Do I Need a Mixer for Home Recording?

Do I need a Mixer for Home Recording?

I have often been asked, “Do I need a mixer for home recording?” The simple answer to this question is “no you don’t, but you may want one.” I’d like to take a moment and address my theory behind that response.

There are a few factors to consider when it comes to a home music studio setup. I’ve stated in an earlier post that there are many stand alone recording units. However, my personal preference is to use a computer in home music studio recording.

This type of setup requires an audio interface and some type of recording software. In the studio world we would call this a digital audio workstation or DAW for short. You can reference my post on the best software for home recording and several recommendations here.

All that said, the software is only as good as its audio interface counterpart. If you are going to record your guitar then you need some way to plug your guitar into your DAW. This is where we get back to our question, “Do I need a mixer for home recording?” Lets first explain the simple response of no.

You may not need a mixer but you do need an audio interface that can convert your audio signal into a digital format. Take a vocal recording for instance. You can’t just fire up your computer, run a program like Reaper, and start talking into thin air. There must be some way to plug your mic into the computer. This is where an audio interface comes in.

The simplest way to recording your voice might be to use an interface like the Mxl 990 Usb Powered Condenser Microphone. This mic plugs directly into your computer, via a free USB port, and interfaces directly with your recording software of choice. The mic itself is an audio interface as well as the device for capturing  your voice.

In this case, no mixer is needed at all. You simply plug-in the mic, run your software, hit record, and start talking. The down side is you can only record what you can put your mic in front of and only one thing at a time. You can however, record as many takes as your computer can play back. Your mixer then is not a physical outboard unit but the recording software itself.

 

A few more things to consider. What if you need to record more than one instrument or voice at a time? In this situation you may actually want a mixer for your home music studio. I personally use an Allen & Heath Zed-14 Usb Mixing Console. The great benefit in this mixer is the amount of inputs it has.

If I wanted to record a vocal who was also playing a guitar and had a piano accompaniment, I have all the channels to do so. The mixer has a USB output and acts as the audio interface to my DAW. The nice thing about a high quality audio interface is that is also does much of the processing when it comes to recording. This allows for more tracks to be processed and play back simultaneously from the computer.

Once draw back from the ZED 14 is that is can only output a stereo mix to the computer via the USB out. This means each channel on the mixer does not get recorded as one file into my software but all the channels come in as one stereo file. I overcome this by doing multiple takes. This can take much longer in the end to record a project.

If you find yourself needing to record multiple channels at one time I would recommend checking in the Presonus Audiobox 1818Vsl 18-Channel Usb Interface. I’ve not used this specific unit myself but I’ve heard great stuff about it. Presonus does make some very high quality products. This audio interface will allow you to record a full 8 output at one time as long as your computer is fast enough.

So, “Do I need a mixer for home recording?” Maybe ;), depending on your needs. I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback. Have you used the Presonus Audiobox? What did you think? Please add your feedback to the comments section below.

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Discussion

  1. says

    Hey. I just got a gold diaphragm condenser mic …can I use a normal acer laptop with no mixer ?? and what editor software can I use to rec??? thank you

  2. lushaigne says

    I would just like to take this moment to thank you for this amazing sight made my life so much easier

  3. Tiso says

    Ok, I get so messed up on what I actually want to achieve while I record, but seeing if you could clear things up. Ideally, here’s what I want to record/my setup to be: 2 USB or XLR mics, Macbook for an output source of audio to be recorded (Music beds, effects, etc), and control the levels of all three. This is where I get confused, would I be able to use the Macbook for music, effects and such, along with capturing/recording all the audio/channels that is being sent to it? I know I need a good audio interface, but would I go the mixer route (Suggestions?) or what? Thanks for the write-ups and great youtube channel!

    • says

      Thanks for the question Tiso. If I understand you right than I would recommend a 4 channel interface like the
      Focusrite Scarlett 6I6
      . In this case you could use the internal sound card from your Mac to play your music, effects and such. Take this stereo signal from the internal sound card output and input it into the 6i6′s rear 1/4″ inputs. From there you would be able to use a DAW like http://Reaper.fm or similar to record that stereo input as well as the 2 XLR inputs all on separate tracks. As long as your computer is fast enough you can play from it, go into the 6i6, and back into the recording DAW with no problems. It could get complicated really quick though so just depends on what type of music and processing your trying to do live. It would be much better to have 2 computers to do what your trying to do in the long run. But as long as your playing your effects from different software/sound card from your audio interface it should work. There are a few other ways to set things up but if you want to be able to edit your 2 mic inputs from the stereo music and FX’s than this is one way to do it. Let me know if this makes sense? If you need to have live EQ, compression ect, on your XLR mic inputs than you may want to consider a mixer with USB output. Be careful though as most low end mixer with USB outs only record 1 stereo output and not each channel as separate into a DAW (recording software).

  4. aga says

    hi..i just want to ask if i’m using a mixer with usb output (MACKIE PROFX-16) to computer,can i get a good sound quality or do i still need audio interface?thanks….

    • says

      Good question, in reality your mixer with a USB output has an build in audio interface. So yes, you can still get a great sound. Your only limitation is the quality of the internal interface and the mixer itself. The ProFX-16 can only record up to 16bit/48kHz audio (a touch higher than CD quality). Another interface like the Scarlet 2i4 can record up to 24bit/96k (I typically record at 24bit/48kHz). Also another interface may have better mic pre’s compared to your mixer with quieter signal to noise ratios. All that said, with practice and good technique you can still make great recordings with a USB mixer like yours. Thanks for the question.

  5. Kate W. says

    I’m a newbie here, but I want to ask if my mic itself is a a/d converter and I’m only recording one vocal/one instrument at a time, would I need an audio interface or a mixer?

    • says

      Hey Kate, If your using a USB mic, than essentially your mic is also an audio interface. In the long run its better to have a separate interface as you can then also upgrade your mic. The need for a mixer is all dependent on the things I’ve listed in this post. All that said, since your only recording 1 voice/instrument at a time. You don’t necessarily need to have the others unless you need midi or a greater quality mic. What mic are you currently using?

  6. darene salazar says

    Hey sir ive bought a trident mixer… and im using a takstar 10mb mic, ive plug it into my laptop then when i heard the vocals.. kinda shitty, so when i buy a soundcard, is it possible to conncet the mixer—>soundcard—->laptop?

    • says

      Hey Darene, for reasons mentioned in this post, you may or may not have a need for a mixer, but yes, you can easily hook up a mixer to your audio interface, which would then plug into your laptop.

  7. says

    Hi, David. I believe that ,most of the big studios have mixing boards. Still, though, every senerio you’ve painted why someone would need a board, I believe I could still accomplish the same thing with my DAW and my 8-input audio interface. Maybe I’m missing something. Can you elaborate a little bit?

    • says

      Thanks for the comment and question David. In the next podcast episode I’m going to dive into this subject a bit more than I can here. The bottom line with your situation? You may not need a mixer.

      If you don’t need to do mixing for a live monitor setup (if you were recording a full band), where you need the physical routing (ins/outs) of an outboard mixer, then you might be just fine with your multiple input audio interface.

      Other situations for the use of a mixer would be wanting to provide live effects when tracking that don’t get recorded to your DAW. You could use a mixers channel direct outs to send to your DAW (which are typically pre-everything else like eq, faders, etc.), then you could setup FX’s like reverb/delay and so on through and aux send/return on the mixer. This would be a setup that would be useful for having a preview of the final product for your musicians, without recording the FX’s (this gives you the most control in post production).

      There are several other reasons that a mixer might be useful and I’ll cover these in the next episode of the show. So back to this post: So, “Do I need a mixer for home recording?” Maybe ;) , depending on your needs. In your case, you may not need one and that’s just fine for your setup.

      Hope this helps.

  8. Edward says

    Hello, i would like to know if it’s possible to record one instrument at a time with an audio interface and then put it all together in the DAW and mix/master it. If so, i would not need a mix, right? Why would somebody record more than one musician at a time? Teh only reason i can think of is time, you know? No time to record one by one, so do it all at once. And in a home studio, that’s probably not usual.

    • says

      Hi Edward, yes it is possible to do exactly what you’ve asked. However, don’t think of each instrument as being only 1 track. A keyboard for example may need to 2 track record and that would be 2 channels on a smaller audio interface. I can think of many times when, even in a home studio, it would be nice to record a keyboard with 2 tracks and a voice as a 3rd using 3 tracks at once. Also many home studio’s do have full drums kits. In this case they would need sever mics/tracks at one time even with just 1 instrument. Hope this helps.

  9. Cameron says

    Hi Mark, don’t know if you can help. Is it possible to sing live by connecting a hi-fi to a audio interface and connecting a microphone. Would that work like a PA, would the sound of the microphone come out through the Hi-fi speakers or not please?
    Any help would be appreciated. I have a Saffire Pro 14, hi-fi and SM58.
    Write my songs and have my first gig coming up and really need a way of using my Microphone to amplify my voice.
    Many thanks.
    Cameron

    • says

      Hey Cameron, The only way for this to work depends on your hi-fi (or stereo as we call it in the US). If your hi-fi unit has a line input then you could take 1 or the stereo outputs from your Safire Pro and go into the input of your hi-fi, this would then send the feed to your speakers. By doing this you could use your Safire as a small mixer without an eq (basically it just a pre amp). You’d then plug your mic into the Safire and set the gain to where it does not clip. Then use the monitor output to adjust how much signal is going into your hi-fi. Use the output volume of your hi-fi to then set a max volume to your speakers. Be careful though as live audio peaks can be hard on a speaker system that was not created to be used for public adress (PA). If you could give me the brand and model number of your hi-fi I can tell you if this setup will work or not.

      Thanks for your question,

      David

  10. BRYLAN JACOBS says

    I have a simple question, what if I want to use a simple interface (not a mixer) and I would like to sing and a capella with more than one voice, can I add layers of my voice on the original or does that depend on the program?

    • says

      Great question Brylan, Using the simplest and most affordable interface that I recommend, the Scarlet 2i2, you can do exactly that. Most any recording software (digital audio workstation or DAW for short) will allow you to create multiple tracks (what you’ve refereed to as layers). You can record 1 voice on a single stereo track, then play it back while adding another to it. You can add as many tracks as your computer/interface will play back. The 2i2 comes with software to accomplish this. Thanks for your question.

  11. Mark Stevens says

    Yes sir, plan on getting one(mixer), as soon as I can afford one. Right now, though, like you said, it would be overkill for me, since I am only recording guitars and bass, some vocals. All which can be done with just my interface, but hopefully if things ever get bigger, will definitely need the mixer!
    Thanks for the reply, and for Home Music Studio 1, I know it has helped me, and many others. Keep up the good work!

  12. Mark Stevens says

    I can’t remember if I mentioned this before, so here goes,lol. If you have an audio interface with multiple outs, then couldn’t you do without the mixer, since most decent DAWS, have built in mixers. Would that be a suitable move for someone, maybe on a budget, who can’t afford a mixer just yet?

    • says

      Good question Mark. Simple answer, sure you can do without a mixer. With or without an out board mixer, using the mixing capabilities of a DAW will be the end result anyways. The real benefits to using a mixer may not be something you need in your situation.

      An outboard mixer with a USB/FireWire is great for monitoring multiple sources while recording. In my case with the Zed14, I can mix a full acoustic drum setup with several mics at one time and record the stereo output to my DAW. The same applies to recording multiple musicians. I can have them all play together but only send one instrument to my DAW by using an aux mix on the mixer.

      That said, if you only record and monitor 1 or 2 things at onece you may find an outboard mixer to be overkill.

      Hope that help!

      Dave

What are your thoughts?