With two dozen channels, this mixer can handle the audio for pretty much all of your instruments with ease. You also get an entire library of software that can help you record or provide solid audio for a live performance. This may be a bit of a cheat code for people that are not that experienced with audio engineering, but you won’t be hearing them complaining anytime soon.
However, this audio mixer failed to rank higher on this list because it has a very complex user interface, especially when you consider that it has a digital signal channel. Digital audio should be easier to manage. This audio mixer fails in this regard. This is also quite a heavy audio mixer which makes it difficult to move around, something that is often necessary in performance venues.
- Wide array of channels
- Clean signal processing
- Software library provides complete package
- Digital signal output
- Bulky and heavy
- Unnecessarily complicated user interface
#6 Behringer Xenyx 802 Premium 8-Input 2-Bus Mixer with Xenyx Mic Preamps and British EQs – Best Audio Mixer Under 100
- 2 Xenyx mic preamps
- 3 band EQ
- 1 post fader
- 1 stereo aux
This is a nice, simple mixer that is perfect for beginners. When you plug your instruments in you will notice that it has a rather warm and pleasant sound. This is great for indie rock, certain kinds of jazz as well as a lot of modern hip hop beats. A lot of people may find the sound somewhat one dimensional, though, especially if you want a brighter sound like what you would find in old school blues.
This is not a big deal for beginners, though, who would love the low noise output as well as the fader that makes it super easy to decide volume levels for members of your band. This audio mixer also has surprisingly good EQ controls, although the channel count is restrictive and can prevent your full band from expressing itself. Bands often tend to grow in membership size, but this mixer might make it difficult.
- Warm sound
- Low noise output
- Excellent EQ capabilities
- Fader for easy mixing
- One dimensional sound
- Restrictive channel count
#7 Mackie Mix8 8-Channel Mixer
- 2 mic inputs
- 2 stereo quarter inch inputs
- 3 band EQ
- 1 aux port
The first thing you will love about this mixer is the capacity for stereo audio input. Mono audio is great for recording, but a lot of artists are starting to experiment with stereo sounds which give you a fuller range of frequencies to play around with. With the control over frequencies you get, this product proves that it is more or less worth the asking price. If you are an audio engineer you will also like the fact that plugging in to listen to the mixer directly is so easy thanks to the aux port.
For all its benefits, this mixer really won’t do you any good if you want something for professional use. It has a rather tinny and shrill audio output which would drive an audiophile or mixing engineer mad, so avoid buying it if you want something for your commercial studio or performance venue.
- Stereo inputs boost audio output quality
- Facilitates quarter inch jacks; convenient
- Easy listening for audio engineer
- Good control over frequency
- Not suitable for professional use
- Tinny sound
#8 Peavey PVi 6500 400-Watt 5-Channel Powered Mixer
- Bluetooth connectivity
- Built in effects
- Single knob EQ
- 6 mic inputs
This mixer looks more like an amp, and in some ways it is similar to that type of gear as well. The main focus here is loud, expansive output, and this product succeeds in that arena to an extent. You get a loud audio output that is great for large, open air crowds, and the multiple mic inputs mean that a band can just plug themselves in and play to their heart’s content. That makes this a great mixer to have on hand at an open mic.
The mixer has a solid array of effects, but for the most part you won’t really be able to use them properly. This is because when you combine two or three effects the sound starts to become tinny, overwhelmingly so. Since you don’t have a lot of control over EQ, you end up being forced to deal with the natural audio of the mixer.
- Solid effects
- Loud output
- Good for shows
- Multiple mic inputs
- Multiple effects together sound tinny
- Not enough EQ control
#9 BEHRINGER EURORACK UB1204-PRO
- 8 line inputs
- 2 aux sends per channel
- 3 band EQ
- 4 preamps
This is a great mixer for a band to jam on and have people listening in. This is a more intimate form of live performance and has become popularized by bands such as Snarky Puppy. The high dynamic range means that each member of your band is left at the audio level that represents their sound most accurately. You also have a low pass filter to clear up muddy, bassy sounds without leaving your bass player feeling ignored.
However, the preamps are a little noisy which is why this product is ranked so low on this list. You also don’t have any stereo inputs which might ruin the aforementioned intimate listening experience because it would restrict the quality of your sound. Overall, this is a decent audio mixer but there are a lot more that are better equipped to handle your musical experimentation.
- High dynamic range
- Facilitates multiple listeners
- Wide frequency range
- Low pass filter enables optimal sound
- Noisy preamps
- No stereo inputs
#10 Pyle 5 Channel Audio Mixer
- USB soundcard
- 5 channel DJ console
- 1 XLR port
- Rotary style faders
If you want a mixer on a budget and aren’t too fussy about functionality or features, this is a good option for you to look into. It is a nice, portable mixer that gives you decent EQ control, and can be particularly effective for DJs thanks to the way it has been designed. However, the build is also quite flimsy; this audio mixer is prone to breaking so it might not last very long. It also doesn’t suit a wide variety of musical styles, and the limited channels mean that you can only play with one or two other people.
- Lightweight design
- Good EQ control
- Suitable for DJs
- Phantom power
- Visibly flimsy design
- One dimensional
- Limited channels