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.